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THE MAKING OF THE WHO
John Heilpern | March 20, 1966 | Observer Colour Magazine (UK)
Pete Townshend felt that this cover feature from the magazine section of British broadsheet newspaper the Observer misrepresented the Who on two counts.
As John Heilpern now says, "The Observer magazine was edited then by Anthony Sampson and he wanted to know who was behind a new rock group weirdly named the Who. His wife Sally had known Kit Lambert since they were both at Oxford together, which is how this novice reporter first came to meet Kit and Chris. I was so struck by their unlikely, fun partnership that we went ahead with the story on them.
"Out of the 'The Making of the Who' came a very happy thing: Chris Stamp and I became life-long friends. I was honored — and greatly saddened — to speak at his 2012 Memorial Service that Roger Daltrey attended. Pete Townshend was otherwise engaged.
"And what does Townshend personally leave me with? See his autobiography Who I Am, where he writes, 'The Observer story itself was a puff for Kit and Chris, but the rest of us were represented as braggarts, spendthrifts, dandies and scumbags.' In fact, the rest of them were scarcely mentioned, apart from a pro forma list of who was who. That was the point.
"But Townshend truly excels himself when he complains that the photographer deliberately made his nose 'look enormous' during the shoot for the magazine cover. I ask you in all fairness, how on earth can one make Pete Townshend's shnozzola look any bigger than it already is?"
Nonetheless, "The Making of the Who" was an important feature. The Colin Jones picture that graced the magazine's cover was instantly iconic, featuring the band swathed in, and backed by, the Union Jack, a future Who motif. The article being inordinately business-oriented was less important than the fact that a "posh" paper had published a serious piece of journalism about the practitioners of what was then widely dismissed as low culture.
Notes: for "The Highnumbers" read "The High Numbers"
for "Townsend" read "Townshend" — Ed.
On November 5, 1965, The Who released a stammering song called "My Generation". It sold more than 300,000 records, won a Silver Disc, became an international hit throughout Europe, and assured the group a gross income over £1,000 a week.
Fourteen months ago The Who were unknown. This is the story how they made their fame.
They are managed by two extraordinary young entrepreneurs, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. It's an odd combination. Lambert, son of the composer Constant Lambert, was educated at Lancing and Trinity College, Oxford. He talks very fast, posh: "When I did National Service, I was the worst officer in the British Army."
Stamp, 23 years old, is the son of an East End tugboatman and brother of Terence Stamp, the film-star. Dressed in Carnaby Street, he speaks in a broad Cockney accent. "I like the blatantness of pop, the speed, the urgency. There's either success or failure — no use bollockin' about."
Two years ago Lambert and Stamp were both successful assistant film directors earning £5,000 a year. They decided to make a documentary about pop, and most nights of the week they'd go out in their cars looking for pop groups suitable for the film. After several weeks' search, Lambert came across the Railway Tavern, Harrow and Wealdstone. In a crowded back room were a group called The Highnumbers. "As soon as I saw them I felt a total conviction that this was it. It's as simple as that — this was it! Bingo!" They were The Who.
The next day, Lambert was already thinking in terms of taking them over. He persuaded Stamp to come and see the group. They drove together to the Watford Trade Hall — still one of The Who's most popular venues — and caught the last 20 minutes of their act. "I was knocked out," says Stamp. "But the excitement I felt wasn't coming from the group. I couldn't get near enough. It was coming from the people blocking my way."
For £2 Stamp and Lambert hired the Youth Club in Notting Hill Gate and auditioned the group in the morning. Four days later, Lambert and Stamp were their managers.
The contract guaranteed each member of the group £1,000 a year, irrespective of whether they got another booking. "Pop appealed to us," says Lambert, "because it's a field where it's possible to make a great deal of money very quickly. We've subsequently been proved dead wrong." Within three months, personal savings of £6,000 were eaten up, fine apartments made way for digs, and gold watches were pawned (they still are).
They changed the name of the group to The Who. "The Highnumbers was a nothing name," explains Stamp. "It implied the Top Twenty, but The Who seemed so perfect for them. It was impersonal, it couldn't be dated." Lambert: "It's a gimmick name — journalists could write articles called THE WHY OF THE WHO, and people had to go through a boring ritual of question and answer. 'Have you heard The Who? The Who? The Who.' It was an invitation to corniness, and we were in a corny world."
