Sunday, 24 June 2007


Comments welcome but sometimes edited.

If you are new to this site you will discover that you have missed some excerpts from chapters around my early years. Don't worry. Nothing much happened. From here on I am posting occasional 'chronicles' (a work of fiction or nonfiction that describes a particular series of events), 'fragments' (breakage has occured), 'elements' (a part of an electric teapot). What is posted here is of course nonfiction. Mainly.

The material published here is densely edited from the original unpublished text. One day there will be a book. Maybe I'll read it you myself, on the internet.

Sunbeams 3 - Arabs and Miniskirts

The battle with Shel was about to be settled in court, we knew the court would favour Shel’s arguments to our own, simply because after all he had a binding, signed and legal contract with Kit and Chris. Klein wanted to have another meeting with me, so on 27th June I went back to New York once more with our lawyer Edward Oldman. The meeting was on a chartered motor yacht that sailed around Manhattan as we listened to Barry Mann’s latest demos (and some by the fledgling Barry Manilow) and other songs Klein controlled. Another uneasy overnight flight home, and the build up of frustration and tiredness started to eat into me. As soon as I landed I drove a recently acquired secondhand Jaguar XK150 sports car Speedy delivered to the airport up to a Who gig in Sheffield, forgetting how far it was, and when I arrived at about 10.00 pm the rest of the band had given up on me and left for home. I turned around and headed home myself. I hadn’t eaten or slept for hours and fell asleep at the wheel. I woke up, upside down in a ditch, in my full racing driver safety harness with petrol dripping on my face, and a police officer asking me if I was OK. I gave the breakdown man my Rickenbacker 12 string as collateral for pulling me out of the ditch.

My trip to New York and Klein’s obvious interest made it clear that we would break America in a matter of time. But we knew nothing of the punitive settlement Kit had had to make with Shel in order to keep control of the band. The summer dragged on, lots of shows, the band’s antics on stage becoming a parody of auto-destruction, with smoke, flashes, even Keith running to the front of stage with a whip and a shaken blonde actress in a leather outfit during the finale at the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival at the end of July. On 1st August we recorded I’m A Boy and Disguises, Kit Lambert in the producer’s chair at last.

I used to know everything about you
But today when I tried to point you out
To one of my friends
I picked the wrong girl again
Don’t see you in the crowd any more
I think it’s you, but I can’t be sure
You’re wearing disguises
Occasionally a girl surprises me
When she turns out to be you
Wearing disguises.

If Substitute was about a boy’s identity crisis, Disguises was its opposite: about girls who are hard to pin down. Kit was a joy to work with; he made recording fun for the first time and was always looking for new effects. Also, he seemed to be recording a more musical sound. I’m not sure how we all felt about it; Roger and I certainly still felt tied to the bluff, tough sound we had developed in the front line of Who live gigs.

While I’m A Boy was being prepared for release as the new single, a task that took a mere two weeks in those days, we all took a holiday. I wanted guaranteed sunshine. I took my Dolly Bird to Caesarea in Israel. Her extreme miniskirts were a novelty and attracted a lot of interest, especially from the Arabs, several of whom I had to literally fight off to stop them assaulting her. The atmosphere was tense, especially in Jerusalem. When I got home I began to ask people I thought might know, what was going on in Israel. It quickly became clear that something awful was in the wind. One of my advisers moved from speaking about the growing tension between Israel and Egypt, to the emergent communist threat from China, a country with a population growing so fast – he said – that they would soon dominate the entire planet. From this came my idea for my first opera – which later became titled Rael. Briefly the plot deals with Israel being overrun by Red China. Over the next year I developed the story, and quite seriously planned to complete it as a major full-length through-composed operatic composition outside my work for the Who, even it took a lifetime.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Sunbeams 2 - Operas in Soho

May 1966. Car crashes, several. A fight with Keith Moon on stage (he was threatening to leave and form a band with the stupid name of Led Zepellin, such a stupid name would never have caught on). Roger was deeply depressed over Mike Shaw's accident, and missed a couple of gigs. I made my first two trips to the USA, to New York, to meet Alan Klein, to try to singlehandedly resolve the crisis with Shel Talmy. It was a strained and difficult time.

