Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: Brighton, Sunday 23 July 2023

This is a big one: The Who in Brighton. “Here by the sea and sand” – Yes, this is core territory for the Quadrophenia story. Beyond that, it’s a fantastic place to visit, we’ve always had great times here.

It’s due south of London, and we’re headed in from the far north. Notice that we’re moving all back-and-forth during this tour; some call it a “dartboard” tour as it’s so random geographically. One person said we’ve essentially made a Star Of David or pentagram pattern all over the country. Back and forth over and over.

We arrive on a wet, rainy, and windy day; so strong that it’s hard to stand up in places. It’s right on the coast, with over 100 years of architecture and wonderful features from many decades still present here. If you ever have the chance, you can jump on a train south from London and be here in an hour or so; you should do it! Notable are the two main piers, the West Pier caught fire over 20 years ago, and has been left as an oddly-beautiful set of pilings and beams jutting out from the water. (It will slowly wear and erode down to nothing someday.) And the main Brighton Palace Pier is still full of wonderful shops and arcades, and of course, rides of all types. It still has much of the old décor from when it was built circa 1899. You can feel and imagine all the millions of lives who came and summered here, not to mention the Mods and the Rockers story of Quadrophenia, the battles that happened on the beach right beside this.

The Royal Pavilion, built in 1787 for George, Prince of Wales, who became Prince Regent in 1811 and later George IV.

Even Brian’s hotel room had a Mod theme to it

Certainly, a percentage of people who come here know that story, both the reality and the album/film versions of it. The old Grand Hotel is right there on the beach, if you feel like being a bellboy for a day. From the film story, there is the famous alley scene where things are consummated, and that’s got a plaque on it from the city, plus a “Quadrophenia Alley” Mod store is right next to it, offering all sorts of related goods and gifts from that era. And for no known reason, the BBC2 television channel (all over, not just here) is showing (a) The Who Live at The Proms concert, from the Roundhouse in Camden, (b) The Quadrophenia film and (c) The Who Live at Glastonbury concert! That’s quite a chunk of the evening programming, and it’s all this band. Kind of strange, especially to have the film running just blocks from where it was shot. I did notice that Roger’s singing is better now than it was back in 2007 though, which is amazing to think about (he’s had vocal restorative surgery since then).

Simon Law, Pete’s guitar tech

Clive ‘Binky’ Brinkworth, Roger and Simon’s guitar tech. More on Binky later!

Pete’s gold Strat with emery board to sharpen his guitar picks

Simon with Pete’s #8 red Strat

Audrey trying out for Jon Button’s job?

The French horn player and her silver shoes

Our field today (again, outside) is a large cricket ground, only a few blocks from the beach, but we are welcoming better weather today. Almost no rain and the wind is relatively insignificant. Isabella Coulstock and UB40 featuring Ali Campbell start the show, giving people time to get in and get settled, have a drink or ten. (One of our crew, Mark Sidgwick, used to live only minutes from here; he’s spent many an afternoon here having pints! Our main monitor man, Simon Higgs lives in Brighton still, not far away either; his lovely wife Esme is here today for the hometown show, so easy to do.) Yet, there are still some issues; as this is a very popular seaside town, there are no big areas where people can make a big parking lot. There’s almost no parking and no subways/trains nearby; it’s kind of tough to get here. But we’re set up, people are here in droves, it’s clearly a success as the place is quite full before we go on. They are loudly singing along to the UB40 set, so we know this will be a good one already.

Our youngest fan today with his dad

Video courtesy of the Gazzas 

Rog and Pete welcome everyone, and thank them for coming. Pete says “warmup” doesn’t describe the set that UB40 do for us – it’s so full of hits and so well-received by the audiences. “We have the same manager” (which is true, Bill Curbishley) “So I told him he gets to lose money twice now!!” We start early here, because they have a hard 9:30pm curfew, but we are now far to the south – so although we start the show (again) in daylight, it should darken fairly well before the show is ended. Tommy starts well, it’s tighter tonight. We seem to have no crazy echoes or weird sounds onstage, which is a good sign of things going well ahead. At one point there is a false start and a re-start (I think at ‘Amazing Journey’) but no big deal, plus it proves our show is live! During the ‘Pinball Wizard’ intro, I see Pete skipping across the stage, excited it’s starting – he’s on a roll, definitely feeling good tonight. After Tommy, Pete tells everyone he’s not going to make it into a speech, but he and Rog are so pleased that people are coming out; they hear all the time how hard it is for people, and he knows they probably have to give some things up to be at a big show like tonight – and they really appreciate it!

Video courtesy of the Gazzas

During ‘Eminence Front’, Pete usually improvises a different “Come and join the party, dress to kill” line. Tonight, something is going on down in front with many security guards. So Pete says/sings “If you want to join the party, you’re going to need to wear a yellow vest and distract people from the music, so go back to wherever you f***ing came from! He’s clearly angry, and it makes for an interesting end moment. ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’ – Pete’s playing the Rickenbacker “fireglo” electric guitar again! He does the unique string-scraping intro on it and it sounds just right. I thought it had come and gone, for sure. But it’s back and looks/sounds cool, always. So – maybe, it’s back?

I know Roger has a good amount of his family here – they even had a special “Family” room backstage today. After ‘You Better You Bet’, Roger complains about something going wrong and then admits “I sang the whole first half without hearing a f***ing thing!” Pete comments, “Well – it sounded good!”

