Wednesday, November 26, 2008

History Of Festivals 19 : Charlton 1974

The Who played two gigs at Charlton Athletic’s football stadium in the mid-Seventies. The second, in 1976, was one of three one-day festivals hosted by the band that summer on their Who Put The Boot In tour (the other being Glasgow and Swansea). But the 1976 gig was spoiled by ticket forgery and gatecrashers, although unlucky punters who were turned away – despite having tickets – were given a free bus ride to Swansea, which was a nice gesture, if a bit of a hike. But it was the 1974 gig at the South London football stadium that sticks in rock’s memory.

The Who had released Quadrophenia the previous year and had most recently been touring around France playing it. They had, typically ambitiously, been using backing tapes with sound effects and atmospherics in a series of winter gigs that were at best a qualified success and sometimes bordered on the shambolic. For this Summer 1974 tour, they got back to a more traditional sound. Pete played a solo show in the April and the band did a low-key event in Oxford – playing their old classics, not the Quadrophenia material – and this May 18 gig at Charlton was the biggest event signifying a move away from shows based fundamentally on their great rock opera.

The Charlton 1974 might not have been their most technically accomplished, but in terms of a joyous celebration of what made them one of the most thrilling live bands of the time, and indeed of all time, it was a great showcase. There are lots of bootlegs available of the gig, and a good recording by the BBC that was broadcast on Radio London at the time.

Mention must be made without further ado of Keith’s drumkit, which is absolutely, hilariously massive. He has 11 tom-toms and – because you never know if one will be enough – TWO huge gongs. They don’t make them like that any more.

Anyway, the day. Some 50,000 arrived with doors at noon to see support including Lou Reed, Humble Pie, Bad Company, Lindisfarne, Maggie Bell and Montrose. The weather was pretty decent, although there were quite a lot of fights in the crowd throughout.

Maggie Bell got things underway with a warm and bluesy little set. Her solo albums Queen Of The Night and Suicide Sal are both excellent blues records. We'll be doing a Maggie Bell t-shirt soon I think. She really is one of finest blues singers ever.

Lindisfarne played a rollicking romp of folky, funky groove notable for a policeman trying to get on the stage and members of the band chucking beer at him. Roll on Ruby was just on the market - an over-looked album of theirs but the band was already coming apart - with half the band soon to split into Jack The Lad.

Bad Company laid down some nice heavy stuff – Boz Burrel’s bass in great form through a monster PA. Bad co was out and everyone loved it. Those first three Bad Company albums contain some of the best riffs of their genre. Mick Ralphs seems to get forgotton as a riffmeister possibly because rodgers is such a brilliant singer. We have a t-shirt of them both here.

Montrose played a great set, and the version of Space Station Number Five they did is still remembered fondly, screaming feedback and wild noises that continued for about two minutes after the band left the stage. Awesome stuff. That first montrose album is one of the miost influential in mid 70s rock n roll I think. That blend of muscular riffing and rawk vocals from Sammy Hager set a template for bands such as Van Halen. In fact I seem to recall they were produced by Ted Templeman. Jump On It - a good album - has one of the worst covers ever - a big pair of red panites.....always embaressed me in front of the parents that!

Lou Reed was embarking on his ‘Sally Can’t Dance’ tour and this was his third show of that run. The great New Yorker was rocking that rather alarming bleach blonde look he had and was pretty knocked out loaded by all accounts, but his band were real tight. The crowd weren’t that taken with him – maybe a football stadium isn’t really the venue for his wonderful, complicated, contrary brand of late-night spermy glamour and two-sided stories. Our Lou shirt is drawn from a shot from that period.

The highlight of the support acts was definitely the Humble Pie set, opening with Watcha Gonna Do About It. Steve Marriot was absolutely magnificent, a perfect blend of showmanship and musicianship, a real quality performance. There were plenty at Charlton 1974 who felt that the Humble Pie set topped The Who, but sadly recordings of their set are hard to come by. The Pie remain one of early70s best hard rock bands with Performance; rockin The Fillmore being one of my top 3 lives albums of all time. Also worth getting are Rock On, Smokin' and Eat It.

The Who came on stage at 8. 45 and launched into a medley that kicked off with I Can’t Explain, Summertime Blues and Young Man Blues. The version of Baba O’Reilly, next, is terrific – and not just for Pete’s Irish jig. There’s some powerful harp from Roger and some typically chunky, balls-out base from The Ox on a soaring, storming, urgent celebration of desperate youth. Substitute is another corker.

From Quadrophenia, they played Drowned, Bell Boy – which got a riotous reception for Keith Moon’s vocal (for which read: “bonkers shouting”) – and 5.15, although the last of those was pretty ropey and, along with I Can’t Explain, was left off a lot of the recordings of the event. Pete said that he was dead drunk for this gig – as he was for all of their sets at Madison Square Garden later in the summer – and also that he did not enjoy the atmosphere much at Charlton. He has said he felt there was a violent atmosphere in the stadium and does not regard this as among their finest live shows. And it’s true that, in terms of musical virtuosity, this does not necessarily show the band at the very peak of their powers.

That being said, the crowd absolutely loved the set and the sheer passion and energy they transmit to the band nevertheless inspired a thrilling performance. The highlight of their one hour 45 minute show was the medley of Naked Eye and Let’s See Action right near the end, which is blinding stuff, a real gem. They closed with the first-ever performance of what the band knew as My Generation Blues, a slowed-down, dense and dirty 12 bar blues take on their famous hit.

Although Quadrophenia was a groundbreaking, brilliant piece of work, this Charlton gig marked a pronounced move away from attempting it live in any depth. For the next quarter century, The Who gigs would take on more the format of a greatest hits package. Anyone at Charlton in 1974 would feel that they saw a hell of a show from one of the most important and exciting British acts of all time.

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