Talk­ing about his gen­er­a­tion

How a re­tired ed­u­ca­tor helped Pete Town­shend re­cover a piece of Who history

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - An­drew Robin­son

It was a meet­ing 42 years in the mak­ing, all thanks to a few large pho­to­copied books Ge­orge Robin­son packed amongst his be­long­ings when he left Eng­land for ru­ral New­found­land.

For more than 30 years, Robin­son — who, full dis­clo­sure, is my dad — taught at schools in the Con­cep­tion Bay North area.

Tak­ing up the pi­ano as a boy while grow­ing up in the English city of Sun­der­land, he de­vel­oped a keen in­ter­est in mu­sic that’s never left him.

The Har­bour Grace res­i­dent grad­u­ated from the North­ern School of Mu­sic in Manch­ester in the early 1970s and also at­tended the Univer­sity of Lon­don In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion prior to get­ting a job in 1973 as head of the mu­sic de­part­ment at Ry­hope Com­pre­hen­sive School.

The school was lo­cated not too far from where he grew up, and Robin­son im­me­di­ately got him­self in­volved in some in­ter­est­ing work.

That fall, the school did a pro­duc­tion of the Tim Rice and An­drew Lloyd Web­ber mu­si­cal “Joseph and the Amaz­ing Tech­ni­color Dream­coat.”

“It just hap­pened there was me and Malcolm Ger­rie,” re­calls Robin­son. “We were both of a sim­i­lar dis­po­si­tion, sim­i­lar tastes in mu­sic and sim­i­lar ideas about what could be done. He was the drama guy and I was the mu­sic guy.

“We put our heads to­gether for ‘Joseph’ and then af­ter Christ­mas … we were lis­ten­ing to the ‘Tommy’ al­bum, but not The Who’s ver­sion. We were lis­ten­ing to the one with the (Lon­don Sym- phony Orches­tra).”

Ini­tially in jest, Robin­son sug­gested to Ger­rie they could prob­a­bly present the famed rock-opera at the school.

The con­ver­sa­tion con­tin­ued from there, cul­mi­nat­ing in a mas­sive pro­duc­tion with youth ages 13-18 that at­tracted con­sid­er­able me­dia at­ten­tion in the early sum­mer of 1974.

The New Mu­si­cal Ex­press, the best-sell­ing Bri­tish mu­sic news­pa­per at the time, did a front-page fea­ture story on the pro­duc­tion, and Robin­son was quoted in a Rolling Stone magazine ar­ti­cle.

For this show, the school reached out to Lou Reizner, a record pro­ducer who was re­spon­si­ble for the or­ches­tral ver­sion of “Tommy.” It fea­tured mem­bers of The Who plus Rod Stewart, Ringo Starr, Richie Havens and many oth­ers.

Wil Malone’s or­ches­tral score was not pub­lished, so they asked for copies.

“These three big books were sent to us,” Robin­son re­called.

Stu­dents played the brass ar­range­ments, while Robin­son han­dled parts of the score pre­pared for strings on an organ him­self. As well, a full rock band per­formed.

Robin­son spent an­other year at the school before trav­el­ling and work­ing else­where in Eng­land. In 1977, he ac­cepted a job at Holy Trin­ity in Heart’s Con­tent.

*** Jump­ing ahead 37 years, this writer came across a post on Twit­ter from Ry­hope Com­pre­hen­sive, an ac­count linked to a web­site that cel­e­brates the school’s history (it closed in 1988).

The Twit­ter post fea­tured a photo of Robin­son that ap­peared with the New Mu­si­cal Ex­press ar­ti­cle and asked if any­one could help track down “Ge­orge Robin­son, our mu­sic mae­stro.”

Jour­nal­ists are cu­ri­ous by na­ture, so I de­cided to start a con­ver­sa­tion. With dad’s per­mis­sion, I later passed along an email ad­dress to the site’s owner, Peter Fan­nen.

The two traded a slew of emails and even­tu­ally com­pleted a full in­ter­view for the web­site.

Robin­son also shared dozens of photos from the pro­duc­tion. In the in­ter­view, he men­tioned having kept his copies of the “Tommy” score.

In June of 2015, Robin­son re­ceived an un­ex­pected email from Ger­rie, who he hadn’t heard from in close to 40 years.

In the years since the two worked to­gether, Ger­rie moved from teach­ing into tele­vi­sion, pro­duc­ing sit­coms, Bri­tish awards shows and con­cert doc­u­men­taries.

He’d come to know Pete Town­shend through his TV work, and the two had dis­cussed the ex­is­tence of the score for Reizner’s pro­duc­tion of “Tommy.”

Reizner died in the mid-1970s, and nei­ther Town­shend nor Malone had a copy of it.

Town­shend, having re­cently re­leased a ver­sion of The Who’s “Quadrophe­nia” fea­tur­ing the Royal Phil­har­monic Orches­tra, was keen to re­cover the “Tommy” score.

Re­mark­ably, it looked like Robin­son had the only ex­ist­ing copy of the orig­i­nal score for the Lon­don Sym­phony Orches­tra’s per­for­mance of “Tommy.”

