Peter on Colin Jones, cars and inventing the Walkman

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Thu May 3 06:57:34 CDT 2007

>From The Times (London), 29 April 

Mods almighty 
The Who are still a huge crowd-puller, more than 40 years after their formation. But how do they compare with the young band that left a trail of smashed instruments and screaming fans in mid-1960s Britain? Their guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend looks back on those wild days — documented in style by the photographer Colin Jones

The photographer Colin Jones is good company. A few years older than me, he gave me good advice. During a separation with my girlfriend, he urged me to grovel a little and get her back. I did so and later married her. Now 70, he was of the generation that, born before the war, viewed the headiness of the 1960s with more detachment than my lot, born afterwards. On February 11, 1967, I remember travelling to a Who show in Cromer, Norfolk, in Colin’s little Lotus Elan. It was cramped and slow-going; compared with me he was a cautious driver. I remember thinking that if I’d been driving we would have made the journey in half the time, even in my gargantuan car. He found my obsession with old American cars strange. He wanted me to buy an E-type Jag. I had a 1956 Lincoln Continental Mark II then. This was the car that had been favoured by Frank Sinatra and Elvis (though I didn’t know that at the time). I still have the car today. I wanted to stretch out on the bench seat, turn up
 the radio and pretend to be Eddie Cochran, and put my arm around my pretty girlfriend. Most of all, I wanted to be protected by three tons of cold steel when I fell asleep at the wheel.

Touring in the 1960s was all about driving. I must have driven hundreds of thousands of miles, usually alone in a car, listening to music, enjoying the speed, the empty roads in the early hours, the familiarity of a country I had first travelled in the late 1940s as an infant in the front of a tour bus with my father’s dance band, the Squadronaires. Often when I first arrived in a new town, I would find my way to the venue intuitively, only to remember when I arrived that I had been before with my father.

I cannot drive the way I used to, even though I would like to. Like so many from my generation, I can only drive for pleasure if I do so in the early hours, and even then it is never safe to fall asleep at the wheel and end up in a ditch, as I did once or twice in the old days. Today I’d probably be on a motorway and cause a pile-up. I prefer to fly to and from shows if I can. I got a taste for this on the Who’s first big tour of the USA, in 1967 (supporting Herman’s Hermits). We flew in a battered charter plane. Once or twice it caught fire in flight. Even so, it felt luxurious. We only once tried using tour buses. With Keith Moon in the gang, there was no sleep. Today I use chartered jets. I know it is profligate, and not eco-friendly, but otherwise I simply couldn’t handle the stress of a day of normal travel followed by an intense and gruelling stage performance of over two hours. I enjoy my touring career today to a degree I would have found unthinkable and unimportant
 when I was young. Live performing is becoming an absurdity. The internet could and should make it redundant. Until global live internet events satisfy music fans who need to feel involved, I must travel the longest distance to be with them.

In my days with Colin, I would usually carry in the back of the car whichever of my guitars was still in one piece. I would often have to repair guitars after shows, and rarely had more than one electric guitar at a time. I needed them at home with me for my songwriting. I was still using Rickenbackers, more for their elegant looks than their famously crystalline sound. I would also carry some kind of sound system to use while driving. I developed a number of portable tape players employing earphones, eventually coming up with something very much like the first Walkman cassette machine. I was furious when I realised I hadn’t had the time or inclination to patent it and Sony would develop it and rule the world.

I would also carry some stage shoes, trousers and a top. In the Colin Jones years, I was still something of a mod, wearing tight-fitting jackets and narrow trousers. In the ensuing years I adopted hippie clothes and felt daft. When my friend and mod “ace face” Eric Clapton got a Jimi Hendrix-style afro perm, I knew the mod look was doomed. I took up boiler suits and Doc Martens in protest for a few years. Today I wear very similar clothes to those Colin photographed me modelling, but although I am still fairly slim, I weigh 55lb more. When I was young, when I threw myself into the air on stage, I felt I could fly. Today I feel tougher, wirier, harder, fitter, but when I leap around I feel like a rugby player must feel: don’t get in my way or I’ll knock you down. When I land, the stage shudders.

Roger Daltrey and I are back on the road today, touring as the Who, doubtful we can get away with it for much longer, but not caring much if we don’t: the audience are in charge, after all. It is very satisfying to be looking at Colin’s wonderfully mischievous photographs today. There is continuity between what I am doing today and what I was doing in these pictures. Seeing them makes me feel more like the artisan, potter or painter I have always longed to be, rather than a mere pop performer. I’d like to have been more like Frank Auerbach or Lucian Freud, doing something artistic every single day without fail, building a legacy of work that evolves steadily, and results in the recognition of a creatively successful lifetime. When I see these pictures of the Who in 1966, I think I am coming home again, back on course, approaching that old ideal. I can see a constancy of purpose, even if it is rather vain.

I still spend an insane amount of money shopping for clothes, and a good part of my time on stage is spent adopting poses rather than actually playing music. But I am still doing something inspired and sustained by a unique and eccentric artistic idea, and a creative ideal. Unlike Frank and Lucian, it is still perfectly acceptable in my game to be and to look a complete fool, and to require salutary advice from older, wiser men like Colin Jones. 

-Brian in Atlanta 
The Who This Month! 
My blog:

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