Were you there when The Who played in Sunderland?

Richard Houghton wants to hear from people who saw The Who play in Sunderland.
Richard Houghton wants to hear from people who saw The Who play in Sunderland.
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An author is looking for people who may have seen legendary rock band The Who play in Sunderland in the 1960s.

Richard Houghton is trying to trace fans that may have witnessed one of the early performances of the group - Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon - at the Empire Theatre, Whitburn Bay Hotel or the Top Rank Suite to help him write a “people’s history” of the group.

Author Richard Houghton.

Author Richard Houghton.

He said: ‘The Who have been performing for over 50 years and lots of books have been written about them.

“But I want to tell their story in the words of the people who saw The Who when they were starting out and use those teenage memories to help me capture a little piece of music history.”

Richard, who has already written books about The Beatles and the Rolling Stones, said: “The Who played Sunderland four times between 1966 and 1971.

“The first three performances, at the Empire in December 1966 and then twice at the Whitburn Bay Hotel in April and again in July 1969, were just as they were beginning to become established as a major act.”

It is remarkable to think that it’s nearly fifty years since The Who first played Sunderland. But it means that people who were teenagers in the 1960s will have some great memories of those evenings which I’d like to capture in order to preserve the history of a golden age of pop.

Richard Houghton

After initially appearing at the Empire, The Who were booked to appear at the Bay Hotel in 1969 by fabled promoter Geoff Docherty, who was also responsible for bringing acts such as the Faces with Rod Stewart, Free and an early incarnation of Marc Bolan’s Tyrannosaurus Rex to the area.

Richard said: “The music business was much less corporate that it is now and there were more small and medium sized venues with very few really large places that bands could play.

“The Internet didn’t exist plus it was still hard for groups to get their music heard on the radio unless they were a regular chart act.

“So for bands like The Who, who were increasingly becoming an album based act, getting out there and playing live was what they had to do if they wanted people to hear their songs.

Sunderland Empire Theatre.

Sunderland Empire Theatre.

“Sunderland was somewhere that benefitted from that, because bands like The Who were gigging constantly.”

By the time of their appearance at the Top Rank, in May 1971, The Who had global recognition on the back of their rock opera Tommy about a pinball playing deaf, dumb and blind boy.

Richard said: “For The Who to come and play Sunderland in 1971 was quite a coup.

“They’d played the Woodstock and Isle of Wight Festivals and were firmly established in the rock hierarchy and on their way to joining acts like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin as the kind of bands that you were only going to see in football stadiums or large arenas in future.”

Richard’s aim is to tell the story of The Who in the words of their fans, an approach he has successfully taken in his books about The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

He said: “Many books about rock and pop music rehash the same press articles from years gone by and often repeat mistakes in the way things were reported at the time.

“What I’ve tried to do in my other books, and what I’d like to do with The Who, is hear it from the words of the people who were there at the time.

“I’m hoping some of your readers may have witnessed one of those shows and I’m really interested to hear from them.

“I don’t want to heat just about the concerts, though. It’s about who they went with, how they got tickets, whether they went for a pint beforehand, and the whole experience of seeing a major rock act on their doorstep.”

Richard said that he is aiming to capture a slice of the Sixties in his book.

“It is remarkable to think that it’s nearly 50 years since The Who first played Sunderland.

“But it means that people who were teenagers in the 1960s will have some great memories of those evenings which I’d like to capture in order to preserve the history of a golden age of pop.”

You can share your memories of The Who at thewhointhe60s@gmail.com or by writing to Richard at 1 Totnes Road, Manchester, M21 8XF.