Who booked The Who?
Interview with Simon Brogan 18 April 2005
The booking of The Who’s Live at Leeds concert on 14th February 1970 was down to one man: Simon Brogan. In fact, during Simon’s time as social secretary, he was responsible for booking The Who on more than one occasion: once on Valentine’s Day 1970 and again later in the same year on November 21. Simon admits that the booking of such big name bands became so routine to him, that he can’t even really remember how long before the Valentine’s Day concert he was told that it was going to be recorded.
He does recall, however, that during the course of the afternoon it became apparent that the recording would require double the electricity that was already available. Luckily, Simon had a great team on standby for such an eventuality, and two students on the ents. commitee, Mike Jennings and Peter Hart, knew exactly where to find this ‘extra electricity’ and get it installed in time for the show. Mike and Peter were responsible for bringing in the gear, building the stage and generally ensuring the evening ran like clockwork. And indeed it did. “Every Saturday night was important and you always wanted to do the best you could” explains Simon.
Simon used to watch the gigs from the side of the stage, with his view of the lead singer almost always obstructed by the PA system, and only the drummer clearly visible. With this unusual perspective he came to the conclusion that even good bands could never be truly great with a ‘duff drummer’. Simon waxes lyrical about The Who, but even he admits that nobody could have predicted what a success the album would be – “especially as the LP was wrapped in a dowdy brown paper covering with Live at Leeds stamped on it”. Simon attributes their phenomenal success in part to their amazing back line. Simon has no qualms describing Keith Moon as undoubtedly the best rock drummer of all time – a truly outstanding drummer who no-one has topped before or since. Likewise, he hails John Entwistle as the best bassist ever, and whereas most bass players simply form part of the background sound, Entwistle became almost like another lead guitar. This made The Who a really powerful band.
Simon emphasises that the behaviour and off-stage antics of bands such as The Who were never of any real interest to him; he was only ever interested in the music. Simon very rarely spoke to the stars, and spent much of his time making sure no-one else pestered them either. He wanted to respect their privacy, and ensure they didn’t feel hassled by fans or mundane technical issues. “Hiccups make artists cross – they’re a temperamental breed – and a cross artist is not a good artist to be around”.
Simon went to see The Who originally on 21 December 1965 at the Marquee Club in London, and recalls that they smashed up their equipment in true rock fashion. Memories of this did trouble Simon somewhat on the Live at Leeds night, as he was conscious of avoiding damage, so as not to jeopardise his chances of organising future gigs. At one point during the concert the temperature rose so high that Pete Townshend could be heard yelling to get him some air. With the recollections of destruction running rife through Simon’s mind he quickly began to imagine that the dutiful roadies may well smash a window as a quick fix to the airless room. To Simon’s relief he managed to persuade them to give him enough time to grab a set of keys to open the window – panic over!
When Simon was in New York in the summer of 1969, he watched the film ‘Woodstock’, which influenced him in a big way. He remembers that the performances drawn out of the artists were exceptional, and it was clear to him that there was a link between incredible atmosphere and performance. The Live at Leeds gig was a rare example of outstanding performance, and Simon has no doubt that the Leeds crowd produced an atmosphere that made the artists excel. The concert was so loud that fans were enjoying the concert from numerous vantage points outside the refectory, including the roof. The fans were enthralled; The Who had them in the palm of their hand. Simon describes the Leeds audience as very bright, discriminating and praised only where praise was due. They encouraged up and coming artists, and it was their intelligent enthusiasm that the artists thrived upon.
Simon was a student at Leeds for four years. He began reading economic history, but found the maths component a struggle, and was chucked out after his first year. After spending the summer campaigning to be allowed back he was readmitted, this time studying economic history and history, and so spent the middle two and an half years of his time at Leeds as the ents social secretary. It was during the Easter term of 1970 that this student with a passion for music but no budget from the Union, achieved the improbable task of booking a succession of huge rock names week upon week. Acts included Joe Cocker, Led Zepplin, Ten Years After, Faces and The Who.
Every day, between midday and two o’clock, Simon would make his way to a telephone booth in the Student Union building, where a porter would get him outside lines to call agents in London. Simon spent hours negotiating big names for Saturday night gigs in the Refectory; no mean feat, especially when he aimed so high and refused to settle for any act. As time went by the bookings became easier, as Leeds gained a reputation for itself as a great rock venue.
Even though Simon was given no grant from the union, he very rarely lost
money. The hire of the refectory was £16.10, the porters were paid
£10 overtime, just £7 was spent on publicity (consisting of
an ad in the Student newspaper) and the disco in the Riley Smith Hall afterwards
was just £20. Ticket sales easily covered these overheads and the
band’s fee ( £1,000 for the Who). Tickets for the Live at Leeds
concert cost 11/6 and were sold out almost as soon as they went on sale
the Monday morning before the gig. Interestingly, The Who never got round
to cashing their £1,000 cheque, so Simon had to give them another
when they returned to play again at Leeds that November!
When Simon graduated he joined Chrysalis as a college booker, a role reversal that would see him selling bands to universities. The two major bands that Chrysalis represented at that time were Ten Years After and Jethro Tull. After a couple of years, Jethro Tull’s manager invited Simon to be his assistant, and he spent the next two years on the road, training to be a manager. It was this serious touring that knocked the romance out of it all for Simon, as he became increasingly aware that this field would require him to be motivated by money and fame, and as ever, he remained interested only in the music. Having never aspired to wealth Simon ended his time in the rock world and moved to Scotland, where he has been ever since, as a sheep farmer, family man and, of course, passionate Who fan.