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The Who: Live at Leeds

It's 50 years since The Who: Live at Leeds. 
We hear about the recording of the iconic album, which took place at Leeds University in January 1970.
The 1970s was a rich time for music in Leeds. The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd: they all appeared in our city. Antony Ramm, Librarian and Manager of Local and Family History at Leeds Libraries, explains more about the Leeds music scene 50 years ago. 


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Leeds could boast an enviable and rich musical scene in the 1960s, but it was in the early 1970 that Leeds really came into its own as a music town, hosting several high-profile and now-legendary gigs. 

By the close of the 1960s the centre of Leeds’ musical gravity – at least in terms of rock music – had almost entirely shifted toward the tastes of the ever-growing student population. This pattern had been repeated all across the country, with student unions increasingly popular places for bands to play owing to their ample- sized halls. 
However, Leeds was “the most prestigious [student venue] of them [all]” according to David Hepworth in his book 1971 - Never a Dull Moment: Rock’s Golden Year. Leeds stood apart, with the Leeds University Refectory emerging as the premier live music venue in the city, playing host to such legendary (or, soon-to-be legendary) names as Fleetwood Mac, the Moody Blues, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band in the final three months of 1969 alone. The Refectory was a huge venue and a popular one. 
It was 1970 that really cemented the Refectory’s status, with Joe Cocker (January 17), Led Zeppelin (January 24) Pink Floyd (February 28), Mott the Hoople (March 17), Derek & the Dominos (October 10) and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (December 12) among many others performing that year. But it was a band taking the stage on February 14 1970, and the subsequent live album capturing their incendiary brand of rock ‘n’ roll madness, which truly made Leeds and its University Refectory a venue of musical legend. The Who played a gig that would go down in music history. 

It would go on to

become one of the

greatest live albums

of all time.

And I was there!

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As the subsequent live album – simply titled The Who Live at Leeds – reveals, the band were in unimaginably exciting form that night, bashing and thrashing away at their hits (“I Can’t Explain”, “Substitute”, “I’m a Boy”), followed by the entirety of Tommy, their recently- released ‘rock opera’, and four encores, including their signature “My Generation”.  Unimaginably exciting, yes, but also unimaginably loud and unbelievably, viscerally thrilling. 
Pete Townshend himself has said of the concert: “We just had a feeling it was going to be good. We played better than we have for a long time.” Listeners certainly agreed, with the album charting at no.3 on the UK Album Chart and eventually selling over 100,000 copies. 
Other musicians, too, had their attention captured by the raw immediacy of The Who’s performance. The Rolling Stones, in particular, were keen to bottle whatever manic energy it was their peers had enjoyed that February evening, playing the Refectory on March 13 1971 - with the express intention of releasing a live recording of their Leeds performance. Sadly, for whatever reason, that show has never officially seen the light of day – but anyone who was there can recall the occasion via a bootleg on YouTube (just search for ‘Get Yer Leeds Lungs Out’ – it’s a great show!). 
Mick Jagger said at the time of the Stones’ Leeds gig that “Everyone wants to play here”. He certainly wasn’t joking, with Led Zeppelin also appearing just a few days before the London rockers, on March 9 1971, Jon, who was a student at Leeds Grammar School next to the University, recalls: “Tickets for Led Zep went on sale on the Sunday afternoon before the Tuesday Show.  I spent about 2 hours in the queue and managed to get 2 tix [tickets] with a borrowed student union card. Cost – 12 shilling and 6 pence each – great value. Watched the gig from my favourite spot at the back of the balcony – great view and the best sound.” Martyn Grace was also there and remembers: “As we queued to go into the hall, the band arrived in two Rolls Royce, which was very impressive to a 17-year old! I was only a few feet from the stage and can remember my ears ringing for 2 days.” 
Why was the Refectory so popular with so many legendary bands? Almost certainly because of the professionalism and efficiency of the students organising the gigs at the time, particularly Simon Brogan – the Ents Social secretary for bookings in the early 1970s. It was Brogan, operating largely without a budget and the kind of easy online communications we take for granted these days, who was primarily responsible for booking The Who in February 1970 (and again in November of the same year!).
Brogan admitted in a 2005 interview that booking big names eventually became routine for him, but that he and his team never let up on the planning: “Every Saturday night was important and you always wanted to do the best you could.” Anyone who was there at the time, enjoying one of the many legendary Leeds gigs of the early 1970s, will surely appreciate Simon’s amazing achievement at bringing the greats of rock ‘n’ roll to our city.


