Wednesday, 14 February 2018
The Who: I Was There - Richard Houghton
(This review first appeared in issue #70 of Shindig! magazine.)
Like Houghton's previous I Was There book on The Beatles, the premise is simple – collect as many first person recollections of being at the band's heyday gigs as possible. The 400-plus accounts here form some sort of consensus; ticket prices were cheap, the band were loud, getting alcohol wasn't always easy, there was plenty of Gustav Metzger's Auto-Destructive Art (or smashing stuff up if you prefer), and that Keith Moon was as unhinged as we're led to believe. That and the fact that as a live group they were unique and peerless.
Where Houghton's book works best is in painting a picture of the times, especially via the band's forays into the provinces. Be it market towns where cattle pens double up as scooter parking bays, rumbles between rival town gangs, secretaries getting dolled up on the commute home, or apprentices painting on the smell of soap, the fans experiences are at the heart of this book.
There are reminiscences from across The Who's 50-plus years but the book focuses heavily on the classic line-up, their early years slogging round the country, and the first few US tours. Most telling of all are the remembrances from promoters and local support bands which provide illuminating backstage detail, and the debunking (and sometimes confirming) of a fair few myths. Sadly, many of the venues have long since been demolished, but for those who were there, this book will bring the memories back and more. Those that weren't can get close by reading it.