Mon, Jun 19, 2006 - Page 13 News List

'It was just complete, visceral excitement'

Nearly four decades after the Who recorded what is widely regarded as the most explosive live rock 'n' roll album ever, fans remember the experience

By David Simpson  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Pete Townshend, now 61, and the Who kicked off their world tour Saturday at the Leeds University student cafeteria they made famous 36 years ago.


Susan Hoxton is a cleaner at the student union at Leeds University, England. She works in the refectory, or dining hall, and she's done the same job for nearly 40 years. She's middle-aged now, but still remembers a young man who caught her eye back in 1970: a London lad, square-jawed, with long blond curly hair and blue eyes.

She met him at work when he walked into the cafeteria: he was the singer in a group that played a concert in the refectory on Valentine's day. After the show, she trailed him to a local nightclub, where she got chatting and told him: "You're good, you!" She didn't realize then that Roger Daltrey had just made what would be regarded as the best live recording of a rock band -- any rock band -- ever heard.

Now, 36 years on, she has just found out the band are returning to the refectory to begin their latest world tour at rock's least likely legendary venue. (The Who's world tour began Saturday at Leeds University. Wire and Glass, the first new Who single since 1983, is out on July 10.)

The Who came to Leeds in 1970 with the specific purpose of capturing the power of their live show for an album. They were fresh from a US tour that had made them a huge draw there, and included a festival-stealing slot in the middle of the night at Woodstock (where the "Yippie" leader Abbie Hoffman invaded the stage mid-set for some impromptu sloganeering. Ignoring the peace-and-love ethos, Pete Townshend instructed Hoffman to "get off my fucking stage," then bashed him with a guitar when his instruction was not immediately obeyed). The band had recorded hundreds of hours of performances, with the intention of culling a live album from the tapes, something that would convince the UK there was more to them than just another 1960s band hanging around and overstaying their welcome.

But they were too lazy to listen to the US tapes -- in fact, legend has it that Townshend instructed a roadie to burn them. It was easier just to schedule a show at a smallish UK venue -- the refectory -- and record that.

From that night, clad in a brown paper sleeve that made it look like a bootleg, came the definitive record of the Who in their pomp: Live At Leeds.

The people who saw the band on that winter's night 36 years ago insist the show was more than the source of a memorable recording. It might, they suggest, have been the greatest concert ever. "In terms of energy and excitement I think it could be," says Simon Brogan, who, as the union's entertainments secretary, booked the band. "It was one of those rare events where everything came together." He also brought Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones to Leeds, and thus saw much of the Who's contemporaries.

Paul Goulden, now a 53-year-old hospital anaesthetist, was in the audience that night. He remembers "solo after solo. Townshend was whirling his arms around, but the stuff he was playing was astonishing.

"If you wanted a vision of what a rock star should be like, Roger Daltrey, at that point, was it. Buckskin jacket, long blond hair, whirling the microphone around."

Goulden had already seen bands such as Deep Purple, has seen hundreds of bands since and has kept in touch enough to know all about the Arctic Monkeys. But he insists the Leeds show remains "the greatest thing I have ever seen. It was just complete, visceral excitement."

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