There were some happy times. Speedy Keane was the drummer in a band called The Cat that I had produced. He offered to be my driver for a while after my recent serious crashes. He bought me a black London taxi and drove me around in it. I often used to forget he was driving. Once, I drove Kit and the same thing happened, we got to our destination and he got out to pay me and went into shock to see me at the wheel. Speedy was something of an inspiration and a lovely friend to me. He was a good drummer, and often banged along to accompany me in my Soho studio while I tried to play the organ. He was also good at coming up with titles for songs, but not so good at completing them. Summer City was one of his titles that between us we evolved into a song-cycle project. Summer City was a fantasy island, full of wonderment, beautiful girls, incredible ‘sounds’ and everyone was high all the time. Around the same time Keith's best friend Ray Tolliday began to talk to me a lot about opera, and one day asked if I would help him write one. This turned out to be a joke, Gratis Amatis, which Ray said meant ‘free love’ in Latin.

Gratis Amatis
I love Lionel Bartis

He wanted to play it to Kit for his birthday. When Kit heard it he laughed, but later suggested to me that Ray and I had really hit on something: he called it Pop Opera. I tried to develop Speedy’s Summer City idea, but couldn’t get very far with it. One of my songs worked out pretty well, Summer’s Gone.

Summer’s gone and the pleasure boat dreams come tumbling
Children stay at home and the fairground is crumbling
All the green is turning to brown
Castles on the beach have fallen down
Summer’s gone
Picture Palaces are falling to demolition
All the bumper cars are covered in moss and lichen
The little bus that brought us here
Won’t be back for another year
Summer’s gone
But I suppose it’s not as bad as it seems
Until next year I’ll come to Summer City in my dreams

The reference to the ‘little bus’ reminds me that I targeted Magic Bus as a song for Summer City.

I scratched out another ambitious, if rather daft, operatic story, which began life as Quinns, about four girls and a boy who nearly dies at birth. I tightened this up later into a single song with the working title of Quads, finally I’m A Boy.

One girl was called Jean Marie
Another little girl was Felicity
Another little girl was Sally Joy
The other was me, and I'm a boy
My name is Bill, and I'm a head case
They practice making up on my face
Yeah, I feel lucky if I get trousers to wear
Spend evenings taking hairpins from my hair
I'm a boy, I'm a boy
But my ma won't admit it
I'm a boy, I'm a boy
But if I say I am, I get it
Put your frock on, Jean Marie
Plait your hair, Felicity
Paint your nails, little Sally Joy
Put this wig on, little boy
Wanna play cricket on the green
Ride my bike across the street
Cut myself and see my blood
Wanna come home all covered in mud

In Soho at this time I wrote two other songs that I think were intended to be a part of another song-cycle about lunatics, misfits or people with unsound minds. They were King Rabbit and Lazy fat People. Happy Jack came a little later, part of the same idea.

King Rabbit sat down, and feeling less important sitting, stood again.
King Rabbit then found that standing was so tiring, gave his legs a pain.
But Rabbit looked round at all the other rabbits who called him their King,
And King Rabbit did a very grand thing.
He stayed standing, such a grand thing.
He stayed standing, of what a grand thing.
King Rabbit was a very good King,
King Rabbit did a very grand thing.

Lazy and fat they are, they are,
And because they are all the same
They laugh and exclaim
‘The young are so funny!’
They burn in the sun, the sun
And though painfully pink when it rains
They always complain
That they paid their money.
Oh the lazy fat people are a terrible sight to see.
If we don’t watch out they’ll get the better of you and me.

A bigger idea was beginning to germinate: could I write a real opera? I began to contemplate the idea of creating something quite conventional. This was not a vanity. I thought it would be educational, would enrich and inspire me, and widen my powers as a composer. I gathered books and records I needed to begin a serious study of opera. I also began to scratch out more ideas for stories. One, which began as a few scribbled notes on a scrap of paper, suggested that in M, the instrumental I had written a while before, that later became Underture for Tommy, I had composed a very cohesive and powerful piece of dramatic programme music that would sound wonderful if it were orchestrated.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Sunbeams 1 - Green Monsters

On March 20th 1966 an Observer magazine story about The Who phenomenon was published; on its front page was Colin Jones’ unflattering iconic portrait of the band. The story inside was a puff by their buddy John Heilpern for Kit and Chris; we were represented as lightweight braggarts, spendthrifts, vain Dandies and ugly scumbags. My depression deepened. I began to drive to the Scotch of St James nightclub whenever I had free time, to drink Scotch and Coke, and hang out with stars like P.J. Proby, Brian Jones, John Walker and Gary Leeds of the Walker brothers and others. It was not like me at all, but I was pleased to be feted, and built up a friendship with Brian Jones that meant a lot to me. Together we saw one of Stevie Wonder’s first London shows there; Stevie got so excited he fell off the stage. One night I drove a band of revelers back to Chelsea and showing off, driving too fast in the rain, slid into a graceful skid at Hyde Park Corner, breaking the wheel of my 1956 Lincoln once again. The party continued by taxi to my flat, where I played the National Anthem at five in the morning, and eviction loomed again.

On one of the Who’s many trips away I began to imagine being able to see that – of course, like all women in my screwed up psychosis – the Dolly Bird (see footnote) would have been deceiving me. Keith Moon had been through something even more powerful in his early relationship with his wife Kim, who had been a professional photographer’s model once pursued all the way down to her home in Bournemouth by Rod Stewart. It was this kind of paranoid, unhinged thinking that spurred me to write I Can See For Miles, one of the best songs I produced in the period. The first lyric was scribbled on the back of my copy of my Affidavit in the case between Shel Talmy and Polydor. Perhaps that’s why the song seems to take the tone of a legal inquisition. About the sick and viciously jealous intuitions of a cuckolded partner.

I know you've deceived me, now here's a surprise
I know that you have 'cause there's magic in my eyes
I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles
Oh yeah
If you think that I don't know about the little tricks you've played
And never see you when deliberately you put things in my way
Well, here's a poke at you
You're gonna choke on it too
You're gonna lose that smile
Because all the while
I can see for miles and miles
You took advantage of my trust in you when I was so far away
I saw you holding lots of other guys and now you've got the nerve to say
That you still want me
Well, that's as may be
But you gotta stand trial
Because all the while
I can see for miles and miles
The Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal are mine to see on clear days
You thought that I would need a crystal ball to see right through the haze
I can see for miles and miles

The demo of the song was tight and relentless. It was spiteful, drawn out, but harmonically very ambitious and tense. The backing vocals were complex – five parts instead of the usual three, and in the studio John Entwistle, inspired and adventurous, added even more sustained high notes in some places. My guitar solo was a single note buzz, a cutting, incisive sign of the singer’s ability to razor slice at all enemies and competitors.

Footnote: Until I have instructions to the contrary I am referring to the mother of my children, and my almost ex-wife, who I loved very much indeed for many many years, and still respect deeply, as 'The Dolly Bird". This was what she was christened by my handsome manager Chris Stamp, brother of Terence, who was then dating Jean Shrimpton the hottest model of the period. If they thought my new bird was 'Dolly', that was good enough for me. And you thought Austin Powers was entirely inspired by Keith Moon. I met DB at art college in 1964, first dated in late 1965, and our relationship built slowly and somewhat awkwardly in the early months of 1966. DB, as she will henceforth be known - when first she heard I was writing a memoir - requested, as sometimes we do, to be 'left out of it if you don't mind'. Left out by name, but not entirely I'm afraid. It should be clear that DB was and is far more than a mere DB. However, until she completes her own book, we may be confined to my narrow view.

