Driving through the countryside of Hampshire in the late afternoon, the sky was almost as big as in Oregon. I wasnít too keen on the ominous clouds but at least the deluge of rain in the morning had subsided. As I drove off the A36 into the drive of Broadlands, an English stately home, once inhabited by the toffiest of toffs, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, Viceroy of India, I could have been heading towards a cricket match, croquet or tea on a lawn with cucumber sandwiches. Broadlands is something straight out of a P. G. Wodehouse novel. I was half-expecting to see Lord Emsworth on the lawn, admiring the love of his life, his prize pig, the Empress of Blandings.
The main house was situated away from the main drive. Obviously any concert attended by us riff-riff rock fans was going to be ring-fenced away from it. I was surprised when I got out of the car that it was surprisingly warm. No need for a coat. Or boots. I wasnít going to be wading in mud. The sun was shining through intermittent clouds. All rather pleasant.
I didnít bump into Lord Emsworth but the Who equivalent, Bob Pridden, whoíd just nipped backstage for a cup of tea.
ìHow are you, Bob?î I asked him.
ìHello, Rob,î he replied. Then, realising he hadnít answered my question, he thought for a moment and his eyes began to shine with what I can only describe as ÖÖ..
ìQuadrophenia!î he continued.
ìAh,î I said.
ìYes,î he went on. ìIíve been working with Pete on the mixesÖ.. wonderful, wonderful.î
ìWorking like that in the studio with Pete again,î he continued, ìitís taken me right back to when we worked on the original mixes. Itís been a joy and the results areÖ.î
A look in his face again. How to describe it? Much like that of Lord Emsworth, contemplating his prize pig. In other words, it was the look of love. Bob sort of floated off towards the stage.
I walked round to the front. The crowd was in a great mood, looking forward to what was to come. The weather was perfect. The facilities at the venue were great. Somehow or other, everything had come together to create the ideal environment for what was to come.
Roger and the band came on, looking relaxed. He announced that he was going to perform Tommy soon, but not yet. He wanted everyone to see the visuals created by the students of Middlesex University, a work in progress, so would do a few warm up numbers till ìthat bright thing in the sky goes downî. The band kicked into ìI can see for Milesî. What a warm up. The sound was wonderful. Everyone was relaxed, especially Roger. I donít think Iíve ever seen him or, more to the point, heard him so relaxed. There was no strain getting to high notes. He was set to have a bloody good time and to make sure the audience did too.
And we did. Six songs passed before the sun was down sufficiently for Roger to embark on ëTommyí. Roger is evangelical about getting back to basics with Tommy, getting to the heart of what he describes as a complex piece, an opera.
ìTommy is a spiritual journey,î he has said many times in interviews leading up to the current tour. Tommy is all of us.î
Just as the band started to play ëOverture,í I noticed that in front of the barrier that divided the audience from the stage was seated an old man in a rather jazzy striped jacket. He looked very frail. It was Ken Russell. It was touching to see the director of the mad, over the top film version of Tommy there, and to see him treated with the respect and admiration he so deserves as an eccentric pioneer of British films.
And then we were into the music. The sun wasnít completely down at the beginning of the show but we could still make out the visuals. The opening sequence dominated onscreen by the flight of birds, the delivery to Mrs Walker by a stork with a Who decal eye of ……. ìa sonÖ.. a sonÖ..î Then into ë1921í. The sun going down now, everything getting darker, along with the story, the musicÖ..
Iíve heard it reported that at the theatre gigs, Roger has asked some fans to be seated, please, during Tommy but OK to stand for the rest. No seats at this open air venue. However, I see his point. The performance of Tommy is performed straight through with no banter by Roger, no interruptions. Just pure music making for the entire rock opera. Itís an intense experience, swinging you through emotional ups and downs, highs and lows. Tommy is an emotional roller coaster. It reminded me so much of its creator, Pete Townshend. It dawned on me as the work unfolded, played with dedication, purity, with gorgeous harmonies, delicious guitar playing and a stunning rhythmic backing, that, although, as Roger had said, Tommy was all of us, for me, at least, Tommy was, is, Pete Townshend. What I was experiencing here was a loving homage to Pete. Despite the fact, obviously, sadly, that Pete was not there in person, he was very much with us in spirit.
So present was Pete that, I have to say, I felt a little sorry for the wonderful Frank Simes. I mean what a guitarist that man is! Stunning. In his hands the guitar seemed to be made of liquid. Heís just one of those totally natural musicians. But, of course, no one can ever replace Pete.
Talking of ëreplacing Peteí, thereís a lot of mention in the press, understandably, about how Simon Townshend is a dead ringer for his older brother. But what the press often fails to point out is that Simon is very much his own man and brings his own special gifts to the challenge of being in the band. This isnít the Roger and Simon-as-Pete-substitute show at all. Simon is very much part of the ensemble. The bass playing and drumming by Jon Button and Scott Deavours, respectively, are stunning. The keyboard playing by Loren Gold, subtle, never intrusive, but providing those vital elements to the Tommy score, many of which, particularly the brass sounds, were also provided by John Entwistle.
Tommy was delicious. And then we went into the not-encore set. (Roger insists that he doesnít do encores, that performers should just perform until theyíre done and then shove off). Weíre treated to Who classics. ëWho Are Youí, ëBehind Blue Eyesí and ëMy Generationí are given tight, new, interesting arrangements, making much of the abilities of this band to deliver close harmonies. Simon T sings the song never performed live by the Who, ëGoing Mobileí. Thereís a Johnny Cash medley, which allows Roger, as he says, to sing in a lower register after the high notes in Tommy. Then weíre into a final homage to Pete with ëBaba O Rileyí before Roger closes the show with his own personal homage to the audience, with the song he sings in ëMacVicarí, ëWithout Your Loveí, written by Billy Nichols. Such a sweet and gentle way to end the show.
My overall impression? You know when you have a perfect day during an idyllic holiday and youíre sitting with your perfect partner on the last day watching the sun go down, and you feel a tinge of sadness because youíre going home tomorrow? Well, it was just like that. The music couldnít have been played better, in my opinion. It was just a gorgeous, wonderful gig in a fabulous venue, outside of an English stately home on a summer day with perfect weather. And I felt a tinge of sadness when it all came to an end.
I was pondering as I was getting into my car, when I spotted Lord Emsworth. Or was it? No, it was Bob Pridden. The love light Iíd seen earlier was still shining in his eyes, which caught mine for the briefest of brief moments. And in that moment, my sadness evaporated as his look pointed at the future, next year, in hope towards that one magic wordÖÖ.
Please, everything crossedÖÖÖ
Rob Lee, Editor, www.thewho.com
I CAN SEE FOR MILES
PICTURES OF LILLY
DAYS OF LIGHT
GIMME A STONE
WHO ARE YOU
BEHIND BLUE EYES
JOHNNY CASH MEDLEY
MY GENERATION / YOUNG MAN BLUES
WITHOUT YOUR LOVE
Review in the DAILY ECHO.