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Knebworth Countdown / Rainbow / Who

11 July 2009 3,639 views One Comment

Dave LewisThirty years ago just about now, I commenced a Knebworth countdown religiously ticking off the days before the big date. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

History is somewhat repeating itself as I shape up for another busy August all these years later.

The Knebworth book is nigh on a wrap in terms of design. Martyn and I are just liaising over the final revisions. The last few days have been pretty intensive trying to tie it all up – a big thanks in the direction of Lorraine Robertson and Jez Firth for assisting in the proofing and checking.

Then it’s to the printers to do their bit. In between all this there’s the Knebworth Celebration day event to plan. Latest update is the addition of tribute band Boot Led Zeppelin who will be performing an acoustic set.

Pre order details for the book are now up on the site. As for the Knebworth August 8th event – if you are planning to attend I need to know soon as poss to organise the numbers due, so email me and send a tenner pronto. It’ll be like a blind date all over again.

In my countdown of thirty years ago, two other gigs sandwiched the Zep August 4th and 11th dates. Both concerned my second fave live band of the time The Who. On July 13th 1979, I went to see Pete Townshend play a rare solo show at the Rainbow Theatre in London . The Saturday after the August 11th date, I went to Wembley Stadium to see The Who supported by AC/DC, The Stranglers and Nils Lofgren.

The latter was a strange affair. I was still really in a Knebworth fog. A fair few of us went from Bedford including the Knebworth 3 (Dec, Tom & me). We had one almighty drinking session in the west end the night before, then slept outside Wembley overnight to be in the queue early to get a good view at the front. The morning hangover was not good! Inside Wembley the vibes were not good either – A fight broke out with a load of Mods during The Stranglers set, AC/ DC (with Bon Scott) raised the atmosphere but were dangerously loud. The Who was frankly a disappointment. This was their first major UK post Keith Moon gig with Kenny Jones –he was an excellent drummer but he was not the right drummer for The Who.

The gig before Knebworth on July 13th, was something else altogether. It was a benefit gig for Rock Against Racism held at the Rainbow Theatre .Pete topped a bill that included The Ruts and I think reggae group Misty. The Knebworth 3 were right down the front. The Rainbow stage was built in a way that allowed you to be in touching distance of the act. It was a sweltering hot July Friday night, and it was sensational. Townshend with a band that included Peter Hope Evans from Medicine Head on jews harp, romped through a slew of Who classics including Bargain, Drowned, The Real Me, Lets See Action, Won’t Get Fooled Again ,My Generation and the newly written Cat’s In The Cupboard (later to appear on his solo album Empty Glass) . I was drenched in sweat when I came out, and to cool off promptly jumped into the rather splendid fountain in the Rainbow Theatre foyer. Exhilarating at the time, this did prove to be not such a good idea when we missed the last train home. I remember wrapping myself in a cardboard box on St Pancras Station to keep warm on the platform waiting. We eventually got in at 5pm and I was at work at 8.30. Don’t ask me how.

That pre Knebworth Pete Townshend gig remains one of the very best I’ve witnessed outside of Zep.

Everything was right about it, not least the venue. I loved The Rainbow. The sloping floor, the intimacy of a theatre. I saw some great shows there including Black Oak Arkansas, The Small Faces (reformed with Steve Marriot) and The Jam. Once known as the Finsbury Park Astoria, The Rainbow was a wonderful North London landmark, stuck out on an island site at the junction of Seven Sisters Road and Isledon Road. It’s now the home of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. I noticed the building was still intact when we went by in a bus on our way back from a trip to see Spurs last year.

In hindsight I wish somewhere along the way, Zeppelin could have booked a week of gigs at The Rainbow in 1979. They would have gone down a storm –just like Townshend did. It would have been the perfect opportunity to regain contact with their following, in much the way the smaller dates in Europe did the next summer. Of course a few months on, they did grace the esteemed North London theatre to rehearse for the Over Europe tour- they also rehearsed there before the 1972/3 UK tour.

Looking back on all this, it can be viewed that The Who camp was much more in tune with the musical climate of the day, and not afraid to mix with the new wave. The Ruts supporting Pete on that night did not seem odd at all. The Wembley bill with The Stranglers etc, was also a lot more interesting than the mediocre Knebworth line up. The Who were also not afraid of the smaller stage – indeed they had played a gig at the Rainbow in early May at short notice.

As fantastic as Knebworth was (and I’ve spent countless hours recently chronicling that fact), getting back to a smaller stage in the UK would have been a revelation and Zeppelin at the Rainbow would have been a dream team. Maybe if that planned spring tour of ‘81 had occurred, that’s where it might have headed. Knebworth would then have been viewed not as a glorious end, but a glorious rebirth.

And I’d have been the one wading in the fountain after the show…

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One Comment »

  • Brendan Troy NY said:

    OK Now you’ve done it! You were at that Townshend Show Too? Plus a tour with Zep in 1980 etc…? When I was 13 I would just stare for hours at the photos from Richard Barnes Maximum RnB book from that show. The look on Kenny Jones face when Pete through his Les Paul in the air. Priceless. Amazing Dave! I’ve seen some great gigs (over 30 Plant/Page/Jones/ Who) but that R.A.R. show is a gem.

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