Tommy - the rock opera
NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS REVIEW 1974
July 1974 saw Ryhope School put on the national map with an amazing production of The Who’s rock opera TOMMY. Adapted from the original script with personal permission from Pete Townsend.
Only a progressive school with a pioneering Head could have staged this back in the day and credit must go to Malcolm Gerrie and George Robinson for their sheer determination and enthusiasm. But also the time given by staff and pupils, which even included kids working after hours in the school out of their own accord!
Published in the NME 20th July 1974 written by Tony Stewart with pictures by Ian Dickson, not only did it make the front cover but also spread over 5 pages. Here follows the full transcript written which gives great insight into the buzz around the school, the opinion of those opposed to the disruption the production caused to the normal running of the school, and the euphoria at the end of the show itself.
1. THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT...
It wasn't like this in our young day, we can tell you. It was all long division, P.T., hymn-practice, and stewed prunes for afters. Fun was few and far between, in a manner of speaking, your worship. But nowadays, well – they get up to all sorts of subversive stuff …..
Like commandeering the entire school in order to put on a full-scale production of a rock opera written by some geezer in a boiler-suit. Is British youth going to the dogs? (Hurray!) Will the forces of civilisation and morality triumph in the end? (Boo!) Read it and find out………
THE RYHOPE SCHOOL just outside Sunderland couldn't be more notorious in the North –East if the Headmaster were to invite Harold Wilson to the demolition of the staff toilets, insisting that he wore only a cod piece and filled his pipe with hash.
Ever since the school was created (five years ago – by the amalgamation of the old Grammar School and Secondary Modern, which were and still are separated by a main road), controversy, as they say, has raged unabated.
You see the kids don't wear uniform and, supposedly as a result, they're far too individualistic to conform with either present educational conventions or their social destiny, as foreseen by the blank-faced men on high who make the rules.
Naturally, therefore, rumours are rife that little of an academic value gets accomplished within these walls (which, according to certain sources, are a perilous to venture into as the fictional hell of St. Trinians). The popular side vision seems to be of boys with sharpened steel combs and girls with gurkha knives lying in wait to prevent any interruption to the Area Poker Finals held quarterly behind the bike sheds.
And, praise my Oxford Book of Verse, this motley crew have now decided to present not the usually well-tempered version of ye olde "Pirates of Penzance", but a rock-opera called "Tommy".
They'll be ceremonially burning the hymn-books next.
THAT MAY APPEAR to be an immensely bloated impression of the school – but, for certain factions of the Ryhope Community (and some of the teaching staff), that is almost precisely what the school represents.
It's actually a long way from the truth, but it'll be a hard struggle to convince these folks that "Tommy" is not the latest strategy in the school's rapid advance towards educational anarchy. After all, Lou Reizner's original production was refused stage-space at London's Royal Albert Hall and, for whatever reason, that's still a useful tunnel through which to undermine the thing's worth for those in Ryhope who feel so inclined.
However, such thoughts were deliberately removed from the minds of the cast and production team when, last Wednesday evening, they eventually saw the results of six months' hard labour on the opening night.
2. The critics...
Naturally some were nervous – especially just before curtain-up, when the 300 capacity hall was choc-a-bloc and an optimistic gang of latecomers were refusing to disperse from the front doors until they were certain every seat had been filled.
Earlier in the afternoon, the Beeb had come along to shoot the "Pinball Wizard" scene for screening up North, and the local press had been almost literally clambering over each other's backs to secure the best story. Quite suddenly everyone involved in the show was fully aware that they were to be on view to the country, and not just their Aunt Ethel – as the director Malcolm Gerrie would say.
Would the kids be alright?
RATHER MORE SIGNIFICANT, though, is the notion of presenting "Tommy" in a school at all. Ken Russell is turning Pete Townsend's work into a film on another page in this issue, and one would naturally be inclined to assume that the thing had passed is peak potential in the theatre.
Ryhope School's production knocks that one on the head quite effortlessly.
Their four-night run of "Tommy", far from the anarchy I alluded to earlier, suggested rather a spirit of adventure, a thorough-going communal endeavour, and a quantity of sheer toil (under pressures from both within and without the school) sufficient to have crumpled a latterday Samson into a unsightly heap – with or without a haircut.
