Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: Durham, Wednesday 19 July 2023

We had a fairly long crew-bus ride to the next stop. From Bristol to Durham in the rain. five or six hours so not bad, with stops and all. Durham is not a common name in Who stories, but it’s right next to Newcastle; most of you will have heard of that town. Newcastle is a rather busy place, and we have vivid memories of weekend nights there, people out on the crawl, yelling and laughing, tons of ‘teens and ’20s doing whatever young people have done for centuries. I went into the Hard Rock Cafe, always good to look for Who stuff, and they did not disappoint. An Alembic bass signed by John Entwistle hanging proudly in there. Then, off to sleep for the morning and . . .

Durham County Cricket Ground. We are actually in Chester-le-Street just south of Durham itself

Can it be – another cricket ground? I guess it is. We seem to be hitting them all around ol’ England. And they are large, very difficult to fill, so we’ll just have anyone in that wants to buy a ticket. There’s a large castle up on the hill above, don’t know – I’ve seen the “old castle” in Newcastle, could this be the newer one? (Ed: It’s Lumley Castle, Brian)

The 1996 Quadrophenia tour Vespa is doing great business raising funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust

Today our crowd is mixed, but more controlled than the young crowd in the city. And there are a lot of them here, but maybe 4,000? Not even as many “punters” as Hull, which was rather small by our standards. No matter – this band plays for however many or few, the same effort and results. Doesn’t matter if it’s the Olympics worldwide or a cricket club ground in Durham, they will do what they always do.

It’s a big stage, but weather is threatening. And midway through the day, just after the crew sets up all the gear – the rain drops HARD. So much so that even the leak-proof tent was leaking, and we raced to cover all our instruments and amps with tarps. Done, now we only have about six hours to wait for our show, and it will continue to rain off and on for hours. The rest of the world is burning up, totally unbearable heat elsewhere, but we get the opposite! (Thanks to some of our crew, the lights/video/sound are largely in place from the day before. They’ve been doing this a lot, “advancing” in before show day to prep and get the bigger, heavier things into place. Makes it a lot easier for the rest of us.)

Isabella Coulstock and Mark

Isabella Coulstock and Ali’s UB40 are doing well, despite the slow arrivals and overall wetness in the grounds. Isabella has barely got a crowd in yet, when she starts, but during her set they start to fill in and appreciate it. She’s here again with her father, Mark, watching tonight; he tells me she grew up mainly with 70s and 80s music – doesn’t like the modern stuff very much, and is a big vinyl collector. Good! There will be at least one more show with her, I think in Brighton, and UB40 should be at most everything we do coming up.

Then – it’s showtime: Pete and Rog come out, casual and comfortable, it seems. They congratulate the crowd for enduring the rain, which seems to be gone. Again, we’re rather far North here, so it’s late but the sun is still out for most of our shows. (It has been strange, many daylight and outdoor shows, two things we rarely do!) Pete thanks Isabella and UB40; he’s very conscientious of others, and this is one small sign. Next time you’re at a big show – do they even mention the other acts?

Tommy starts and it’s good – despite a lack of band soundcheck today (and the last show!) Roger’s even laughing out loud as he plays his tambourines on the ‘Overture’. I see the night’s photographers crowding in “the pit” between the front rows and the stage. Most shows give the local press and others a Media Pass; they’re allowed in to take some photos of the show (good publicity) but they’re only allowed the first two or three songs. Most artists have this as (a) photography can be a distraction, right down in front (b) artists look their best at the start, no messy hair or makeup running – yet. Our team allows three songs – because Song #3 is ‘Amazing Journey’ / ‘Sparks’ and there’s a LOT to shoot. All the Who classics – Pete will usually windmill, Roger swings the mic, tambourines, Pete slides the guitar up the mic stand on ‘Amazing Journey’; all GREAT shots any photographer would kill to have in their portfolio. But most of these are not Who fans, they don’t know whats about to happen, so they may be moving or focusing or something and I see many of them miss these amazing shots over and over.

