Pete interview in What's On Part 2

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Thu Apr 30 20:14:08 UTC 2009

>From What's On
[url=]Pete Townshend lifts the lid on Quadrophenia - the musical[/url]
Thursday, April 30, 2009, 14:25

What do you hope the stage version will achieve?

I want the show to entertain, of course, but a grander mission is to see it connect with the audience as well. Good rock music, as we now call my kind of pop, must be functional, it has to do something more than just entertain.

To what extent are you involved in this staging?

I am the old bloke who talks too much and falls in love with every single member of the cast, male and female. I am involved, of course, but I am trying to keep out of the way. This is a fresh interpretation of the music and, having already fallen in love with the new cast, I am certain they will bring new life and new angles to the story.

How has this stage adaptation come about? Did you take much convincing to get involved?

I took a lot of convincing. Not because I felt Tom Critchley and Jeff Young were on the wrong track, but because of divided loyalties. The Who do a terrific live performance of Quadrophenia, with video screens helping to tell the story, and Roger is very keen, and has been for the past three years, to tour The Who’s concert version one last time while he can still sing it (it’s hard to sing well).

Roger put a lot into the stage version we did, and it was great for me to be able to work with him creatively for the first time with such trust. So it took a big leap of faith for me to say no to my beloved mate Roger in The Who and yes to the huge ménage of reprobates who are now putting up the show at the Plymouth Theatre Royal. I think in the end my aspirations as a composer and writer for the theatre proved more powerful than my desire to play this wonderful music on stage with The Who. The Who version may happen again, but not for some years now.

Are you enjoying this process and revisiting the material? And do you ever revisit the film?

I sat in the casting sessions quietly, somewhat stunned at how wonderful it all was. To hear my songs sung by new young people is a thrill. I enjoy working in music theatre and have a huge amount of experience now. I feel at ease, and a part of the team. It is humbling and exciting at the same time. The film is not something I see as a part of my personal creative thesis, but there is a sequel being developed at the moment within The Who managerial camp. I am not a part of that process either and I doubt there will be any new music from me.

One thing is certain, in my original book Jimmy did not die at the end of the story, but I have no idea what happened to him. Any sequel will have to make a huge and arrogant leap to decide what happens to him and I hope it doesn’t spoil our individual fantasies about what Jimmy might have done when he got off that rock in the rain.

How do you think new audiences – those who have yet to discover the film – and existing fans will respond to this adaptation?

I have no idea. But the young cast members all said they felt a connection with the issues it embraces. But then they would, wouldn’t they? My concern is that mod old-timers might get too caught up in what they believe to be the fine details. We are not trying to recreate the mod world. In fact, a lot of modern mods get it badly wrong.

Mods rarely wore parkas except when on a scooter – that’s just an example. Today young people show up at Who concerts wearing parkas. That’s fine for today, and we need to let the past go. What I want new and existing fans to do is respond to the story as it told today and to try to find something in the show that enriches their lives today. I also hope they have a great time.

Have you/the creative team reworked any of the music for the stage? If so, what can audiences expect? Are there going to be any new songs, for example?

There are some old Who songs included from the early years in a club scene, but otherwise no new music. I will help audition and choose band members, and guide their playing.

Can you describe how important this album and the film are to you? You’ve said in the past that Quadrophenia was the best and will the best you have ever written. Do these feelings still stand? How does it figure in your list of creative achievements?

Tommy is my most successful and visible song-cycle to make the jump to film and music theatre. But Quadrophenia is the composition I am most excited about, partly because it is so tricky to stage. It does not have a straightforward story. Some of the best dramaturgs (directors and artistic directors) have had trouble finding a way to make it work and stay faithful to the music. If we can make this work, it will bring me real satisfaction, but also make me feel that my commitment to the pop and rock form, and the rules they are bound by, can work at many emotional levels.

Jimmy’s story – especially after his epiphany where he finds clarity and redemption – is incredibly inspiring and thought-provoking? Do fans and audiences often admit to you how it has influenced them?

Fans are always telling me that Quadrophenia either changed their life or helped them in some way. I’m not sure Jimmy does find clarity or redemption. What is clear, is that he yearns for it. I think that yearning for meaning is what people relate to.

In your short story in the cover notes you wrote: The guitar player … He wrote some good songs about mods but he didn’t quite look like one.” Forgive me if I’ve misjudged this, but it certainly suggests you were not one. What were you feelings towards the mods?