THERE'S THE sinewy Head of Art, Jack Barker – who has become not only the production's chief critic, but continually questions the attitudes and management of the school.
He quotes to you the number of senior staff (eight) who left during 1969 for lesser posts elsewhere, this phenomenon, he believes, being not unconnected with certain "disagreements" in the matter of the running of the school (though these troubles may have been no more than the usual upheavals attendant upon any school going comprehensive).
He also tells you that, in the final fortnight of last term, thirteen female teachers received "strong abuse" from certain pupils. And he'll throw in the fact that when a referendum involving 67 teachers inquired whether or not severer methods of discipline were required, 60 said they were, one said they weren't, and six abstained.
He also questions the motives of Malcolm Gerrie in presenting "Tommy".
"Nice lad. Nothing against the lad at all – he's very keen and ambitious. But when he originally suggested doing this, I thought he might be doing it for the wrong reasons. He emphasized over and over again the publicity he was going to get for doing it, because it had never been done in school before.
"I began to wonder whether he was doing it for himself, or for the school. I wondered why he'd chosen to do it in the first place".
Gerrie squares up to this inference well and with a characteristic smile. A "new-wave" teacher, his hair bursts from his skull like a curly explosion and a pair of trendy round glasses perch on the bridge of his nose.
He looks, in fact, just like any other hippy waylaid by an Education Authority.
"The only thing that I considered publicity-wise", he explains, "was the fact that the school had had so much bad press. They'd been so quick to condemn us without ever really knowing what went on, and one motive I did have was that if it came off this'd be something that would help the school.
"I mean, the local rag (The Sunderland Echo) have been absolutely…." He's at a loss for an expletive.
"For example, we had a party which the kids organised for their leavers, and next day it was headline news – 'Kids having wild parties'. That sort of thing. It was only a leaving party." He grins broadly.
BARKER'S BALL FAILS to hit the wicket – but he hasn't finished his over yet.
Sitting up in his art room, he studiously rubs his palm over his trouser leg, while downstairs in the hall Gerrie is cheerily boasting of the phenomenal outside interest in the production:
"A girl on Radio Newcastle the other day," he's saying, "talked in terms of Tommy-fever gripping the school, and I really think it's true. I think the whole school's been involved in that they've come along to the discos, they took part in a sponsored silence, they've bought T-shirts, and they're coming to the performance.
"I couldn't really get any more people into the cast than I have. Its 100 people and I've go a chorus of 45. Even according to your really contemporary dramatists, you can't put 45 people onto a stage and move them."
"Just." And he blushes slightly and smiles again like a well-nourished Cheshire Cat.
Barker's view of things is less enthusiastic.
"This last month," he says, "things have really gone overboard – everything here is now Tommy. People are up to here with it," and his hand rises to his chin.
"Everybody in the departments of art, craft, and technology has been drawn into this "Tommy" thing. The woodwork chap has been making bits and pieces for it for some considerable time. While he's doing that, of course, he's not teaching.
"We have had two or three parents who've complained to the school that their child isn't involved in "Tommy", but the teachers that the child should have are. And, as a result, they're not being taught anything.
"The other thing which really needled me was that about a fortnight ago we were told that these two lads who were primarily concerned with putting it on, the music master (George Robinson) and Mr Gerrie, were going to be taken off time table to allow them to work all day and every day producing Tommy.
4. Rock culture...
"There are a number of staff very upset at having to look after their classes while they're in the hall doing that. It's been going on for a whole fortnight.
"Now I don't mind if a person is absent, or if he's doing something educationally viable, like making a new time table. This sort of thing, however, has always been known as an extra curricular activity, and I think that's where it ought to be.
"The whole business is causing a nasty feeling in the school. The staff are split now".
He pauses – then adds, almost in puzzlement: "At the beginning I felt sure I was right about this. I thought; nobody in Ryhope knows what this is about, and they'll not buy tickets. but it's a sell-out. So I'm probably going to be proved wrong.
"A school isn't for turning out a series of brainwashed yes-men……."
"I thought," he continues slowly, "that in this particular community – which is after all a colliery community – that the people would want something they could understand. If he (Gerrie) wants to be adventurous, why not write a play and take in the local scene and fit the play to the kids in the school, and to their parents.
"There's nobody in Ryhope who's seen 'Tommy'. They don't know what it's all about. All they know is what they've been told."
But it is a large-selling album.
"I don't think you'll find a copy in Ryhope".
Actually, the school's got one.
GERRIE AND THE musical director Robinson believe strongly that the production is as relevant to the school's way of life as blackboard and chalk.
"Mainly because," Malcolm explains, "the whole rock culture thing appeals to all kids. And I know for a fact they'd be interested".
IT'S TUESDAY, the last day of the dress rehearsals and we're sitting in the school hall – "Tommy's" forthcoming venue.
All around there's a buzz of activity: Kids practising their lines, yapping among themselves; guys hammering nails into stage props; guitars being tuned; teachers scuttling about in mild panics.
"With regard to the theme," says Gerrie, George Robinson nodding his approval. "I think the moral is very pertinent to a lot of the kids in the school. I know they're not deaf, dumb and blind, but a lot of them haven't got the chances that many kids normally get.
"I'm sure plenty of kids here can identify with the character of Tommy. I'm thinking now of the younger Tommy himself – John Deacon – who's only 14 years old. He's completely engrossed in the role. If you walked up behind him and said 'Hey, Tommy!!', he'd turn round. The kids are doing it as a joke to him now".
5. The kids point of view...
He openly admits that his school presentation of "Tommy" is "really not normal" – but in no way wishes to imply that the traditional values of such as Gilbert and Sullivan are no longer relevant.
"They're still very important. But I feel that the rock thing has been terribly neglected. the whole youth culture has been ignored not only by academics and psychologists, but by schools and education.
"We talk in terms of what happened in The French Revolution, but I think we can learn a helluva lot more with what happened with the Mods and Rockers of 1965. Which is what makes things like 'Tommy' or 'Quadrophenia' relevant"
Surely, though, the kids aren't reading any social significance into the work? Don't they treat it purely as entertainment?
"I think that if you ask around, you'll find that's wrong. I was amazed that so many of them had grasped the theme – which is a bloody hard one to grasp – and secondly put their own interpretations on it.
"When I started this thing, I wanted point of view all the time. Not only from the other members of staff, but from the kids. The final product certainly isn't a result of me – it's the kids".
AND THESE KIDS are beautiful.
You can feel this incredible atmosphere in the hall – their friendliness, their steadfast belief in the production and that everything's going to be alright on the night. A refreshing alternative to Your Actual Rock Biz.
Take Karen Page. She's 15, playing Sally Simpson, and quite a little eyeful.
"We went all the way through it last night,", she explains from the centre of a gang of gymslips, "and it went great. Well (chuckle) so far. I mean, it should be good after all the work the teachers have put in".
Have you appeared in anything before?
"Who me? – I'm not the sort of person to do plays".
So why d'you do it? To skip lessons?
"No!" She's indignant – but a sly smile creeps into her face. "Well……at first, yes. But not now. I'm not really bothered about doing my part, I just like watching it”.
"An' Mr Gerrie's great you know. You can say things to him that you could only, like say to a friend. And he's not like other teachers who can be really nasty and shout at yer. Mr Gerrie and Mr Robinson are great”.
6. Acting careers...
"You wouldn't think they were teachers, you'd think they were seventh formers or something".
Quite a few other people involved in "Tommy" impress Karen, no least her new-found boyfriend who plays trombone in the band ("he's alright"). And she is most definitely wowed by the performance of young Deacon.
"But don't you think Colin (Lamb, the other Tommy) is good?" asks a friend.
"Oh Colin's good, yes – but he's been in plays before in junior school. He was in 'Oliver' and that was in the papers. I mean, he's been in operas and everything".
"Are you coming to watch it? The first night or the last? Ohhh, the first night'll be the worst".
Her friend Dianne is 16, petite, and takes the part of the narrator. She's as excited about it as if she were going on her first holiday abroad.
"Last Saturday," she recalls, "we had a day off and I felt nervous I didn't know what to do with mesel'. I was tired coz I'd been runnin' around all week, but I couldn't relax. I tried to go to sleep in the afternoon".