The group began to have their hair styled by Gordon at Robert James Hairdressers in the Charing Cross Road. Three-hour sessions every two weeks: "Long hair is glamorous, distinctive." They listened to hundreds of records. Pete Townsend, the lead guitarist, experimented with sound, perfecting a deafening system called "feedback" which became The Who's trademark and was later used by the Beatles. In 10 months £6,000 was spent on electronic equipment.
"Appearance is the most immediate association with the kids," says Lambert. "The clothes just had to be right." They had them specially designed. They went to Carnaby Street, spending as much as £150 a week. They searched for military outfits, period costumes, shopping in women's stores where the colours are brighter and the sweaters distinctive. They held countless photo sessions, four hours at a time. "We didn't want any boy-next-door image," says Stamp. "We hated those grinning gits on other pictures." Even now, £1,000 a year is spent on photographs.
Working alternately on films, Lambert and Stamp went out on the road. They wined and dined promoters, worked 17 hours a day, and buttonholed anyone who'd listen. But it was no use.
The pop boom, which began with the Liverpool sound, was on the decline: record sales were falling off, promoters going bankrupt, and groups which had once gone out for £300 a night were lucky to get £50. After three months, The Who were getting nowhere.
"We realised that if the group were to build up any national following, we must take the West End." They chose the Marquee Club in Soho, a famous haven of mod teenagers, putting enormous pressure on the promoter, Ziggy Jackson. For five weeks they nattered him silly until Jackson finally caved in and let them promote their own show on Tuesdays, a dead night.
"Our primary concern was to get an audience. Money didn't matter." They rushed out 1,500 posters for a London-wide campaign, dealing with The Fly Posters' Association.
They printed 2,500 handouts, distributing them at dances, clubs, coffee bars, Saturday-morning markets — anywhere. And the campaign was particularly intensive in the group's home town, Shepherd's Bush: The Who had to acquire a clear, geographical tag. Every street was covered, and 30 key fans from the area were given free tickets. More tickets were at half-price, particularly to a club called The 100 Faces, formed for the occasion. The promotion costs were £300.
But on the night it was raining cats and dogs. The Marquee has a capacity of 1,200. 147 turned up. 69 paid. They turned off the lights and Lambert quietly doled out whisky to the faithful Shepherd's Bush mods. The Who did the rest: Keith Moon attacked his drums with a sound and fury, breaking four drumsticks, until his clothes stuck to him and his jaw sagged with exhaustion. Roger Daltrey, the singer, dripping with sweat, shouted himself hoarse, smashing his mike onto the floor. Pete Townsend, nicknamed "The Birdman", went berserk, ramming the neck of his guitar into the amplifier until it smashed to bits. And John Entwistle, former french horn player in the Middlesex Youth Orchestra, just stood there, all in black, legs apart. "Without him,'" says Stamp, "they'd fly, they'd fly away." The Who were booked for another 16 weeks.
"To my mind," says Stamp, "their act creates emotions of anger and violence, and a thousand other things I don't really understand myself." Lambert agrees: "Their rootlessness appeals to the kids. They're really a new form of crime — armed against the bourgeois." (Keith Moon's father is an engineer.) "The point is, we're not saying, Here are four nice, cleancut lads come to entertain you. We're saying, Here is something outrageous — go wild!" But records are the essence of the business. The group had already failed a recording audition with the biggest British record company, E.M.I. They decided to cut their own demonstration disc at Studio 2,000 behind the Marquee: the number was to be their first hit, "I Can't Explain", composed by Pete Townsend.
Shel Talmy, an American independent record producer, heard the record, immediately auditioned The Who in the basement of The 2 I's Coffee Bar and moved in with a recording contract.
"The kind of success we hope for," explains Lambert, "could only come from America." Talmy leased the contract to American Decca, and through them to Decca in England. Lambert and Stamp signed for five years. Within weeks, they were to have a blazing row with Talmy and beg American Decca to free them.
On January 15, 1965, they released "I Can't Explain" in Britain. At the same time, Lambert and Stamp moved into an apartment in Eaton Place: "It was the only slum in Belgravia," says Lambert, "but it got us credit." In the smallest bedroom they set up an office consisting of a two-line switchboard and a kitchen table, and hired the first of 20 successive secretaries. With Stamp's wages from filming, Lambert threw a champagne party to launch the record. The world's disc jockeys were invited, but only Dave Dennis of Radio London turned up.
