David Longdon is the singer (and multi-instrumentalist) in the quintessential English Progressive Rock band, Big Big Train. His association with BBT goes back to 2009’s The Underfall Yard although he has fingers in a few other pies. At one time, he auditioned for the job as Genesis singer when Phil Collins quit although more recently worked with the late Judy Dyble and released the wonderful Dyble Longdon album Between A Breath And A Breath (our review here). Now David joins us At The Barrier to talk about why he loves Pete Townshend.
It may not come as a surprise to those that know me and my music, that I have chosen to write about Pete Townshend. I have often cited Pete as an influence when I am asked during interviews. Although I cite Pete as a musical influence, it doesn’t immediately come across in my music. Nor should it. His influence has inspired me to write my own music and my own words.
Amidst all his drama and cartoon-esque, art school fuelled capering, the introspective songs, all the soul searching, the bluster, the arrogance, his vulnerabilities, his all too human frailties and insecurities, the controversy, his restless eternal creative curiosity, Pete Townshend is a master songwriter and a musical visionary.
It was my friend Phil Radford’s elder brother, Ian, who introduced me to the music of The Who. Ian was several years older than Phil and I. The front room in their house on South Street, Nottingham, was where these new and compelling sounds first had their impact upon me.
The reason that I initially liked the music of Pete Townshend was because it connected with me on some level. I don’t really know how or why but listening to the powerhouse that was the classic The Who line-up (Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle & Moon) inspired me. Pete’s great lyrics have had a lasting impression upon me. They are highly articulate and although I’d imagine that Pete’s inspiration for the lyrics had very little, if anything at all, in common with my life. Somehow those words spoke to me and resonated. I thought that he was somehow speaking to me. These songs have been the soundtrack of my life.
In addition to his writing for The Who, take a listen to his solo albums like Empty Glass, or the excellent Rough Mix, the album that Pete made with the brilliant Ronnie Lane. Scoop – Volumes 1, 2 & 3 are three compilations of a selection of Pete’s demos, which offer fascinating glimpses of the breadth and scope of his writing and methodology. They are well worth your further investigation.
Pete Townshend went to Art School in his youth and in going there he learned about artistic concepts, which he then reapplied directly to his music. The smashing of instruments became an act of art. In my late teens, I decided to stop doing A level music and also went to Art College. It was a great time. I learned lots and I especially loved Art History and Photography. I too applied some of these experiences to my music. These years shaped my creative thinking and influenced my view of the world. Each time I step out on stage, I am very aware that as soon as I do so, I am making an artistic statement.
The Who is still, without doubt, my favourite band. I have seen them on many occasions. I currently hold a ticket to see them perform live once again and I look forward to the world being safe enough for that gig to take place. I have occasionally taken friends with me to see The Who, who have never seen them play live before. Despite no longer having their legendary rhythm section of John Entwistle and Keith Moon, my friends comment on how authentic the band remains.
The Who still continue to sound relevant despite the passing years. They are the real deal. Their authenticity inspired me to bring the same energy and commitment to the music of Dyble Longdon and to my music with Big Big Train.
Baba O’Riley – a much loved classic song by The Who, taken from (arguably) their greatest album. This song is the best way to begin an album, ever! When this was recorded, the classic line up of The Who was at the height of their powers. Listen to the instrumentation, how the instruments blend in a most unusual way. The drums are not fulfilling the role that drums usually do, the same goes for the bass guitar. The Who at their idiosyncratic best. Roger Daltrey bringing Pete’s words to life with incredible energy, Pete singing the “Don’t Cry, don’t raise your eye, It’s only teenage wasteland” section.
Pete was inspired by both Meher Baba and Terry Riley in the writing of this piece. Townshend playing the keyboard part on a Lowry Berkshire Deluxe TBO-1 organ, then using it as a sequencer part for the band to track against. The song climaxes against the soaring violin of Dave Arbus.
Baba O’Riley is entirely unique and highly creative.
Our huge thanks to David for taking the time to share his thoughts with us. Look out for Big Big Train’s Empire DVD/CD from their 2019 tour coming in November.
Here’s David with Big Big Train, live in Halifax (we were there…) doing Alive :