"What he's really got here is a factory for social engineering……"
Adds another girl "I was supposed to do some homework, but I've not been able to do any for the last two weeks. I cannae write. And I'm only in the chorus".
"What do you mean only?" asks Diane. "You matter a lot".
"By Saturday," says Diane, "you might even sound alright".
"What I don't like about the play," interjects Karen, cutting the laughter short, "is everybody says 'oh, you're great' but they never think of the teachers, and all the work they've been doing. They've really done everything, but they get nae praise. They were in on Saturday and Sunday, but we weren't."
And what have the ladies got in mind with regards to future musical or acting careers? Any fantasies about starring opposite Steve McQueen or Paul Newman?
"Ohhhh," trembles Karen, "who wouldn't?".
I wouldn't for one.
"An' I wouldn't either," agrees Diane. "Steve McQueen's bad tempered. And I don't think I'd like acting. I'd like singing better than acting".
7. Dress rehearsal...
"There's not really much we can do, is there?" decides Karen, rationally. "Where could we go? We've got school five days a week, and we'd be acting, and we'd have not time for homework."
"An' we'd have to travel," Diane nods. "They're not going to come to us, are they?"
"'Ere," interrupts one girl, suddenly, "are yous like reporters or something?. Is that all you do, sit and smoke your heads off?"
THERE'S NO ANSWER to that – even if we had time to think one up before the appearance of some gangling youth, similarly intrigued by these two gents chatting up the cast.
"Introducing one holy Stuart Smith," he boldly announces. "Am I gettin' on that tape machine? Well done. You've got three days off, haven't yer?"
This gentleman is rather interesting – the previously well mannered ladies are exhibiting a modicum of hostility towards him.
"It's a political school………. but you can't make all children equal……
Says Diane, scornfully: "He's one of the people who got kicked out."
"I didn't get kicked out," he shouts in retaliation. "I kicked mesel' out. I just didn't think it was getting on too fast in the beginning. I was in the chorus and came to about two or three rehearsals and decided it wasn't much good.
"Are you going to give us one helluva write-up?"
"I don't mean me. I'll allow you to excuse me, but give these a good write-up. If they're very good here, they might be able to get the Empire – you know in Sunderland".
He could probably get a good part if the school was doing Monty Python, couldn't he?
"I could get a helluva good part here if I wanted. I could be a great star, me – you know?"
THE DRESS REHEARSAL that night has had its problems – which appear, however, only to renew the directors' faith in the production.
Will the kids be alright on the night?
"There are 50 million thinks going wrong backstage," musters Malcolm, during the first break in the run-through. "But that's easily remedied".
"My biggest worry," says George Robinson," is the balance of the sound, really. I know we've got lads that can do it, but if anything did to wrong with the electricals and the PA system, there's nothing we can do about it."
The equipment has been provided by White's – one of the largest firms in the North-East. On-stage there's probably something in the region of £5,000 worth of gear, but White's have kindly hired it to the school at a very reasonable rate.
The financing of the whole production has been quite a mammoth undertaking. There have been regular discos and a sponsored silence to provide money, and Gerrie managed to obtain a concert grant from a Sunderland Education Authority scheme called Experiment and Leisure.
"When we started this whole thing," explains Malcolm, surveying the lavish stage setting and the stacks of speakers, instruments, and costumes, "we couldn't get hold of one mike.
"We rang up theatres and they said they wouldn't lend us microphones for kids. So we put in a claim to Experiment and Leisure for £700 – and they turned round and said it wasn't enough for such a worthwhile project".
"Not meaning 'Tommy'," emphasizes George. "The overall concept……..
…."the overall concept," adds Malcolm, "was to form a central store of lighting and sound equipment – to include a mobile disco – which we can lend out free of charge to local schools, and local services.
"And they gave us………….." he pauses, barely suppressing a laugh of satisfaction, "2,750 quid".
"Whether this idea's a success," George explains, "depends of how many other organisations come into it during the next six months to borrow this equipment".
How the idea to present "Tommy" originally emerged is now a haze to both of the directors (who, since Christmas, could have been millionaires if paid overtime for the extra work they've been putting into the production).
