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

Bob Pridden -- their sound man then, and their sound man now -- reckons the Who were glad to be back in England, playing an intimate venue where "you could see the whites of their eyes." The release of pent-up energy at the Leeds show was, he suggests, an "explosion of relief." Pridden has seen enough Who shows to note that they knew Leeds was "a really good one." He believes Live at Leeds is the greatest live record because it "captured the essence" of a band who even then were "continually being voted the best live band around."

The crowd that night were crammed in. The refectory is not a huge hall anyway -- it's just a student cafeteria, seemingly unsuited to rock music -- but it was made smaller by a partition halfway down the hall. Between the screen and the stage, 2,000 fans were piled on top of each other. It was like "the sweatiest club you've ever seen," Goulden says. "Because it was (winter), people had gone in full dress. Sweat was literally dripping off the ceiling."

To capture the event, Pridden had set up mobile recording gear in the refectory's kitchen, surrounded by the stoves and fridges, pots and pans. The technology was basic -- he was working with "just a bunch of boxes. Very archaic and antique, but I think that was the secret. We did very little overdubbing. It was all raw live." To avoid sound leakage -- where one instrument can be heard on the track reserved for another -- Pridden used far fewer microphones than usual, with a single one suspended above the audience to capture "the ambience." His trickiest task was recording drummer Keith Moon, a violently unpredictable eruption of percussion. Pridden placed mics around Moon's drum kit, but far enough away that he couldn't knock them over or break them in a fit of destruction.

Only six of the 34 songs played that night appeared on the finished album, including a 14-minute version of My Generation, during which the band explode into snatches of other songs and innumerable tangents. Goulden remembers the moment as being like "everything was exploding. That everything you thought about music -- and everything else -- was being taken to pieces there and then."

But if the show was that good, why did the Who not release more of it? There were so many pops and crackles on the tape that the vast majority of the recordings were unusable (they have since been cleaned up, and Live at Leeds was expanded to 13 tracks in 1995, and 33 in 2002).

It might not even have ended up as Live at Leeds, Pridden says. "We actually recorded the following night at (nearby) Hull, but the bass didn't make it on to tape. It could easily have been `Live At Hull.' It doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?"

That serendipity extended to the sleeve, which has become almost as famous as the music. The original idea had been for a live shot, but the band gave the job of taking the cover image to a 17-year-old schoolboy photographer, Chris McCourt, who had gone to the band's office to show off his portfolio. He was paid US$93 and went along armed with his dad's 1959 Pentax. He found himself "gazing up at their nostrils, right next to the speakers with things going zap in my head." He says that every time he hears the Leeds sleeve described as a "post-modernist, anti-establishment statement," he shrieks. The reason for the sleeve coming out the way it did "was because they sent a not-very-good photographer who didn't come up with the goods." He now works in the furniture trade.

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