Monday, 19 March 2012
Old Mod Looking Back (Can't Explain)
June 1979, I'm aged 17 and recently left home to live on the top floor of a pub. It's a big room, running front-to-back of the building, with a window at the front looking out over a marketplace, and the cop shop at the back. I'm a regular of three years drinking at the Lion's Head, get on well with Mike the landlord and serve at the bar one night a week to pay the rent (£40 a month). We enjoy the same music, which is one reason we get on. Saturday afternoon and I'm sitting on a stool at the bar, waiting for a man.
"How'd you fancy seeing The Who at Wembley?" asks Mike with his back to me, getting a shot of rum from the optics.
"I dunno, now Keith Moon's dead do I want to see The Who perform without him?"
"Well if you do, I've got a couple of tickets and 'Chelle doesn't want to go". ('Chelle's his wife, a willowy brunette who looks like a Pans People dancer)
"How much is the ticket?"
"S'alright, it's on me. You can drive though."
I think for as long as it takes for a sip of mild to go down.
It's not often that you get to walk out onto the pitch at Wembley Stadium. Pity it's covered in tarpaulin, hippies and the New Mods wearing fishtail parkas, target badges and cheap pork pie hats, but till, I can pretend for a moment that I'm there for a game. I'm wearing Levi's, Doc Marten boots (eight-hole), a Ben Sherman button-down and black Harrington. Mike, in his dark blue Harrington, white Sta-prest and brogues doesn't want to sully the cloth by mixing with the masses; also, he wants to sit.
I spot a couple of friends down among the throng early on, and work my way through the patchouli, cider and dope smoke to get to them as Nils Lofgren starts bouncing on his trampoline. When AC/DC ramble on I head back to the seats, and then the bar until they've gone. When the Stranglers walk out I seriously consider going down front in order to pitch a Party 4 can at them. Sexist wankers still riding the long-dead punk bandwagon, hope the smack gets them all.
It's getting dark by the time that Townshend walks out ahead of his bandmates. Glad that they've not worn any Mod gear, even though they are here to promote the new Quadrophenia movie. "Substitute" makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, and I'm happy as Jack that the sound's good, the lasers not too over the top and Kenney Jones can keep the beat, even if he's not going to demolish anything on stage. After "Can't Explain" and "Baba O'Reilly" crash to a close, the stadium is rocking. I'm standing and swaying, as even the usually too-cool-to-bop Mike is tapping his toes. When they launch into "My Generation" though, I suddenly feel embarrassed, and kind of sad.
As the darkening night air fills with the sound of 80,000 people joining in the death chant, I stand still and sink. It's all over. I'm 17 and will never be able to say that I saw the Who in 1968 with Moon, never saw the Stones in 1972, never saw The Doors play live. Punk was everything to me and my generation, and here I stand among thousands of kids getting into a dead scene, all nostalgic for 1964 and a time before many of them had been born. Looking back, and without knowing such things existed, I was aware that I was watching The Who Are You?: A Tribute Band, featuring most of the original members.
The final encore number was The Real Me. Was it? I asked myself.
The drive back in Mike's canary yellow Cortina 2.0 GXL was ringing with silence, our ears still echoing Townshend's windmilling guitar.
"That was alright, wasn't it?" Mike half-shouted.
"Not sure I'd see them again though."
"No. Me neither".
Searching through the glove compartment for an 8-track that might fill the deep well of bass sounding in my inner ear, I fish out Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On. The car is soon filled with rattling bongoes, swooping voices, soaring strings, horns and Marvin asking, "Hey baby, what you know? Good." I'm just getting back, like you knew I would.