When the original Quadrophenia album by The Who was released in October 1973 I was a young teenager approaching sixteen years of age with all the angst and most of the unhappiness that those years can muster and provide. I’d caught up with the The Who’s violently productive era in the 1960s, mainly by originally listening to the compilation Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy which featured the great and classic Who hits of that era such as My Generation, I Can’t Explain, The Kids are Alright. Intrigued and totally entranced by this band and by it’s songwriter, Pete Townshend in particular, I ‘discovered’ the band’s original rock opera,Tommy and set about arming myself with every single piece of Who material I could, right back to their original incarnation as ‘The High Numbers’.
Pete Townhend, artist, intellect, hero
There was no question. The Who and Pete Townshend spoke for me. They detailed all the anger and frustration I had as a youngster and there was something liberating about the on-stage violence and destroying of instruments but much more importantly the way that Townshend wrote that made them ‘my’ band. Because of those seminal years, years when I managed to see three of the original Who’s imperious live performances and followed them avidly, they remained my band.
Let’s spin rapidly up to date. It’s August 2009, fully thirty-six years after the double album telling the story of young Mod, Jimmy’s life. I’m a whole lot older, I see things through different, more wary and experienced and yes sometimes more sullied eyes. I observe the local entertainment listings and see that a stage version of this story that was very precious and sensitive to me all those years ago is to be aired at the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham. What to make of this?
The video preview material seemed a little trite and overly choreographed. It concerned me that my memory of Quadrophenia’s power and majesty would not marry well with this theatrical production. I’m unashamedly not an afficionado of musicals, on stage or celluloid, but this story is a special one to me. I had to see how people interpret this masterpiece of torment and anguish and how it sits in this era and with me personally.
I am so happy that I did.
The familiar sounds of waves crashing heralded the beginning of the performance with the ethereal overture of I Am the Sea leading onto the driving, insistent and direct riffs of The Real Me. This was good, better than good, my concerns had been buried within seconds by the excellent live band situated as part of the set at stage rear. It must be born in mind that the very last time I had heard this music played live it was by The Who themselves, standing up there on stage. It was wonderful to hear it again though.
The lead character of Jimmy was played by four actors, often simultaneously on stage. This was to depict the four (Quadraphonic) aspects of the young Mod’s confused character. In the original Who album liner notes these characteristics were defined as, the tough guy (Who singer, Roger Daltrey), the romantic (bassist John Entwhistle) a lunatic (drummer Keith Moon) and a beggar and hypocrite (Townshend himself). Understanding which character was which was somewhat confusing at times, especially when not seated close to the stage. It may have been even more difficult for those not necessarily cognisant with the original story.
The Clothing was pretty much in the main authentic looking with Fred Perry shirts, parka coats and a little pop-art imagery. There were though one or two over-the-top ‘stagey’ outfits with ridiculous Union Jacks depicted, particularly adorning ‘The Godfather’. The latter didn’t really hit the mark for me and detracted from the ‘feel’ of the production. An attractive and showy Vespa scooter played a central role in one scene – and was criminally kicked over after being ridden across the stage by ‘Jimmy’!
Several songs outside of the original Quadrophenia double album were featured (some from the film soundtrack background music), My Generation, So Sad About Us, I Can’t Explain, The Kid’s are Alright and I’m The Face. I’m not sure how I felt about this as the original concept was so faultlessly melded together that the addition of these classic songs almost made them feel like intruders.
Jimmy and ‘Bell Boy’
The band were tight and powerful and the cast’s singing excellent, especially the emotional rendition of Love Reign O’er Me, which was a complete stand-out. Even my partner with no prior knowledge of the story admitted afterwards that this beautiful song made her feel very emotional at this stage. The whole experience was only slightly spoiled by the auditorium’s sound which contrived to overpower and drown Pete Townshend’s memorable lyrics at times.
I must confess myself to feeling very choked at times, listening to the often note-for-note faithful replaying of the original music. As a young and mixed-up teenager when Quadrophenia came out I very much identified with Jimmy and I confess it took me straight back to those days. In that sense the whole evening worked well for me. I had been able to re-visit and re-work a part of me that was hardly forgotten and still sits at the core of who I am today.
The show was all over within a couple of very enjoyable hours including a short intermission. After accepting a healthy ovation from the audience the cast cheekily but very much in modern recognition chanted back to the onlookers the ‘We are the Mods’ mantra of the sixties. it was a nice moment for those of us who understand this history and sent everyone out of the Royal Concert Hall doors with an even wider smile.
As I had witnessed and silently thought to myself on the previous night when the tremendous and familiar roar of a Mod scooter ride-out swept stylishly and proudly down a main thoroughfare of Nottingham towards the opening night of Quadrophenia, this thing called ‘Mod’ will never die. I know that.