George vaguely remembers he first heard the album in a chick's flat – but, apparently, the details of that encounter are rather sordid, and certainly not suitable reading for the pupils of Ryhope School.
And even though teachers don't drink (oh, do they really?), Malcolm recollects that it was a boozy evening in a pub which prompted initial thought on the subject. They'd just celebrated the success of the school's production of "Joseph And His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat", and an epic of this proportion was considered the only possible follow up.
Says George: "I said to Malcolm that I couldn't see any reason why we shouldn't do it. I wasn't thinking about how far it could expand from that".
NEVERTHELESS it has. And one gentleman who was considerably impressed with the dress rehearsal is a teacher called Ivan Hargreaves.
He presented the play "Beckett" five years ago, which was apparently considered by the Head of the time to be the best thing he'd witnessed in 26 years.
9. Tricky Dicky...
Having just returned from an educational cruise around Scandinavia, he's crouched at the back of the hall, itching to become involved in the production.
"I got the chance to get out of all this when I was at the top", he explains. "So I quit, even though I didn't like doing that. Now I'm keen to get involved here, and this is certainly more ambitious than anything I tried.
"I just can't sit here passing the hour".
EVEN THE HEADMASTER, Mr R.E. Copland, is busying himself with advice to the cast and offering a few well chosen words of appraisal.
Known to the pupils affectionately as Tricky Dicky, he's an eccentric character – virtually the living epitome of the proverbial Dotty Professor. His hair is absent-mindedly ruffled, and he's wearing a green jacket, red striped shirt, yellow tie, and brown trousers.
Even when he was first approached by Gerrie and Robinson to do "Tommy" as a school production, he had no qualms.
But isn't it rather controversial for a school to do something like this?
"Not really. If you never risk controversy, the place is going to be dull, isn't it?
"This is the trouble with schools, really. The tremendous pressures on schools aren't noticeable until you try something that is slightly different to the normal. then you find a great deal of pressure for some sort of conformity to do what has always been done.
"If that's the tone of the place, it's not surprising that many young people write off school as a thing to be endured, rather than to take part in.
"However, I've no doubt," he adds with a knowing smile, "that Ken Russell's treatment of it would not be suitable for a school production.
"But even before this was agreed, I consulted the senior staff and took their advice. One of them said to me that he wasn't aware of all the details in the story of 'Tommy', but he was quite sure there was nothing in it as offensive as The Pied Piper of Hamlyn.
"That's performed quite regularly in junior, and indeed in infants schools in a small way. But it's a dreadful story when you come to think about it. These children were never seen again – except for one cripple who failed to make it, and he was left behind.
"The controversial thing about 'Tommy' is that it's to do with the present. And young people in particular can identify with the situation in it.
Young people are often criticised for one thing and another, but they have a much greater understanding and sympathy and depth of knowledge than I ever had in my day.
They think about these things deeply, and you'll never get sniggers in this school about silly little jokes. People will discuss important issues.
10. A bit of fun...
"I think doing 'Tommy' will stimulate a lot of pupils in the school in their work next year. And I think we shall see quite a lot of 'Tommy' influence in what they write and how they think and I think it will have helped them to grow up.
"Again, that's what school's all about."
You said it.
AND JUST half-a-dozen rows forward there's one lad from the chorus who's been doing his own thinking about this rock opera. His name is John Grant, aged 15, and with him is another chorus-boy call Jeff Stocker.
"I understand parts of it", says Jeff, "but not all of it. I think you've got to take it both ways, you've got to mix it. At one time you've got to be serious, but…………"
"There is a bit of fun in it," John reckons. "Like the two drunks who come in the door" (for the Hawker scene). "They pretend they're dead drunk, and go into the audience and sit next to them and chat to em".
Great. But what's it all about?
"I think it's about other people's lives who're blind, deaf and dumb", says John. "What people don't realise is that these people kind of haven't got eye sight, speech or hearing, and we just take it for granted that it's there.
"And I think it means we shouldn't mistreat these people".
Isn't it a bit racy though – what with a lover slain in front of a kid, a perverted Uncle fiddling about, and drunks belching into the audience's face?
