60s Today contributor Ian Mole recalls the experience of seeing the Who live as a child.
The Who did over 200 gigs in 1966 and I was lucky enough to catch them near the end of that year when they were really cooking. Their album ‘A Quick One’ had been released the day before and their most recent single ‘Happy Jack’ came out a week earlier, so they were on a crest of a wave. They were already a major force in the UK and would soon be heading for the US. They were on their way to become one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands in the world.
It was a Saturday night and they did two shows at the Sunderland Empire after playing in Dumfries the night before. Together with my sister and her best mate, I was sitting on the right side of the stalls about half way down the auditorium, while my brother and his girlfriend were on the left nearer the front. I was only 12 then but I was already a gig veteran, except I didn’t call them gigs then.
In those days, groups didn’t do long sets when they were out on tour and you’d get half an hour or so of the headline act with shorter sets from several artists groups before them. The first band that night were one of the countless decent but now largely forgotten 60s beat groups, the Mojos. They had a few hits in 1964, the biggest being ‘Everything’s Alright’, and previous members had included drummer Aynsley Dunbar, who nearly joined the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Lewis Collins on bass, who’d later become famous in the TV show “The Professionals”. They were on a downward spiral by that time, but I thought they were okay. However, the bit that really sticks in my mind was just before the end of their final song, and maybe that’s why it was the final song: a girl ran up onto the stage and grabbed hold of the lead singer before the curtain promptly came down. Maybe it was all a stunt but I was impressed.
Next up were Pinkerton’s Colours, previously Pinkerton’s Assorted Colours and later Pinkerton’s, who’d had a top 10 hit earlier that year with a catchy song called ‘Mirror Mirror.’ They paid a lot of attention to their image and were wearing bright jackets in different colours. I’d seen them before on TV, on “Thank Your Lucky Stars”, I think, and they were pleasant enough.
After them was solo singer Dave Berry who’d had some big hits with ‘The Crying Game’ (later a hit for Boy George) and ‘Little Things.’ He really got the girls screaming from the off when a spotlight picked out his hand beckoning through the curtains and he worked the crowd very well. He was a good singer and went down a storm. Dave is 76 now but still performing, and I bet he still puts on a good show.
After him was an all-female band called the She Trinity. There were plenty of girlie vocal groups in those days, but a female band was a very unusual entity. They went down well with the audience, and my sister was so impressed that she joined their fan club, but they never had any hits and faded from view within a year or so.
Finally it was time for the Who. We’d seen them on TV loads of times before, especially on “Ready, Steady, Go!”, and though I hadn’t heard their albums back then, I loved their singles. Townshend was on the right and Entwhistle on the left with Daltrey in the middle and Moonie behind. They played about ten songs altogether, including their hits to date (‘Substitute’, ‘I’m A Boy’, ‘Happy Jack’ etc.), and I’m sure they did Jan and Dean’s ‘Bucket T’, a nod to Moon’s love of surfing songs. They were incredibly loud by the standards of the day and I reckoned it was Townshend’s lead guitar, but my brother and his girlfriend insisted it was Entwhistle’s bass. In retrospect, they were probably correct. Whatever, it was all very exciting. Some employee of the theatre, a middle aged guy who looked decidedly out of place, was hovering at the front of the stalls possibly to prevent further stage invasions, and as Daltrey sang and perched on a long horizontal stage-light, he wagged a finger at him to tell him to get off it. Not surprisingly, Roger didn’t heed his warning.
They ended a blistering set with ‘My Generation’, of course. I’d noticed that Pete had swapped his guitar for a rather battered-looking one before the song started, and it was soon apparent why: just as they neared the climax, he rammed it through a speaker cabinet after Moonie had started kicking his drums all over the place. They kept a wall of sound blaring as the instruments shattered and somehow the song finished amidst a barrage of screaming and applause from us in the audience.
My mother worked at that theatre at the time, and when she came home form work on the following Monday, she told me that all the light bulbs around one of the dressing-room mirrors had been destroyed with an air-pistol. I think we don’t have to look far to identify the culprit.
I later saw the Who at the Empire Pool in Wembley in 1975 and at Charlton’s football ground in 1976. They were both great concerts, but that first gig in 1966 will always stand out as my favourite.
Ian Mole is a teacher of English to overseas students and a walking tour guide in London, specializing in music-related tours.