The 40th anniversary of The Who at Shepperton Studios

TheWhoShepperton

The Who performed their final show with Keith Moon 40 years ago today, on May 25, 1978 at Shepperton Studios in London. They performed a short set in front of an invited group of 300 fans, and recorded Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again for Jeff Stein’s excellent rockumentary film, The Kids Are Alright. After the show, the band attended a tea party with the fans, then did a photo shoot with photographer Terry O’Neill for the Who Are You album cover.

Irish Jack was there, and was kind enough to share his memories of the whole event!

THE BEST WHO GIG EVER?

By Irish Jack

"What's the best Who gig you've ever seen?" That's a question a lot of Who fans ask me. It's hard to actually pick one out in particular say "yes, that was it....that was the one!" But there is one I shall never forget.

On a sunny May noon in 1978, at a pre-arranged spot at Hyde Park Corner in London, about five coaches filled with Who fans and organised by a Who fan called Steve Margo and Dougal Butler, personal valet to Keith Moon, headed for Shepperton film studios where Jeff Stein, a young American film director and self-confessed fanatical Who fan, was to shoot some footage of the Who performing no more than a handful of songs for his film documentary 'The Kids Are Alright'. Stein had unearthed an abundance of Who film footage but later realized he was particularly dry of current material. Thus the Who's planned performance before a small audience of specially invited Who fans; and whose limited numbers practically guaranteed that above all they would be 'manageable' and 'orderly'. And in Who parlance there's not much can go wrong with 300 fans....even 300 Who fans.

When we arrived at the famous Shepperton Studios each coach was visited by a well spoken chappie dressed in a David Niven-type cravat and carrying the inevitable clip-board. He proceeded to give us 'the drill' on what exactly director Jeff Stein required of us and he politely begged us not to wander around the rest of the grounds and possibly damage dressed sets. In the confident air that only an educated Englishman who had obviously studied Noel Coward could muster up he ended his short sermon with the words..."Does everybody understand?" The theatrical impact of his delivery left no room for doubt.

I think it was probably more in reaction to nerves and anticipation that the majority of us headed for the restaurant and began to stuff ourselves with plates of hot burning curry and delicious bottles of Brown Ale. We were halfways through the orgy of food and drink when, from behind the bar, a little Tannoy speaker crackled out a message and next thing we all had a case of the Richard Burtons - yes, the Who's fans were being called to the set. Suddenly the reality of technicians and clapper-boards set in and butterflies swam in the pit of our stomachs.

We were led down a long studio corridor flanked by tiny production offices before finally being ushered into a large, cold, half-lit hangar. On floor level a small army of camera-men ran in all directions shouting orders at each other. A runner board with a mobile camera unit parked on rail tracks ran as far as the lip of the stage. While onstage, the Who's roadies scurried about in bent over positions checking cables and mains.

The excitement began to build until it became an undeniable fact as the entire hangar began to buzz in anticipation of the Who. Were they really going to play? -or was this just a dream with 300 witnesses?

It was pretty scary there in the cold lights of the studio hangar. We all knew it wasn't going to be like a real gig. The band were only going to do a handful of numbers and that was all. Suddenly there was that initial shock of recognition and the Who were out on the stage...Moon introducing himself with head-over-heels.

Bobby Pridden switched on the synthesizer tapes and it was 'Baba O'Riley, the Who were in business. 'My Wife' and the old magic was flowing back. All over too soon and then straight into 'Won't Get Fooled Again' - and this was supposed to be the last number. It really did seem criminal to let everything finish just there on that.....but we had been warned.

As the band waved goodbye and strolled off into the wings suddenly everyone realized that the end had really come. And of the 300 that were there, not one had ever experienced the Who performing three numbers and then walking off the stage.

Jesus, we're only 300-strong but I've never heard such an almighty clamour for 'more', 'more'. Honestly, these fellas and girls, some aged eighteen, some in their thirties, others soon to be grey, didn't give a monkeys about respecting studio silence, they went right to the heart and roared their heads off. Jeff Stein just stood there shaking his head, shocked that any band could have such a visceral effect. He threw his hands in the air in surrender and laughed out loud. It was that kind of moment.

