11 Questions for Pete Townshend

Dave K writes ....

You probably know Pete Townshend from his career in The Who, which spanned over fifty years, but the songwriter and banjo/accordion/harmonica/ukulele/mandolin/violin/synthesiser player has also put out a good deal of work on his own. His latest solo project, Classic Quadrophenia, is a classical reinterpretation of the Who’s 1973 Quadrophenia album.

What made you want to revisit Quadrophenia?
For a long time I’ve been working towards the day I leave the planet. I’m not trying to immortalize myself, neither am I wishing away my life, but I am keen to make sure that my most serious compositions are properly archived, and where appropriate or necessary notated (scored) in an accurate way. I want to make sure that musicians in the future can access scores, and adapt them to various purposes, so that the music will continue to be played into the future. And of course what I want is for it to be played live in front of living audiences.

I wanted the scores to enable performance from the top down as-it-were: a full symphony orchestra with choir at the top, right down to simply piano-vocal charts so that if a music teacher at a school wanted to get students to perform any of my operas they could. Starting with full orchestra scores is a big project, especially as I can’t read music. (I can write it, using computers, but I have never been trained).

Almost 20 years ago I started the process of gathering my ‘operas’, this was how I decided to begin. I started with Lifehouse (which is an unfinished work) and hired Billy Nicholls, Sara Lowenthal and Rachel Fuller to work with me on Lifehouse Chronicles which was a collection of old and new music related to the story, and I also flew in a fair bit of work-in-progress. This was released in 2000 on the Eel Pie label.

Sara then started work on my three ‘mini-operas’: A Quick One While  He’s Away, Rael, and Wire & Glass. 

Finally, in 2012 I decided to commission someone to start on Quadrophenia. I didn’t have to look far because by this time Rachel Fuller and I were virtually married, and had lived together for a long time. Rachel was keen to take this on. By a coincidence I had first met Rachel when The Who were rehearsing at a London studio for the 1996-1997 tour of Quadrophenia that grew out of the charity performance I organized in Hyde Park for the Prince’s Trust, of which I had been a patron and activist since 1982. On that occasion my very old friend Billy Nicholls had asked Rachel to orchestrate some of his solo work, and that’s how the connection was made.

How much freedom did your collaborators have to interpret the songs?
Rachel was my only collaborator, but she .....

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