I was a mod. No question about it. The other three guys in The Who were not. My best friend at art college Nick Bartlett and his older brother Tim were the sharpest mods I came across, I hung out with them as much as I could. The thing is that anyone could be a mod. You didn’t need to be working class. I once hung out with a group of mods in Brighton with a girl, and we slept under the pier and chased rockers. The rest of the band had gone home. I wanted to feel a part of something, I always have. The mods allowed me that. When I went our clubbing in Soho, dancing I came across some of the Faces of the day. Phil the Greek, Julie Driscoll, Rod Stewart, David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Micky Tenner, Sandie Sargent and, of course, the Small Faces themselves. I was always close to the greatest Face of them all, Peter Meaden, and if The Who hadn’t got in the way I would have embraced the mod movement far more deeply. But my position on the stage allowed me a good
 view of what was going on. I became someone who gave a voice to some of those mods. But I was a part of what was happening. When LSD hit London I moved on, like so many others.

You’re known for your music and writing, are you a fan of theatre? What musicals, shows or theatre professionals are you a fan of?

I like Tom Stoppard’s work, especially his Arcadia, and Kenneth Brannagh’s work on Shakespeare, especially his film of Hamlet. I am a huge fan of Arthur Miller and was an investor on Last Yankee back in 1993. Musicals? I liked Cats and Phantom of the Opera. I love the soundtrack of the Phantom of the Opera movie, and I adore Minnie Driver as the Diva. I liked Rent, and Guys and Dolls at the National years ago. I’ve seen ‘em all. I think my favourite musical is Into The Woods by [Stephen] Sondheim and Lapine. I also like West Side Story as a film – who doesn’t. I am a huge Abba fan, so I am looking forward to watching Mamma Mia when I have time. (Ken Russell said I would love it).

Have you had any feedback from Roger Daltrey? What are his feelings on the project? Will he be going along to see it? And will you be coming to see the production?

I will be there, of course. Roger will find this production tough to engage. He felt he should have been involved, and he might well be correct. I’m certain that given the chance his process, his version if you like, would have been a valid one. But I wanted to keep this production away from The Who and its internal machine. I hope he comes to see the show, and if he does I hope he likes what he sees. He wasn’t a great fan of the Broadway Tommy. Whatever he thinks he will tell me honestly and we will remain friends.

What else are you working on at the moment?

Oh God! This year is my year dedicated to writing. I have started so many things that I am excited about and I need to pick one to complete. I am composing a lot of new music at the moment. A lot of it sounds like old-fashioned music theatre stuff rather than pop or rock, so I have no idea where it will go. I am having a ball. I began this set of replies to your questions by speaking about how I respond to all kinds of diverse stimuli. This does tend to make my output seem lacking in direction, or overly eclectic. But as I close in on a final idea I tend to drop everything else and get very highly focused. At the moment I am working on about five or six ideas, in about the same number of different methods. I don’t want to say too much, in case I set myself up, but I having the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. My partner Rachel Fuller is working on three theatre musicals too, all at the same time - she is a composer – so the house we share is like
 a music workshop. It’s a great way for a musician to live. I am very happy about it.

The Who are touring Australia and New Zealand this spring, are there any more dates in the pipeline?

Ah! Now we hit the tricky part. I’m really happy to be going to Australia and NZ, but performing is not something I enjoy the way everyone around me does, and I don’t get from it what I probably should. I don’t like touring or performing, never have really. But I am very good at it, and I find it easy.

But I do get a lot of fulfillment from playing these days; I enjoy playing the electric guitar with our present band. I discover new things all the time. The best thing about the next tour is that we will be playing to new audiences. The other good part is that I love the guys in the band, their women, and our amazing crew. It’s a circus family of the best possible kind. The rest of the year I am writing, working on Quadrophenia, and I have no other plans. The Who get lots of offers at the moment, and many of them are very attractive and exciting. But I need to write, and these days it takes me a long time to do what I have to do.

Can you describe what it feels like performing live with the band again? Are you enjoying the experience?

I feel rather old all of a sudden, to be honest. I am very fit, but the aches and pains don’t go away after a tour the way they used to. I am definitely slowing down. That said, I will never make the mistake I did in 1981 when I declared I was leaving The Who. I sincerely thought the band would carry on without me. Roger simply wants me never to say “never”. I can live with that.


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