Put the Boot In: The High Numbers/The Who – October 20, 1964 – No Tellin’ What We Might Do

by | Jan 2, 2020 | 2 comments

Are you a Mod or a Rocker? That is the question posed by the the ‘rock room’ today. Now playing, I have a recording that started to circulate
in 2005 on a CD called The High Numbers
–Live 1964
by famous Japanese bootleg label ‘Yellow Dog’. The performance featured on this silver disc
is by none other than ‘The Who’, at the Railway Hotel and Lounge located in
Wealdstone, UK on October 20, 1964. The Railway was run by Pete’s college roommate Richard Barnes and was nothing more than a basement pub. Less than a couple of weeks from this
evening the band would become the ‘Who’ but for this concert they were still
known as the ‘High Numbers’, an exciting Mod cover band. Earlier in the month
the band would audition at Abbey Road Studios for EMI but walk away with the
knowledge that they required more original numbers in order to stir up
interest. In November, ‘The Who’ would record the Pete Townsend original “I
Can’t Explain” and in January of 1965, the song about an amphetamine teen
trying to properly express his love would start a large career ascent for the
newly christened ‘Who’. This recording is a welcome window into the formative
days of one of the world’s greatest rock and roll bands.
Back to the recording the ‘rock room’ is focused on, the
Railway Hotel featured a number of early Who performances like the one here, as well as some stunning black and white footage which was recently unearthed and shot just a couple of months before the performance on October 20th.The eleven tracks available on the Yellow Dog boot are from a more than
adequate soundboard recording (or possibly a close audience document), with
what sounds like some brief losses of fidelity and unfortunate cuts and missing
music to the original source. But for the most part all of the levels are
balanced and the band is audible. Moon and Entwistle are giants. The rhythm
section is the focus on this tape as both Ox and Moon slam around triumphantly
like a bunch of furniture dropped down a flight of steps. Daltrey has yet to
find his voice, and still uses his best blues man aesthetic, eliciting guttural
growls and moans that sometimes border on the comedic. Townsend blends in at
some points in time, but by the conclusion you can feel the exploration in his
fingers and the land mines in his mind. Only a month prior to this show is reportedly
when PT first demolished his guitar (on accident) at the Railway, but by the
conclusion of this show, I feel that his Rickenbacker was probably lying in a smoldering
heap. The band’s eventual world domination is tangible on this recording.
The tape begins with the first of three versions (all cut)
of “I Got Dance to Keep from Crying”, a groovy soul number by the “Miracles”.
Moon begins things with a rotund drum introduction to which the band falls in
behind. A swinging cover, the band grooves triumphantly featuring collaborative
vocals and brisk playing. The band’s feels like a dance hall band here, but as
the recording escalates the hallmarks of the ‘Who’ begin to surface.
What follows next is an explosive instrumental snippet of
the ‘Kinks’, “You Really Got Me” which had been released in the UK as a single
in August. While only a short clip, shades of the later ‘Who’ appear in this
sludgy cover version. Moon and Entwistle join in giant lock step as the band
plays with the syncopation of the famous rock lick. Moon sprays volatile ordnance
from his kit in between the riffs which the boys slow down for musical
effectiveness.

A major highlight of later Who performances and especially
from the Live at Leeds era is the
Mose Allison tune, “Young Man Blues”. Here, in its infantile state, Townsend
uses a crisp Rickenbacker tone and Moon plays a calypso groove while tapping on
the bell of his ride cymbal. While the intent remains the same, later Who
readings would soak the song in petrol, whereas here it simmers with a
danceable groove. Yet to be cracked open, the song stays true to Allison’s
vision.
While listening to this concert, I am reminded of early ‘Levon
and the Hawks’ concerts where in spite of their later metamorphosis, in their
formative stages they were more or less a dance band, cutting their teeth on
the music they loved. All the while leaving their future finger prints on the
musical glass. No more is this relevant than the band’s destructive rendition
of the famed Booker T and the MG’s single “Green Onions”.  While only another short reading, here the
band lay big thick brush stroke of power chords and fuzz. Townsend plays some
strangled notes buried in earthy distortion while also lending a formative
expression of his famous serrated tremolo. In October of 1964, the power of the
early ‘Who’ was definitely an alien thing to the music world.
On the Yellow Dog bootleg there are a few repeats with the
next song being another rendition of the opening “I Gotta Dance to Keep from
Crying”. This one begins with a stage whistle and some dialog.  I will make the assumption that there were
multiple sets played on this evening hence the blended tracks and missing
music. Again, an additional instrumental of “You Really Got Me” follows, this
one has Daltrey blowing some mean harp while the band slams the Davies lick
repeatedly and dynamically against the wall. Another unfortunate cut places us
in the middle of a third performance of “I Gotta Dance to Keep from Crying”. This
time Moon does circles around his tom-tom’s while Daltrey groans in bluesy
colors. An additional cut places us further in the song and finds Daltrey and
Entwistle doing a call and response of, ‘a little bit higher’ while Moon cooks
behind them.
A delicious “Long Tall Shorty” follows closely on the tape,
another song picked up from the ‘Kinks” who covered the song on their first
album. Moon again sets the tempo with a heavy thumping on the ‘High Number’s’
musical chamber door seeing “Who” will answer. Daltrey does his best blues man
with a superior gritty and throaty vocal. So much so that you may be hard
pressed to believe the singer is Roger! Entwistle holds it all down with a busy
bottom end that even at this early stage shifts the foundation of the song.
Then you have Townsend aggressively coaxing perfectly timed and over driven
licks. The solo break is a house on fire as Townsend’s slashing riffs are
picked up by Moon and Entwistle and held up for the small assembled crown to
stand in rapt amazement. Pete takes a second solo break that circular saws
through the recording leaving the ‘rock room’ slack jawed at this early display of stringed aggression!
An atmospheric taste of the vibe of the crowd precedes the
next cut “Pretty Thing”, which like the aforementioned “Long Tall Shorty”
spotlights Daltrey groaning the Willie Dixon classic in between harmonica
blasts. Following an introductory wall of sound, Moon lays town a thunderous ‘Bo Diddley”
beat to which Townsend and Entwistle join in. Pete lays down a disorienting solo that wraps around Rog’s harp who gets the crowd going with off beat, ‘Hey’s’! Flashing waves of Townsend’s guitar downpour over the band as the tribal thump drives the crowd into a high octane trance. As things really start to coagulate, the tape cuts. Pfffffft.

