The story behind Pete at Secret Policeman's Ball

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Sat Jun 13 17:58:52 UTC 2009

>From Mike Rogogna's blog at The Huffington Post:

Last night, Los Angeles' famed Egyptian Theatre was the venue for the start of the five-week Secret Policeman's Film Festival (in L.A.: June 11 - 19 at the Egyptian - and June 20 - July 19 at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills). The gala was attended by celebrities such as Monty Python associate, Neil Innes, Secret Policeman's Ball co-creator and champion Martin Lewis, Amnesty International members and reps, and many anxious to recap the thirty years that have passed since that first altruistic event premiered...

...The rock music component followed, with Lewis responsible for adding that element to the mix. "John Cleese had invited John Williams the classical guitarist to do a couple of baroque instrumentals between skits. Being very young and a little in awe of Cleese in those days, I asked him rather timidly, 'Could we also have something a little more contemporary?' and he said, 'I'm not into that kind of music. But if you want to do that, go ahead.' Well I was like a kid in a candy store! I'd got to know Pete Townshend a little over the years, so I called him up. He was aware of Amnesty and the first shows we'd done, but he was initially a bit reluctant to commit - seeming nervous about performing in a solo capacity - which puzzled me. I said, 'But you've played in front of half-a-million people at Woodstock, how could you be nervous about a couple of thousand in a West End theatre? And he explained, 'Well, it's a little different when you're on stage with
 all the power of The Who!' He eventually said yes to performing as a soloist without The Who. I think he rather liked the idea of appearing in the same show as John Cleese!" Close to the date of the shows, Townshend's soundman called and asked Lewis what time the other musicians should arrive. Which totally freaked out Lewis. 
Townshend had misunderstood Lewis' invitation and had construed "solo" as meaning him performing with musicians other than the Who - and had lined up a few sidemen. Lewis explained that as this was primarily a comedy show - with no time or space for amplified musicians - this needed to be just solo acoustic performances played between comedy sketches. Townshend had done a handful of very small intimate performances as a soloist - but nothing remotely on this scale. Eventually Lewis persuaded Townshend to perform.
"Those acoustic performances apparently inspired Unplugged," says Lewis. "Pete did 'Pinball Wizard,' 'Drowned' (from Quadrophenia) and a duet with John Williams on 'Won't Get Fooled Again.' Pete told me recently that John Sykes and Bill Flanagan (executives at MTV and VH1) had been very clear to him that MTV's Unplugged had been inspired by what Pete had been done at The Secret Policeman's Ball."
 -Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month! 


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