Category Archives: The Who

Rocks In The Attic #810: Various Artists – ‘Quadrophenia (O.S.T.)’ (1979)

RITA#810New Zealand is a long way to go for anybody. It’s at the arse-end of nowhere. This is fine when our small island wants to stay out international affairs, or keep nuclear ships out of our waters, but it also puts off celebrities and artists from making the trip. Who wants to spend longer than a couple of hours on an airplane?

This year we’ve had tour cancellations from Ozzy Osbourne (due to a genuine injury), and Kiss (due to some half-hearted bullshit, conveniently allowing them to make more money playing Australia and Japan). Two big-name cancellations might not sound like a lot, but when you consider that we might only get half a dozen similarly sized acts per year, it can be a big blow to music fans.

RITA#810aSo you have to make the most of what you can get. Occasionally, very occasionally, we might get a big-name actor, writer or director coming over on a promotional jaunt. I’ve been lucky in the past meeting Roger Moore, Quentin Tarantino and Danny Boyle. That’s three of my heroes right there, and I feel incredibly lucky to have met them. But that’s the sum total of my being in the country for twelve years. Living in LA, New York or London, one might be able to meet three big names in the course of twelve weeks.

And so when my wife told me that one of Britain’s greatest character actors, Timothy Spall, would be coming not only to New Zealand, but to the local art-house cinema in my small village outside of Auckland, I was immediately suspicious. I’ll believe it when I see it, I said. The announcement was just a few days before the event, and why the hell would Tim Spall want to come to New Zealand anyway?

Yet, the doubting Thomas in me was silenced.

On Friday night, I had the pleasure of watching his latest film, a bleak biopic of the North West’s greatest painter L.S. Lowry, before a Q&A with Spall himself. Mrs. Lowry & Son, directed by Adrian Noble, is far from the best film Spall’s been in. The sometimes-hammy script, limited narrative, even more limited filming locations and a greater focus on Lowry’s mother, instead of Lowry himself, makes it a seriously flawed film. Of course Spall’s subtle performance is the highlight of the film, as is Vanessa Redgrave’s portrayal of the painter’s overbearing matriarch, but both actors deserve much better material.

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After a bleak 90-minutes, the film ended on a bright note with the expected intertitles explaining Lowry’s subsequent achievements – that his unsupportive mother died before his first major exhibition, his paintings now sell for millions, and his work is displayed inside the purpose-built Lowry art gallery in Salford. The credits rolled, and into the cinema walked the man himself, resplendent in a blue suit and waistcoat.

Unfortunately, the limitations of the venue – Howick’s beautiful Monterey Cinema – meant that things didn’t go smoothly. This is a cinema that regularly forgets to the turn the lights down and shut the door to the theatre when a film starts. Another time, during a 3-D screening of Alfonso Cuarón’s

Gravity, my 3-D glasses just stopped working mid-film. I rushed out to the lobby, and was told that the 3-D headsets were battery-operated (!) and they handed me another pair, with no apology. It’s a nice little cinema, but the incompetence of its staff lets it down.

So, after the applause died down, Timothy Spall walked to the front of the screen and started talking. The morons had forgotten to charge the wireless microphone. The cinema that advertised a ‘once in a lifetime event’ had failed to prepare the one thing that they needed for said event. It beggars belief.

Thankfully, Spall took the issue with good grace, forced into a corner of the room with the microphone wired into the power supply. His anecdotes and stories were as good as I had hoped. He covered his battle with leukaemia, explaining that when the rest of the cast of Mike Leigh’s Secrets & Lies travelled to Cannes with the film, he went into hospital for chemotherapy instead. The silver lining, aside from beating the disease of course, was that when he left hospital he was inundated with film offers because Secrets & Lies had done so well.

RITA#810cIn another great story, he mentioned that after his preparation and research for playing the other famous British painter JMW Turner, in 2014’s Mr. Turner, he became a painter himself and his work is now displayed in The Lowry, alongside Lowry’s work. Art imitating life becoming art itself.

I asked a question too:

Me: Hi Tim, I’m a big fan. And I’m a big fan of Rafe too.

Tim: I’m a big fan of Rafe’s too! [laughs] He’s talking about my son, ladies and gentlemen.