‘Smokestack Lightning’ comes next and is already in progress and features a substantial
helping of heavy early ‘Who’ improv. Daltrey weaves in lyrics from ‘Money (That’s
What I Want) while they band kicks holes in the song proper. A number of roller
coaster ‘rave up’s’ dot the landscape. Entwistle jumps into some slippery
chrome neck work, alternating with Moon in keeping a stuttering metallic groove.
Roger sings with a whisky and cigarettes throat while alternating harp moans.
While keeping it all together Townsend quotes the central ‘Smokestack’ lick. Once
Roger quotes lyrics from ‘Money’ the band begins to increase the tension.  Daltrey then dynamically brings the band down
and sings, ‘My needle in ya, feels so good’, to which the group gallantly
responds and erupts in rapture.
Glass breaks, colorful buttons fall from coats and a thick wave of
feedback Washes over the crowd. A specter of a fully mature ‘Who’ silhouettes
against the stage curtain ads Townsend begins to shovel large chunks of sound
into the musical kiln. Smoke rises as the band deconstructs the scene, this is
for real. Townsend scrapes silvery scrubs from his guitar breaking the song
apart which only prods Moon and Entwistle into greater chaos. These heavy
footed hipsters stomp around the hotel causing everyone to go mad. The final
three minutes before ‘Smokestack’s” untimely cut contain the remains of a
battlefield.  Sizzling feedback pours
from the amps while Moon slams stuttering snare hits. The only connection to an
earthly realm are Daltrey’s still puffing harmonica wails. The jams begins to
level off before the listener is placed right at the beginning of the concluding
song, “Here Tis”. Wow.
“Here Tis”, a Bo Diddley track (actually recorded by the
High Numbers when they recorded their first single) concludes the available
recording. The beginning is chopped as we enter a version already in progress. The
band like is usual for the performance is cooking, Moon’s drums again in the
forefront. Townsend and Entwistle share the backing vocals and Daltrey takes
over harp duties again. Pete plays clean tone while strumming the chord changes
and the band plays a compact tight reading of a Bo Diddley classic.
It’s rare field recordings/bootlegs like this ‘High Numbers’
tape that make rock and roll archaeology such a fantastic way to invest your
time. Especially if you are a geek like the ‘rock room’. What’s amazing about this
particular document is that it finds the famed ‘Who’ in their formative days. Unfortunately
there are a number of cuts and missing music, but we can consider ourselves
lucky that what we do have is so amazing and vital. All of the essential
elements that would prompt their worldwide popularity exist here and are
gaining a thin knife edge by constant musical sharpening. Each bit of their influences
can also be discerned by a unique recording like this. Weather the mutual
respect and influence shared between the ‘High Numbers’ and the ‘Kinks’, the
hearty blues and soul backdrop of their music, or the development of a
bombastic and unique stage show are all on display. Throw this one in one and
transport yourself to pre-swinging London where pop, art, blues, pills, birds
and rock and roll were the ingredients mixed and developed into a primordial
rock and roll stew.

Who Live at the Railway Hotel 1964

2 Comments

  1. Gorgo Happles

    You silly geese. The cuts and the sound quality should tell you these are from film edits, from footage meant for tge unfinished documentary. Notice how tye spund chops off at 35db, same as 35mm and 16mm spund from that time period. Glad it’s out there, ain’t you

    Reply
    • talkfromtherockroom

      Thanks for the info Gorgo.

      Reply

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