Ger­rie for­warded him an email from Town­shend’s as­sis­tant. Through a se­ries of ex­changes with the as­sis­tant, it was agreed Robin­son would cre­ate dig­i­tal copies of the 360 pages for the or­ches­tral and choral ar­range­ments, with Town­shend cov­er­ing the ex­penses.

At one point, the St. John’s busi­ness tasked with copy­ing the score was worried about copy­right, but a signed doc­u­ment from Town­shend al­le­vi­ated those con­cerns.

*** Plan­ning to travel to Eng­land that fall to visit his daugh­ter who lives in Lon­don, Robin­son ex­pressed an in­ter­est in meet­ing Town­shend were the op­por­tu­nity to arise.

Un­for­tu­nately, those dates co­in­cided with tour dates for The Who in North Amer­ica, but Town­shend’s as­sis­tant came back with an of­fer to at­tend any up­com­ing con­cert date as his guest.

A case of vi­ral menin­gi­tis for Dal­trey put the ki­bosh on plans to at­tend a De­cem­ber Who con­cert in Toronto, but a resched­uled date for April 27 at the Air Canada Centre went off with­out a hitch.

While at­tend­ing mu­sic school in Manch­ester, Robin­son man­aged to see many of the well­known per­form­ers and groups from that era, like Fleet­wood Mac (then still a blues band), pre-“Dark Side of the Moon” Pink Floyd, Fair­port Con­ven­tion and B.B. King, amongst oth­ers.

How­ever, he never man­aged to catch The Who.

The clos­est he came was a trip stu­dents and staff in­volved with the school pro­duc­tion made to the film set of Ken Rus­sell’s “Tommy.”

They met Dal­trey there, but Robin­son was away on hol­i­day at the time.

“We got four free tick­ets, very good seats,” said Robin­son, who took his wife Mau­reen (aka my mom) as well an old school friend who lives in Toronto and his girl­friend.

“Roger Dal­trey was in good vo­cal form — re­ally was. I’ve seen shows on TV where live he strug­gled, but this show he was re­ally on. And Pete Town­shend was his usual, wind­mill-gui­tar self. And obviously they’ve got a re­ally good band with them.”

He got a few pieces of mem­o­ra­bilia signed by Town­shend prior to the show — his vinyl copy of Reizner’s “Tommy” pro­duc­tion, a poster for the school pro­duc­tion, a dou­ble-LP copy of “Quadrophe­nia” and the Rolling Stone ar­ti­cle.

*** Af­ter the con­cert, Robin­son and the oth­ers were ad­mit­ted to Town­shend’s guest room, where about 20 peo­ple were gath­ered wait­ing to meet the famed guitarist.

Amongst the guests was “Dragon’s Den” pan­elist Michael Wek­erle and Rush’s art di­rec­tor Hugh Syme.

“There was lots of chat­ter go­ing on, but as soon as he ar­rived in the room, there was a hush. The noise level just dropped.”

Town­shend took time to shake hands, chat and pose for photos with ev­ery­one in the room.

When it was Robin­son’s turn, the of­fi­cial pho­tog­ra­pher took a few snaps before the two shared words.

“As that pho­to­graph was be­ing taken, Pete Town­shend turned to me and said, ‘ Thanks for send­ing me the mu­sic. I was re­ally happy to get that.’ He said, ‘I think Wil (Malone) was even more pleased than I was.’”

He later got the op­por­tu­nity to show Town­shend his copy of the New Mu­si­cal Ex­press with the story about the school pro­duc­tion.

“I told him how it was a re­ally big deal for us. I was so ex­cited by all this, I was just talk­ing away, and I didn’t re­ally give him a chance to say any­thing to me! I was just chat­ting away, which is un­for­tu­nate, re­ally.”

Town­shend then asked where Robin­son lived.

“He said, ‘New­found­land. I don’t re­ally know New­found­land, but I once read a book about New­found­land. Some­thing about fish. I can’t re­mem­ber the ti­tle. But I’ll find out the ti­tle and I’ll send it to you.”

Sure enough, Robin­son did re­ceive a sub­se­quent email from Town­shend’s pub­li­cist. The book in ques­tion was “Theatre of Fish” by John Gim­lette. It’s a trav­el­ogue about the writer’s ex­pe­ri­ences in New­found­land and Labrador.

“It’s fam­ily history, and a lot about the way things are now too — re­ally ex­cel­lent,” read a por­tion of the email in quo­ta­tion marks at­trib­uted to Town­shend.

The next day, Robin­son and his wife flew back to New­found­land. Though it’s been a month now since the con­cert, his ex­cite­ment over the ex­pe­ri­ence hasn’t abated.

“You can see this by the photos. I was so ex­cited. I was grin­ning like a Cheshire cat all the time. The adren­a­line was run­ning.”


Ge­orge Robin­son, left, shows rock leg­end Pete Town­shend a copy of a 1974 edi­tion of the New Mu­si­cal Ex­press with a fea­ture ar­ti­cle on a school pro­duc­tion of The Who’s rock-opera “Tommy” Robin­son han­dled the mu­sic for.


Ge­orge Robin­son holds a copy of the score for the Lon­don Sym­phony Orches­tra’s ver­sion of “Tommy.” Robin­son helped “Tommy” au­thor, Pete Town­shend, obtain a copy of the score.

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