The Who were hanging around stage-side listening to the rumpus. Suddenly they rushed back out as if in a gesture of thanks for the reception. Entwistle and Townshend quickly plugged in and the speakers throbbed with 'Substitute' then 'I Can't Explain' and after that a mind-blowing 'Magic Bus'.

'My Generation' and Daltrey spun a wide arc microphone narrowly missing the top of Townshend's head. Townshend slashed the strings of his guitar with wild, wild windmills until it looked like his arm was going to come off. Keith Moon -on what was going to be his last gig- drove himself behind the drumkit like a demon possessed. Entwistle didn't move a fucking inch. And yet he appeared more potentially explosive than anyone else. His bass lines throbbed as if he were playing lead. His medieval face bore half-buried expressions of complete boredom and contempt for anything and anyone.

It was supposed to be over. That was it. The Who appeared to be unstrapping their instruments and now people like Pridden and Alan Rogan ran the stage. And then it started....like as if the synthesizer coda was approaching from another planet. I looked across at the estatic faces and caught sight of Bobby Pridden bobbing up and down like a Lord of the Knobs and shouting urgent instructions to someone behind him. And then it hit the entire Shepperton hangar like an unbelievable dream come true; that all-too-familiar synthesized coda every Who fan dreams of, looming larger than life as it gained impossible momentum. I'd seen and heard 'Won't get Fooled Again' played many times before, but this......!

When it finished there was a kind of split-second stunned silence before we all clapped and roared ourselves hoarse. To give an idea of what it was like; even the normally blase film crew got up out of their stencil-backed seats and applauded. I shall always remember that day because of all the very many Who gigs I have been lucky enough to see, I don't think I have ever seen the band come so close to its fans.....all 300 of us.

What Jeff Stein's cameras captured that day at Shepperton Studios has to be one of the most authentic Who performances delivered anywhere. It was gut-wrenching and it was unnerving. Pure Who.

PART TWO

When the emotions had partly subsided, the fans were verbally invited to pose in the grounds for a front cover photograph for the cover of the next album 'Who Are You'. Terry O' Neill the acclaimed British photographer had, with unbridled subtlety, suggested that Who fans form into four lines with their backs to the camera and each line headed by a member of the band, hence..Who Are You? Like a lot of great ideas perhaps it worked on paper.

Pete, John, Roger and Keith dutifully took up their places at the head of each line and faced O' Neill. But behind them chaos reigned as 300 half-pissed Who fans struggled to maintain four very dishevelled lines. It was a great idea with disastrous results. Terry O' Neill eventually got his shot but when the prints were examined the idea was sensibly abandoned in preference to a much more vivid shot of the Who standing on a makeshift stage surrounded by a flank of speaker cabinets, amps and microphone leads. Unlike their fans at least the four members of the Who appeared sober for Terry O' Neill's portentous album shot.

After talking with some Who fans and those I'd recognized from past concerts, I returned alone to the studio hangar to collect a travel bag I'd hidden earlier just before the band came on stage. It was a red coloured one with a faulty zip. And compressed inside was the usual jumble of dirty socks, a battery of underwear and a Philishave. Plus, of course, such vital effects as passport, return air ticket and my entire financial resources for the remaining few days I was to spend in London. In other words, the bag had to be found before I could take a step out of Shepperton.

Although I was beginning to feel the effects of being a little tipsy, I still entertained a characteristic thirst for yet more alcohol. I reentered the hangar through a side door, whereupon entering, I immediately found myself back on the side of the stage -I had watched the show from stage side next to the band's beer fridge, helping myself to ice cold beer- the area was completely deserted save for that of a quiet conversation I could hear taking place behind some speakers a few feet away from where I now stood. I recognised the voices immediately. It was Townshend and Entwistle, and they were both sozzled. I approached and when Pete saw me he immediately threw a brotherly arm around the nape of my neck. It hurt and I had the effect of being rabbit-punched. (Earlier when the band had walked off the stage, upon Alan Rogan's prompt Townshend had playfully carried me in his arms to the lip of the stage pretending to throw me into the crowd. Thankfully, I have been assured that Stein's cameras were not rolling and no smart phones existed !)

