The buzz of riding a Lambretta is one of life’s great pleasures. It doesn’t matter where it is but I always get an extra kick when cruising through the streets of Shepherd’s Bush and specifically along the Goldhawk Road. In my little semi-fantasy world it is still the mid-1960s, this is the heart of Mod territory, and local band The Who are playing later for the umpteenth time at the Goldhawk Social Club. Although The Who are known as a Shepherd’s Bush band, Roger Daltrey was the only one who genuinely lived there. In The Who documentary, Amazing Journey, Pete Townshend called him “the king of the neighbourhood”.
This scruffy stretch of the capital has, as far as I can tell, remained- until now - largely unchanged. Cooke’s Pie and Mash Shop – the one in Quadrophenia - has clung on since 1934; the interior of Zippy Café a couple of doors down is every inch an abandoned Wimpy bar; Goldhawk Road tube station remains little more than a rickety shack; and, best of all, the Goldhawk Social Club has only tweaked its name slightly to the Shepherd’s Bush Club and now displays a blue Heritage Foundation plaque honouring The Who. With the likes of Cooke’s now sold to developers of Shepherd’s Bush market these are the last knockings of the area as it currently stands.
I rode past the Goldhawk again this weekend, exactly fifty years from when The Who walked through the hanging plastic drapes in the club to play a gig on Saturday 20th March 1965 after hot-footing it from attending the opening show of the Tamla Motown Revue at the Finsbury Park Astoria. I know, what a night, lucky bleeders. I wasn’t there rabbiting amongst the West London Mods from the Bush, Acton, Notting Hill, West Drayton, Paddington and so on but I did, honestly, see The Who yesterday.
The O2 Arena in Greenwich is less than fifteen miles from the Goldhawk but they could be on different planets and as gig experiences go they couldn’t be much more different. No chance of bumping into Pete Townshend having a piss here in this soulless corporate "village". The O2 is a 20,000 capacity venue and not one of those people, as far as I could tell, was blocked on amphetamines. Prescription drugs, now that’s different. When folk scuffled to the loo, they rattled. Unlike Keith Moon and John Entwistle, not everyone died before they got old I’m pleased to say.
Of course, I wouldn’t usually dream of attending one of these huge cavernous monstrosities, but then again I can probably only count on my thumbs the bands I like who’d be able to fill somewhere like this, The Who being one. This was part of their The Who Hits 50 tour; supposedly their last extended jaunt around the globe. They’ve said this before so I won’t hold them to it. Half a century gone and it’s still too early to say farewell.
For over two hours straight Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and some other blokes put on hugely enjoyable show. Roger and Pete were in a relaxed mood; jovial and offered plenty of expletive-ridden between-song banter creating an almost intimate atmosphere despite the grand scale. Roger played the affable, one-of-the-lads role and Pete switched from serious artist to money-accumulating rock star. When Roger thanked everyone for coming, “It woulda been really boring without ya”, Pete quips back “And we’d be a lot poorer”. He also said we’d paid three thousand pound a ticket, which wasn’t too far off.
They earned their dough though, playing a mostly predictable set with a few surprises chucked in. Pete mentions it’s supposed to be a hits show. “All four of them,” he says, “plus the three from CSI, and two rock operas”. That “I Can See For Miles” wasn’t a huge hit - “it’s a great song” - obviously still rankles and it’s plain to hear way. Some of the other earlier singles like “I Can’t Explain” and “Substitute”, as much as they made brilliant records, sounded slightly plodding in comparison the more complex later material.
“Love Reign O’er Me” was emotional; the mini-Tommy brilliant, still to my mind The Who’s pinnacle; the double whammy of “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is as good as big venue music gets. “Slip Kid” was unexpected; as was “So Sad About Us”; and “A Quick One, Whilst He’s Away” a welcome knee-trembler.
They’ve got to pace themselves these days so Roger’s microphone twirling was kept to minimum and Pete’s feet didn’t leave the floor although there was plenty of windmill action. Roger, bless him, couldn’t always hit the notes (it’s an unforgiving occupation being a lead singer in a shouty rock band; no one’s gonna notice a few bum chords or missed timings elsewhere) and he mentions the set list is a challenge emotionally as well as having to remember all Townshend’s lyrics. “Why couldn’t you write some easier songs?” he asks Pete. “Because I’m an intellectual,” came the reply, “you fucking cunt.”
The staging behind the band was superb. I always roll my eyes when people start talking about what a band’s backdrop and graphics and lighting was like – so bloody what? – but in this environment draping a union jack over a Marshall stack ain’t really gonna cut it, so hat’s off: these were a stylish and imaginative series of animations that complimented the songs. Some were very fancy and expensive looking yet the funniest was the simplest. After Townshend gave his account of writing “Pictures of Lily” about wanking to old Lily Langtry postcards, the song is performed in front of a giant Keith Moon dressed in a wig and black bra. Should also say Zak Starkey’s “vision of ginger” behind the drums didn’t go unnoticed either. A nice touch.
After a closing “Magic Bus”, Roger apologised for a few gremlins throughout the show. For all the high-tech nature he appeared a touch put out he’d been given a B harmonica instead of a B Flat for “Baba O’Riley” and then suffered unwanted feedback with his harp during the last song. “But who gives a shit?” He’s fooling no-one this time. Roger Daltrey loves The Who and is fiercely proud of them. I love them too; they’re the kings of any neighbourhood.
|205 Goldhawk Road, Shepherd's Bush|