Bryan Craven grew up in Pudsey and was at the legendary Who gig in 1970. He shares his memories below.

"Music was my first love", declared John Miles in 1976. I guess that’s the way it was for me as well. I was fortunate to grow up in the 1960s when pop music and teenagers
were invented! Sadly I never got to see The Beatles live but in the early 60s I did manage to see the likes of Dusty Springfield, Gene Pitney and Roy Orbison when they appeared at the Odeon in Leeds. Back then that was the only way to see artists of that calibre, when 4 or 5 chart acts would appear on the same bill, each performing a couple of their hits. 
Then in 1967 things changed – the Summer of Love. To be fair, there wasn’t much of either going on in Pudsey at the time. Wearing flowers in your hair in Pudsey Park wasn’t a great fashion statement. But a different style of music got my attention, drifting across from the west coast of America – groups, like the Grateful Dead and Country Joe and the Fish, or coming out of the underground clubs in England – Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac and the like. 
These were different times – there were no arenas, no major venues to see these artists – I remember going to Cleethorpes to see Country Joe and to Barnsley to see Canned Heat. Not places that will ever trip off the tongue when the history of live music in the UK is written. 
Then, in 1968, I started at Leeds College of Technology, as it was then - a poor relative of the University. As a student, a whole new gamut of music venues became available to me. The following years were the halcyon days of music at Leeds Polytechnic and University – Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Pink Floyd – the list was endless. All these artists appeared at the Refectory at the University – a 2,000 capacity venue that doubled as a dining room during the week. When the Ents. Committee announced that The Who would be appearing there on the 14th February 1970, and that they would be recording the gig for a live album, a frenzy of excitement kicked in. Well, as much of a frenzy as students can muster. After all, this was the band that had topped the bill at the previous year’s Woodstock Festival, and we all knew how that went. This was the band that had just created Tommy, probably the first rock opera. It was no surprise that tickets sold out within minutes – the queue for tickets had started building up the previous day. 


John Entwistle at Live at Leeds

What do I remember about the night? Very little! I was 19, it was 50 years ago and I struggle with 50 days ago nowadays. I remember it was incredibly loud. Unlike a lot of their peers, The Who appeared to genuinely enjoy themselves on stage. Keith Moon as manic as ever; Pete Townshend and his “windmill” guitar playing; and the incredible vocals of Roger Daltrey. The evening was in three distinct parts – they opened with their hits: ‘Substitute’, ‘I’m a Boy’ etc, followed by ‘Tommy’ in its entirety and finishing with four encores, including (inevitably) My Generation.The show was also recorded the following night at Hull, but because of technical problems (the bass guitar wasn’t recorded) the Leeds version was the one that made it onto vinyl. The Who Live At Hull just doesn’t have the same ring to it. What we didn’t know at the time was that the subsequent recording would go on to become one of the greatest live albums of all time. And I was there! 


Frontman Roger Daltrey at Live at Leeds

The images of The Who you see on these pages were taken by Chris McCourt. Many thanks to Chris for allowing Shine to print them. Chris shares his memories of the gig: 


"I met the cover artist of the Tommy LP and he said The Who were looking for a photographer for two shows in Leeds and Hull. I had two cameras, a 1960 Pentax S1a borrowed from my dad, and a Nikkormat with a 50mm lens borrowed from a friend at school. The band had asked me to shoot in colour which I took to them a week or so later, but at the same time I shot some in black and white for me. I didn’t print them until 25 years later because I didn’t think they were any good. 


I like the close-ups and the shots of Pete Townshend leaping out of the frame - I couldn’t believe how high he jumped and still kept playing!"


Chris now lives in London and spent his life working as a furniture maker – check out for information. Huge thanks to Chris for allowing us to print the images. 


Do you remember The Who: Live at Leeds? Maybe you were at the legendary concert. You can share your memories below.


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