Dedicated rock fans of a certain vintage would need little reminding about the incredible events that took place when the Who played a gig at the Cow Palace, San Francisco on the evening of November 20, 1973. I had to admit to being in the dark.
However, during the thoroughly entertaining BBC Radio 4 offering Who’s Drummer?, presenter Nick Barraclough ably filled in the gaps. The date in question signalled the opening of the Who’s Quadrophenia tour, when 14,000 people were ready and waiting to see Roger Daltrey, Peter Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon in action.
One of them was 19 year-old Scott Halpin who, along with a friend, had arrived 13 hours early for the gig in order to get the best possible seat. Initially the musician, who hadn’t played for a year, was just one of the crowd. But about an hour into the concert drummer Moon passed out twice in quick succession and was rushed offstage. Later, it was discovered that ‘Moon the Loon’ had swallowed an animal tranquilliser pill and mixed it with alcohol. Not a good combination.
Who knows whether Townshend was joking when he then casually asked if there were any good drummers in the house. But, to the rest of the band’s relief, Scott volunteered and was minutes later living out every rock fan’s dream – accompanying one of the biggest rock bands of all time.
Helping Barraclough vividly paint a picture of that night both on and offstage were Moon’s PA at the time, Peter ‘Dougal’ Butler, Gary Rossington from support act Lynyrd Skynyrd and Mike Danese, who recalled the moment when he encouraged Scott to take the plunge. If you think any of this is hard to believe, check out the coverage on YouTube.
Sadly, Halpin passed away in 2008, but the artist and musician’s widow Robin spoke eloquently about what the experience had meant to him. It was also moving to hear her read Townshend’s own memorial tribute to her much-admired husband.
Back in the early 1970s, drugs and alcohol were high on the list of ways to escape the drudgery of everyday life. Now, bizarrely, writing fiction is filling a void for those who perhaps want to take a healthier route. Many of us read a novel, engage in that world and then move on. But as Naomi Alderman discovered in When Harry Potter Met Frodo – The Strange World of Fan Fiction, that is by no means the case for everyone.
An increasing number of writers, predominantly female, have taken advantage of the internet to create fictional scenarios in which their favourite book, movie and TV characters interact way beyond their original storylines. This allows for such diverse situations as Tom Sawyer hanging out with Alice in Wonderland, or Winnie the Pooh having a run-in with a bunch of sex vampires.
It would be easy to dismiss this trend. But according to American academic Francesca Coppa, the size of the fan fiction world is “gigantic”, with oodles of people embracing the chance to read and write stories that the mainstream marketplace cannot provide. The phenomenon even has sub-genres such as the homoerotic Slash fiction, which, it seems, heterosexual women particularly enjoy.
One series of books that recently made the crossover from the internet to the high street was EL James’ 50 Shades of Grey trilogy, which began life online, based around the Twilight novels. Strict rules of copyright will prevent many other fan fiction-based projects meeting with the approval of commercial publishers, but there is no doubting the increasing popularity of a trend that allows writers to create fictional worlds of their own choosing.
Type ‘James Bond’ and ‘fan fiction’ into your search engine and it will shed a whole different light on 007’s relationship with M. But at least the results might not be as smug as David Quantick’s The Blagger’s Guide to James Bond. Perhaps fans of Ian Fleming’s novels and the film franchise might have lapped up all the endless trivia, in-jokes and stabs at irony, but most of the humour left me underwhelmed.
Elsewhere, plenty of current series are worth checking out, not least Paul Gambaccini’s comprehensive History of Music Radio and Moira Stuart exploring the careers of male jazz artists Mel Torme, Chet Baker, Billy Eckstine, Lou Rawls and Joe Williams in Kings of Cool.
Who’s Drummer?, R4, Saturday, December 1
When Harry Potter Met Frodo – The Strange World of Fan Fiction, R4, Monday, November 26
The Blagger’s Guide to James Bond, R2, Thursday, November 22
A History of Music Radio, R2, six-part series from Tuesday, November 11
Kings of Cool, R2, from Monday, November 26