The celebration was premature. Decca printed little more than 1,000 copies of the record, giving it minimum plugging time on their own Luxembourg record shows.
Lambert decided to promote the record virtually single-handed. He went all out: jukebox firms, ballrooms, coffee bars, handing out hundreds of posters, talking personally to every D.J. in sight. He went for the pirate radio stations, where Dave Dennis turned up trumps and plugged the disc as a "climber" on Radio London.
But most of all, he plugged for television — the key to sales promotion. Lambert had an introduction to Bob Bickford, a former Daily Mail journalist who was now editor of "Ready Steady Go". Fortunately, Bickford knew of The Who's reputation at The Marquee and booked the group. Lambert could hardly believe his luck.
In the week that The Who were due on the air, "Ready Steady Go" unexpectedly needed 150 extra dancers at four days' notice. Lambert innocently suggested they went down to The Marquee, where The Who were performing: and a TV official unknowingly handed out 150 free tickets to the Shepherd's Bush mods and members of Lambert's own club, The 100 Faces. The result was a managerial triumph: on the night, half the studio was filled with key fans of The Who. The show was a smash.
On the following Monday Decca swung behind Lambert. Lambert succeeded in getting the group on to Southern TV through an Oxford contemporary, producer Angus Wright. On February 14 the record began to show at number 47 in the Music Echo, a newspaper then in its infancy. It went up gradually, reaching number 25 in the New Musical Express, a key chart. And then, the following week, it dropped out completely.
Then Lambert and Stamp gambled heavily: they directed a film of "The Who", hoping to persuade a TV programme, "That's For Me", to use it. They worked day and night for three days. The cost was £350, but "That's For Me" took the film for their next show — at a price of £25.
Within a week the record was back at number 23 in the New Musical Express. And then, a lucky break: "Top of the Pops", a programme networked into 51/2 million homes, was let down at the last moment by a group with managerial difficulties. They gave The Who their "Tip for the Top" spot. One week later, the disc shot into the Top Twenty — selling 10,000 a day — and finally ended up at number 8 with a sale of 104,000. Lambert went wild, running through Belgravia screaming, "We've cracked it! We've cracked it, you bastards!"
But the next morning was like a hangover. Record royalties amounted to almost £35,000, but the publicity campaign wiped out any managerial profit. The shops would make £10,000, songwriter Pete Townsend and his publisher, David Platz, would make £2,000, and the taxman, £4,700 — everyone would make money except Lambert and Stamp. The Who ended up with £250 each. Decca grossed roughly £16,000. For the first time, they made strong objections to the actual terms of the contract. After three weeks of frantic argument, Decca agreed to raise the percentage deal retrospectively to 4 per cent in England and Europe.
"It's known as The Myth of Pop," says Lambert. "We began to realize that the first record was only a start." In debt up to their eyes, they refused to give in, and instead abandoned making films entirely. They were going for the jackpot, for America.
They went all out for a second, crucial hit. "If we didn't make it, we'd had it," says Stamp. "We had to bring through the image of the group on record. After all, they were creating something, they're not just four geezers in a suit." There was one encouraging sign: the Press was at last beginning to take an interest. Richard Green wrote a feature called A DISTURBING GROUP in Record Mirror, describing Lambert as "a very loquacious young gentleman who takes great pains to put his points across". And Boyfriend wrote: "Love them or loathe them, The Who have made themselves something that other groups have longed for — a new image."
But the image was about to change. Singer Roger Daltrey had a gimmick of sticking black Sellotape onto a white sweater — changing the designs from night to night. The trick spread, almost by accident, to the rest of the group. Entwistle bought up dozens of medals, pinning them onto a diamond-check jacket. Moon wore a white T-shirt with a coloured target, a picture of Elvis, and the word "Pow!" And a Union Jack, until now draped over Townsend's speaker cabinet, became his jacket. Only in the world of pop could the sacred symbol of British royalty come to be identified by thousands of teenagers as the symbol of The Who. But it was the turning point: The Who were first in the field with Pop Art.