Element 3 - I'm Coming Back to Cork

I was born 19 May 1945. In the late summer of 1946 I can dimly remember sitting on a beach in bright sunshine. There was the scent of people around me. Sea-air, sand, a light wind, sunshine. Suddenly my parents rode up on two horses, sprayed sand everywhere like Arabs, waved happily and then rode off again. I was about fifteen months old. I suppose I made a decision then not to live in reality. I don't think I liked it at all.

All my great grandparents and their children saw the horrors of The Great War first hand or at home. There is a natural fear that sends young lovers into each other’s arms when the world appears to be at an end. My father’s parents Horace and Dorothy performed in Concert Party shows, but gave their revels a break to conceive my father, and while the abominable war raged my father Clifford Blandford Townshend was born on 28 January 1917. As a teenager he chose a rebellious path. He was in a band while still attending Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith in 1932. At sixteen he chose the world of the Bottle-Party. These gatherings were a uniquely unnecessary English imitation of the American Prohibition Speakeasy (1920—1933). Prohibition was never imposed in the UK at all. He started to play at these bawdy parties while still at school and got into serious trouble over it. Smoking was the universal fashion of the time. Something had to cut through the resultant haze. Sophistication, glamour and light-heartedness obscured an underlying fear of death, war, and extinction. The big issues were hidden in both clouds of cigarette smoke and truly innovative popular music. Sex was—as ever—the ingredient that best seemed to calm the anxious heart. It was hidden behind the cultivated elegance of men in evening dress.

My maternal grandmother Emma married Maurice Dennis an Anglo-Irishman from Cork, but wasn’t keen on her Christian name and adopted the nickname ‘Denny’. My mother was born 3 November 1923. She was named after Denny’s mother Betty who had been born in 1884, into the Toby family of ‘tinkers’, her father was politely described by Registrars as a ‘Horsekeeper’. She had in fact been a gypsy girl, a tiny woman with a powerful personality who sold oddments from a little cart she pushed around the villages of Kent. In 1899 she met there and fell in love with James William Hindley, the son of a Blacksmith, and had no qualms about setting about using her ‘gypsy powers’ to steal her intended husband from his then wife. James deserted his three children by the marriage. His new mistress Betty Toby was fifteen years old. It was from this strange and enigmatic little creature that Denny, and my mother, claimed to have inherited psychic powers. Denny said she could put curses on people.

Denny continued her father’s tradition and left Maurice in 1934. They had been married eleven years. She simply disappeared. With two children to look after the bereft young man moved in with his mother Ellen bringing his two children. My mother Betty was ten, her brother Maurice Jr. was eight. Betty became a contributor to the running of the house, and fell directly under her Irish grandmother’s influence. Ellen would downplay her Irish roots. Yet she often held nostalgic late-night drinking parties at which my mother was sometimes expected to wake from her sleep to sing and dance on the table as her grandmother’s tipsy Irish men-friends looked up at the pretty young girl. When my mother first described this kind of scene I wondered why the men couldn’t hang out at the pub in the time-honoured manner of homesick Irish immigrants. Later I learned the reason. Ellen’s cousin was Michael Collins, and his visits to London were secret and dangerous. This was probably another reason Ellen wanted my mother to hide her Irish heritage.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Element 2 - Substitoooot

In January 1966 I carelessly admitted taking drugs on National Television. I waited for a bomb to drop, but it never happened. In fact we were quickly invited back onto the same programme. I began to get arrogant in the press, encouraged by Kit. I started to sound sullen and disaffected, disinterested in being famous. I was in fact becoming depressed and paranoid. After being evicted from my first flat in Belgravia(for failing to remember to pay the rent rather than making too much noise) I had quickly arranged a new flat for myself in Old Church Street in Chelsea – the penthouse of a building next door to Sound Techniques recording studio. I thought the proximity of the studio and its late night rumblings would be excellent cover for my own recording activities at home. The Thames was just 100 yards away, and I regularly wandered down to contemplate the grey, swirling river.