Don't ask me what in God's name their conversation was all about but I know that every few minutes just as either Entwistle or Townshend would be about to make a point I would interject with one of my more well known drunken lines..."Pete, why wasn't 'Boris The Spider' a single..?" Followed by..."John, you know that 'Boris The Spider' should've been a single?" This singular interjection went on for about fifteen minutes and now and then it would be followed by a stream of inarticulate subconsciousness in praise of the Who. Both Townshend and Entwistle had, throughout the years, become well familiar with such drunken ramblings and this little episode was nothing new to them.

From the backstage fridge, a receptacle I had earlier plundered, Pete helped himself to a can of beer and when he turned and saw my open hand extended for the perfect handshake he laughed and handed it to me. I proceeded to demolish its contents and didn't even offer the can around. As I stood there soaking up the weak alcohol and half-inebriated conversation between Townshend and Entwistle my balance was sustained by a large speaker cabinet I had elected to lean against. Whilst Pete and John continued their conversation and me with a drunken smile on my puss I began to sway gently on the soles of my Dr. Marten boots. Yes, you're right, I was wearing predictable cricket-whites under my grand-father's zipped cardigan. I was. At a crucial point in the 'three-way conversation' Entwistle suddenly shifted position to stub a cigarette in the floor and I instinctively changed my feet to allow for the stub and when I leaned back against the speaker.....there was nothing there!

I had the distinct feeling of falling through the air. The last thing I remember seeing was the expression of surprise on John Entwistle's face as I sailed backwards into a six-foot drop.

I hit the bottom of the stage pit with a dull thud. Amazingly I managed to get back up on my feet feeling pretty shaken and miraculously still gripping the beer can. It took me a few minutes to get back on the stage and only then did it occur to Pete that I'd 'been away'. Fortunately for me I'd landed on a pile of cable and my joints were loosened out from the alcohol. I must admit to feeling pretty sore for a few days but it was nothing compared to what might have been. If Townshend hadn't broken my neck earlier with his bloody excruciating head-lock, then I very nearly succeeded myself.

About half an hour later, John Entwistle departed, driven away by his driver Ken Wyatt. Townshend and I carried on talking nonsense at each other and there wasn't a beer can left in the fridge. Not only had John Entwistle departed Shepperton Studios but each of the five coaches had long gone as well. Townshend looked at his watch and then hit on a brilliant idea: he himself, would drive me back to London.

"That's great, Pete," I said, "I'll just go and collect my bag." And that turned out to be the understatement of the year.

Pete went out the side door to wait where his Merc' was parked, while I with the help of a security officer who had turned up no doubt informed that a couple of Who lunatics were still on the premises, went in search of the elusive travel bag. Yes, officer, it's a small red one with a faulty zip.. The trouble was that as usual I had hidden the bag so ingeniously that for the life of me I now couldn't remember bloody where!

While Townshend waited patiently outside sobering in the cool of the late evening and watching the minute hand on his watch crawl to thirty minutes past waiting time, I was crawling around the pitch black hangar on all fours aided only by the solitary beam of a stage torch which the security officer held walking behind me -as I crawled around- and suggested various impossible hiding places for a small red travel bag.

It was like something out of Monty Python. After forty minutes of fruitless searching I gave up the hunt (for some technical reason the entire hangar lights could not be switched on). Somehow I found my way back on to the stage and felt my way through the dark to the side door leading to outside. I stepped out through the aperture into the blinding evening light expecting to find Pete still patiently waiting for me in his Merc'. He was not. The horrible truth was that Pete Townshend and, not for the first time, had reached breaking point with me. He had slowly let out the clutch and stepped on the gas pedal back to London.

Yes, that was the gig. That was the greatest one.

PS. In Jeff Stein’s ‘The Kids Are Alright’ film and subsequent dvd I can be seen standing stage side left of Pete next to the stage fridge. When the key word in the line 'and the morals that we worship will be GONE' and…'Sit in judgement of all WRONG' come up there I am guzzling ice cold beer from the fridge. How typical that that the key words are Gone Wrong!

 

SheppertonFans
Fans line up for album cover photo shoot after the the show. Photo by Terry O'Neill

 

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Publicity photo taken at Shepperton Studio 1978. Photo by Terry O'Neill

 

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