Chris Townson on replacing Keith Moon
Tonight, April 7, sees the British premier of the Final 24 series’ Keith Moon episode, 10pm on FX, so I’m told. The show recreates the last 24 hours of Moon’s life, but don’t get too excited; I’m not sure there’s much new for avid Moon fans other than, perhaps, the presence of Mandy Moon speaking on camera – and enough badly staged reenactments to believe in Mike Myers all over again. Plus, you’ve got me popping up throughout the interviews: don’t say you weren’t warned!
Anyway, this seems a good opportunity to follow up on something I’ve had on the backburner for a few weeks; a thread in the Pub reminded me it was high time to publish it. Here goes.
“Drummer, artist, illustrator and social worker Chris Townson’s musical career began in the 1960s with so-called “sonic terrorists” John’s Children, who also featured a nascent Marc Bolan on guitar. Townson’s subsequent career included replacing Keith Moon on a Who tour, jamming with Jimi Hendrix, becoming a sought- after illustrator and, later in life, a highly thought-of and much-loved social worker.”
So wrote Martin Gordon in a London Times’ obituary for his friend Townson, who passed away on Februray 10 of this year, aged 60. Gordon, a former member of the Radio Stars whose solo output has occasionally been reviewed here at iJamming!, was kind enough to get in touch with me and offer excerpts of his interview with Townson, from late last year, about that brief stand-in job with the Who.
In Dear Boy/Moon, I give the background to the need for a temporary new drummer on page 186, describing how Moon, at a 1967 May Ball at Oxford University, “threw the drums so hard he gave himself a hernia… (it) required an operation at St. George’s Hospital in Central London, and caused the cancellation of a major show in Paris. (Lower profile shows at various ballrooms went ahead with Julian Covey of the Machine, and then Chris Townson of John’s Children, the latest signing to Track, taking his place.)”
I was not able to find Townson at the time of writing Dear Boy. My thanks again to Gordon for filling in the gaps:
Q: Your playing with the Who came after John’s Children, am I right?
No, it was during, but it was after Marc had gone, just me, John and Andy at that point.
Q: Tell us The Anecdote.
Well, it’s quite straightforward. Simon (Napier-Bell, John’s Children manager and cohort of Track Records owner Kit Lambert) had something to do with it. We were on Track Records, and we’d also ‘out-Who’d the Who’ at Ludwigshaven, as we all know. We’d been on tour with them, so we all kind of knew each other at that time, and occasionally used to go out for meals with Townshend on a social level, after that tour, and Entwistle.
One day, I was up at Simon’s flat, I think, and Simon said to me ‘what’re you doing next week?’ And I thought, ‘I don’t know, mate, you’re my manager, you tell me!’ And he said ‘how do you fancy playing with the Who?’
I mean, how do you answer, that? Because, ever since I was at art school, I’d followed the Who avidly. Quite by chance, the first night they did the Marquee thing, the Maximum r’n’b thing, I was at college when loads of guys came round throwing out tickets. I went along after college, had few beers up in town, went along and I was absolutely blown away.
How good they were I’ll never know, because it just didn’t matter. The pure dynamic impact of what happened that night – I was speechless! People were jammed against the back wall because it was so loud, there was sweat and water running down the walls your back was soaking wet. I think Entwistle wore the Union Jack jacket the first time; Townshend had something else with medals and things which was causing outrage.
You could put the entire punk thing together and it wouldn’t have matched Townshend’s energy that night. The sound – Townshend using his 12 string Rickenbacker, the feedback was deafening, and he was just doing this flying thing with his arms, and the guitar was feeding back all round the Marquee, and this had NEVER happened before. I’d seen Beck, in Richmond, using feedback but he used it musically. Townshend didn’t do that.
And the song I loved the most was ‘Dancing in the Street’, because he used feedback – he’s a very rhythmic player, of course, – he was using the pick-up switch to make the syncopation, and in the solo – he didn’t play a solo, it was just guitar up against the amp… It was just trying new stuff, noises.
And then Anyhow, Anyway, Anywhere came out, I went and bought that, and I invited Andy down to where I was staying, and we must have listened to it 50 times, absolutely pulling it apart – ‘listen to this bit, what’s he doing there…?’ So from then on, I was a complete devotee. I was only 18 or 19 at the time, and then, a year or so later, it was ‘Fancy playing with the Who for a week?’
Q: But how was Simon in a position to ask you to do the gig?
Well, he’d done the deal already with Kit, he’d spotted the gap and suggested it, and Kit said ‘Oh, the guy from John’s Children, yes, why not?’ And they’d asked the Who, and they said ‘yeah, that’d be cool’ and that was it.
Q: And the records came round in a taxi…?
No, no, Townshend brought them round. Simon said ‘Oh, that’s good, because Townshend’ll be here in half an hour’. Townshend said ‘there you are, that’s the set!’. He said ‘go down to Pye Studios at Marble Arch in the morning. Keith’s kit’s in there, because we want to use our own back line. Tell the roadies exactly how you want it, have a bash around, get comfortable and I’ll pick you up from Pye at about 9.30. So I went down to Pye at about 8.00 in the morning, got the kit all set up, they packed it all up and I drove up with Townshend in his Lincoln, this black American job. The first gig was at Southport.
Q: No rehearsals?
No, nothing, I went straight on stage cold. But it didn’t matter because I knew all the songs. All the roadies were behind Entwistle’s stack giving me signals about endings. I only got into one bit of trouble and that was on the second gig, on a song called So Sad About Us. It had a syncopated rhythm was sounded very easy but I came in on the backbeat instead of the downbeat. But I caught up with it and it was came out OK. The rest went flying. We got to Generation and I remember thinking ‘I’m just going to thrash through this’, because it would have been really naff if I started doing the Moon thing, but Daltrey made that decision for me by pulling the front half of the kit away. So I though ‘Fuck, what am I going to do now’? So I just dived on top of him and shouted ‘Fuck off!’.
Q: What was that supposed to convey on his part?
I’ve no idea, he just pulled the kit away, and so I just leapt on him. Then I just sat on the one of the bass drums – the kit was still together – two top toms I threw off, and I sat on the bass drum. I thought, well, let’s see if I can make something arty out of this, so I sat on the bass drum sideways, playing it with the pedal, and played the other bass drum with sticks.
On the last night, they blew me up with some bombs. I lifted about three feet in the air, all my trousers were burnt. It was during Generation again.
Q: Where were they?
In the Isle of Man.
Q: No, not the trousers, the smoke bombs….
Under my feet. My white trousers were black, I thought ‘the bastards!’ I tried to jump at Townshend but he warned me off with his guitar. But a wonderful, wonderful week.