In February Andrew Oldham played me a white label of the Stone’s 19th Nervous Breakdown. I found the track inspiring. I set up my two tape machines, now stereo, in my new flat, and wrote Substitute. I used a Harmony 12 string guitar on three overlaid tracks. The word ‘substitute’ had become a sublime buzzword since Smokey Robinson had used it in his masterpiece Tracks of my Tears.

“If you see me with another girl
Actin’ like I’m having fun
Although she may be cute
She’s just a substitute
Girl you’re the permanent one”

Smokey sang the word ‘substitute’ as ‘substitoot’. My song began as homage to Smokey Robinson inspired by the Rolling Stones. As the song lyric unravelled before me, yet another thesis emerged: the voice of a young man who appeared to be someone he was not, who was playing a role, uneasily, perhaps hypocritically, playing R&B; (black) music, relying on silly gimmicky outfits and pretending to be wild and free when in reality he needed to be looked after by his mother.

You think we look pretty good together
You think my shoes are made of leather
But I'm a substitute for another guy
I look pretty tall but my heels are high
The simple things you see are all complicated
I look pretty young, but I'm just back-dated, yeah
Substitute your lies for fact
I can see right through your plastic mac
I look all white, but my dad was black
My fine looking suit is really made out of sack.
I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth
The north side of my town faced east, and the east was facing south
And now you dare to look me in the eye
Those crocodile tears are what you cry
If it's a genuine problem, you won't try
To work it out at all you just pass it by, pass it by
Substitute me for him
Substitute my coke for gin
Substitute you for my mum
At least I'll get my washing done

Despite its founding on a buzzword, this was a leap forward for me lyrically. My diary of the period was still full of doodles of shallow Pop Art buzzwords and images to use on clothing: ‘Magic’; ‘Dad’; ‘Trad’; ‘King’; targets; Union Jacks; ‘Pow!’; ‘Wham!’; etc. Not particularly groundbreaking by then; almost every vein of Pop Art and even some auto-destructive ideas had been already mined by a huge wave of fashionistas and bands. I drew the design for the use of the Union Jack on my speaker cabinet in one of these little books. One song lyric is simply: ‘Hello, hello, hello, hello.’

Legal matters between Shel Talmy and the Who were beginning to look extremely serious. I made an affidavit in the action between Shel Talmy’s Orbit Music and Polydor Records. It makes hilarious reading and I reproduce some excerpts.

I, PETER DENNIS BLANDFORD TOWNSHEND….do hereby MAKE OATH and say as follows :-
…….I am 20 years of age and am a member of a group of musical artistes known as “The Who”. I have read the affidavits sworn in these proceedings by Shel Talmy, Glyn Thomas Johns and Marcel Stellman………The group “The Who” of which I am a member….performs music of a kind known as “pop” music. A great deal of the music played by my group is recorded on tape and it is one of the principal aims of my group to record musical pieces or “numbers” which will appeal to major recording companies so that the same may be reproduced in quantity for sale to the public. In the event that these records gain popularity with the public it frequently happens that these are noted up in popularity “charts” operated by various organisations (e.g. the publication “New Musical Express”) which serve as important and influential advertising media for the musical group which made the original recording. The phrase “top of the pops” means that a particular record has attained the position of Number 1 in the popularity charts and is, therefore, a best seller. It is the ambition of every group to get one or more of its records adjudged “top of the pops”...............
etc. etc. ad infinitum absurdum.

Needless to say we eventually lost our case.

My demo of Substitute, my first in stereo, was solid, and with Shel in conflict with us I guided the band through the studio process. We recorded Substitute and re-recorded Circles which we’d already cut with Shel in January, at Olympic studios on February 12th. Keith didn’t remember doing the session though he played pretty well – he was obviously on some new drug, and complained bitterly when he heard the finished tracks days later, thinking we’d found a clone. I realized that the engineer was doing all the so-called ‘production’ work. Producers fell from grace with me in an instant. I had produced a very clear demo of Circles, and Shel had merely copied it. But the Who, like so many artists, needed organising, guiding and stroking in the studio.

