Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: Hull, 6 July 2023

“We’re on the Highway to Hull . . .”

This is a view on the crew’s “day bus” – not the usual kind that we could sleep in, but when we’re only traveling shorter distances (city to city), we take these buses. Here we are, back in England, home territory again. We move from hotel to hotel on this tour, as we have a few days between shows, and no need for long overnight drives when in the UK.

Hull is a city in Yorkshire; up on the coast, east of Leeds, with Manchester and Liverpool off to the far left of the map. We are playing at the big local rugby league ground, home of Hull Kingston Rovers. The stadium is pretty big, Craven Park. It’s a little too big, as I find out when I get in two days early and Rod Stewart is playing here. I came down to watch Rod, and the place is surprisingly empty – although still thousands are here, but it’s huge. Yet a bit of rain and harder times have made concert tickets expensive for some, and it’s not a huge city. Hull has seen better days, even the last time we were here it was nicer, but it’s coming back slowly. (PS – I found out that Jon Button had already been chosen to replace Rod’s longtime bassist, but the opening never came). Rod said there were a few thousand people here, but it certainly was more, maybe four to five thousand. Out show is expected to be similar.

The Rod show is good, so much more video-oriented than we are, but he has choreography and lots of other people onstage. There are many good songs and a show to boot. Afterward, I talked a bit to Sir Rod, and he asked about The Who, as he wanted to know who was in the band, and how Roger was doing. “Really well” I let him know, and he said “Give him my love!” We may see Rod again soon, as he has a few shows before us still on this tour, same venue, one day earlier.

Binky and one of his balls

Doug Clarke, Roger’s on-tour PA

Because we’re here with one day off – they have the video and light crews come in a day early, to set up and prep everything. Then today, our show day, the rest load in, more stage and sound setup, plus time for the orchestra to rehearse. I told you in the previous blog that there was a surprise – which we’ve not had before: This orchestra will be ours on tour: They will play every show on this tour leg with us. We are pleased for two significant reasons: One: They’ll likely get better and better each show, being more familiar with the music and our show. Two: If they don’t need to rehearse, it takes about two-and-a-half to three hours less work for us each day. We set up later, test everything later, and still have a great performance. Looking forward to this, it promises to bring some stronger shows.

Who fans . . .

And more Who fans, including a few familiar faces. These are the die-hard front row guys

Who fans . . .

There’s more at the door . . .

Amanda with Janie Townshend, Simon’s wife

Even more Who fans

Local fan and local beer

Who Put The Boot In? . . .

They contract a for-hire orchestra called The Heart of England Philharmonic. They’re on the younger side, and there are many teachers and professionals who also work for musicals and touring rock/pop bands. They seem eager, and not the stuff-shirt classical type. In fact, quite a few of these players have done previous shows with us already, such as Wembley Stadium. At one point in the show, Pete announces that since they are called “The Heart of England, then they must be from Hull!” A nice sentiment, well-received. But not quite true, since most of them seem to be from Birmingham area, the Midlands, so they are centrally-located. Pete says that we all know that such musicians start very young to be a symphonic player, with years and years of practice until you can sight-read almost anything you put in front of them. “That leaves me plenty of free space to pretend I’m a lead guitar player!” he jokes.

There’s not much talk up-front, except Pete thanks everyone for coming to the “first show” and thanks them for being loyal – and we are off into Tommy. With these larger pieces, there isn’t time to break and talk between songs. While the Quadrophenia and More tour did play the entire album in-sequence, the drawback was the almost total lack of chat and onstage interplay that we enjoy from a normal Who show. Luckily, although we have Tommy and Quadrophenia as two larger pieces, there’s plenty of time to talk and joke between the rest. Tonight, we get a lot of chatter – which is usually a sign they’re having a good time!

It’s still quite light outside as we start – we’re pretty far up north, so that affect is still notable during summer hours. We do have the stage lights, etc, but they’re not nearly as effective yet.

The orchestra seems good. In fact, they’re noticeably better than the previous four we had in Europe. As I said, we hope they grow to learn and feel the music better each night, the same way any performing ensemble gets better together – over time. Be it jazz combos, dance troupes, stage actors – it always takes time to bring out the true strong performances. But this bodes very well for our coming shows to be among the best.

