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In The Attic (aka ITA) was a musical chat internet show that was webcast live and streamed weekly on Towser TV, a 24 hour web channel that was hosted on petetownshend.com. The original ITA series began airing live from Pete Townshend’s Oceanic Studios in London on September 21, 2005, and lasted for 2 seasons before evolving into a live road show webcast from an airstream mobile studio caravan that followed The Who around Europe during their World tour in the Summer of 2006. When the tour came to America, the ITA gang performed at intimate Attic Jam shows in small nightclubs across the US. The following is the history of this innovative series.
In The Attic at Oceanic Studios
In The Attic was produced by Pete Townshend's partner Rachel Fuller, who co-hosted the series with her songwriting friend Mikey Cuthbert. Rachel and Mikey had spent their early days together writing songs up “in the attic” of her house, which was the inspiration for the title of the show. The series was originally a spin off from a blog that Rachel had started on blogspot.com in August 2005 in an effort to promote her new album Cigarettes and Housework. Pete launched his blog The Boy Who Heard Music on blogspot soon after in September 2005, and began posting chapters to his concept project that he later based his new mini opera for The Who on – Wire and Glass. The live webcast was conceived as a way to further tap into the blogger community that Rachel and Pete were actively interacting with.
“Pete had a webcam set up and never used it. I had a blog site which was getting quite a lot of hits, so I decided to combine the two and started doing In The Attic with Mikey Cuthbert, an old friend of mine. I would sing and play piano [live in front of the webcam], Mikey would sing and play guitar, and we’d collaborate on the spot. It was really silly, but music was the serious part of it.” Rachel Fuller – liner notes of ITA DVD
“I’m so excited that in our studio we can rent a bit of bandwidth, it doesn’t cost a huge amount of money, and we can put out live TV. I’m so excited that people can have a blog, and they can take photos and tell stories. I think it’s so exciting!” Pete Townshend – The DL webstream
Rachel would feature regular special guests each week, including Pete and his brother Simon Townshend, who would join Rachel and Mikey to perform acoustic songs, and to chat for hours about songwriting, music, projects they were working on, and various other interesting topics. It was a real writers collective, and viewers were treated to lessons and insights into Pete’s legendary guitar techniques. Pete played a variety of songs, old and new, including compositions that he had just written for the upcoming Who album Endless Wire, as well as a few that were never released. Pete and Rachel would perform new songs that they had collaborated on (Just Breath and In The Mix), as well as accompanying one another on guitar and piano (Sunrise and In The Ether). Other special guests featured various Townshend family members, including Pete’s son Joseph (aka Bernard), nieces (Hannah Townshend, Jessica Townshend and Layla Astley), as well as close friends (Jerry Hall) and musicians (Martha Wainwright, The Vibrants, Chris Difford).
During the webcasts, Rachel would check her blog and read the comments that were posted in response to the chat and performances, which brought the bloggers directly into the discussion and created a virtual reality for the viewer, giving them a real sense of connection and engagement with the performers. She would include weekly blogger competitions, where a question would be asked and the first correct answer would win a prize. Other features included “picture behind the piano” where Rachel or Pete would tell the story of the weeks artwork, “fashion tips” where Rachel would show off her latest outfits and give tips to her female bloggers, "plunder the covers" where Rachel attempted to play cover tunes with no rehearsal, and “Mikey’s useless facts”. There were also a lot of exclusive videos played, including behind the scenes of Pete and Rachel travelling and going backstage at events, and performing at shows such as the Poetry Olympics. While there were regular segments, ITA was very freeform and unscripted, and encouraged spontaneous discussion and performances, along with interactive engagement with the live online audience. The unstructured format combined with the interaction of the bloggers proved to be a great creative spark for everyone involved.
