4 May 2016
A VERY TALENTED MAN
by Irish Jack
Irish Jack emailed me this morning. I guess he must’ve been following my daily posts on The Who’s Facebook page called ’50 Years of The Who’, where I relate what the band were doing fifty years ago this very day. Jack sent me the following tale which he had written to a Who fan recently, who had purchased a copy of Jack and Joe McMichael excellent book, The Who Concert File. It concerns an event that happened 50 years ago this very week – 8 May 1966 – when Irish Jack’s mother Mrs Anna Lyons went and had tea in Cork, Eire with a certain Pete Townshend and an English aristocratic gentleman by the name of Kit Lambert. I’ll let Jack pick up the story . . .
Thank you for buying a copy of mine and Joe McMichael’s book ‘The Who Concert File’. I’m so glad you were able to obtain it on e-Bay as the book is now out of print and apparently exceptionally hard to come by in store. Referring to the date in the book Sunday May 8 1966, unbelievably almost fifty years ago now, the Who are listed on page 53 as coming to play at my local dance hall in Cork, Ireland, the Arcadia Ballroom. The band had never before appeared in Cork – and didn’t make another reappearance until some 41 years later in 2007.
But back then in the glorious days of 1966 with ‘Substitute’ heading towards the Top Ten in the British charts, the band would only perform for about forty minutes, this was the norm at that time with most bands who toured on the strength of a hit, although by now the Who had had three hits. On Thursday May 5th 1966, they finished a gig at Kidderminster Town Hall in England. The next night they were in the north of Ireland for the first time ever at the Top Hat in Lisburn, then on to the National Stadium in Dublin where five or six bands played support (one band in particular Peter Adler & The Next In Line had Max Ker-Seymer as a member, Max is well known on Who web sites). After Dublin it was back on the bus for the drive to Cork’s Arcadia Ballroom – my home town.
Trouble was: I wasn’t home. Shepherd’s Bush was my home by then, as I had worked in offices in west London from the age of sixteen-and-a-half filing A to Z legal papers and taking acid for lunch, well perhaps not too much acid, and not too much LSD for tea.
The personalised entry on page 53 under the date Sunday May 8 1966 has always made me smile – it reads, “Before the show Irish Jack’s mother Anna and his cousin Joey went to the local Intercontinental Hotel and met Pete Townshend and Kit Lambert.” -And then in a kind of added poignancy to the rarity of the occasion, it continues.. “Irish Jack did not travel to Cork for this show.” -Almost as if I needed to point out to curious readers of Who Concert File “that, no !”, against all expectations I did not travel back to my hometown of Cork with the band.
But looking back, as people my age tend to do as we all get older, it never once entered my head that I should have gone to Kit (Lambert) and Chris’s (Stamp) office and said “Look, it’s been a whole year since I’ve seen my mum and the band are in Cork on Sunday 8th, any chance of a ride over?” And that’s all it would’ve taken. But it didn’t seem important to me at the time and anyway I probably had a date with some girl to take her to the Regal cinema in Hammersmith on Sunday May 8th. It was only many years later in conversation with a friend who pointed out that I had never seen the band play in my home town that I got thinking about it. We all do it, you and I, as we age through the process, we cling to memory like a man clings to a floating log. For some odd reason NOW it seems to me I lost a chance to come back to Cork in my mod threads like a returning Caesar with my buddies The Who.
So – it’s the afternoon of Sunday May 8th 1966. I’m in my west London flat in Ravenscourt Park Mansions and in God’s truth I can’t exactly remember whether I took acid or LSD that day, and for the benefit of Who Concert File readers neither can I remember whether I had a date with some girl outside the Regal cinema in Hammersmith. Meanwhile in Cork that afternoon things are astir. My mother Anna and my cousin Joey Wagner already know the Who are going to be playing at our local ballroom the Arcadia. A plan is hatched and together they drive the five minutes to the Intercontinental Hotel. Pete Townshend is summoned from his room because..’Irish Jack’s mother Anna is down in the lobby’. Somehow, the band’s manager Kit Lambert – the man who has already christened me ‘Irish Jack’ – is accompanying him. They have dinner and Pete tells my mum what a talented man I am “He never stops writing..” Kit agrees because it would be impolite to say…”Actually, I’ve only ever seen one piece of writing of Irish Jack’s.” As Pete continues to eulogise his friend from the Goldhawk Club, Irish Jack, and careful not to mention such sordid places as U.F.O.’s on Tottenham Court Road where nearly everyone takes acid and LSD, Kit is continuing to reassure my mother in his flamboyant Oxford accent and hands weaving in and out of camp… that “Yes, Anna, Jack’s really doing alright isn’t he Pete?” Mother’s instinct is telling my mum that she is being over-reassured. Even the ego massage, that “Jack’s a really talented man and never stops writing,” – seems over-the-top. Oh God, if Kit had just let it alone.
