AMAZING JOURNEY: THE STORY OF THE WHO directed by Murray Lerner & Paul Crowder (UK, 2007)

With the quality of footage at their disposal, this film journey couldn’t be anything other than amazing although it’s far from being as definitive as it should have been.

The documentary traces the band’s story from their roots in Shepherd’s Bush to the present day. Paul Crowder’s bland voiceover adds some details to explain the chronology of events but I can’t help thinking this information would have been less intrusive if presented in the form of brief captions.

For obvious reasons, there are no extended interviews with John Entwistle or Keith Moon. It is left to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend as the last men standing to tell the warts and all inside story.

Aside from these two, we depend primarily on the anecdotes and memories of managers past and present Chris Stamp and Bill Curbishley. Other talking heads like Noel Gallagher, Sting, Eddie Veddor, The Edge and Steve Jones offer a celebrity fan perspective but little more.

Ultimately the film is memorable for the footage of the band at their peak than for any revelations. Clips from an early pub gig as The High Numbers and brief glimpses of them playing at Leeds University in 1970 and Charlton Football Ground are sufficient to prove what a stunning live band they were.

Daltrey and Townshend now come over as grounded individuals but their accounts, confirmed by those connected with the band along the way, show that this was not always so.  One thing that struck me is that you never see a group interview, a fact that illustrates that , while they gelled together brilliantly as a musical unit, were not so united off stage.

On the right track – The Who in 1965.

Townshend in particular looks back on the early years as being embarrassing and painful. He was never going to be content writing catchy chart singles and only felt satisfied when he began writing rock operas. His relationship with the other three was constantly a fraught one since he regarded them as yobs, albeit talented ones.

It made me reflect that so many bands achieve greatness because the tension between the key members gives a vital creative spark. For example, there was never much love lost between other pairings like Jagger & Richards, Plant & Page, Lennon & McCartney; something about the differences helped push them to achieve what they did in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if they were bosom buddies.

The dynamic of The Who was also unique in that, although so much rested on Townsend as the main song writer, the reason why their music was so memorable is because all four were so electric together. If you had taken away just one of the four components it wouldn’t have worked.

It is apparent that , though The Who technically still exists, they were spent as a creative force the day Keith Moon died in 1978. You can also see and hear that even though the last album they made with Moon (Who Are You?) was a massive commercial success, it pales in comparison to a work like Quadrophenia from 1973 which Townsend confirms as being the band’s towering achievement and bona fide masterpiece.

Mad as a bat, but Keith Moon was the motor that drove the band’s unique sound.

Moon was out of his tree most of the time but was also arguably the greatest ever rock drummer; he was certainly the most intuitive and was pivotal to the band’s success. Daltrey says that the band clicked the moment Moon joined and when you see them in concert you see how his frenzied playing provided a kind of essential motor that drove the rest of the band.

The equally unconventional bass style of John Entwistle was another reason why their live sound was so electric.

I was fortunate enough to see band with their original line-up two times during their ‘Who by numbers’ tour in 1975 and 1976 at New Bingley Hall, Stafford and Swansea Football Ground. Neither were great venues but the power and force of their performances make them two of the best concerts I’ve ever attended.

I enjoyed this movie because it brought back good memories but the documentary’s conventional approach means that it is never as vibrant or comprehensive as the subject matter deserves.

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