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The Who on Hastings Pier

July, 20th 1969

Written By Andy Gunton

No matter how old you are there are momentous world events, the very mention of which instantly transport you back to where you were when they happened. 9/11, and the assassination of JFK are just two prime examples.

Another is Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin being the first men to land, and then walk, on the Moon. So when The Who made their final appearance on Hastings Pier on 20 July 1969, the day Apollo 11 landed on the Moon, it was bound to live long in the memory of those lucky enough to have been there.

As local drummer Chris Sambrook remembers, “It was a warm evening and Apollo 11 was just about to land on the Moon. But there was a Moon a lot closer that night, Keith Moon”.

In July 1969, The Who were a band in the ascendant, entering what was probably the highpoint of their long career. They had just released the ground-breaking ‘rock-opera’ ‘Tommy’, and were warming up for a headline slot at the now legendary Woodstock Festival in August. A performance that was to catapult The Who into being one of the biggest bands in the world, a label they still hold today. 

1969 was a massive year for others too. Local musician Geoff Peckham had just left school aged 16 “with no other ambition than to be a musician”, and had spent the summer of ’69 “self educating” himself at various music festivals. 

But, “the night that changed everything was 20 July. As two guys landed on the Moon, I entered the Hastings Pier Ballroom and found myself pressed against the stage, waiting to see the definitive Rock band – The Who”.

For Pete Fisher the gig “was an absolutely momentous experience. I was 14, and until that year my only experience of live gigs was seeing The Tremeloes at an agricultural show and Chris Barber in Hastings Park”

Pete very nearly didn’t get to the gig as, “I wasn’t allowed to go to the gig on my own”. He was only 14 after all. But his older sister’s friend Melanie already had tickets, and suggested that Pete go along with her. “Melanie was two years older than me, long dark hair, petite and absolutely stunning. So there I was, with the prospect of seeing some of my musical heroes, in the company of a very attractive young lady”. No wonder Pete remembers this gig so well.

Even after all these years, the memories are still vivid for many who were there that night. As one person told me, “I’m describing something that happened 45 years ago, but I can picture and hear it clearly even now”.

Geoff Peckham remembers “The Who suddenly appearing, larger than life, cock-sure, and opening with a cod version of ‘Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside’. This was interrupted by the iconic first chord, the menacing bass and drum throb of ‘I Can See For Miles’”.

Chris Baker was “about fifteen feet from the stage. Keith Moon was simply astounding, the sheer noise and energy of his performance stunned the crowd”. Chris also points out a common memory, “they were very, very loud!!”

Pete Fisher was affected more than most by the intense volume of the performance. With Melanie he’d positioned himself up the front “as I wanted to see everything first hand. I stood right in front of Pete Townshend and was almost literally blown away by the first few chords. I had never heard anything that loud before in my life – the power and volume was indescribable. 

“I stood there mesmerised for a couple of songs, but then I noticed that the sheer volume was making me start to see things. Everything went all swirly, and I didn’t feel good at all. Melanie noticed me looking a little pale, and we went outside to get some fresh air, after which I felt ok. We watched the rest of the gig from a more respectful distance”.

Chris Sambrook was “more or less in the middle, standing on tip-toe. Pete Townshend was wearing his white boiler suit and playing his cherry red Gibson SG guitar, which gave the music a harder edge. Possibly the same guitar that he threw into the crowd at Woodstock a month later?

“I can’t really remember the set list, apart from ‘Tommy’, but just to feel the power of The Who close up was enough for a 15 year old like me”.

The early part of the shows set list came from ‘Tommy’, with some people suggesting that The Who played nearly the whole of the album. 

Chris Baker remembers that “some of the crowd seemed a little surprised by the operatic style, but it was a rocking performance. I loved it and remember Daltrey and Townshend acting out their parts.

“Pete Townshend really seemed to enjoy ‘playing’ the wicked Uncle Ernie, and sang the ‘Fiddle About’ parts in a very creepy manner. He played it with real venom”.

Geoff Peckham recalls “a glorious ‘Pinball Wizard’, and the ‘See Me, Feel Me’ interludes”.

Because ‘Tommy’ had only just been released, Mick O’Dowd told me, “no-one knew any of the tunes apart from ‘Pinball Wizard’, and he suggested that “it was not the most well received”. But, “when they finally got to play the oldies, the place erupted”.

One element of the gig not in any doubt at all, was the energy and quality of the performance.

Pete Fisher recalls that “they were on cracking form, and it was hard to know where to look. John Entwistle stood stock still, but the noise from his bass was rattling everything like a passing jet plane. 

“Keith Moon was a show on his own, and Townshend was blasting out those power chords and flailing his arms”.

There are many memories of Roger Daltrey, “his microphone wrapped up with layers of insulating tape”, “lassoing it over the heads of the crowd”, “on a longer and longer lead”, “skimming them briefly, before catching it again just in time to sing”.

Daltrey was directly in front of Geoff Packham, who said “I could smell the leather of his tassled jacket, yes the Woodstock one, and felt drops of his sweat on me.

“Pete Townshend seemed to be in control of everything, except the grip of his plectrums”.

Many were transfixed by the performance of Keith Moon, “the faces, the stick twiddling, the carefree discarding of broken sticks”. And, as Pete Fisher recalls, “the scrum that ensued at the end of the gig when Keith Moon threw his sticks into the crowd”.

“And John Entwistle just stood there!”

As Chris Baker summed up, “I never heard such a brilliant band make such a full sound, with just drums, guitar and bass”.

For some, their evening seeing The Who didn’t end there. Geoff Peckham told me, “I walked home to Bexhill. Around Bo Peep some revellers behind me starting shouting. I turned around to see they were sticking their thumbs out to a passing Jenson Interceptor, its driver waving back at them.

“As the car reached me I saw the top was down, and the driver was none other than Roger Daltrey, his curls blowing in the breeze.

“When I got home, I watched the live pictures from the Moon. I went outside, looked up at the Moon and realised that there were actually two men up there. Incredible”.

It was, in many ways, a night to remember.

PS: As mentioned before, this gig was the last that The Who played in Hastings. They had played Hastings Pier three times before, on Christmas Eve 1965, August 1966, and in December 1967.

The Who’s first appearance locally though was at the Witch Doctor Club, which used to be within Marine Court, St Leonards. That gig took place on Wednesday, 4 August 1965.

A young 17 year old Danish student, on only his third day in the UK, was there. Kurt Helge Andersen, now back in his native Denmark told me, “I’d heard almost nothing about The Who, only that ‘I Can’t Explain’ sounded like The Kinks. An older student suggested we went to the gig, both for the music, and hopefully to get to know some of the locals. 

“It was so crowded, the band didn’t play as loud as later, and there was no real dancing, just moving around and people jumping into each other. Everybody was friendly, but the whole thing was too overwhelming for a 17 year old Danish guy who had never experienced a real pop concert before”.

Amazingly, you can see some footage of this gig, and the crowd that night, on YouTube. Find it at: youtube.com/watch?v=4pVIfLecCEo

Thanks to everyone for sharing their memories, and to Pete Fairless, Alan Esdaile, and Andre Palfrey-Martin for their help.

If you have personal memories of The Who in Hastings, please let us know.

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