For the Who, Kit Lambert, who knew nothing about record production at all, was an obvious choice. In the austere atmosphere of the dull, sixties recording studios, it was good to have his humour, his stamina, his concentration and his ability to drive us and make us laugh. We were still doing dozens of shows every month, and recording sessions began to be shoe-horned into our schedule at very short notice. Substitute was to be the Who’s fourth single, with help from Robert Stigwood who put it out on his new record label Reaction. This allowed us to side step some of Shel’s legal moves to block us. Kit and Chris moved their offices into space provided by Stigwood, and created their own production company New Ikon, which was intended to be a step towards a record label of their own. I somehow felt that I was to be a part of this new venture, and spent quite a lot of time designing a zippy logo for it. On March 4th Substitute was released and charted quickly.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Element 1 - Radio, TV, some young (or old) Irish youths and Art

In early 1965 we were getting our first TV exposure. Kit and Chris’s film made at the Railway Hotel appeared first on a couple of programmes, then we appeared on Beat Room on BBC TV at Lime Grove, next we made our first appearance on the best show of all Ready, Steady, Go. This appearance was a special one because Kit had befriended the producer Vicky Wickham, and she allowed a number of our Marquee boy fans – the so-called ‘100 Faces’ – to make up the audience. They went suitably wild when we came on, waving colourful college scarves, the Mod fashion of the week. Next up we appeared on Top of the Pops, a BBC TV chart show. We got the ‘Tip’ spot and our single climbed immediately into the Top 10. All the Pirate Radio stations picked up the track and it was an incredible buzz to drive through my home town neighbourhood and hear the first song I’d written for the Who fizzing over the airwaves from ships anchored out in the North Sea, the Irish Sea and over in Luxembourg. Doesn’t that sound like the natural reaction of a clean living young pop star in the making?

I wonder if I realized at the time what was happening to me? Driving along, hearing myself on the radio, my art school ideas and my manifesto started to seem a little overcooked. I was allowing my endgame to slip away. Maybe it wasn’t so bad to just be a successful pop star? Maybe I didn’t really need to blow everything to smithereens in the name of art? Anyway, wasn’t what I was doing truly creative? Denying denial didn’t seem quite such an urgent matter any more.

On Friday March 12th the Who made a triumphant return to the Goldhawk Club. This was very much a home from home. For Roger and me it had special resonance because we had both been preteen members of the Sulgrave Boys Club just down the road, and many of the Club’s old boys – now teenagers – came to the Goldhawk to show off their new Mod threads, drink beer, take pep pills, fight and pull girls. When we played I Can’t Explain the crowd went berserk. I think we may have played it several times. Afterwards a select delegation asked if the could come backstage and speak to me. Led by a gangly Irish boy called Jack Lyons, they paraded in – Lee and Martin Gaish, Chrissie Colville, Mike Quinn and a pretty blonde Irish girl I had once pursued. Jack told me that they wanted to let me know that they really liked the song. I thanked them, and asked them what they particularly liked about it. Jack stuttered that he couldn’t really explain. I tried to help, the song is about a boy (no doubt I glanced at the blonde) who can’t explain to his girl what is in his head. It is about being unable to find the words. That’s it! Jack shouted and the others all nodded.

Without my art school training I doubt that this moment would have touched me the way it did. But it changed my life. I had been set up at college, especially in my last days doing graphics, to look for a patron, to obtain a brief, to find someone to pay for my artistic excesses and experiments. My new patrons stood before me. Their brief was simple: we need you to explain that we can’t explain; we need you to say what we are unable to say. It would be wrong to say that I remember floating home on a cloud that night, but I felt vindicated. I was still hooked on sudden fame and notoriety, being on the TV and radio, having written a hit song. But now I knew the Who had a greater mission than just being rich and famous. And I knew, with absolute certainty, that after all, what we were doing was going to be Art.