Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: Edinburgh, 8 July 2023

Well, here we are back in cloudy Scotland, very appropriate weather for this special situation. The city is quite old, very picturesque and worth a visit. Yes, it’s touristy, but in a good way – lots of whisky shops, kilts and tartans everywhere. But it’s absolutely welcoming and comfortable, something to see on every block. We’re playing at a most unusual venue. Each summer, the city of Edinburgh spend about two months building a large concert venue on the Castle Rock hill overlooking the city. At the very top of the hill is the legendary castle, the seat of power of Scotland for many centuries. And it’s not one of those smaller castles that dot the hills around the UK and Europe – this one is a monster.

It started as a settlement back in the Bronze Age (around 1,000 BC) to become a stunning historical landmark; most of what we see now was built between the 1500s and 1800s. They say it’s the most sieged castle in all of Britain, and it’s definitely built for a fight. On three sides are steep cliffs (this is an extinct volcano) and the long, sloped entrance make this an excellent defensible position – not that we are trying to keep people out today.

The Royal Mile is the name of the long, sloped street up to the castle, and everyone must come up that way – the band, workers, security, and all the crowd. There are still tours of the castle every day, even around us as we work. It’s so popular that it’s pre-sold-out for the next three days (you must book ahead during tourist season or you can’t get in to see it.) Our venue is several thousand seats in an arena, but those thousands of daily visitors walk right past us while we load in and set up, interesting for them, and unusual for us to have so many visitors while we work. It’s been raining somewhat, a drizzle now and then.

Early in the evening, the band comes in to sound-check. While we are onstage, a woman comes out in front of the stage, dressed quite nicely – I think she works at the castle, as she’s not in the part where the tourists come through. She goes nearly hysterical, seeing Roger and Pete up so close and she yells and cheers. “You can come up if you want?” Pete says over the microphone. She doesn’t believe the offer and stays put. So he send his assistant down to get her, and he brings her up onstage. She’s freaking out, and Pete offers to take her photo with Roger, grabbing her cell phone to do so. Then Roger returns the favor, and this excited woman cannot believe her luck. Just an accident, but easily done and so random it may never happen again.

Today is different, quite different for us: since our orchestra is traveling with us, they don’t need a rehearsal! Fantastic. That saves us hours of time today, and they will be in just after the band check to join us for the full group rehearsal of one or two songs, then we’re set to go. The arena fills up quickly and somehow they manage to squeeze in thousands of people up the one street in an hour or so. Fascinating.

This stage is quite small – as big as they can make it, given the space – but we are barely able to get in. All our side-stage operations (guitar techs, sound crew) are packed in, and our orchestra are elbow-to-elbow. The riser stage we use for horns/brass won’t fit at all, so we have them flat on the floor, and a few of the French horns have to sit behind the keyboard rig. Not ideal, but they are good sports about it – there is no other way.

Since we don’t have room for a big opening act, we have a special offer: our own Simon Townshend! He’s doing a solo show. Simon’s been prepping for ages, adding all new tricks to his arsenal, including looper pedals that repeat parts over and over, rhythm machines, bass pedals, harmony boxes. Using these he can play with bass parts, rhythms and even have harmony voices singing along with himself live. It’s a pretty cool bag of tricks. He’s doing a lot to keep people entertained out there. Then – it’s time to go – and we fill the stage with The ‘Oo and their orchestra.

“SO good to be here!” Roger calls out, right up front. Pete tells the crowd they’re grateful for their bravery and endurance, given the rain and such. He says he used to say the rain was God’s blessing on a show. Pete says they’ll use this introductory (Tommy) section to get everyone used to the orchestra – who he calls, knowingly, “The Edinburgh Philharmonic” (not true, but more on this later) He does admit they’re “called something else, but I don’t want to tell you what it is!” given the long history of conflict between England and Scotland.

Pete does some amazing guitar work tonight. During my favorite musical bit of the show – the last few moments of ‘1921’, he noodles some beautiful clean guitar work. Something you’d never have heard from him in 1970, but he’s grown so much as a capable player.

On a poignant and sweet note, Pete wants to say hello for one audience member; a friend of his daughter’s named Simon is here “and he may not be here in two weeks” . Very sad, but the crowd roars approval, and hopefully this guy is having a great life moment here with us all. Don’t forget – Life Is Temporary – it sure seems like a long thing, until it’s not.

And then on a lighter note, he calls out to a woman who’s been crazy-dancing in the aisles of the seats off to his left. She’s pretty free and wild, so Pete calls out to her “To the woman in the green jumper . . . Yes, you! I’ll have what you’re having!!” He also claims that he would love a great malt whisky – as we’re in a town full of specialised whisky shops. “A good malt whisky is probably what I miss the most (since giving up drinking). Most of you probably think I used to drink just cognac; that was because it was cheaper! To show all of you that I’m still a bit wild now I’ll have . . . a coffee!” Then he turns to the roadie who shakes his head no; it’s not ready. “Or in this case, it seems I won’t!” Instead, they do a great ‘Tattoo’, which Roger always seems to enjoy most, that great tale told of ink and manhood. Funny enough, the annual Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is held each August in the arena we’re in right now – no relation! Just after, Pete’s coffee is brought out and he takes a hit or two and then opens his eyes wide as if he was feeling it immediately – just in time for a rousing ‘My Generation’. We’re so glad they brought this one back. It hadn’t been in the show for some time, and it just doesn’t seem like a Who show without that core piece. Plus it gives them that thing they like – a moment to jam, an unplanned mess-around at the end – where Roger likes to quote ‘Cry If You Want’. Jon Button throws out a great bass solo tonight, a moment to shine on such a critical piece. At the end, Pete tells everyone, “See . . . we can still make a mess!”

Video courtesy of Ewan 

Pete continues to feel good, and there is some blazing guitar happening on ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. Noted! And from the number of punters (audience) wearing their olive-green parkas, we can tell this is a Mod/Quad audience, so the announcement of the Quadrophenia set is greeted with cheers all around. It was such a different response that Roger let them sing the first two lines of ‘5:15’. The only disagreement came during ‘The Rock’ when the film clips show Maggie Thatcher – to huge boos all around!

“My jacket’s gonna be cut slim and checked, maybe a touch of seersucker, with an open neck . . .”

Video courtesy of Ewan 

Video from the front row courtesy of lucky Ewan 

Soon, we’re all the way to the end, and with ‘Baba O’Riley’ completed, and Keith Levenson comes to talk to Pete: Evidently since there IS obviously another group called the Edinburgh Philharmonic, we shouldn’t say this orchestra is theirs! So Pete cautiously introduces them by their real name, The Heart of England Orchestra. At first, some boos come but everyone really does appreciate them and they get a nice round of applause. Pete thanks them for being gracious. “I knew you’d welcome them”, and adds that “they’re one of the best audiences we’ve had in years”. Very entertaining indeed!

It’s been quite a night – weird yet good! It was definitely a family affair today: Not only was Simon T our support act, we had his and Pete’s brother Paul in to watch today. Simon Daltrey – Roger’s son is here. And The Father of The Who Crew: Bobby Pridden came in to see us all tonight. Bob started with the Who back in December 1966, and only “retired” from road stuff (but still does studio work) just a few years back. Since The Who was the first band to use tape playback in 1970, he did that until I took it over when he left, then we got Mike McKnight in to handle that for this last tour. Finally, we all would like to thank the orchestra for putting up with the awful stage crowding. Our string bass player had to stop playing and move every time we needed to get past her onstage! Crazy, but it worked. Now we have another show here tomorrow, so we don’t have to pack out tonight! And no setup tomorrow which is pretty great news for the crew.


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
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
Tea & Theatre