‘My Generation’ – well, one of the many modulations upward doesn’t happen as it should. Maybe to make up for it, Pete starts messing with the ending half, adding new parts and trying to get a head of steam rolling for it. At one point, he just jumps up a few notes and starts playing there. Jon Button shifts instantly, so that sounds great – and it continues on for the rest of the song. Again, this live spontaneous Who stuff is where the excitement happens if you’ve seen more than one show.

At various times, there are timing issues. I see Keith Levenson, Chief Tapper, who is trying to guide the orchestra to follow the band. He’s struggling. I hear sounds like bad drumming – but am told it’s a microphone channel making a kick drum noise. Then later, I hear the click-track computer was crashing now and then – hence Roger’s unexplained comment about “damn computers”, which now makes sense. Everyone’s trying to find the beat once in a while.

The whole pitch lawn area is surrounded by buildings and flats/apartments of the locals. It’s quite a packed area, so there are dozens of roofs and balconies full of people watching from their own homes. Pete asks them directly, “I wondered if you all sell tickets for this? Or is it ‘a free festival’? (an inside joke about the Isle of Wight and Woodstock situations.) I guess you have no choice, whether you like it or not.” I know Elton played here a year back, and those people did like it; they were shouting their requests. We’re told it’s the only show here this year, all this setup is just for us – quite a bit of work.

We are seeing the sun set sooner here, even though our show is early by at least an hour, so the lights and screens really bring the audience into the show more. It’s a BIG part of the show, really, being able to see as well as hear, and the lights do accent and enhance the mood. Our cool video team is always put somewhere – placed anywhere they can fit – because they can work from any spot where they can use their many screens to watch and control the show. The monitor and move cameras, shots, and images throughout the show: Sometimes they are situated under the stage, in a back hallway, a different building or tent – wherever the cables will reach. Today they are onstage, but just behind the main curtain hanging behind our orchestra. It’s pretty tight back there, and rather dark, but they do their bit silently and well every night – it makes a big difference to our audience, whether they know it or not!

Video courtesy of Loren Gold 

Video courtesy of Barry Leeming

Pete is introducing the band and comes to Keith Levenson (conductor) as “… our musical director?? That means he sends me lots of emails like ‘is it ok to do the next show exactly the same show we did today?’” Keith is up there, on Pete’s side as you see in the photos. It’s too far for all the players to see him easily – that’s why a conductor is usually right in the middle. But we can put him there, so we have small headphones and a click track to guide the orchestra and band in their tempos – ideally! Keith’s score pages are tall, as they show every section and instrument; it’s a vertical stack for each measure (a count of 1-2-3-4) so he can see what everyone’s doing. But each player doesn’t have to read all that – for simplicity sake, the oboe or viola only has very minimal score, which may look 1/100th as complicated. So that single player can focus on just the one part and play it with the best phrasing and feel and timing. Really it sounds like each person is doing a detailed, fine performance – and that adds up into a great orchestral sound. But the complex version is on Keith’s stand, to oversee and guide everyone. It’s somewhat complicated, as his main job (once the orchestra is rehearsed through the show, as ours is) is to key them in for entrances and exits. Before this leg of the tour, I had a good discussion with Stewart Copeland of The Police, where we discussed the orchestra-plus-rock band stage issues: He explains it much better here, so if you want more details on conducting and orchestra players, he explains it so well. It’s here if you want to know more..

Finishing up, dozens of local helpers arrive, staged behind us waiting for the ending. Then they scramble into action and start to assist us in lifting, pulling cables, loading cases, loading our big trucks for the road. Then out in front, hundreds of seagulls swing in and start swooping and landing – scavengers who know this was a place with food and people. They spend their day scouring the beach areas for people-food and such. They’re here to clean up anything edible that’s left behind.

We had a pretty great show, people were raving about it afterward, for sure. We had a loud audience, and everyone here was very aware of our location and its history to The Who story. It was even sunny for some of the day – something we’ve not really seen since Barcelona! So the mood was fine, most things were going well, if not better-than. So hopefully, everyone had their best evening out, and memories that will last. It certainly felt good from here.

Meanwhile, back to the Mods and Rockers stuff: At one point, people in the front start chanting “We are the mods, we are the mods!” so Pete says “You know, no one ever sang that . . .” Roger concurs “They were too cool.” Then Pete continues; “They made that bit up for that shit film. But you can sing it if you like!” As I’d said a blog or two ago – so much of what people perceive now as the culture of those Mod days may be from Pete’s story or the interpreted version of that made into a film. Yet there is a real history there, jazz and R&B fans and their world of fashion, dance, and transportation.

And now to close all this, a rare photo. One of our main roadies, the guitar technician for Roger and Simon Townshend is Clive “Binky” Brinkworth. When he was young, Binky was an original Mod teenager. Here’s a photo we’ve found of him in those days, sitting on his customised scooter! Binky is far left in yellow. Classic!

Onward . . .

Tonight’s Set List

With Orchestra
Amazing Journey
The Acid Queen
Pinball Wizard
We’re Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You
Eminence Front

Band Only
The Kids Are Alright
You Better You Bet
Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere
I Can’t Explain
My Generation
Cry If You Want
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Behind Blue Eyes

With Orchestra
The Real Me
I’m One
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me
Baba O’Riley