It was 48 years ago today (April 14th, 1974), that the Who‘s Pete Townshend played his first ever solo concert in London at The Roundhouse. The concert, which took place on Easter Sunday, was scheduled during a break from Townshend’s recording sessions for the Tommy – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack. He had originally envisioned a mellow low-key gig to benefit the Camden Square Community Playhouse Theatre, but heavy publicity from the British rock trades made the show the high-profile show of the spring.
Townshend spent about a week rehearsing the show and creating tape loops and rhythm tracks to provide backing for his acoustic and electric set, in which he also played the clavinet — an electric keyboard. Tapes of the show that have been making rounds with collectors reveal a particularly rowdy crowd — with Townshend handling himself pretty well against at least one drunken heckler.
Among the Who classics performed were “The Seeker” — which opened the show, “Happy Jack,” “Substitute,” “See Me, Feel Me,” “Tattoo,” “Let’s See Action,” “Pinball Wizard,” as well as covers including Tim Hardin‘s “If I Were A Carpenter,” Traffic‘s “No Face, No Name, No Number,” Jimmy Reed‘s “Big Boss Man,” “Amoureuse” by Veronique Sanson — later the wife of Stephen Stills, and the Bob Dylan-related standards “Girl From North Country,” and “Corina, Corina.”
The show marked Townshend’s live debut his 1966 tune called “Join My Gang” which he had written for the British pop singer Oscar — better known as Paul Nicholas.
During the show, he took the time to play his original demos of “My Generation” over the venue’s P.A. system. He later encored with the song, in a medley with the Who’s “Magic Bus.”
Performing solo wasn’t a decision that Townshend took lightly. That said, he always felt that his work was one of a singular artist who adapted his material to fit the Who’s structure: “Well, obviously, every writer, every individual that creates has to draw on their own experiences and when I set out to write songs — I shoot from the hip. I don’t actually write for any particular voice.”
The Roundhouse concert — which is legendary among die-hard Who fans — has gone down as a curious footnote in Townshend’s performing career. It would be over five years before he would step onstage solo again.