Ahead of their headline gig at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust on 26 March 2015, rock legends The Who were handed one of the most belated apologies in the history of rock and roll.
In 1972, the band were unfortunate victims of the Hall’s temporary rock and pop ban, which was enforced after a troublesome 1971 in which only one of the 23 rock and pop shows that were held passed without disorder.
The concert in question was reserved for the London Symphony Orchestra, but concern amongst venue management was sparked when it transpired that the concert would see a performance of The Who’s rock opera Tommy, featuring guest soloists Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle, amongst others including Steve Winwood, Ringo Starr, Rod Stewart and Sandy Denny.
Royal Albert Hall directors smelled a rat; was this a back door way of sneaking a rock show into the venue? They certainly thought so, and promptly stopped the concert from going ahead.
Now, in the year The Who celebrate their 50th anniversary, the Hall decided it would be the perfect time to issue a belated apology for cancelling what would have been an unforgettable evening and to thank the band for 50 years of fantastic music and legendary performances.
Surprising them at the end of their afternoon rehearsal, the Hall’s Director of Events Lucy Noble handed both Daltrey and Townshend a framed presentation showing original correspondence found in the Royal Albert Hall archives, as well as a press release from 1972 justifying the ban, which referenced the “hysterical behaviour of a large audience often encouraged by unthinking performers”.
The letters came with an apology, which reads:
We would like to take this opportunity to apologise for banning your show here on 9 December 1972.
We’ve had a long think and, on reflection, you’re welcome back any time.
Thank you for 50 years of fantastic music and legendary performances.
All your friends at the Royal Albert Hall
Lead singer Roger Daltrey accepted the gift with the good humour that was intended, saying “I just find it extremely funny. It might have taken 43 years, but we beat the buggers in the end!”
On his memories of performing at the venue during that era he added:
‘It’s a special place. In 1969, when we did Tommy, it was magical. It was the same day as Stones in the Park and we were on with Chuck Berry. That show – that’s why we were in a band. You couldn’t have thought of two more opposed groups, Chuck Berry’s audience threw coins and we smashed our guitars.’
Fortunately for fans and artists alike, the Hall’s rock and pop ban didn’t survive much longer after 1972 and The Who were finally able to perform Tommy once more on 2 November 1989, with Steve Winwood, Patti Labelle, Billy Idol, Phil Collins and Elton John appearing as special guests.
The band were back at the venue to perform once again for the Teenage Cancer Trust, of which Daltrey is patron. Now in its 15th year of concerts at the Hall, the events have raised over £20 million for the charity.
Talking about the success of the 2015 season, he added:
‘It was a big wish, 15 years ago, that it would be still going now and with this kind of success. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do, but these incredible musicians like Weller, Kelly Jones, Van Morrison, so many of them give up their time. It’s partly that every musician wants to play the Albert Hall. Whoever they are, wherever in the world, if one thing will grab them as well as the charity, then it’s playing the Royal Albert Hall.’
All photos: Andy Paradise, 2015
Below are the four documents included in The Who’s gift.
Cover letter from promoter Arthur Howes to the Royal Albert Hall
Included letter from Lou Reizner, producer of the Tommy show with pencil notes from Hall staff expressing concern about some of the featured artists
Response from the Hall’s Secretary and Lettings Manager
Press release from 1972 highlighting reasons behind the rock and pop ban