The Who in London
Forming the band
On 22nd December 1963 an early version of The Who, then known as The Detours, supported The Rolling Stones at St Mary’s Hall in Putney. Pete Townshend developed his windmilling guitar thrash after seeing Keith Richards making a similar motion at this gig. I wonder who would play support if they were on the same bill these days? Both bands have been called The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the World but surely no one can dispute The Who’s right to claim the title of greatest London band.
Keith Moon liked to kid people that he’d been a pupil of Harrow School. In fact he was a working-class boy from Harlesden and had attended Alperton Secondary School, though he did briefly attend evening classes at a college in Harrow. Pete Townshend and John Entwistle were both born in Chiswick and Roger Daltrey in Shepherds Bush but they all attended Acton County Grammar School. Daltrey formed the band in summer 1961 and was the original lead guitarist before Pete joined later and assumed that role. After gigging together for a few years as The Detours they found themselves playing with a sit-in drummer one night at the Oldfield Hotel in Greenford. Apparently Moon volunteered himself from the audience and the world of drumming was never the same again. Surprisingly he wasn’t very good at keeping time and unlike in most bands he didn’t play in conjunction with the bass-guitarist, John, but as a solo instrument reacting to Pete’s wild guitar style.
After another name change to The High Numbers they settled on The Who by late 1964. They played mainly around West London and their spiritual home was the Goldhawk Social Club at 205 Goldhawk Road W12. On 24th November 1964 they began a Tuesday residency at The Marquee Club at 90 Wardour Street W1, which lasted for 5 months and did a great deal to spread their popularity. The black and white publicity poster for these gigs depicting Pete and his guitar with the slogan ‘The Who Maximum R & B’ has become an icon of rock. From June to November 1964 they had a residency at the Railway Hotel, which once stood just next to Harrow and Wealdstone Station, and this was the scene of the band first trashing their equipment, but more by accident than design. Apparently the ceiling above the stage was very low and Pete managed to smash his guitar through it, thus discovering an even more dramatic way to climax their show. I saw them do this myself in 1966 though before the last song Pete swapped his guitar for a cheapo, much-repaired one.
The Who go national
The archetypal British music programme of the Sixties was ‘Ready Steady Go!’ and the initial shows were broadcast from the studios at 1 Kingsway on the corner of Aldwych WC2. The Who made their national TV debut there on 29th January 1965 playing what was to be there first hit single ‘I Can’t Explain’, a Townshend composition very much in the style of recent big hits by The Kinks with whom they shared American producer Shel Talmy. For the broadcast they imported 100 “faces” i.e. top grade mod fans from West London. Soon the show was being broadcast with bands playing live from Rediffusion Studios near Wembley Stadium. They made 10 appearances on the show in 1965 alone and by the end of the year had arrived big time.
The Who recorded almost all of their work in London. The classic ‘My Generation’ was recorded at Pye Studios, 17 Great Cumberland Place W1 in October 1965 while their most famous album ‘Tommy’ was made at IBC Studios, 35 Portland Place W1 from October 1968 to April 1969. A lot of ‘Who’s Next’ was made at Olympic Studios, 117 Church Road, Barnes SW13 and in 1973 they built their own studio, Ramport, in a disused church hall in Battersea and recorded ‘Quadrophenia’ and subsequent albums there. This was despite Keith indulging in a spot of arson on one occasion and Roger nutting noted producer Glyn Johns on another.
They were in the thick of the Swinging Sixties and were welcome at all the famous celebrity night-clubs such as the Ad Lib, above the Prince Charles Cinema just off Leicester Square, and the Scotch of St James at 13 Masons Yard SW1, whose clientele included The Beatles and the Kray Twins.
Throughout their long history, and it’s not over yet, the band played all over the capital but one place with a special Who connection is Charlton’s soccer ground, the Valley, in SE7. They did two huge concerts there in 1975 and 1976 and I was at the second one. They ran on to a tremendous reception only for two of them to slip on their arses on the rain-sodden stage – in fact Roger spent a good deal of time on his knees mopping the area around him.
Keith died on 7th September 1978 at 3 Curzon Place, Park Street W1 from an overdose of tablets prescribed to help him with his alcoholism. It’s a ghoulish coincidence but Cass Elliott from The Mamas and The Papas also died in the same room in 1974. He was cremated at Golders Green Cemetery.
One of the best rock biographies I’ve ever read is ‘Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon’ by Tony Fletcher. It’s been fifty years since Roger formed the band which was to blossom into The Who and although many may wish that they’d really died before they got old, by all accounts they still really rock.
Guest post by Ian Mole