Saturday, April 18, 2015

Carry On Touring: when The Who and The Small Faces hit town

The Who and The Small Faces on the same bill: it’s almost too monumental a concept for my brain to process. And in 1968, no less! A pretty exciting year for both bands, now past their mod heyday and on the verge of mind-bending new musical explorations, such as Tommy (still taking shape in Pete Townshend’s fevered brain at that point) and Ogdens’ Nutgone Flake.

How could such a line-up go wrong? Well, by all accounts, it could — and did — when both groups headed Down Under for a ‘Big Show’ tour of Australia and New Zealand along with Paul Jones (ex-Manfred Mann). Having recently read A Fortnight of Furore, a book by Andrew Neill about this infamous tour, I was surprised to learn what a complete and utter schmozzle it was. 

It seems Australia just wasn’t ready for The Who and The Small Faces: our media and police treated them as a threat to public decency rather than visiting artists, and our venues were woefully under-equipped for their rock’n’roll onslaught. Throw in a highly strung air-hostess with an axe to grind, and it’s no wonder Pete Townshend vowed never to return.

The build-up

By the time the Big Show rolled into Melbourne after legs in Brisbane and Sydney, the madness was well entrenched. The local gutter press had been in attack mode from the moment the bands touched down on Aussie soil, accusing them of being dirty drug-taking Poms here to corrupt the nation’s teenagers and panning the concerts with great relish. 

Among other things, The Who and The Small Faces were dubbed ‘pouting princes of popdom,’ ‘scruffy, guitar-twanging urchins,’ and ‘pop show louts’. Some journalistic bright spark even nicknamed The Small Faces ‘The Small Faeces’! Strangely enough, neither band responded well to this kind of treatment, and press conferences tended to be fraught affairs. (The more wholesome Paul Jones didn’t seem to evoke such an extreme reaction)
Page from tour program
And another page from tour program

Tour program again: yep, you could take this one home to meet your gran
Then there were the technical malfunctions. In Brisbane, The Who requested a 1000-watt sound system and received a 100-watt system; in Sydney, the rotating stage got stuck mid-concert and The Small Faces (who made no attempts to hide their irritation) were pelted with coins by disgruntled punters. What’s more, Pete Townshend managed to spear one of The Small Faces’ Marshall amps with his guitar in Sydney, damaging a speaker and causing temporary friction between the two bands.

Add to this a taste for hotel hell-raising that – surprise, surprise – usually involved Keith Moon, and the scene was set for the Melbourne leg of the tour to be every bit as controversial as what had come before. And so it was, starting with Pete Townshend punching out an obnoxious journalist at their airport press conference, and Keith Moon chucking a snare drum through the window of his room at the Southern Cross Hotel soon after arriving!

From the tour program: check out this jaw-droppingly dorky ad for the Southern Cross Hotel!!

The concerts

Compered by legendary radio DJ Stan Rofe, the Melbourne concerts took place at Festival Hall on Thursday 25 and Friday 26 January, with performances at 6pm and 8.45pm both nights. As well as Sydney band The Questions (who’d been on the bill from the beginning, in their own right and as backing band to Paul Jones), local act The Dream joined proceedings, having beat out the cream of Melbourne’s rock bands in a ten-pin bowling tournament for the honour. From all accounts, they didn’t set the world on fire. 
Stan Rofe, sometimes known as the 'rocky jockey'

In fact, if you believe the reviews, the whole shebang was a bit… umm… forgettable. In a review entitled ‘Desecration in my generation’, one journo described The Who’s equipment-smashing finale as ‘oh, so predictable and really so dull’, and the evening as ‘boring, amateurish and altogether wasted.’ His waspish conclusion? ‘Britain has more than economic problems’.

Even Rofe, usually a passionate supporter of young bands, wrote in Go-Set that the audiences were ‘unenthusiastic’ and went so far as to suggest that The Small Faces were a fraud. ‘Tunes like “Itchycoo Park” and “Tin Soldier” bore little resemblance to the real thing. So different did they sound, it made me believe that a bunch of studio musicians were used on their records’. Meanwhile, The Who’s destructo antics left him ‘with a feeling of nausea, if not sudden longing for the smallest room in the stadium.’ Ouch.

But reports from fans themselves paint a far different picture. On an odd, unofficial Who website I stumbled across while researching this post, a certain John Moon (yes) recalls being an impressionable 14-year-old at his first ever concert: “Fuck…what an introduction … I remember seeing a row of MARSHALL stacks (I think there were 4 of these (at the time) giants across the stage...could have been 6) on stage and for those days it looked quite awesome...”

While Moon says The Small Faces were “great” and played all their hits, he saves his most lavish praise for The Who…

“Finally on came THE WHO.....they were absolutely AWESOME!!!! The birdman was doing his windmills, Daltrey was swinging his mic, Moon was just goin' for it on the kit and John Entwistle was a rock of Gibraltar holdin’ it all together. 
“Townshend was playing a blue Fender Stratocaster with a white scratch plate and during SHAKIN' ALL OVER the guitar neck snapped off midway thru the song and he just threw it across the floor backstage and was given STEVE MARRIOTT'S black Les Paul to play. When the song finished, Townshend explained to the audience that his roadies loosen the bolts at the back of the neck/guitar body join so he won’t hurt his hands when he smashes it at the end of the show. The crowd were calling out to him to smash the Les Paul but he said he couldn’t cos it was Steve Marriott's guitar. The road crew then came back with his Strat bolted back together again. 
“Finally at the end of the show all hell broke loose on stage, the amps had smoke rising out of the top of the boxes and thinking of it now, it was obviously some special effect that was planned to go off cos the smoke was uniform from all amps and they all ‘smoked’ at precisely the same time....but it was very effective, no one had ever seen anything like this before.”
Another punter, Ian Clothier, adds that "‘awesome’ just doesn't seem enough to describe the effect this show had on us teenagers.” Apparently, one of his mates managed to nab a piece of Stratocaster scrap that flew into the audience when Pete smashed it, only to have it confiscated by a bouncer on the way out! The roadies would later rebuild the guitar as best they could, as the mounting costs of equipment damaged by The Who were getting out of hand.
Who was who (no pun intended) behind the scenes of The Big Show
Best tour poster ever! Designed by Go-Set's own Ian McCausland

High-altitude hi-jinx

Next stop was Adelaide, scene of the tour’s final Australian concert (on Saturday 27th January) before heading to New Zealand. As far as they were all concerned, Melbourne was behind them.

Despite knowing that their flight out of Adelaide departed early the next morning, the bands partied typically hard in their hotel that night, and were feeling a tad worse for wear when they boarded their Ansett plane at 7am. The tone was set when none of them returned the air hostesses’ cheery greetings upon entering the aircraft (with the exception of the ever-perky Paul Jones); and got steadily worse when the hosties blatantly overlooked them while serving tea and coffee to other passengers.

An ad for Ansett from the tour program. Let's hope Susan Jones wasn't the air hostess behind the dramas...
What happened next remains unclear, with conflicting accounts of the incident depending on who’s telling it. Tour manager Ron Blackmore; Production Manager for The Who, John “Wiggy” Wolff; Doug Parkinson (singer of The Questions), and Paul Jones all recall it slightly differently in A Fortnight of Furore. The general consensus seems to be that the grumpy, bedraggled and unwashed touring party offended the delicate sensibilities of one of the air hostesses, who not only refused to serve them, but gave them a right old ear-bashing before dragging the captain into it. The fact that members of The Questions were passing around a stubbie of beer they’d smuggled on board didn’t exactly help matters either.

The captain radioed ahead to Essendon Airport, where the bands and their entourage were informed they were under arrest and escorted to a VIP lounge by a posse of federal police to be interviewed.

 Slap-stick gold or what? Ronnie Lane recalled, “When we landed, there were all these police and television cameras there, and we were carted off. The television cameras were on the plane, so I said to everyone, ‘Go out with your hands on your head, and it’ll look like the plane was hijacked, it’ll look really good on TV,’ so we did!”

Kenney Jones adds: “They lined us all up on the tarmac, with our hands on our heads, and we’re saying ‘You can’t do this, we’re British!’ It was hilarious.”

Hello again, Melbourne!
Needless to say, the local media went into a feeding frenzy. So what if nobody (including those directly involved) knew exactly why the arrest had been made? These creative journos weren’t about to let facts get in the way of a good story. Reports of foul language, bare-arsed shenanigans, violence and public drunkenness were thrown about with merry abandon until a press conference was finally held, with Paul Jones acting as spokesperson. While he couldn’t shed much light on the situation, he confessed that beer was involved, as well as some colourful language — but “only the same bad language as you’ll find in practically any conversation.”

Eventually, after Big Show promoter Kenn Brodziak (who was spending a leisurely Sunday arvo at his mum’s house) was enlisted to pull some strings with airline owner Reg Ansett, the touring party was released without charge to catch a connecting flight to Sydney and from there on to Auckland.

No love lost

Interviewed about the incident in New Zealand, Pete Townshend explained as only he could:
“I don’t think the hostess fancied us much – she obviously didn’t like our long hair and appearance… when she saw the [beer] bottle, she refused to serve us coffee. The crew acted as if we were not there. We were victims. The crew set out to humiliate us and they succeeded. They ignored us as if there was something wrong with us. After all, we are young public figures and expect a bit of attention.”
But even after the tour was over and the bands were safely back in Blighty, Australia wasn't about to let matters drop. On February 17, 1968, a letter from Go-Set reporter Ed Nimmervoll was published in English magazine Melody Maker claiming the Small Faces’ shows were “disinterested” and “the Who’s much-vaunted stage act wasn’t much better.” (Before signing off, he helpfully suggested that these “British artists should have realised their vulnerability to knockers and with a little thought … steered clear of trouble. Just how masochistic is British pop?”)

Meanwhile, Victorian Premier Henry Bolte called them “a bunch of crummy hooligans” who fell far short of the “magnificent example” set by Australian folkies The Seekers.

Not a fan: Prime Minister John Gorton
But the cherry on top came courtesy of then-Aussie PM John Gorton, in the form of a telegram he sent to The Who. Wiggy Wolff recalls it as being along the lines of “Dear Who’s [sic]. We never wanted you to come to Australia. You have behaved atrociously while you’ve been here and we hope you never come back!”

Naturally, Pete Townshend shot off a reply, saying they’d never wanted to come to Australia, they’d had a terrible time here, and they would not be coming back.

As we all know, he kept his promise for a very long time…


  1. Great post and fabulous research. I was gripped from start to finish. Plus, I had completely forgotten about that 10-pin bowling marathon which I actually took part in. It was at the bowling alley within the Southern Cross Hotel. Bands and their fans would play and allocate their points until the band which had the most got the gig. bizarre and thanks for the reminder. Now I am wondering what other really weird stuff I have completely forgotten.
    The January 1968 Melbourne music scene was immense and wonderful but the mainstream media was even worse than it is now. As for the national treasure that was Stan The Man Rofe, I was listening when he had Normie Rowe on his show and assured him he would never 'make it' "with that long hair". Normie made it alright.
    Thanks for sharing Sammy-lou

    1. Thanks for your kind words and memories, Ann O'Dyne! Which band did you allocate your ten-bowling points to? Do let me know if you remember any other weird, wonderful things from that time - the stuff you tell me certainly doesn't come up in any Google search.
      And as for Stan Rofe's comment to Normie - how funny! I guess he was a different generation to the musicians he championed, and occasionally the generation gap was unavoidable? I wish there were recordings of some of his broadcasts I could listen to...

  2. Thank you too, and oh we were bowling for this one.

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