Who are you: Roadie or future star? Pete Townsend is disabused – or: A jacket that had it in it! (1975)

Picture above: Pete Townsend in Hamburg 1972: Source of the article picture: Heinrich Klaffs – https://www.flickr.com/photos/heiner1947

So after many concerts in Brum Steve Gibbons and his band had arrived in London. However, they were still a band that couldn’t go into the recording studio because of old contractual obligations of their frontman and namesake. However no vinyl meant also no radio play.

What’s a jacket doing underneath a crowd which is wearing jeans?

The long awaited liberation came in 1975, dressed in eye-catching thread, in one of the band’s London concerts. During one of the gigs at the Hope and Anchor Pub in Islington, Steves‘ sharp eye spotted a fashionable detail that did not fit the audience, most of whom were dressed in jeans: an old-fashioned jacket.

So after many concerts in Brum Steve Gibbons and his band had arrived in London. However, they were still a band that couldn’t go into the recording studio because of old contractual obligations of their frontman and namesake. However no vinyl meant also no radio play.

A few evenings later, back „home“ in the Birmingham Railway, the same thing: a shop full of jeans types – and in the middle of it all, a lonely suit jacket. Steve remembers – and reveals the view of a fashion-conscious „mod“ on the world:

I`m hopeless with faces, but I never forget a jacket(Hornsby Bum Rocked On, p. 285)

Most likely, this suit jacket was paid for with money earned by the music of The Who as it belonged to Peter Meaden, the former manager of this band. Peter and Steve got into conversation and Maeden promised that he would interest Pete Townsend in the band. Steve Gibbons thought this was warm air and said to himself:

Yeah, I`ll believe it when I see it.“

A few days later, the Steve Gibbons Band played in London again (they must have left a lot of money for petrol on the M 1 that connects London and Birmingham back then!) This time the SGB performed at the Dingswall Club.

Pete Townsend is looking for a star, finds him and mistakes him for a roadie

And in the audience there was none other than Pete Townsend, the head of The Who himself, who was at the zenith of his career after hits like „My Generation“, Woodstock and the rock opera „Tommy“, which also became an international movie hit. In a situation like this, you start looking for new fields in which to prove yourself, even if your finances weren’t yet as organized as you might have expected with all this success. Townsend therefore began to look for previously undiscovered talent and also became active as a music publisher.

He expected a lot from what he was to see that night, namely an act that had the potential to be as influential as The Who itself. A few years later, Townsend wrote in the preface to the „Steve Gibbons Book“, a songbook with the most important songs from the first three studio albums of SGB, which he published in his music publishing company:

Pete(r Meaden) was always a guy whose rock image ideas I respected… So when he rang me … to tell about a group he had discovered fronted by a man called Steve Gibbons I responded favorably. After all he had discovered The Who, he could be right twice!

IMG_4134
Cover Page of „The Steve Gibbons Book“, edited by Pete Townsend

Don’t trust anyone over thirty !

The first encounter between Townsend and Gibbons, however, initially took place on a whimsical note: Pete Townsend was introduced to Steve Gibbons before his performance. However, because of the unfashionable clothes Gibbons wore and his advanced age, Townsend thought the man in front of him was a roadie. Obviously, according to the author of the world-famous line “ hope I die before I get old“, such an outfit and age fitted little to a new hope of Rock music that Meaden had promised him.

Pete Townsend again:

Pete (Maeden) introduced me to Steve before they played. I recognized the face from the past, but thought that anyone so „seasoned“ must at least be a roadie. I asked Pete when I could meet Steve Gibbons… Pete Maeden thought I was joking.

Gibbons was 34 years old at the time. Nowadays, this is not a specific old age for a rock musicians. Back then, though, that was almost a show-stopper. (So much for the Woodstock generation’s tolerance and open-mindedness!)

Townsend probably behaved in a British polite way and waited for the beginning of the concert to finally see the thoroughbred musician Maeden had promised him. And there the man, whom he had just taken for an elderly worker for stage construction, stood on stage and showed the audience the ropes.

Pete Townsend again:

It was not until Steve Gibbons took the stage that I realised that the quiet handsomely road-worn man I had met was also the brilliant writer, the image-perfect, voice-perfect creatuere described to me by Pete. … I became more and more impressed with the talent, and the great musicians that Steve had found for his band…

 

IMG_4131
Picture above: Excerpt from Pete Townsend’s preface to The Steve Gibbons Book.


Townsend especially emphasizes Gibbons‘ talent as a songwriter:

His writing never ceases to amaze me. He distills everything in the great British Rock writers tradition from Ray Davis to Lionel Bart. His writing never ceases to amaze me. He distills everything in the great British Rock writers tradition from Ray Davis to Lionel Bart.

Lionel Bart is probably less known among rock fans. The composer, born in 1930 as Lionel Begleiter in London, wrote among other things the successful musical „Oliver!“ based on the novel „Oliver Twist“ by Charles Dickens.

Townsend also stresses:

Steve can also bring across the true spirit of Nashville, of Dylan`s New York, or Bruce Springsteens`s or Paul Simon`s street heritage. Steve is from Birmingham but his culture is a stifed bag of music flour from fifteen years of Rock Harvest. Steve can also convey the true spirit of Nashville, of Dylan’s New York, or Bruce Springsteen`s or Paul Simon’s street heritage. Steve is from Birmingham, but his culture is a bag of music flour from fifteen years of rock harvest.


The comparison with Paul Simon would not have come to our mind, but anyway. And the fact that fifteen years of „Rock Harvest“ was already considered long back then can probably only be explained by the cult of youth of the time.

What Pete Townsend, Leo Sayer and Steve Gibbons have in common

But it is clear that Townsend already recognized Gibbons‘ broad musical roots at that time. And then comes the accolade! The mastermind of The Who, the composer of „Tommy“ and „Quadrophenia“, attests that Gibbons „plays in the same league“ as himself, at least in some aspects. Townsend literally:

His works sometimes touches on areas I have covered too: Steve is one of the few writers barring myself and Leo Sayer who have come up with a perfect song for Roger Daltrey…/His works sometimes touch on areas that I have covered too: Steve is one of the few writers apart from me and Leo Sayer who have come up with a perfect song for Roger Daltrey…

So it’s no wonder that Townsend was very impressed and made his current manager Bill Curbishley aware of the band. The Steve Gibbons Band was then taken care of by the management of The Who, and Townsend himself as music publisher published Gibbons‘ songs. And to introduce his new protégé, he also invited him to perform with him at his solo concerts.

A meeting with consequences

And that was by no means all that followed from this meeting in London’s Dingswall Club:

As The Who as a company obviously had sufficient liquid funds in the till, it was now hoped that the new management would manage to free Steve Gibbons from his contractual obligations so that he could record an album with his new band. And when the band finally showed up in the studio – just like it was the case with his solo album – nothing was spared in support.

Peter Maeden`s further fate

By the way, the „discovery“ of the Steve Gibbons Band by Peter Maeden was not only a stroke of luck for the band, but also for Maedon himself. As Mark Wilkerson reports in his book „Who Are You: The Life Of Pete Townshend“,he had been disembarked by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp from the management of The Who ten years earlier. Now, with this „fish on the hook“ he managed, to „re-enter“ the inner circle of The Who and later he worked as an adviser for „Quadrophenia“.

But maybe it would have been better for him, if he hadn’t been re-introduced into this circle, where he could also consume drugs extensively with Keith Moon.

On 30 July 1978, Maeden died of barbiturate poisoning.

We continue here.

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