Me: We’ve just seen Rafe in BBC’s War Of The Worlds, which he was fantastic in. I wanted to ask whether there’s a bit of rivalry in the family now that you’re both such big-name actors?

Tim: Oh no [laughs], not at all. I’m a big fan of Rafe’s. In fact, I’m his biggest fan! No, I’m immensely proud of him, and he’s a great son. And he’s a great Dad himself, too.

RITA#810dAfter the Q&A, I rushed out to the lobby to ask him for a photo and for an autograph on my Quadrophenia soundtrack LP. His first film appearance, some forty years ago, Spall has a small role as the awkward projectionist at the advertising agency where Phil Daniel’s Jimmy works (when Jimmy bothers to turn up). I showed him the LP. ‘What’s that?” he peered. ‘Oh, Quadrophenia! Ha! Wow, is that the album?’

Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to asking Tim my other question. I had recently seen a clip of Rafe Spall mentioning that he had narrowly missed out on the role of Dr. Who. When the BBC producers told him not to tell anybody he was going through the audition process, he instead told everybody. Word got back to them, and he was dropped. I wanted to ask a hypothetical question: if Rafe got the part of another British screen hero, James Bond, would Tim be keen on playing M?

I’ll ask him next time.

Hit: Louie Louie – The Kingsmen

Hidden Gem: Zoot Suit – The High Numbers

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Rocks In The Attic #447: The Who – ‘A Quick One’ (1966)

RITA#447I think the first song I heard off this record was Boris The Spider, selected as the b-side to a mid-‘90s re-release of My Generation – used on a TV ad for ice cream if I remember correctly. That single led me to buy a CD compilation, which was more than enough Who for me at the time.

I’ve never been into bands where the vocalist isn’t the songwriter. I’m not sure why – it just feels a little bit fake. Strangely though, I don’t really notice it for some bands. Take the Kaiser Chiefs for example. As far as I know, original drummer Nick Hodgson was the primary lyricist for the band – yet I don’t really think anything less of them.

This album has two highlights for me – the studio version of A Quick One, While He’s Away, gloriously performed on the Live At Leeds album, and the band’s stunning cover of Heat Wave. I like to think that if I was in a band in the ‘60s, I would have pushed to do a cover of Heat Wave – it’s such a great song, with an eternally cool groove.

Hit: A Quick One, While He’s Away

Hidden Gem: Heat Wave

Rocks In The Attic #371: The Who – ‘Live At Leeds’ (1970)

RITA#371The quintessential single-disc live album, Live At Leeds needs no introduction. I first heard about it through a comedy show – Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer’s first series on the BBC (The Smell Of Reeves & Mortimer) – where it was featured in a novelty song: The Who, Live At Leeds / A Packet Of Seeds / And a top hat full of gloy, gloy, gloy. Once you start buying rock music though, you quickly learn about the high watermark this record is held up as.

There’s just something infinitely more attractive about a live set on just one record. Short, sharp and to the point. AC/DC’s If You Want Blood – You’ve Got It is another great example of capturing something so energetic in such a small timeframe. The antithesis would probably be something like Peter Frampton’s Frampton Comes Alive album, about as far away from the immediacy of the Who as you could imagine.

There are just six songs on this record, mainly taken up by the fifteen minute extended medley of My Generation and the eight minutes of Magic Bus. Looking at the full set list from the Leeds gig, it’s a wonder how they managed to reduce it down to just two sides of music – a staggering thirty three songs played on the night would have provided enough material for three or four discs.

Hit: My Generation

Hidden Gem: Magic Bus

Rocks In The Attic #339: The Who – ‘Who Are You’ (1978)

RITA#339There was a promising time around ten years or so ago, when it seemed like they were going to extend the CSI TV show across every city in America. First there was CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (AKA CSI: Las Vegas), with The Who’s Who Are You as the opening theme. Then came CSI: Miami, with Won’t Get Fooled Again, and finally, CSI: New York with Baba O’Riley.

It almost seemed like there was going to be a different spin-off show for every city. But there’s only so many Who songs. Imagine CSI: Cleveland with Pictures Of Lily across the opening credits, or CSI: Atlanta with Happy Jack blaring out over a montage of moody looking detectives.