I often notice the band is pretty good about not asking for changes to their monitors during the show – once in a while, yes. But that job, run for many years by Simon Higgs, is possibly one of the most demanding on a tour. It’s how the band hears their own music. Each musician has a sound, a mix, that they hear of themselves and others. No two are the same. Usually each player has themselves unusually loud, so they can clearly hear their own part above the rest. There may even be things they don’t want to hear, that may confuse them or affect their timing, so they have that turned down. And even the roadies have mixes (sometimes) so they can hear what their musician is doing, if the amp has a noise or crackle, if there are any issues. When I started back in the early 2000s, we used to have everything onstage, and pretty loud. Drums, bass, guitar amps, even Roger’s and others vocals booming onstage so each part could be heard. For us, on the backstage team, it was easier to hear how the show is going – or even hear the comments to the audience. Today, it’s quite different – the in-ear monitors are hi-tech earbuds that isolate the sounds, so things don’t need to be loud to be heard onstage. Roger can whisper over a loud band part and still hear himself. As I was saying, for the most part, the band have settled in, leaving Simon to do his job adjusting things for Roger moment-by-moment; the other players only need a simple change now and then during a show.

Video courtesy of Tralison 

Pete sings ‘The Acid Queen’, but it’s clear his voice is cracking now and then. There is a ton of dust out here, and also a lot of pollen tonight. He does fine, though, just plowing straight ahead and getting it done; it’s always a nice change when he sings, and gives Roger a few minutes break.

Tommy is ending, and ‘Listening To You’ has a great feeling, this crowd is kinda wilder than we’ve had, and communal feedback on that piece really starts to feel like the old Who again. It finishes and Roger yells “We’re back!” to everyone. Next during ‘Who Are You’ we can start to see the sky dimming and the lights are becoming more of a factor; it really helps the mood and energy of the show.

Roger mentions they had a record called Live at Hull and states that it was better than Live At Leeds. “The only thing is, there was nobody there!” The 1969 American tour had been recorded for a live record, but after a long difficult effort to determine what to use, those tapes were thrown away (“my biggest mistake” says Pete) and two shows recorded in the UK: Hull and Leeds. Back at the studio afterwards, they found the bass tracks missing, not recorded at all, on the Hull show. So by default, The Leeds University show was mixed and edited down to become the album we know today. Years later, Hull was checked and it turns out the bass was indeed recorded! Only not on the first few songs. Some studio magic moved over some of John Entwistle’s Leeds bass and repaired the missing Hull tracks. Live at Leeds is certainly a classic, but I’m sure other nights (like Hull) were also stunning. After all, it’s the 1970 Who show on the road. (Editor: Live at Hull is still available here.)

Video courtesy of the Gazzas down in the front row

They pull out ‘My Generation’ tonight. Unexpected – even for the band! We’d not rehearsed it, and last time we tried they couldn’t recall which version to do. There have been so many versions of it since the original record. So throwing it onto the setlist just before the show was a good idea that was full of peril. For the most part, they started strong, then it went south at one point, and then they recovered again. On “their generation” Pete says that some people have been saying Who’s Left  ought to be the name of the band, but Roger interjects a better one: “WHAT’S Left!?” Pretty good. Their self-deprecating humour is always a strong suit. Pete says it would be odd to see how John and Keith (especially) would look at playing all these years later had they survived (which was unlikely, he notes.) He says they were the loudest band in the world for 10 to 12 years, and “Roger never heard a note of himself” during that time. So now there’s a chance to get him to hear better onstage.

Pete’s #5 red Stratocaster in the hands of Simon Law, his guitar tech

Some people in the crowd yell about having a drink, and Pete reacts, saying he hasn’t had one for 30 years. “I have!” Roger informs. Pete answers “But you don’t turn into another whole human being when you do! I used to . . .”

Pete’s also explaining that he doesn’t have the earbuds as monitors so only he can hear clearly what is happening in the audience at these moments. Sometimes people yell “We love you Pete!” and Roger just says “Wot??” “It’s like your own private cheering section at times”, Pete says.

Loren Gold plays another of his beautiful variations on the intro to ‘Love, Reign O’er Me’

The show continues to be pretty strong, although there are missed moments here and there, but we always have those. Pete explains that his middle-brother Paul married a girl from Hull, and her family were a many-generation line of fishermen. They were hit hard, as was Hull in general, when that changed “and never recovered, so we understand.” Yes, the town here has seen better days, lots of abandoned buildings, neglect in many parts, but all cities get to that state just before they rebuild – and that’s happening here, too.

‘Baba O’Riley with video courtesy of Dave (you know who you are)

The show ended with the quiet ‘Tea & Theatre’ but with another mishap; Pete’s guitar stayed off, briefly, until the fault was found and fixed. These things affect the mood for a moment, but are quickly forgotten.

All in all, this show was a good sign; the crowds are back, the orchestra’s good, and The Who are back on home territory for the better part of a month!

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
The Seeker
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