By Irish Jack
They had branched out: with three hit singles, playing northern English cities, even Sweden, as well as a trip to Paris. Under the new management of Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, who had formed the company New Action; the Who decided to do a 'thank you' gig for all their Mod followers at the Goldhawk Social Club in Shepherd's Bush. This would have been December 1965....my little red book say's Friday, December 3rd. For about the first time ever in the history of the Goldhawk Social Club---apart from appearances by Adam Faith, Shane Fenton and Screaming Lord Sutch---a ferocious queue lined the street outside. I had walked in with Kit Lambert and that had given me the required buzz, making me feel like I was his assistant or one of the band's brothers---funny that cos the only member of the band who had a brother was Pete. The atmosphere had spilled out on to the street, charged no doubt by the length of the queue. The last time the Who had played the Goldhawk their reward was probably no more than £50---shared between four of them. Now they were on something like four or five times that amount.
Inside, the air hummed with in anticipation as everyone waited for the Who to take the stage. They hadn't actually been to the Goldhawk for a good few months and their's was a noticeable absence considering their regular Friday night appearances. What was immediately apparent however was how much the band had grown in stature in the time they had been away. They appeared to be a lot more organised and had increased the staff by the acquisition of two new roadies. Now they had a professional edge to things. Down in the crowd the main topic of conversation---apart from the latest price on pills---was the Who's new lighting rig. They were one of the first bands to have a lighting system and a production engineer in Mike Shaw from Plaistow, who travelled around on a scooter. Mike had been an old school friend of Chris Stamp and had worked in theatre lighting in Bristol. So, I suppose that by today's high-tech standards the Who's music hall colour changes Red-Blue-Green / Green-Blue-Red, would have looked pretty ancient. Yet for the time back then, very innovative.
I was standing on the steps of the stairs which led to the bar. With me were other Mods, Goldhawk regulars like me who would've known the band as well..Martin Gaish and his brother Lee, Peter Campbell, Tommy Shelley, Joey Bitton from the White City estate, Jez Clifford and Alan Bull. We were tier-like. Not crying. I mean, tier-like as in standing on the steps of the stairs, from which point we had a clear view of the stage and the crowd just below. From the well of the packed dance floor a burly local villain Reg Chaplin annoyed at some imagined slight advanced up the stairs. His face came within six inches of Martin Gaish's face. Gaish had a habit of using his acerb wit against coppers and fish shop managers and now local villain Reg Chaplin stuck his sweating face into Gaish's and hissed.."My name's Chaplin !" We were worried. Then with suicidal intent Gaish responded and quipped, "What..Charlie?" Now we were dead. But for some inexplicable reason Reg Chaplin let it go and continued on to the bar.
The crowd, by the way, were jammed tight like sardines. Up at the main door they had long posted the 'House Full' sign and this had been met by a wave of four-lettered derision from those in the queue who claimed they were club members and had a right to be admitted. Inside, the Who were coming to the end of a pulsating set, the excitement climbing as the crowd sensed some kind of final assault. Our palates had been nourished with all three hits..'I Can't Explain', 'Anyway Anyhow Anywhere', 'My Generation'. Roger Daltrey had already thanked the Goldhawk mods for their loyal support---all of which had been greeted by hearty cheering and much stomping of feet on the timber floor. As the applause died away the Who suddenly launched into 'The Ox'. 'The Ox' is the last track on the 'My Generation' album (third last on the American issue) and I guess it's best described as being a piledriver of an instrumental. The wild bulls of Pamplona comes to mind. You don't need any lyrics for 'The Ox', it rumbles like a wild beast run amok in a busy High Street.
The Who had got about halfways through it when from out of the corner of my eye I noticed what looked like a mobile ruck going on at the far side of the dance floor. I turned to look back at the others, and yes, they had seen it too. There appeared to be fifteen people involved, maybe twenty, as the ruck pushed its way across the floor. It reminded me of a rugby pack powering its way over a goal line. Only this wasn't a bunch of rugby players shunting a ball...this was a bloody army of Mods trying to kick some guy across the Goldhawk dance floor. It left a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. My friends and I exchanged glances, disbelieving that anyone could take such a kickin'. Confusion reigned as people stepped away from the fight. If you could call that a fight ! The guy was using one of his arms to protect his head, this left the rest of his body wide open to more flying boots. In the melee of bodies it was difficult to tell whether he was actually trying to roll his way out of trouble or, if he was being shunted along like a rag doll by the force of the kickin'. He didn't look like a Mod or indeed a Rocker. His unkempt hair and dress singled him out as one of those non-style types who drifted in and out of clubs without a clue. His kind usually ended up in fights cos they always gave the wrong answers and never belonged to either side. It was rare to see something like this in the Goldhawk even though there'd always be Rockers in the audience. I knew half a dozen from Shepherd's Bush and they were all right. Some of them keen to date my beatnik cousin Jan. And at least Rockers could fix their motorbikes---unlike a lot of Mods. I noticed how one of his arms now hung limp like maybe it needed a splint. I'd seen a few rucks in my time in various dance halls but this... And what was so remarkable was that most bands, either of their own volition or upon instructions from the club management, would have stopped playing at the first hint of trouble.
