Live at Leeds: The Who’s legendary gig remembered 50 years on

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The Who were at the peak of their powers when they recorded the album in Leeds

On the 50th anniversary of a legendary gig by The Who, people who were there have been recalling how the band “threw everything into it.”

The rock group played at the packed University of Leeds refectory on 14 February 1970 and recorded the gig.

The record it spawned, Live at Leeds, is often cited as one of the best live rock albums of all time.

Ed Ferguson, a Who fan who was at the Valentine’s Day concert, said: “I remember it vividly. The band threw everything into it.”

Mr Ferguson, then an economics student at Leeds Polytechnic, was a big fan of the band and first saw them in 1968.

“Leeds University was then the number one venue for rock music, week after week I saw the top bands and I would be there most Saturdays,” he said.

He remembered queuing up on that Saturday for tickets costing a few shillings in those pre-decimal times.

Roger DaltreyImage copyright
Chris McCourt

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Chris McCourt’s black and white pictures of the night were not published until 1995

Keith MoonImage copyright
Chris McCourt

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Ed Ferguson said drummer Keith Moon was going “completely crazy”

Mr Ferguson said people knew the concert was to be recorded and said “anyone there would remember it to this day”.

“It was very, very hot and we were crammed in like sardines,” he said.

Mr Ferguson said he was lucky to be in the city when “gig economics just worked” and a student union could host such an event.

Five decades on, the former student is now the Lord Lieutenant of West Yorkshire and also sits on the University Council but said music was “still very much part of my life”.

The Who in 1970

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Dr Simon Warner said when The Who played in February 1970 “they were pretty well the hottest band in the land”

Chris McCourt, a 17-year-old amateur photographer was chosen by the band to take pictures that night.

He was asked to take pictures at the Leeds gig, and one at Hull the next day, for a £50 fee, despite having no experience of live music photography.

“There was not much of a stage at Leeds but I took what pictures I could,” Mr McCourt said.

“It was pretty informal. I was standing right in front of the stage and it was a lively crowd.”

Mr McCourt recalled the band played for more than two hours and his colour photographs were to be used for a potential album cover.

The Live and Leeds album and singles

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Rolling Stone called the album’s inserts and packaging “a tour-de-force of the rock and roll imagination”

However, he had another camera and rolls of black and white film that he also used to take pictures for himself.

“I wasn’t a Who fan and I never bought the live album,” he admitted.

None of his pictures were used for an album cover and at the time Mr McCourt did not even print the black and white pictures he took.

It was not until 1995 when some of his work from the night was published in a music magazine and on reissued CDs of the gig.

Mr McCourt remembered “it was hard work that night but I had no previous experience and didn’t know what I was doing”.

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The Refectory at Leeds University during a gig by Rag'n'Bone ManImage copyright
Elouisa Georgiou Photography

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The Refectory at Leeds University during a gig by Rag’n’Bone Man

Steve Keeble, of the student union, said the venue The Who played was still largely unchanged.

“It’s a student refectory, many of the students eating their lunch will be oblivious to the fact it’s one of the most historic rock venues in the country,” he said.

Dr Simon Warner, visiting research fellow in the school of music at the university, said: “The Who playing here in 1970 gave the venue such a status, bands wanted to play here and play here they did.

“The album was released in a nondescript, undistinguished brown paper packet meant to hint it was a bootleg, even though it wasn’t.”

Dr Warner said the biggest groups of the day would appear at the university in that era.

“The college circuit was massive, it’s not anymore but in 1970 it was rocking,” he added.

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The Who live at Woodstock in 1969Image copyright
Getty Images

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The Who at Woodstock in 1969

The Who

  • Formed in London in 1964
  • Classic line-up was Roger Daltrey (lead singer), Pete Townshend (guitarist), John Entwistle (bass) and Keith Moon (drums)
  • The Live at Leeds recording caught the band at the peak of its powers
  • It was released on 16 May 1970 and featured six tracks, including three covers
  • The album has been remixed and reissued numerous times
  • Moon died in 1978 and Entwistle in 2002
  • A blue plaque was unveiled at the refectory in 2006 and the band played the venue again
  • The Who’s 2020 UK tour has a date in Leeds


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