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Lambert, Stamp, Townshend & Meaden

"Lambert & Stamp", the film about the managers who saw The Who as the voice of a whole generation.
24/09/2015 Kiko Amat
Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert, the managers who created the phenomenon that is The Who. Come see the documentary "Lambert and Stamp" at the upcoming Beefeater In-Edit Festival.
1. Today I feel much wiser, almost as if some kind of mad scientist out of a cartoon had opened up my skull and replaced my saggy brain with that of Alexander Fleming, or Samuel Johnson, or the dude who invented the zipper. The subject is The Who. Now, I know a bit about the Who; enough to crush absolutely any game show opponent if my round were “obscure detailed knowledge of the subject of my choice”. And hereof, my knowledge is a little broader, thanks to the documentary on the band’s managers, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp. And by that I mean to say that my knowledge is even broader than it already was.
2. People do talk some real boloney about The Who. It’s just the way it goes. I recall an occasion in which the proverbial know-it-all who believed himself to have an exquisite “musical culture” blurted out (undoubtedly reeling off the questionable info he’d picked up in some publication or another) that The Who could have been history’s great power trio and that they could have happily done without singer Roger Daltrey. Now, this sounds reasonable in theory, if you don’t take into account the fact that the whole idea is complete and utter bollocks and that this demonstrates a complete lack of feeling for (or knowledge of) the band. The Who are pure conflict. Almost all creative produce that gestated in the band’s generator was fuelled by the tension and arguments between the four band members. The constant tug of war. Remove one member, oh, mindless one!, and the carefully balanced scales would tilt and come crashing down. A good part of Pete Townshend’s first songs were clearly composed out of sheer spite; as if to show the headstrong singer who was running the show.
Also, there’s some truth in what Townshend said (firstly as an insult, then later as a compliment): Roger Daltrey was the normal guy in the band. He was the only one to keep his job when we started the band, who didn’t take drugs (well, who hardly took drugs) he wasn’t donned with any special talent (aside from his bluesy-black voice and his handsome façade); he didn’t have a complex personality, he wasn’t battling with any hidden demons, spoken communication wasn’t his forte (during arguments with Townshend, Daltrey would usually throw the first punch) and he was a little wishy-washy: “I’m heading home, I have to be up early...”; yup. But Daltrey was the bonding agent, lest we forget: the sane guide who lead the three mad puppeteers by the hand and reminded them where the path lay. In a comic double act, Daltrey would be the one who wears a fearless face and tells gags with feigned shyness, for he who plays the clown at his side will shine twice as brightly. Daltrey was the one to take the band seriously, who gave the order to stop getting plastered at gigs, the hard worker who wanted who saw the band as something that could provide a living, and not just an art school pass-time (as perhaps Townshend, the arty band member, may have done). Without Daltrey, the band would fall apart: no cohesion, only confrontation, egos, self destruction and madness. So, we’re clear up till here. But now I see that Lambert and Stamp’s importance is at least equal, if not greater as far as all of this goes.
3. The ying and the yang, mustard and ketchup, the nut and the bolt: Lambert and Stamp fit each other like a hand to a glove. Lambert was a gay supersnob (his father was a classical composer), ultra enthusiastic and well cultured (he spoke several languages; his education –and accent– were pure Oxbridge). Stamp was straight (and a womaniser, to boot), don’t-give-a-shit, modophile, working class (his father was in the Navy), brother to the actor Terence Stamp and always in the loop of all that was hip. They both shared a love of the French nouvelle vague, the Pop explosion, the youth revolution and they both shared an extra helping of get up and go. It’s all in the documentary: they started out wanting to make a documentary about what it’s like to be a band manager, and they wound up as managers, completely bypassing the damn film. Lambert and Stamp’s enthusiasm for all things theatrical became crucial to The Who’s development and their identity. The realisation of that identity. Lambert and Stamp, lovers of youth culture and theorists of the new order, not only decided what kind of band The Who actually was; they decided on what audience they would have. Both managers are crucial the quartet’s determining event no #1: when composer, Pete Townshend, decides to become the vehicle through which those voiceless dancing toffs express themselves, thus becoming a mirror of his audience. The audience, in turn, had been sublimely crafted by Lambert & Stamp: they’d both scour the streets of Soho seeking out the ideal mods, those who represented the accentuated image of rebellion, the immaculately bold, those who bore the adult defying grin.