In fact, if memory serves me right, the Goldhawk Social Club entertainments committee run by a bevy of elderly gentlemen, were pretty strict about bands stopping the minute any bit of bother arose. But the Who didn't stop. They looked like part of the disturbance. Possssesssed ! Moon went berserk like he had sixteen pairs of hands as his sticks flashed around the kit. And instead of actually stopping their performance to restore some order the Who, in a kind of chemical reaction to what was going on down on the dance floor, went into overdrive. I mean, 'The Ox' on overdrive...Jesus !
Everybody was stunned by this. It was shocking and, yes, irresponsible and yet, so cool. I felt sorry for the poor guy in the rumble but truth was I couldn't take my eyes off the Who. Townshend rammed the neck of his guitar clean through the cloth face of a Marshall speaker cabinet. The feedback coming out was eerie. Moon was by now up off his stool, ordering more drinks...sorry, Moon was by now up off his stool, hitting crap out of his drumkit. Daltrey had smashed his tambourine to pieces off a mike stand and was now pushing the head through a speaker. The whole hullaballoo was anchored by John Entwistle who stood absolutely motionless in a corner of the stage like a well dressed city gent playing clarinet on a deserted beach a thousand miles away. And yet for all that there was a subscribed sinisterre about his remoteness. Almost as if he actually approved of the stage mayhem but was too cool to join in.
Chaos abounded on the stage. Meanwhile down on the floor, a handful of bouncers led by Big Basil Kew and Dennis Townsend were trying to stop what they considered a 'fight'. Other bouncers, especially hired for the evening, converged around the sides of the stage. They assumed their positions in their regimental monkey-suits and, mouths agape, three feet from the band, hung on to the stage curtains like the building should be preserved. Their panic drill begged the question: what were the Who? Were they a four-man wrecking crew from Shepherd's Bush hired to demolish the Goldhawk stage? Or a group of musicians with the hippest act in London? Whether or not the Who got to the end of 'The Ox' I can't really be sure but the feedback coming from the amps was harsh, and my eardrums sang when low-impedence whistled from mangled microphones. The band had stormed off the stage leaving their instruments and gear lying in a broken heap. Bits of equipment still plugged in at the mains continued to emit amplified moans like the system was trying to die.
I had left my position on the stairs and now stood next to the fire exit. Ted Woolgar,the club secretary and the man who no doubt would chair a meeting come Monday as to the shenanigans, had opened this door to allow a draught of cool welcome air. From where I was now positioned I could see the Who coming out of the tiny dressing room next to the stage. They were still in their stage clothes and drenched in sweat as they fought their way through the thick back-slapping crowd. They were getting closer to me and when they arrived I could see they were completely wired. Not from the intake of pills so much as the human experience. Next thing I noticed was one of the local hard men and friend of Chaplin -Norman Foreman- with a couple of his cronies escorting Roger Daltrey through the crowd. And Jesus ! He had a fucking shooter in his hand, this fella Foreman. It was the first time I had ever seen a gun and by now the hairs were standing up on the back of my neck. Cos this guy Norman Foreman was a notorious villain and the number one man to avoid in Shepherd's Bush. And there he was, large as life, offering his personal protection to Roger Daltrey the lead singer of the Who. It seemed so fitting...
I actually went to speak to Townshend as he came by. He was looking straight at me but I don't think he even saw me if you know what I mean. There was no hello. And I think that every one of us Goldhawk Mods must have realised somewhere in that breathtaking time lock that the Who had come of age. I remained standing by the fire exit still unsure if I should follow the band out into the side alley---something I would normally do---but a force I can't explain was stopping me. KNOWING them was stopping me. Because that night, the Who had become untouchable. They had stepped into a danger zone no friend or fan could follow. They had served their friends and left the old Goldhawk Social Club for good.
c. xi. 2014