September 23, 2020
New Musical Express article from April 11, 1981

’81 New Musical Express Interview with John Entwistle

Quiet Man of Rock Speaks Out

AROUND JOHN Entwistle’s neck dangles a silver spider, which may or may not be called Boris.

It might be his one concession to the macabre, silent stereotype that’s hung around his neck like an albatross for years.

Right now, ‘The Quiet One’ — which also happens to be the title of a song he wrote for The Who’s new ‘Face Dances’ LP — isn’t keeping such a low profile anymore. On this occasion he’s even assumed the mantle of spokesman, taking time out to answer the criticisms that have come The Who’s way in the wake of ‘Face Dances’ release…and to mention, just in passing, the solo LP that he’s currently embarked upon in the Battersea studio where I meet him.

Commericially speaking, things look bright for the group, with both the album and the single ‘You Better You Bet’ showing strongly in their respective chars. But at the outset of the recent UK tour, The Who’s future was shrouded in doubt: the Rainbow show, for instance, was a shambles, capped by lurid stories of backstage punch-ups. So are The Who, as we suggested at the time, falling apart?

“No, I mean, we argued at the Rainbow,” Entwistle shrugs dismissively. “We always have. But there just happened to be reporters around that night who heard it. We just brushed it off as a normal day. I can remember whole tours when I didn’t actually go in the dressing room once, cos I knew that if I went back in I’d hear the same old fuckin’ arguments. So I used to stay out in the corridor and talk to people.

“We always have teething troubles when we go out on tour. As far as I was concerned, personally, we were asking for trouble anyway, playing a little piss-hole place, with a shitty sound, and playing four brand new number that no one had ever heard before, when wed hadn’t played for about three months.

“I hate playing small places. The Who aren’t geared to play them. I’ve told our manager there’s no way they’ll get me to play those sorts of places again. Our system was built up over the years to stadium level, and one you get into that way of playing you can’t suddenly scale down. The Who don’t sound like The Who in those places.”

With that tour completed, and some European dates blown out, the group have no plans for the immediate future.

“We just feel really knackered. Since Kenny Jones joined us we’ve been busy almost constantly, and during our time off I’ve been making the solo album anyway.”

But you’d say the group are basically in a healthy state?

“Yeah, the enthusiasm’s still there.”

How do you feel about the ‘Face Dances’ LP, the way it turned out?

“Basically, I would have liked to have been in on the mixes. Apart from that I can’t complain: It looks like it’s gonna be our most successful album…apart from the reviews.”

The reviews have been pretty bad. Do they affect you at all?

“Not really. I stopped reading them a long time ago: it was so much like reading the newspapers, full of bad news. Keith Altham, our publicity man, kindly sent me all the shit reviews though, so I still can’t escape them.”

Do you ever think they’ve got a point, when they say you’re living on past glories or whatever, that it’s time to knock it on the head?

“If I believed in the reviews, I’d have given up years ago.

“Let’s say on this English tour, about 50% of the audience hadn’t even seen us before, and they wanted to hear the old things. After ‘Quadrophenia’ — when we played that in its entirety it was a disaster — we decided we’re never gonna change our stage act that much: we’ll do it gradually. Kids still wanna hear “Substitute’ and ‘My Generation’ and all that stuff.”

So you believe that The Who’s following doesn’t renew itself, that it isn’t just a nostalgia thing?

“Yeah. We get an audience of between 11 years old and forty. We actually did a tour a few years ago and when we went on stage these silly little chicks down the front started screaming. We glared at ’em and they shut up.”

YOU DON’T have many contemporaries left now. Do you feel isolated from today’s music scene?

“Well. I’ve never felt part of the music scene. The way the whole business is run over here, the most important thing is the Top 30 records, whereas in reality they mean fuck-all financially to a musician. The Who’s music is its albums. I’d hat to make records to compete with football teams and wrestlers and American DJs singing ‘Shaddup Your Face’. Thats not the business I wanna be in. So, in that way, the English music scene doesn’t appeal to me, it sickens me. I feel a lot more comfortable in America, where you have radio stations that only play album tracks.”

Entwistle says that he takes an interest in new music, citing Talking Heads as one modern group who’ve impressed him a lot. How does he feel about heavy metal, a lot of which sounds to me like hamfisted parodies of ‘Live At Leeds’?

“Well, heavy metal, its just riffs, and there’s only a certain amount of riffs around. It’s very rarely that one comes out that’s any better than any that’s gone before. I like playing heavy metal: it’s the only kind of music that I really like playing. But I can’t stand listening to it.”

Er, don’t quite follow that. How could you like listening to your own stuff, in that case?

“Did I say that I listened to my own stuff? (Laughs). No, that’s the only way I can explain it: that I enjoy playing it but I can’t stand listening to it…the same way that some people like the smell of their own farts but they don’t like smelling anyone else’s!”

Meanwhile, John’s keeping his nose to the grindstone with a solo LP –his fifth — assisted by Joe Walsh of The Eagles. He feels its a departure from his previous efforts, mostly insofar as “it’s better”. He also describes it as broadly “mid-Atlantic” in sound.

Finally, how does he feel about his long-standing role as “the faceless one”?

“Yeah, ‘The Quiet One’. I got stuck in that pigeonhole when I started and I’ve been stuck in it ever since, and it’s driving me nuts. Whenever anyone accuses me of being quiet I scream in their fucking ear.”

And you’ve got a line intuit song for the people who classify you that way, something about it only taking two words to blow them away. I take it those two words are too obvious to even ask?

John Entwistle laughs, and the spider shakes.

“They are, yeah, They are.”