Yesterday afternoon, I drove out to an industrial area in Park Royal to a rehearsal of Tommy by Roger and his band. The band is the same that Roger toured with in 2009 on his “Use it or Lose it” solo tour of the U.S. and Canada: Simon Townshend on rhythm guitar and vocals, Frank Simes on lead guitar, Jon Button on bass, Loren Gold on keyboards, and Scott Devours on drums

I was a little nervous when I arrived. You never quite know what you’re going to get at a rehearsal and the room itself was pretty small, dominated by the staging area, where the musicians, minus Roger, were running through a track (‘Overture’) and a tiny area with a recording desk and a 2-seat sofa.
I was immediately put at my ease when all the musos kind of waved at me and smiled. When they paused for a break I was introduced to them all. Roger arrived just after that. The atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly.
I settled down on the sofa and was treated to an hour or so of pure music making. There must be a harder way to make a living than listening to great musicians rehearsing glorious music written by one of the world’s greatest composers.
The musicians rarely stopped, just occasionally pausing to check on the detail of a vocal harmony. It was a pleasure to hear the score of Tommy pared back from the built up orchestral version to its original band form. The 4-part harmonies were delicious. I drifted into my own memories of seeing Tommy performed, in particular of the first time I saw it, which was in April 1970 (the same tour as the legendary ‘Leeds), when I was a student at Nottingham University. It was a pretty wild show, the best live gig I’d ever seen and I’ve seen a few great ones in my time…..
OK, what I was now listening to was not The Who performing and it wasn’t pretending to be. How could it possibly have the edge and danger of The Who without the defining presence of Pete Townshend? But what it did have was a sense of celebration, of love for the great music that is at the beating heart of all of Pete’s work. I got the sense that the musicians, all at the top of their game, know and are comfortable with their place within the music, which is simply to serve it and perform it to the best of their abilities. What was also interesting is the way Roger merged so well and easily into the band.
As I was thinking these thoughts, drifting in and out of memory, the band erupted into “It’s a boy, Mrs. Walker, it’s a boy, a son…” The joy in the voices and the instruments of Simon, Frank, Jon, Loren, Scott and Roger and the smiles on the faces – to a man – just said it all.
Roll on March 19 (Bournemouth) and March 24 (Royal Albert Hall).
Rob Lee
At the end of last year I was invited by a friend of mine, interactive multimedia guru Colin Payne, to give some advice to a group of professors at Middlesex University, who were setting up a special MA/MSc course which focused on the joining point between art and technology. Interesting stuff. I really enjoyed the meeting and all the way through it I thought this was something that might interest Pete Townshend, since it seems to me that his work has always been right there at that joining point, the cutting edge where art meets technology.
I persuaded Colin to write about what he and the university were up to and to suggest that there might be something here for The Who, an opportunity to bring new interpretations to the 3 classic Who works, Tommy, Quadrophenia and the never fully realised Lifehouse.
I decided the proper thing to do would be to send Colin’s proposal first to the band’s management. About two hours after I’d sent it, I received a call from manager Robert Rosenberg to say that Roger just happened to be in the office when the e-mail arrived and wanted to meet Colin to discuss some kind of collaboration with the university on Tommy, which, unbeknownst to me, he was considering performing with his touring band at his forthcoming Teenage Cancer Trust benefit gig at the Royal Albert Hall.
Everything happened really quickly after that. Roger met Colin. They got on like a house on fire. Roger expressed his wish to see a new visual interpretation of Tommy. He was excited to see students at college now using the medium of Tommy to talk about THEIR generation. He also wanted to see an interpretation that in some way tapped into the deeper message of Pete Townshend’s timeless rock opera, focusing on the very human nature of Tommy. “We are all Tommy”, as Roger told me.
Colin got approval from the powers that be at Middlesex University and the project caught the imagination of undergraduate students. Colin briefed the students, set up a project page on Facebook and very quickly ideas from lots of different students started to pour in.
Yesterday, I sat in a room with Colin, his project manager, Laura Carr, Robert Rosenberg and Roger. Colin played a 10 minute DVD which showed a 10 minute montage of initial and unfinished images and animations, set to music from Tommy. It was a joy to watch the guy who had performed Tommy at Woodstock in 1969 watching his most famous work being reinterpreted by students who weren’t even a gleam in their parents eye when Roger was performing at Woodstock. The joy and wonder on Roger’s face was something I’ll never forget.
Roger was completely blown away by the experience. Sure, there were criticisms of some pieces, things to do, to change, ideas, suggestions. But the green light’s been given to complete the work and the students are hot on it so that everything’s ready for the gig on March 24th.
Pete, of course, is fully aware of this ‘visualisation’ project and says he’s fascinated about it and looking forward to seeing how it all goes.
Rob Lee