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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum