Monday, June 26, 2006

Pete Townshend: Ageing and Lear Jets

Pertaining to the following story:

Pete Townshend's Diary
20 June 2006
Ageing and Lear Jets

The first two shows of the tour – that we regarded as warm-ups – turned out both to be special in their own way. Leeds was a joy from beginning to end. The day began with a charter jet from the new building at Farnborough airport with its extraordinary new reception buildings that rival most public airports. Farnborough has always been the location of an annual Air Show in the UK, and has better resources as a result. The arrival over the Yorkshire hills in beautiful sunshine reminded me how many of my London friends have suddenly decided that this is the place they want to live. Ted Hughes’ Country I now call it: tightly rolling hills (the locals call ‘Dales’) and a dark soil that seems to show even between the greenery and trees.

From the moment Rachel and I arrived at the University Music department I was treated like Prince Charles, and found that the best way to behave was a little as he might. I was greeted by a small reception committee and led into a gallery where Sir Peter Blake was sitting, surrounded by Artist’s Proofs of perfect prints his various highly colourful record and CD sleeves of the past years – including of course Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The room was packed with people, including the three men who as students put on the Who’s show in 1970. From then on to the show itself, in 39 degrees of heat, the fun rolled out. Rachel Fuller did her first In the Attic webcast from the back yard, and it went pretty well – no serious technical hitches. She webcast the first three numbers of our Who set, then got Sir Peter Blake and Andy Kershaw to come on and speak. Andy is a BBC radio music presenter and musicologist – he is especially well known now for his World Music shows, and he was a student at Leeds when we played there in 1970; he went on to do a few years of booking bands there himself.

Lots of signing autographs, having my photo taken, and trying not to catch pneumonia, And we were back in the air. Flying back to London there are very few areas now that are not lit up – Manchester is a huge city, with lights like Los Angeles. I fall into a state of grateful realism: it has been a long time since I have done this kind of intense work.

Brighton was almost as intense, partly because our show was on the same day as the famous London to Brighton Cycle Rally, featuring 25,000 cyclists all requiring vans to collect them when they arrived. It took some of our party five hours to drive a distance that normally takes ninety minutes at the most. The Brighton Centre was the venue, I’d seen great shows there in the ‘80s by Springsteen and the Clash, and was surprised how clean and sedate the place is. I had certainly not been clean and sedate. In The Attic featured Tracey Ullman who had brought her son to check us out. She was seriously funny. Chris Difford guested with his fantastic steel player Melvin. The Who show was tighter and better sounding, but the audience a little subdued – I asked if anyone had travelled by bike so the rest of us could lynch them, but only four brave people put up their hands. I love cycling, falling off and breaking my right wrist on Friday 13 September 1991 was a price I paid for my enthusiasm and my bike-driven adrenalin rushes. After the show I got to greet some old friends, and my son Jose and his buddy Indie came and admired the incredible Thor Infinity American Motorhome we have hired for a Production vehicle from Cheshire Motorhomes.

I began this diary wishing to speak about how doing all this makes me feel old. I don’t mean that it makes me feel too old, or that I am unhappy to be doing it, but in this kind of spotlight there is no way to hide the years. I saw Paul Simon on British TV recently, and he has decided to stop screwing with his hair, and he looked relaxed and content, but also suddenly he looks his age – as a result the wisdom of some of his writing sits with him in a better light. It’s easier to give a man credit for genius when he looks older. Watching MTV this morning, and seeing the Kings of Leon re-running an early song, I find it hard to believe that anyone so young could get a career running. But when the Who played at Leeds in 1970 I was just 24. I was about to release Tommy and try to build a family: the next ten years were to prove the most exhausting and emotionally draining of my life.

In many ways, despite the years I carry, it all seems easier today. Flying home on a Lear jet is an indulgence that no one really deserves, but six hours in the back of a van trying to sleep with amplifiers falling on your head, is not an option any more.

This week I am mixing the Who album.

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