Photographers: It’s been a lot of how you and I “know” The Who is by those decades of photos. Most photographers are just allowed in once they reach a certain level of fame or quality. Good photos help sell the band, so you want those photographers taking the best shots. But, they get free access to our stage, backstage, the pit, etc etc – and then $ell those photos to make their living. But The Who management have been very, very smart. In return for such amazing access (imagine what a fan would pay to be all those places and take photos!?) we get to use their photos, too – for tour programs and shirts and such. We are grateful for their talent, attention, and photos! A few famous photographers have resisted, or worse. So they are no longer allowed. I take some decent photos now and then, but have learned from those before me. When I started, Matt Kent was always around, then usually William Snyder. And my own mentor was a guy named Henry Grossman – who taught me to show “the other things” – not just Pete jumping, or Roger with a microphone singing hard. That’s the shot that everyone takes – the scene we’ve seen ten thousand times. So what I learned does indeed help us here: I don’t have time, the gear, or positioning to get the great stage shots those people could, but I look for the different things that you and I might not normally see from a “professional” concert photographer. These are the cool and weird shots that make up our day, and set the scene so it’s not just rock show after rock show!

Speaking of photos, one of our fine musicians brings her shiny chrome sneakers/trainers – except in Badminton, where I chided her that she was going to ruin the show without them! She laughed and brought them back. Not many could see them but us on the stage Right wing, but we appreciate the effort!

Speaking of the orchestra, Pete mentions they do the whole tour, which means “they started great, but get better every day”. Sorta true – and common for most musicians to grow into a show. He suggests they’re looking forward to playing something “a bit more complicated” when we finish. Maybe so, but it’s nice to be paid, and many of these players love that it’s The Who.

Newcastle – Pete mentions he lost our old crew chief, Alan Rogan, who was from up here. “Geordie” is the nickname for those from these parts, especially Newcastle area. Brian Johnson from AC/DC, Bryan Ferry – there are quite a few (Ed: Don’t forget The Animals, BK!). Alan is always remembered, daily, even as a few of his old things are always with us; the Who cases we nicknamed AR1 and AR2 (for Alan Rogan) for Pete’s parts and such, we use daily where Alan used to work, and our favorite plug-board/power strip from Fender guitars is along, which they gave to us years ago. This is a big Fender band, so it’s quite welcome, and bright orange. Small things remind us of the big man . . .

Pete continues that he used to cause some havoc in a hotel (the Five Bridges, named after the famous five crossing the Tyne River here) He said that once he was headed south, but had no money. So he stopped into the hotel – a place he’d nearly been ejected from many times. “Do you remember me?!” he begged, and they did. Somehow he convinced them to give him some cash for petrol/gas, and he found his way home!

Video courtesy of the Gazzas 

Roger jokes about the teams here, especially when they play in “minus 20 degrees and with no shirts!” He knows this is a hearty bunch here. Pete jokes that “it’s raining where Zak is . . .” because he’s covered in a deep yellow hoodie that almost hides him completely. When Pete introduces the band later, Jon Button pulls off his black hood to reveal his face to everyone. Pete jokes “You’ve got too much hair left, you ****!” and then he laughs and takes off his own knit cap to show his shining head! Everyone laughs and Pete admits “Thank God for the beanie!”

Video courtesy of the ever-present Gazzas 

The sky has been darkening, and along the way, the lighting of the sky and cloud has been most-impressive! It makes almost any photo look cooler (which is a photographer’s trick: good light makes good photos). It may be having an effect on the band, too, as it’s such a positive scene here tonight. Pete is wailing, double endings added to some songs, and it’s always better when that happens.

Simon Law and his set list. Now, which guitar? . . .

It’s pretty dark, and we do ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ as the band-set closes the second section of the show. Afterward, guitar wizard Simon Law is handing Pete another guitar and raising back his vocal microphone. “Too high” Pete cautions him “I get shorter as the show goes on.” He says this pretty clearly into the microphone, so everyone laughs. Tonight, Roger ends ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ with one of his smoothest and most-ideal vocal solos, and then a HUGE ending hit from the band and orchestra. “Nice one, Rog!” Pete yells – and it’s not just me that noticed it being so great tonight.

‘Baba O’Riley’ finishes up, no more ‘Tea & Theatre’ for these shows; likely it’s just not intimate enough a crowd or setting. As I said, ‘Baba O’Riley’ is the finest closing number you could buy, so we have it – and use it! Was it a good show? Of course, it’s always good. Just in different places each night, in different ways. Everyone’s in a good mood, it seems and we’re only three shows from the end, for now.

Video courtesy of the Gazzas

I pack up, walking past the old Vespa glowing on display in the dark; many lucky punters have come done their best “We Are the Mods” pose on it for a wonderful Teenage Cancer Trust display. Great idea, whoever thought of that!

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