Live at Leeds: Who's best...

Their 1970 performance, before 2,000 students at a university refectory, produced what has been described as the best live album of all time. Now Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey are to return to the site of their rock masterpiece. Ian Herbert reports

It was with a sense of anxiety as well as fervour that the Leeds University student union awaited the arrival of its latest big-name band, The Who, on St Valentine's Day, 1970.

A newly purchased stage ensured that Townshend, Daltrey and Co would not have to jump up on tables to perform, as some previous bands had done. But there were serious concerns about the group's 10 massive amplifiers, the like of which had never been seen before in the student refectory which doubled up as a rock venue. "We stacked the amps on dining tables, five each side of the stage, and hoped for the best," recalls John Standerline, one of the university entertainments committee which received the band that day.

Happily, the amps did remain intact, delivering the mighty, primal sounds which, though Leeds did not know it at the time, were to assume a seminal part in rock history. The furious three-hour concert in the refectory that Saturday night was recorded for The Who's legendary Live at Leeds album, which is still considered by many critics to be the best live album made and an inspiration to the heavy metal genre. It is also common consensus that Townshend's searing, improvised guitar solos during a 15-minute take on My Generation have never been bettered.

Now, minus their drummer Keith Moon, who died in 1978, and John Entwistle, the bassist who died four years ago, they are to make a return pilgrimage. The university announced yesterday that Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey would kick off The Who's forthcoming world tour later this month with another gig in the refectory. The legends will also unveil a local civic trust blue plaque at the venue to mark the 1970 gig.

The inspiration for Live at Leeds II is Andy Kershaw, who was entertainments officer at the university for two years in the early 1980s before pursuing his BBC career. Kershaw found himself in conversation on the refectory stage with the university's vice-chancellor, Professor Michael Arthur, last year, after receiving an honorary doctorate in music. He was informed of the plans for the blue plaque and two weeks later, a chance encounter with The Who's manager Bill Curbishley at Womad - Peter Gabriel's festival of world music, arts and dance - led to an approach to Townshend, 60, and Daltrey, 61.

Both musicians are said to be delighted by the idea of returning to the refectory, the compact, low-ceilinged art deco building which became one of Britain's most improbable rock venues in the 1960s and has remained one ever since. "Doctor Andy, I'm really excited about this," Townshend told Kershaw in a recent e-mail, which revealed that Kershaw's doctorate is evidently taking some living down.

"Both of these musicians have a real grasp of the historical and emotional significance of them coming back," Kershaw said yesterday. "They are doing this because they want to do it, not because they are going to make any money out if it. It will be the starting point for a tour which will take in football stadiums and baseball stadiums across Britain and the US." Fittingly, the band will be supported by the mod rockers Casbah Club, featuring Pete Townshend's younger brother, Simon, as guitarist and vocalist, when they play the venue a week on Saturday.

The refectory, a long, narrow room where Leeds students have dined since 1955, had its share of big names before The Who rolled into town. Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin had all gone before. But few groups were making waves quite like Daltrey, Townshend, Moon and Entwistle. The Leeds concert came on the back of the band's success at Woodstock, broadcast to the world in an accompanying documentary film, where they performed much of their rock opera Tommy. A live album had remained beyond them, though. The group balked at the idea of wading through recordings from their American tour to produce one, so decided to make one at a British concert. The band's appearance at Hull on 13 February seemed the perfect opportunity and the concert which made Leeds a household name might have been called Live at Hull, had the line connecting the bass guitar to the tape recorder been working properly on Humberside. It was not - and the concert at Leeds, which was arranged at just two weeks' notice, suddenly assumed a huge significance.

For a time it seemed the Leeds concert was destined to go the same way. "During the afternoon, we realised that the recording would need double the electricity that was available," recalls Simon Grogan, an ents officer, who secured the gig for the university and went on to work for Chrysalis before swapping music for a life as a sheep farmer in Scotland. "Luckily, two students on the committee were technical whiz kids and got the problem sorted."

The band launched the concert with "Can't Explain" and "Substitute" moving on to Townshend's masterpiece Tommy. With two hours' furious music behind them, there was no let up. "Summertime Blues", "Shaking All Over" and "My Generation" were to follow.

A delirious audience must have helped. The gig had prompted 6am queues at the student union that day. Even the queues became a story for the university newspaper, which reported on "a rota system for leaving the queue to warm up" which was in operation. The 11s 6d tickets (£6 in today's money) sold out in an hour. More than 2,000 students crammed into the refectory for the gig and 1,000 listened on the roof.

"We just had a feeling it was going to be good," Townshend told the Yorkshire Evening Post a few days later. "We played better than we have for a long time." The band's fee for the concert was £1,000 but they didn't even cash the cheque. "I had to give them another cheque when they came [the following] November to play Leeds again," says Brogan.

Only six tracks made it on to the famous album which, with its plain brown cardboard cover and ink lettering, was designed to look like the simple cover of a bootleg LP of the era. The label was handwritten (apparently by Townshend), and included instructions to the engineers not to attempt to remove any crackling noise. Townshend remixed the Live at Leeds tapes when the full concert was finally released four years ago.

Q magazine recently voted the work the greatest live rock album of all time. "We may never see the likes of such an event again," says Kershaw. "It's a corporate world now. The venues are bigger and the student unions just don't wield any power."

To celebrate the concert, Sir Peter Blake, art director for The Who's Face Dances album, will also create a new artwork, to be added to the Sir Peter Blake Music Art Gallery at the University's School of Music.

The Who will play the Leeds University refectory on 17 June. Tickets go on sale on 9 June at 9am at the Leeds University Union on the university campus, £37.50. No telephone bookings. Two tickets per person.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn