After 47 years, Pete Townshend reconnects with Tanglewood
"We played Tanglewood twice, in 1969 and then in 1970," he recalled. "I have very fond memories of those shows and that venue. Leonard Bernstein came to our show in 1969 and afterward, came backstage and hugged me. And he said, 'Pete, keep doing what you do so well.' I was very flattered.
"I love Tanglewood," he added. "I love the history, I love the variety of music you can hear there, I love the venue itself. I'm a huge fan."
Townshend brings his band back to Tanglewood on Saturday to perform the rock opera "Quadrophenia" in its entirety with help from Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops.
But back to 1969. Townshend said the Woodstock concert was scheduled two weeks after the band's 1969 American tour was to end. He wanted to get home to see his family, especially his 3-month-old daughter, Emma, whom he hadn't yet seen.
One of the Woodstock promoters, he said, literally locked him in an apartment for several hours before he would agree to play.
"It was a mess," he said. "I flew back to England, got my family and came back over for the show. I left my wife and daughter with Richie Havens while we went on. I hated it.
"But," he admitted, "every band who played that show went on to be famous. Ten Years After was an English band that no one knew about over [in the U.S.]. But they played that one song in the movie ['I'm Goin' Home'] and they took off. I have to admit, that show benefited a lot of bands, at least."
Forty-seven years after his last visit to Tanglewood as a musician ("I've been back several times as a tourist.") Townshend and the Pops will perform his iconic 1973 rock classic "Quadrophenia."
"It was the most complete record I'd made up to that point," he said. "It was, I think, a very well-organized song cycle for me, and the first time I had ever produced a record for the band. So it was all me, essentially.
"I don't believe it was successful because of that," Townshend hastened to say. "'Quadrophenia' was an attempt by us to re-connect with our fans. I felt at the time that we had lost that connection, or that the connection was failing."
Townshend said the band's first real performance of "Quadrophenia," as he envisioned it, was in 1996, with horns, extra percussion and extra guitars.
This new orchestra-backed version was first performed live in 2015, in England. Townshend credits his longtime musical collaborator, Rachel Fuller, whom he married in February, with the new arrangements.
"Rachel did the new arrangements," he said. "I stayed out of it, for the most part. I didn't want to meddle."
The reconstituted "Quadrophenia" was also recorded during those 2015 shows, recalled Townshend.
"I didn't actually envision an album coming out of it," he admitted. "But [record company] Deutsche Grammophon approached me."
In addition to Townshend, opera tenor Alfie Boe and rocker Billy Idol will be on stage with the Pops. Boe will have most of the vocal chores.
"Alfie is a trained opera singer, but he also has a bit of a crossover background," said Townshend. "He's not as well known in the U,S. and I hope audiences over here will be accepting of him. He's very talented, and a dear man and my wife and I have become very good friends with Alfie and his family."
Then, of course, there is Mr. Idol, who hes been a member of the "Quadrophenia" cast since the 1996 tour, as the character "Ace Face."
"He is just the classic 'Ace Face,'" said Townshend of Idol. "He is really perfect for the part.
"I met Billy in the '70s," said Townshend. "[The late Who drummer] Keith Moon suggested we go out to a club where his band, Gen X was playing. I enjoyed the show and we went backstage to meet him.
"Billy was very charming and deferential," said Townshend with a laugh. "And he is the complete opposite of his stage persona. A very soft-spoken and thoughtful person. Nothing like the guy you see on stage."
Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-770-6977
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