Lambert didn't waste a second: "We never intended to go for a quick profit with the group — we wanted a whole new scene going. We knew Pop Art could swing it." Rather dubiously, they claimed The Pop Art Sound, rushing out thousands of specially designed handouts, re-taking hundreds of pictures, contacting every journalist they could lay their hands on. On May 21, the release date of the record, The Who had a live appearance on "Ready Steady Go", shambling nervously into the studio dressed in Pop Art gear. They were an overnight sensation.
"D.J.s love a new sound," says Stamp. "It gives them something to say, gives them spiel between records." The record itself went out with a Pop Art cover in bright orange and yellow: "Pow! Don't walk, run to your nearest record player." The national Press were now doing full-scale features, fashion houses turned to Pop Art, and Carnaby Street began to rake in a fortune. Within a week, "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere", composed by Pete Townsend in a day, made the charts. After three more television shows, it went to number 12, selling 88,000.
Suddenly the established figures in the industry began to sit up. A surprise lunch date arrived from Rolling Stones' manager, Andrew Oldham. At the Ad Lib discothèque, where the hierarchy of the pop world were seated with all the snobbery of a church wedding, the humblest table became vacant.
With the success of their second record, The Who went out on a gruelling three-month nationwide tour. Either Lambert or Stamp went with them, attending to the thousand and one crises that can arise with four teenagers travelling as much as 750 miles a week. They stuck with them for another reason: to protect the group and themselves from takeover bids.
Touring expenses were high — £150 a week — but, at least, the money was beginning to pour in. At the Astoria Ballroom, Rawtenstall, Lancs, the Dungeon Club, Nottingham, Trentham Gardens, Stoke on Trent — £150 a night.
"My Generation" rocketed into the charts:
People try to put us down, Talkin' 'bout my generation Just because we get around, Talkin' 'bout my generation.
Excerpted from "The Who On The Who"
Copyright © 2017 Sean Egan.
Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Making of The Who John Heilpern
March 20, 1966 | Observer Colour Magazine (UK) 1
Miles Interviews Pete Townshend Barry Miles
February 13-26, 1967 | International Times (UK) 12
Pete Talks About Tommy Barry Miles
May 23-June 5 and June 13-28, 1969 | International Times (UK) 19
A Talk with Pete Townshend Jonathan Cott
May 14, 1970 | Rolling Stone (US) 38
The Who Puts the Bomp or They Won't Get Fooled Again John Swenson
December 5, 1971 | Crawdaddy (US) 58
Chatting with Pete Townshend Connor McKnight John Tobler
February 1972-August 1974 | Zigzag (UK) 95
Who's Still Who John Lawless
March 19, 1972 | Observer Colour Magazine (UK) 151
Four-Way Pete/Who's Jimmy? Charles Shaar Murray
October 27 and November 3, 1973 | New Musical Express (UK) 160
Pete Townshend Roy Carr
May 24, 1975 | New Musical Express (UK) 174
Who's Last? Tony Stewart
August 9, 1975 | New Musical Express (UK) 190
John Entwistle: The Who's Great Bass Guitarist Steve Rosen
November 1975 | Guitar Player (US) 203
Who Said That! The 1978 Pete Townshend Interview Tony Stewart
August 12, 1978 | New Musical Express (UK) 214
The Keith Moon Exclusive Eamonn Percival
September 1978 | International Musician and Recording World (UK) 235
The Rolling Stone Interview: Pete Townshend Greil Marcus
June 26, 1980 | Rolling Stone (US) 244
The Guitar Greats: Pete Townshend John Tobler Stuart Grundy
1983 | The Guitar Greats (UK) 263
Who's Back Charles M. Young
July 1989 | Musician (US) 290
"It's Like Climbing Mount Everest": Roger Daltrey Sean Egan
2002 | Previously unpublished in this form 319
"Any Cunt Can Be an Entertainer": Pete Townshend Sean Egan
2003 | Previously unpublished in this form 326
Generation Terrorists Simon Garfield
September 2006 | Observer Music Monthly (UK) 345
Amazing Journey: Roger Daltrey Sean Egan
2007 | Previously unpublished in this form 359
Kenney Jones, Drummer of Small Faces, Faces with Rod Stewart and the Who, Looks Back (and Forward) Binky Philips
January 17, 2014, and March 19, 2014 | Huffington Post (US) 365
Look Who's Talking Adrian Deevoy
October 26, 2014 | The Mail on Sunday/Event (UK) 380
About the Contributors 393