Entertainment & Arts

Townshend and Daltrey: Quadrophenia's enduring relevance

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Media captionThe Who are back on stage in the UK this month, touring with a full-length performance of their classic Seventies album, Quadrophenia.

The Who are back on stage in the UK touring a full-length performance of their classic '70s album Quadrophenia. Its story belongs to a very brief moment in history: the Bank Holiday riots between rival gangs of Mods and Rockers in 1964. Band members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey tell the BBC News Channel why Quadrophenia has had such lasting appeal.

Pete Townshend calls Quadrophenia a "quintessentially English piece". The music tells the story of Jimmy, a rebellious and conflicted teenager who searches for an identity, first in the characters of The Who, and then as a member of a gang of Mods.

Townshend says: "It's about a young man who sees himself in the four members of the band." But that ultimately "this is a story of any young man who is struggling".

The context for Jimmy's story, Townshend says, is "the whole period in which we grew up, the whole post-war condition, all of the elements of life when the Mods and Rockers were meeting on the beaches down in Brighton" - a life which produced what he calls "those kind of strange tensions in the young".

Singer Roger Daltrey says the tensions are still there. Asked about the summer riots in England two years ago, he says: "That's the point about it; the adolescent dilemma is exactly the same as it ever was. In that sense it's timeless."

Image caption The Who have long found it a struggle to bring the album to life on stage

The other reason for Quadrophenia's longevity is of course the music itself. It's recognised as some of The Who's finest material, and is still feted by critics as one of the greatest rock albums of the era.

The album interweaves several musical themes, creating a mood which is by turns exuberant, defiant and wistful. But while it's ambitious, it's far from inaccessible.

Townshend says the band were at their peak as musicians when they recorded Quadrophenia, and the songs bear that out in their energy and immediacy.

Townshend had written it "shut away pretty much on my own" - but in the recording studio, the other band members had a transforming influence.

"Roger's performances surprised me, because some of the songs that I'd intended to be quite bleak and poignant and painful and shy, like Love Reign O'er Me, Roger performed with immense passion, and yet still delivered the same kind of poignancy and vulnerability that I thought wouldn't be possible with such a bravura performance."

But over the years, The Who have struggled to bring the music to life on stage. Their first tour with Quadrophenia was hit by sound problems: the show depended heavily on backing tapes but Townshend says they didn't have enough technical support to make this work.

In the 90s, the show used a narrator, which Daltrey believes put a distance between the audience and the music.

This time, The Who clearly believe they've managed to connect with their audience. At Daltrey's instigation, the narrator was dropped: he says: "I made the audience Jimmy basically." The result has delighted both men.

Townshend says: "I've always said that what makes a great rock band is that it leaves space for the listeners to insert themselves into the story. That's happening in this show,

"I'm very aware that when I'm performing to the audience, they're getting something from it that I'm not giving them."

The Who's show also pays a poignant tribute to the two band members who died: drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle.

Each briefly dominates the concert, appearing on screen in archive video clips which are integrated with the live performance.

Image caption Roger Daltrey (l) and Pete Townshend think they have been very lucky to have had such lasting success and friendship

Moon is seen performing Bell Boy, the song in which the swaggering Mod idolised by Jimmy is brought down to size: shamefully revealed as a lowly hotel porter.

Daltrey says: "You really get something coming from Moon that I think most people overlook, because people tend to think he was this madman, this clown, all the time. But when you see him singing Bell Boy, there's this joy in his eyes but there's also the pathos of the song, and it's incredibly emotional to watch."

Entwistle's playing is showcased during 5:15 in a virtuoso bass solo which Townshend describes as "astonishing playing, and ridiculous playing as well. I've had a few bass players say to me 'John Entwistle. What?' - they just don't understand what he did".

Daltrey and Townshend both talk with gratitude about their own lives now.

Townshend says: "I can't imagine being luckier than to get to this place in our lives when we're both pushing 70 and we've got this great music - and we also feel very lucky to be friends."

Daltrey says simply: "I've always said about music: you don't give it up, it gives you up, it leaves you."

For The Who, that moment still looks some distance away.

The Who on Quadrophenia, presented by David Willis, can be seen on the BBC News Channel this weekend, on Saturday 15 June at 00:30 and 15:30; Sunday 16 June at 10:30 and 20:30 and on Monday 17 June at 01:30. All times are BST.

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