There are plenty of bands that are referred to as seminal. The Who really live up to the moniker. In 1974, The Who had made their mark. They were in-between the expansive Quadrophenia and By Numbers albums.
Our writer, Howard, was at their concert at Charlton Athletic’s Football Ground. The bill was stacked, and the music was celebratory. Howard takes us back in time…
A Saturday at The Valley, Charlton, usually meant an away day for a football match as it had been for an FA Cup match between Charlton and Bolton whilst I was at college. But this particular May Saturday meant not a football game, but one of the first football stadium concerts headlined by The Who with a stellar supporting cast.
A late evening train journey to London beginning at Trinity Street Station, Bolton, was adventure enough for 20 somethings in the 1970s. To be honest I recall little about the journey other than it took ages!
Arriving at the Valley (Charlton’s ground) to see the huge stage erected in front of the whole of Main Stand surrounded by the steep embankments made an ideal concert arena. Like any football fan the earliest opportunity to walk on the pitch was taken and then standing on the centre spot thinking, ‘John Byrom (prolific ex-Bolton Wanderers striker) stood here,’ was a big moment for me!
The ground filled up but I was anxious to preserve my ‘John Byrom’ spot as it had a great centre stage view. Even for a short chap like me, a clear view was maintained as the stage was so high.
Opening the day were Montrose with Sammy Hagar in fantastic form. This, I think, was their first trip to the UK and I remember thinking they were America’s answer to Led Zeppelin. They certainly impressed me as they showcased their Paper Money LP; Space Station Number 9 being one particular highlight, so much so that I bought it on my return home.
Then one of the first Bad Company performances, if not the first Bad Company festival appearance. They just blew us all away with the Bad Company / Get Enough Of Your Love line up of Paul Rogers, Simon Kirk, Mick Ralphs and Boz Burrell. I still have a copy of their limited edition debut album, with a number printed on the rear of the cover.
Geordie band Lindisfarne, who it was rumoured stood in for The Sweet, (who I was really looking forward too) proved more than adequate a replacement as, in the hot summer sun, they geed the audience up with their cheery songs including favourites such as Lady Eleanor, Fog On The Tyne and We Can Swing Together.
What a start to the concert.
We waited in anticipation for the legendary Lou Reed, with his distinctive dyed blonde hair. It’s difficult to recall his setlist but I do remember his antics with the microphone; putting it in places a microphone shouldn’t go!
As the hot sun blazed down a trip to the loo was required. This required a mammoth effort as they were somewhere to the side of the stage and getting back to the ‘JB’ spot was rendered impossible such had the crowd swelled. We scaled the embankment facing the stage. These were the days before fenced-in grounds so access was easy and these were standing areas; no all seated stadiums yet. In fact, there were no seats for any of the audience. Stopping part way up we watched the rest of the pre-headline act.
Humble Pie were amazing with Steve Marriott on top form. Under any other circumstances had the Who not been the headline act they could have stole the show. Maggie Bell toiled with on-stage problems which only added to the fact that all we wanted by now was The Who.
The Who came on late in the evening as we changed viewing position again, eventually finding a spot left of the stage but high up on the uncovered embankment, which on match day would be behind the goal. It was a great spot but to my horror, we were joined by a gang of Hell’s Angels.
The immediate mood was one similar to being in the wrong end of the ground at a Millwall game. However, my fears of supporting a group still labelled as Kings of the Mods whilst being surrounded by a wall of black leather was dissipated when they were clearly enjoying The Who’s performance much as the rest of the crowd. Phew!
The Who ploughed their way through old classics alongside tracks from Quadrophenia and John Entwistle’s rendition of Boris The Spider. As well as hearing some of the 60’s hits (Can’t Explain, Substitute, I’m A Boy, Pinball Wizard, My Generation) and tracks from Who’s Next live for the first time, this was an incredible experience.
Clear in my memory was Roger Daltrey’s sleeveless top with its tassels, and him swinging the microphone around then out from the stage, then pulling it back at just the right moment to continue singing. A neat trick and far more impressive than what Lou Reed had done with a microphone earlier in the day.
But the memory that still leaves me in awe was looking down on the crowd as the spotlights were turned on the crowd in the late evening and seeing thousands of hands raised as Daltrey wailed See Me, Feel Me. The whole day summed up in the line, “Listening to you, I feel the music.”
If it was possible, although clearly it is not, for this line up to be assembled today for a 50th anniversary, imagine the ticket price at one of our major arenas. You wouldn’t get much change from £200. But what did we pay for this day’s entertainment…£2.50…(the average weekly wage was £40)… unbelievable.
There are reports today that the day was spoiled by drunkenness, violence and poor sound. But this is not my memory. I certainly got my £2.50’s worth!
Then the journey home; no overnight stay. It was a dash to get the last train to Euston even though the train back up north wasn’t till the morning, which meant dossing down in the station foyer.
Here is what The Who played in 1974. They returned to Charlton in 1976.
There are many recollections and pictures on UK Rock Festivals website if you would like to reminisce some more!
The Who recently released a brand new album and will be touring the UK in 2020.