Thursday, 9 July 2015
The ever busy Pete Townshend has recently turned to creating, alongside his partner Rachel Fuller, the definitive orchestral scores of all of his major works, and - on Monday night - Sky Arts broadcast the live concert of his most recent reworking; Classic Quadrophenia at the Royal Albert Hall.
It's a strange one. Townshend's work is certainly capable enough of the cross over precisely because he was never one to write a simple pop song, and Fuller's arrangements, performed by the 90 piece Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Robert Ziegler) and the 80 strong London Oriana Choir, are both a beautiful twist and a faithful evocation of the original music. There's no doubt in my mind that what the pair have done here proves irrefutably that what is, for my money, the best of The Who's sprawling rock opera epics can be reworked into the classical format. But was it necessary? No, of course not. Will I favour this over the original? Absolutely not. Did I enjoy it though? Yeah.
The tale of the angst ridden wannabe Face Jimmy is vocalised here not by Roger Daltrey but by the extremely versatile opera singer Alfie Boe. His powerhouse tenor is certainly impressive, but there's only really one voice who could ever bring Townshend's work to life and that is Daltrey his musical oppo for 50 years now. As a classical piece, Quadrophenia loses all of Jimmy's self doubt and raw vulnerability which Daltrey so naturally brought with his pained, rough rock and roll vocals. Better though is Billy Idol as Ace Face, who at least sings Bell Boy as one suspects Townshend always wanted it to be sung, ie not for comedy like Keith Moon originally did it! It's impossible not to watch this and find yourself smiling at Idol who brings the prerequisite swagger to the role and seems genuinely awed and excited by Boe's near haemorrhage inducing rendition of The Real Me at the concert's close. And then there's Phil Daniels, Jimmy from the movie, now performing as Jimmy's dad; his weary bittersweet vocals really hit the spot.
Townshend himself looks extremely chilled and happy on the occasions he takes to the stage - which isn't always a given even now when he's performing with The Who. Indeed he looks as comfortably at ease here as he did back in 2007 gloating at the likes of me and the other poor souls in the front row getting soaked to the skin in a muddy field. "Ha-ha-ha, you're all getting wet" I recall him saying, like it had made his night.
So in conclusion, Classic Quadrophenia is something of a strange hybrid being neither one nor the other much like the character of Jimmy himself. It has no doubt impressed fans of The Who but has perhaps - and for this fan at least - confused them too, whilst it has been barred from the classical charts because of its rock music credentials. Truly, 'nowhere is home' Still, Townshend's response? "Fuck 'em"