It’s time to go and let pop stars return to their lonely hotel rooms and managers to walk guests to the lobby and their goodbyes are so re-assured and camp it’s unbelievable. At that time my guess is that my mum would have been aged about 50 -still young- but it would have been unheard of back then for my mum to go along to the Arcadia Ballroom and see what all the fuss was about. It just wasn’t done in those days.
About a week later, my landlady who I shared the flat with, Mrs. Boyle, has gone to her sister for the weekend in Goodge Street near Tottenham Court Road and I am left to my own devices. Who shall I ring? The phone is next to me in the sitting room and while I am pondering the possibilities of some exotic friend to invite over, suddenly I jumped when the phone came to life with its jarring tone. It’s mum. Hello? Hello, Jackie? Is that you Jackie? -who in God’s name did my mother expect to be at the other end? It would either be me or Mrs. Boyle. I always tended to sound less-London and unconvincing when my mother rang. Her rich Cork accent would drag me back in and I would be back at the dinner table in Cork. I found it difficult to get a word in as she raved on the phone about the nice man and thorough gentleman my friend Pete Townshend was. I wanted to say “He’s more than my friend Mother – he’s my fecking idol ! – but couldn’t. He (Pete) didn’t know what to do to make her and my cousin Joey feel welcome. He was kind and generous. He told her that he didn’t think the band would last for much longer -despite Substitute running up the charts that week. He said I was a really talented man AND that I never stop writing. As I listened with a well deserved ego massage of a smile across my puss eventually my mother ran out of superlatives about the man known as Pete Townshend. Then there was an awkward silence. The kind of silence only a son or daughter can sense whilst on the phone with a parent. I half knew but looking back didn’t really know what was coming. Then my mother said not all together comfortably…”There was a…another man there with Pete.” Well, obviously this was either John, Roger or even Keith, wasn’t it? “Was it another one of the band, Mum?” “No, he was older. He was very posh and he had a funny name.” I’m thinking down the phone. ‘Hold on. Very posh with a funny name and not a member of the band but yet he is WITH the band? Who could that be? “Was his name Kit, Mum?” “Yes, I think that was his name….is he…??” Is he what? Church of England? A Congregationalist? A Conservative voter? Of course none of these possibilities were raised. My mother’s background was well educated, middle class Irish protestant. She lived to the ripe old age of 84 and was always a broad-minded person. But back then in those dark days of 1966 my mother found it more than difficult to ask her eldest son if his friend Kit was homosexual. Nobody mentioned the word ‘queer’, it was offensive and impolite. Gay wasn’t even in the lexicon. There were other words as well to describe a person who was homosexual but usually they were derisive and used to insult and humiliate. The pause on the phone that Sunday afternoon was about five seconds, an eternity between mother and son, as my mum struggled to fill the gap. Suddenly from nowhere she half-shouted, “Did you get that pullover I sent you?” My mother in her loving way had spent a month knitting me a Fair Isle-type pullover with a crew neck, something one of the Clancy Brothers would have worn at Carnegie Hall. In my wildest dreams I would not have worn it under my mod threads but she didn’t have to know that. “Yes, yes, I got it mum, thanks. It’s fantastic. Everyone’s asking me who knitted it.”, I lied. Her voice tipped into a hint of displeasure. “Jackie, I spent a lot of time knitting that so don’t leave it behind you when you go out.” The hint of anger mixed with frustration told me -and has always stayed with me- that her concerns about the knitted pullover were a placebo for her real concerns about the company I was keeping in big bad London. She just couldn’t say ‘homosexual’.
Some years later when I had returned to live with my wife and family in Cork, I came back from a Who project in London. I was in my mother’s house telling her about how it went. From out of nowhere I found myself telling her how I had visited Brompton Cemetery and spent a couple of hours cleaning the Lamberts’ grave. It had been buried under a mound of weeds. My mother looked at me in those clear eyes and asked, “Was that the man I met with Pete?” “Yes, mum,” I replied, “that was Kit. You remember, he was homosexual.” “Oh, I knew that all along..”