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
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
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.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on