Sunday, 1 July 2012
Quadrophenia - thoughts on the BBC4 Documentary
I got my copy more Christmases ago than I dare remember and I still have it, battered, after years of use. It would not be overstating the case to say that it is one of the key albums of my life - and that it still sounds as good today as it did back then, in fact, if anything it has grown in stature and resonance over the years. Its existential portrayal of a sixties mod, fuelled by adrenalin and purple hearts, confused by the world around him, has a universal potency that each new generation can lock into. A little like On The Road, or The Catcher In The Rye, or Absolute Beginners.
So I had high expectations of Friday night's programme on BBC4. I wasn't disappointed. The new documentary took you through the album - its conception, creation, execution - through the eyes of its auteur, Pete Townshend. There were contributions from, amongst others, the man whose vocals never sounded better than on this record, Roger Daltrey, Who aficionado, Mark Kermode, Ace Face and legendary Who fan, Irish Jack Lyons, Townshend's former flatmate and author of the book "Mods", Richard Barnes, and manager Bill Curbishley. The input from recording engineer Ron Nevison, writer Howie Edelson and photographer Ethan Russell (who took those timeless pictures that accompanied the album) was particularly illuminating. And the inclusion of Maxine Isenman and Julie Emson - the mod girls who appeared in those photographs - was genius itself.
Sadly, Terry Kennett - the "mod kid played by Chad" - could not be represented in person, as he passed away in 2011. His presence in those photographs was central. But there was a significant degree of commentary on his behalf, in particular from Isenman, Emson and Russell. The documentary told us how he was discovered by Townshend, a little bit of his background and how he was almost forced to be elsewhere during the shooting. He "stole a bus", as Russell explained, along with a description of how his commitments with The Who led to him being let off at his subsequent court appearance.
Among the points of interest were the fact that the first piece created for the Quadrophenia project was the short story that appeared on the cover of the album, which Townshend wrote one afternoon at his home by the river. I always thought that short story augmented the double album perfectly and set the scene neatly for the music that was to follow. It was interesting to hear about the personal interaction within the band, as well as the isolated vocals and instrumental parts, a good example of which is the riff of 5.15 in its naked form, with the horns (that were such an important part of the overall feel of the album) stripped away. And the conversation about the mod scene involving Lyons, Barnes and Townshend was invaluable, as was Lyons' visit to the legendary Goldhawk, where the band played many of their early shows.
Then there was the tomfoolery of a certain Mr Moon, along with a priceless anecdote about the invoicing arrangements for his Rolls Royce. "What was Keith Moon like in 1973?", asked Daltrey. "A little bit more drunk than in 1972". He added that Moon was "at the top of his game" in 1973/4. Few Who fans would argue with that.
Overall, the documentary is well worth watching for both Who devotees like me and anyone who has an interest in the album. It is available for a period on the BBC iplayer, here:
I've watched it twice. Now it's time to watch it again.
"Zoot suit, white jacket with side vents....".