Once again, the pieces fit.
Kit and Chris would take things yet another step further: they changed the band name back (from The High Numbers to the original The Who), they took part in the selection of the logo and the unforgettable iconography for the Marquee posters (an impeccable Townshend in black and white, mid riff, the O to be drawn with the symbol for “male” over the name. Even Townshend admits to it in the film: when it comes down to it, it was the pair of them who made the final song selections: “This one’s in, this one’s out, save that one for a solo LP, lad”. Who knows? If they hadn’t been at the helm, maybe now we’d be looking at The Who – The Sell Out whose greatest hits would have been “Glittering Girl”, “Early Morning Cold Taxi”, “Melancholia” or “Someone’s Coming”. However, as we all know, that ain’t how it played out: Lambert and Stamp, who had helped come up with the concept of The Who, also formed part of their evolution and glory, keeping everything as violent, inspiring and down to earth as it should be. I’ll now quote myself, because it’s my prerogative:
     “[The Who Sell Out] is 100% anti-hippy, 100% anti-grown up, anti-parent, totally adolescent, cheeky, grumpy, angry and confused. And (...) it’s paradoxically profound. It’s a conceptual album, but not in the embalmed way a pompous Sgt. Pepper's: Sell out celebrates the aforementioned teen-mod lifestyle in its broadest mass consumerist glory: pirate rock’n’roll radio, with those ads and jingles and the hit singles that lit up the lives of so many. Its feigned triviality –as well as its misleading mod consumerism – hide an overwhelming charge of meaning –and most especially- of reality. It’s subversive, but not in the light hearted way of the bed-ins. It’s psychadelic and experimental, but without being arty. Just listen to “Armenia City In The Sky” or “I Can See For Miles”; both tunes are half psych, yet they carry a sort of constant threat: that of the dexy-driven British working class. It’s not exactly the listening choice of someone with flowers in their hair, more the expectant low hum in the night air at the start of a fight.
That record, so crucial to The Who’s career, exists in its current form greatly thanks to Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, who selected the songs, produced it and participated in coming up with the concept. Kudos to these guys.
Want to know more about them? Well, they can also be considered partly responsible for the widely acclaimed concept of “rock opera”. Lambert invited Townshend to live with him in a generously oversized flat in Belgravia (a very well-to-do part of London, between Westminster and Chelsea) where he bombarded him with Barroque music, thus bathing him in the works of classical symphonic composers. Stamp also provided The Who’s first pay check, financing the band with the 80 pounds per week (20 per band member) that he earned as Director’s Assistant on The Heroes of Telemark. Lambert, ever aware of the visual component, convinced Townshend and Moon to incorporate the destruction of instruments as a standard part of the band’s live set (initially this had occurred as a mere coincidence, fruit of the rapture of the moment combined with a low ceiling). Nothing and no one can be more influential and decisive than Lambert and Stamp. If only they themselves had grabbed the instruments and stepped up to the mic...
Pete Meaden, The Who's first manager.
4. The great loser in this story, long faded in Lambert & Stamp’s shadows, is Pete Meaden, the band’s first manager. Meaden was SUPERHIP, the crême de la crême of mods, theoretical and talkative, loud-mouthed and ultracool, but he was astoundingly short sighted. Meaden was, unquestionably, the first to see that The Who (or The High Numbers, as he would rename them) could be the spokespersons for something, and it was he who introduced them to the emerging modernist scene. Meaden, however, was somewhat blinkered in that aspect, seeing them only as the voice of a secret subculture, not as the voice of a generation (as Lambert and Stamp would be quick to see). Meaden’s story is that of one who suffers non-romantic loss, and nobody likes such tales. Lambert and Stamp took The Who off his books for the measly sum of 150 pounds. And Meaden would eventually die of an overdose, alone and destitute in his parent’s flat in 1978. And, in the words of Roger Daltrey: “When Kit and Chris took over management they basically just took Meaden’s ideas and made them bigger”. And maybe that’s true, but the key here is bigger. Meaden was small; he thought small, Kit and Lambert were on the road to grandeur. So now we know: The Who are The Who, the most important band in history thanks to this pair.