Cinemusic: The Rock Opera, Scene Two

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Chris Morley doesn't give a monkey's arsehole about Mods and Rockers!


We're back with the Who this week for a look into Quadrophenia, Pete Townshend's follow-up to Tommy. Composed entirely by the creative heart of the group, the 'orrible 'Oo, as some had dubbed them, found themselves telling the story of Jimmy, a Mod looking to find himself in the London & indeed Brighton of the mid Sixties.



Townshend would tell Billboard years later that,
"The reason why the album is so important to me is that I think it's the Who's last great album, really."
And within seven years of the record's release it would follow the well trodden path to the big screen.



It was also notable for its embrace of synthesisers, a trend beginning with Who's Next and perhaps best exemplified by Baba O'Riley- well known to viewers of CSI as its theme tune. Originally intended as part of another similar rock opera project titled Lifehouse, the tune throws together two of Townshend's spiritual/musical mentors in the shape of Meher Baba & Terry Riley.

Three of the songs from Quadrophenia itself - Drowned, Bell Boy & Doctor Jimmy - made it into the set list for a tour which included a famed show at The Valley, home of Charlton Athletic, where The Who broke a Guinness World Record to become the loudest band in the world!



Amazingly there could well be a real life Jimmy, according to the investigations of journalist, musician & author Simon Wells. Back in 2009 he uncovered a story in a copy of the Brighton Evening Argus from 1964 and he shared the details...
"In the spring of 1964, a 17-year-old trainee accountant by the name of Barry Prior fell to his death at [Saltdean]. He’d been down to Brighton with a group of friends from London, to engage in what history now defines as the “Mods and Rockers” riots of the early 1960s.

Whether by design or through an act of eerie synchronicity, Barry’s journey is echoed by the album and attendant film version of Quadrophenia, Pete Townshend’s classic paean to teenage angst. The fact that the concept’s protagonist, a similarly aged office worker from London, met his “demise” on a Brighton cliff top haunts me.

As far as I’m concerned, these similarities are just far too extraordinary to be an act of coincidence.

Next to the headline, “Mod Falls to Death at Brighton Cliff”, there’s a photograph of Barry’s scooter and a group of sullen youngsters in a huddle around the cliff edge.

What happened in the ensuing hours is a mystery. All that is known is that Barry’s body was discovered shortly after 7am, lying sprawled some 100 feet below on the beach."
At the time the Who had made quite a name for themselves at the Florida Rooms, a local venue. Townshend himself may have drawn the climax to the album & film from an incident there following a gig around the same time as Prior's sudden death.
"Following a typically frantic Who performance, Pete left the sunken reaches of the venue and perched himself on the promenade to wind down. As he meditated on the sea while having a relaxing smoke, the last few stragglers from the concert made their way up the marble steps to street level.

As the faintly metronomic sound of the tide morphed with the strains of Tamla Motown seeping out of the Ballroom, it made for an enchanting aural concoction.

As if on cue, a few hardy Mods stepped into their scooters, and drove around in a circular formation before moving off into the darkness. As these disparate elements gradually merged into a moving motion picture, Townshend was entranced.

To him it was the “most perfect moment of my life”, a confirmation of the sort of landscape that had played in his head, but rarely in reality. Elements of this scene are echoed in the film of Quadrophenia, where a group of scooter riders similarly engage in an automated circle dance at first light."
From the seafront to Cambridge for us next, though, as we move on to its most famous musical sons & the building of a pre-Donald Trump Wall!

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