Live at Leeds - The Who's legendary album and the memories of those who were there 50 years ago

Roger Daltrey on stage in Leeds during their famous gig in 1970. (picture credit: Chris McCourt).
Roger Daltrey on stage in Leeds during their famous gig in 1970. (picture credit: Chris McCourt).
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Chris McCourt was just 17 years old when he was tasked with being the official photographer for a gig by The Who.

What he didn’t know was the subsequent recording would go on to become one of the greatest live albums of all time.

The Who's drummer Keith Moon in action at the University of Leeds refectory gig. (Picture credit: Chris McCourt).

The Who's drummer Keith Moon in action at the University of Leeds refectory gig. (Picture credit: Chris McCourt).

McCourt, a keen amateur photographer at the time, was still a schoolboy when he was given the job of photographing The Who’s concert at the University of Leeds refectory on February 14, 1970.

The Live At Leeds album captured the band at the peak of their powers and has since garnered near mythical status among rock music aficionados.

Such stellar names as Led Zeppelin, Elton John and the Rolling Stones have played at the refectory over the years and it remains a popular venue today.

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McCourt got the job of photographing The Who by chance. “I met the cover artist of the Tommy LP and he said The Who were looking for a photographer for two shows in Leeds and Hull,” he said.

Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey unveil a plaque commemorating their legendary gig on the Leeds campus in 2006.

Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey unveil a plaque commemorating their legendary gig on the Leeds campus in 2006.

“I took a selection of pictures to their management in Soho and they said ‘great’. I’m not sure why as I didn’t have any pictures of bands, only of streets and people.”

The band’s manager Kit Lambert was impressed enough to offer him £50, plus expenses.

McCourt admits he was “nervous” at the time. “I had two cameras, a 1960 Pentax S1a borrowed from my dad, and a Nikkormat with a 50mm lens borrowed from a friend at school.

“The band had asked me to shoot in colour which I took to them a week or so later, but at the same time I shot some in black and white for me. I didn’t print them until 25 years later because I didn’t think they were any good.”

Looking back half a century later he is less critical. “I like the close-ups and the shots of [Pete] Townshend leaping out of the frame - I couldn’t believe how high he jumped and still kept playing.”

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He didn’t buy the live album at the time but has listened to it since. “You can hear the incredible raw energy and tightness of the band all the way through.”

The Who had been one of the headline acts at Woodstock the previous year, so not surprisingly their St Valentine’s Day gig was a sell out.

Ed Anderson was among those who had a ticket.

Today, Mr Anderson is Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire, but back in 1970 he was a 19-year-old economics student at Leeds Polytechnic (what’s now Leeds Beckett University) and a big Who fan.

He recalls the concert vividly. “The University refectory in those days had a capacity of 2,000,” he said.

“It was packed like sardines and everyone was standing, it was boiling hot and most people were smoking cigarettes.”

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A ticket for the gig only cost a few shillings in those pre-decimal days. “I remember the concert like it was yesterday,” said Mr Anderson.

“Pete Townshend in a white boiler suit leaping in the air, Roger Daltrey in the jacket with fringed sleeves, Keith Moon totally manic on drums, and John Entwhistle standing back quietly.

“We all knew the concert was being recorded and The Who were at their very exciting best that night.”

The band themselves have fond memories of the concert and in 2006, the two surviving original members - Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey - returned to the campus to unveil a Civic Trust plaque commemorating their performance.

They also took to the stage that helped cement their legendary status with a sell-out gig that rolled back the years.

It was, as you might expect, another night to remember.