“I had so much fun doing [my blog], I had so much fun doing it. What's incredible about the whole thing for me was that it really sparked, you know, it was kind of like a spiritual awakening kind of thing. It's probably too big a way of putting it, but it certainly had a creative spark for me. And for you (Mikey), and for Rachel, and for everyone that's involved with this, you have to recognize it. This energy that you get from having a relationship with, even if the group of fans is only 50, 60, 100, you know, the Who's career has been maintained over 40 years by probably a maximum of 2, 3, 4 thousand people. Absolutely dedicated. Around them are hundreds of thousands of others. But those people, their loyalty is always there as an open channel. If you want to use it you can, and if you don't want to use it, they don't mind if you don't. I suddenly realized that this nurturance was coming from that. I could indulge myself in the comments, and if I did, I really felt that I was safe there. It's trying to make sure you use it creatively, that you don't put all of your creative energy into the blog. Sometimes you go, you read it, you hear what people say, you sit down with your guitar. You get a creative end product. It's so cool.” Pete Townshend – ITA April 26, 2006
The creative spark was mutual with the bloggers, and a few of them were inspired to put together Crashing The Attic, a CD of cover tunes from songs performed on ITA. The songs are up on Soundcloud.
“Doing unplugged acoustic shows with rock-n-roll artists is not particularly new, but In The Attic is different, really. It’s about the exchange of ideas and playing, all the stuff I personally find inspiring. I learned a lot on the show. It definitely bumped up my writing. It had kind of slowed down. But suddenly I felt that I didn’t have to write the fucking song of my life every time so I started to knock songs out. That came out of the informality, the light-heartedness of In The Attic. It fed into Endless Wire. There would not have been a new Who album without it.” Pete Townshend – liner notes of ITA DVD
ITA aired in 2 seasons, with special episodes and performances in between. On October 18, 2005, the Attic gang branched out from the studio and performed the first Attic Jam at the Bedford Arms pub in London. Foy Vance joined Rachel, Mikey, Pete and Simon, who performed to a live audience of friends and bloggers. This show was not webcast, but videos of some of the songs were aired on ITA. On December 4, 2005, Oceanic Studios was opened up to bloggers for a special Basement Jam webcast. The show combined segments webcast from the usual ITA location with full band performances in the main studio in front of a live audience.
Pete explained to the audience at Oceanic what the show was all about. “(Rachel) has made a record, and she's put up a blog, and has been doing this thing called In The Attic, that some of you will know about. But it's kind of inspired me to some extent to do some of the same kind of stuff. I put up my book that I had written, that I'm not particularly interested in publishing, but interested in sharing. So I've got my own blog site, and this event came straight out of the In The Attic thing as well, and doing something that’s a bit bigger.” Pete Townshend – Basement Jam
A couple weeks later an ITA Christmas special was webcast live from the main studio in the same format as the Basement Jam, but did not include the live audience. DVD's of the Christmas Special and Season 1 were sold as bit torrent downloads on longliverock.org, which was another innovative way to use the latest online technology to reach out to their audience.
In The Attic road shows
In the Summer of 2006, In The Attic moved out of Oceanic Studios and hit the road to follow The Who on their European tour to promote the new Endless Wire album. The shows were webcast live from a 1950s silver Airstream trailer that was parked at the venues where The Who performed, and featured video clips from The Who shows, and guests appearances from a variety of artists.
"When The Who toured Europe, I wanted to go with Pete, but I wanted to work. So we got this big silver airstream, and took this big caravan out on the road. We took this guy with a satellite link up, and every time we did a show it went out live on the internet. We did them before The Who shows." Rachel Fuller – The DL webstream
The first ITA road show was webcast from Bray Studios on June 13, 2006, where The Who held their rehearsals for the tour. The European tour kicked off at Leeds University on June 17, and travelled all over the UK and Europe hitting most of the major Summer festivals before wrapping up in Spain on July 29. ITA left the Airstream at home and followed The Who to America for a couple of live webcasts from backstage at Madison Square Garden and the Virgin Festival in Baltimore in September 2006. The road show series wrapped up with a couple more UK webcasts from the airstream in 2007, including a warm up show from Oceanic Studios that featured Adele, who was working on her first album before going on to superstardom.