There’s a new spin-off in the making, called CSI: Cyber, which has been picked up for a full season. There’s no word on which Who song will be used, but I’m hopeful it will be Squeeze Box (seriously though, the slow burn of Eminence Front from 1982’s It’s Hard would be a perfect – and not too obvious – fit).

This is Who album number eight, and the last with Keith Moon on the drummer’s stool. I’m sure it must have been mentioned that on the cover he’s sat on a chair inscribed with ‘Not to be taken away’. Unfortunate. The album’s not one of their best – you can hardly tell Moon’s on the drums, and there’s so much synth across most of the tracks (sometimes overshadowing the guitar), it just sounds dated. By this point they’ve come a long, long way from their beat group days as the High Numbers. They’re no longer relevant, just a bloated British rock band churning out middle-of-the-road material, a million miles from their Mod beginnings.

Hit: Who Are You

Hidden Gem: 905

Rocks In The Attic #311: The Who – ‘It’s Hard’ (1982)

RITA#311Argh, the ‘80s! The cover of this record is a bit confused. Roger Daltrey looks like a real estate agent. Pete Townshend looks like a pre-op transsexual. John Entwistle looks bizarrely like Ringo Starr in a pinstripe suit. Kenney Jones looks like a waxwork. All four of them are facing away from a young boy playing a Space Invaders machine, his back to the camera, in a darkened room. Aside from the allusions to Pinball Wizard, I don’t know what this all means, but it feels dodgy. Don’t worry though; Townshend was just doing research, right?

Thankfully the album doesn’t sound as unnaturally ‘80s as they were trying to make themselves look on the cover. There’s a fair bit of synth on the album – but no more than say, Quadrophenia, and that always jarred slightly on that album anyway.

The reason I’ll put this album on will always be the last track on the first side – Eminence Front, with lead vocals by Townshend himself. I know the song from the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, so hearing its slow burn always reminds me of driving around Los Santos, San Fierro and Las Venturas, knocking over pedestrians and doing drive-bys.

Hit: Athena

Hidden Gem: Eminence Front

Rocks In The Attic #274: The Who – ‘My Generation’ (1965)

RITA#274It’s funny that on most of the debut albums by the ‘60s bands that have endured, there’s not much of a hint of how the band will end up. Here you have the odd bit of feedback across opener Out In The Street, the wig-out of closer The Ox, and of course the rousing and frantic My Generation, but the rest of the album doesn’t sound too much like a band that would go on to be such an important rock band of the late ‘60s and ‘70s.  There are two James Brown covers on this record, and that choice of artist doesn’t fit entirely well with the band that would go on to produce the glorious eight-and-a-half-minutes of Won’t Get Fooled Again.

The same goes for the Beatles – who would have thought the same voice that sang A Taste Of Honey would go on to rip through the lyrics of Helter Skelter. Or the Stones, when you compare the simplicity of their debut’s Route 66 cover, with the rawness and sleeze of later songs like Brown Sugar.

Speaking of the Stones, I was watching the Some Girls Live In Texas show the other day, and it’s such a contrast when the band play an early rock n’ roll cover. They’re a sloppy live band at the best of times, always sounding like they’re playing different songs, especially after Ronnie Wood joined their ranks; but on a cover of Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen, they gel together like a well-rehearsed group of 18-year olds.

The Who’s debut is very similar to a lot of those albums – solid, probably groundbreaking for the time, but quaint and quite dated when you compare it to their later albums.

Hit: My Generation

Hidden Gem: I Don’t Mind

Rocks In The Attic #235: The Who – ‘The Who Sell Out’ (1967)

RITA#235A well-intentioned satire on commercialism and consumerism, or a rare mis-step by The Who in an otherwise flawless run of albums leading up to their first masterpiece, Tommy?

This album isn’t without its highlights, and the cover is fantastic, but I do think that for all its good intentions, it’s a step backwards after A Quick One. The final song on that album, A Quick One, While He’s Away, points towards the direction Townshend would go with Tommy and Quadrophenia, but The Who Sells Out tries to do something else. It is a concept album – well, it’s more of a concept album than Sgt. Pepper’s (released a few months earlier), in that most of the album deals with the subject of advertising, but the songs just aren’t as good as they are on those two later albums.

I do like the ultra-compressed effect they use on the radio announcements between songs (making use of a device called the Sonovox), and I’m sure Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter would appreciate this too – a similar effect is employed on Daft Punk’s Homework debut.

Hit: I Can See For Miles

Hidden Gem: Armenia City In The Sky

Rocks In The Attic #207: The Who – ‘Who’s Next’ (1971)

RITA#207I like The Who, but I like to keep them at arm’s distance. I’m always suspicious of bands where the vast majority of material is written by somebody other than the lead singer, and I guess The Who are one of the best examples of that dynamic. I also regard Pete Townshend as a little too full of himself. If I had seen The Who play back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, it would have been Keith Moon I’d have been going to see

When I bought The Who’s greatest hits, on CD in the mid-‘90s, I really liked some of their singles but others (I’m A Boy, Pictures Of Lily) I just found soft and weak, which is surprising given that they’re supposed to be this hell-raising rock band. Those songs turned me off taking a further look at their studio albums, but I seem to doing more and more of that these last few years. I’ve always liked this album – it rocks big time – but I’ve developed a new-found respect for Tommy, A Quick One and Live At Leeds recently. Who’s Next seems to catch the band at their peak, with their most consistent album – probably because the album is neighboured on both sides by their weightier ‘rock operas’.

Who’s Next has been plundered by the producers of the CSI television series, with two of its tracks (Won’t Get Fooled Again and Baba O’Riley) appearing as the theme music to and CSI: Miami and CSI: New York respectively. I’m still waiting for Boris The Spider to be used as the theme to CSI: Scranton.

Hit: Won’t Get Fooled Again

Hidden Gem: My Wife

Rocks In The Attic #129: Blur – ‘Blur: The Best Of’ (2000)

Rocks In The Attic #129: Blur - ‘Blur: The Best Of’ (2000)This was an unsurprising release by Food Records. With only one album left on their contract with Food, a greatest hits collection was assembled. This isn’t a new thing in the record industry – although diehard fans of the band may not rush out to buy a batch of songs they already own, the general public will always buy a compilation album in droves, and so it makes economic sense to bring out a ‘best of’ while the opportunity is ripe, rather than release studio album #452.

As a DJ – which I was at the time of this release – it’s always handy to have a collection of hit songs on one disc (or two, in this case), rather than lug a load of albums around for the sake of one or two songs. Still, saying that, this album did open my eyes to some of the other Blur material which I wasn’t familiar with at the time.

Much after the fact, I had discovered Parklife and, subsequently, The Great Escape, while at University. Blur and 13 sort of passed me by, although by this time they were sufficiently on my radar, enough for me to anticipate their singles as they were released.

I’ve been thinking about ‘90s music for a few weeks now, after somebody mentioning what a truly terrible decade for music it was. I guess it’s too early to tell, but will anybody be listening to this sort of thing in 40 or 50 years?

The reason I prefer to listen to older music – specifically from the ‘60s and ‘70s – is that most of the time you can listen to it without having to handle all of the other bullshit that comes with it. It’s almost impossible to listen to a Blur album without thinking about how much of a knobhead Damon Albarn is.

I remember being asked about Blur and Oasis by my sixth-form English teacher in the mid-‘90s. Their rivalry was all over the British press because of the chart race between Country House and Roll With It. He wanted to know who I thought were the better band. This was many years before I would start listening to “Indie” or Britpop music, and I was existing purely on a diet of hard rock and heavy metal at the time, so the question was sort of lost on me. I still stand behind my response back then, which was “Blur, of course, because they’re always doing something different.” The one thing I can always be sure of is that I can happily look back at Oasis’ entire career and proudly declare ‘not guilty’.

When I look back at Blur’s career alongside British bands which I’m sure they’d like to measured against – The Kinks, The Who, The Beatles, The Stones, etc – I’m not sure if they’ll ever be regarded in the same light. Oasis plumbed new depths of mediocrity in the ‘90s, but Blur were simply the best British band of the decade, and I guess that’s all that mattered at the time.

Hit: Song 2

Hidden Gem: To The End