Invitations to appear on the shows were sent out to popular bands that shared the bill with The Who at the festivals, as well as other famous celebrities, who would stop by for an informal chat and impromptu acoustic performance with Pete. The following artists made an appearance with Pete, Rachel, Mikey and Simon: Foy Vance, Chris Difford, Martha Wainwright, Flaming Lips, Rose Hill Drive, E from Eels, The Zutons, The Editors, The Kooks, Razorlight, Ed Harcourt, Casbah Club, Shack, Kasabian, Death Cab for Cutie, The Fratellis, Regina Spektor, John Rabbit Bundrick, The Raconteurs, Adele, Magic Numbers, Tracy Ulman, Bill Curbishly, artist Peter Blake, and DJ Andy Kershaw. Here is a compilation video of a few of the bands that appeared on the show.
"For me, it’s a real feeling of hearing and becoming a part of new music that I might not otherwise do. Because on the road with The Who, we just do the Who show every night, and this has given me something… I think it’s really helped me, I don’t know, it’s really kind of lightened the way that I feel about what I do musically. And I think it’s kept me on my toes. [The ITA airstream] was parked right in the middle of the artists area, so it was a very natural thing for artists that were passing, they were going for a beer, or had just done an interview with the BBC, and we would say, do you want to come on and chat. It was very informal, and so that really fit the festival atmosphere." Pete Townshend – Reuters News 2007.
Pete and Rachel chatted about live webcasting the ITA road shows with The DL internet show on AOL, when they were backstage at SXSW.
To help raise money for charity during the tour, Rachel commissioned an art installation piece in the form of a table that was assembled from remnants of the last guitar Pete ever smashed, which he demolished for Rachel's birthday when The Who played in Japan in 2004. The table was displayed in the airstream caravan and signed by the various artists who appeared on the show, before getting auctioned off towards the end of the European tour.
Behind the scenes videos of the road shows were filmed for a documentary by Justin Kreutzmann, who is the son of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. Some of the videos were featured in a promotional video for the song Just Breathe, which was co-written by Rachel Fuller and Pete Townshend.
The full ITA documentary was never released. An Attic Jam album of songs performed on the European tour are available on iTunes.
Attic Jam shows
When The Who toured America, the ITA gang came along but left the airstream studio at home. Instead, they played a series of Attic Jam shows at tiny 200 seat clubs in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and SXSW. There was also a special Attic Jam iTunes CD launch party held in a small club in London that took place between the US legs of the tour. The intimate shows featured acoustic performances by major stars, and those fans that were lucky enough to attend were treated to long sets of incredibly beautiful music, and enjoyed the rare opportunity to view their favorite artists up close and personal. Similar to the ITA road shows, the majority of the acts invited Pete to jam with them, making for an interesting and varied evening of musical collaboration.
The following artists appeared at the Attic Jam shows with Pete and Rachel: Mikey Cuthbert, Simon Townshend, Foy Vance, Martha Wainwright, Rose Hill Drive, Willy Mason, Minnie Driver, E from Eels, Billy Corgan, Sean Lennon, Jimmy Fallon, Ryan Adams, Joe Purdy, Alexi Murdoch, Ed Harcourt, Magic Numbers, The Kooks, Lou Reed, Amos Lee, Rachel Yamagata, J. Mascis, Tenacious D, Ben Harper, Mika, She and Him, and Ben Gibbard.
All of the Attic Jam shows were filmed by Justin Kreutzmann, but none of the videos were ever streamed on Towser TV. A compilation 1 DVD - 2 CD box set was put together and sold by Best Buy, which is no longer available. Check Amazon for any remaining copies that may be available.
Here are a few fan photos taken at the Attic Jam shows, courtesy of the longliverock.org Concert Calendar archives. Many thanks to all the photographers who donated to this!
Produced, researched and written by Carrie Pratt