"I don't think they'll just see it in that one way," observes Jeff. "They'll see it as a bit of fun".
"Right", agrees John. "My four year old sister's coming because my two brothers are in the band and I think she wants to see them. She might laugh when the two drunks come in. She likes drunkards and people like that, so she might shout out".
But the subject is soon changed by Karen (now dressed up as little Sally Simpson with her pink-ribboned hair swinging round her neck) who has a more important question.
"How can you make a story our of all these little words and answers?"
With great difficulty.
THE PRESENTATION of 'Tommy' in a comprehensive school, is, obviously, a unique achievement in itself – but, there again, Ryhope's a pretty extraordinary place anyway.
"It's like a holiday camp", explains 14 year old Janice Dent, "because Mr Copland doesn't believe in corporal punishment. St Anthony's (a neighbouring school) have got a big wall round the place with glass on the top, and you can nae doll off (play truant). But in this school you can".
That's perhaps an over estimation of the situation. But, needless to say if the Head wasn't so forward thinking, the 'Tommy' idea would never have hot off the ground in the first place.
Tricky Dicky, if he'll excuse the familiarity, finds it exceedingly difficult to understand that he's doing something quite progressive within the British educational system.
"You see," he remarks, "nothing strikes me about this school as being exceptional. Because what we're trying to do seems a pretty obvious way of going about things to me.
"And I completely fail to see what it is that people get upset about. Schools, in general, are not as rigid as they used to be – for a variety of reasons. Certainly within the classes in the curriculum a number of developments have gone on that really do make the learning for pupils a more interesting activity than it was a few years ago.
"But by no means did everybody agree with what I was doing at first. I remember one senior member of the education committee told me that the committee wanted evolution, not revolution. I didn't think I'd done anything revolutionary".
Such was, and still is, his thinking that relations with the Sunderland Education Authority have been "strained" at times. And rumour has it that Mr Copland was requested to resign his post on more than one occasion.
Perhaps the best means of describing the school more accurately is to make a comparison with London's Risinghill School, which came in for considerable controversy about seven years ago.
"From what I've read about Risinghill," says Copland, "the general management was not all it could have been. I think a lot of people felt more time could have been spent involving the teachers and the pupils' parents.
"We've had differences of opinion here too, and we expect it. A school isn't for turning out a series of brain washed yesmen. So I suppose I'd agree with the general aim of the individual approach of Risinghill, yes.
"I think what we're trying to do is reduce some of the impediments towards people learning and doing creative things. But, as Head, I don't know what one can have a tremendous influence on what does or doesn't go on.
"Take 'Tommy' for example. Now this is entirely the brain child of Malcolm Gerrie. I think all a Head can do with a large school is create the conditions under which this sort of thing can take place".
BUT THE Family-gigantic philosophy can be interpreted another way, as Jack Barker has discovered.
"We have a lot of vandalism in the schools," he claims. "his ideal of being like a big happy family is great – it's the means by which he tries to achieve it with which I disagree.
12. Small props...
"It's a political school – let's get that sorted out right away. He's trying to implement Labour party doctrine, trying to make all children equal……………..
….but you can't make all children equal – because they won't allow it.
"So what he's really got here is a factory for social engineering. He's got everything down on paper – that this and that is done – and anybody reading it would think what a marvellous school this is. Because it's an ideal school.
"But it just doesn't work, because he will not face facts. People will not allow it to work.
"You know that, if you want to make a first-class cabinet, you'd have to have some decent wood. Well, if you take the analogy that the children are the wood and the staff are the carpenters, we haven't got it.
"This is the only job in the world where we are not allowed to reject unsuitable material. If you worked in a factory and you'd got something that came along the belt that was inferior, you'd throw if off".
Those involved in the "Tommy" production are probably better than average craftsmen, which was illustrated in rehearsal, and is about to be confirmed by the opening show…….
MALCOLM. AND GEORGE take their last chance of drilling the cast in the morning. It's meant to be a serious affair but speedily degenerates into good natured farce.
"We must organise ourselves today to a very strict schedule", Mr Gerrie informs them. "We've got very little time, and we've got a lot more work to do. It'll only work if everybody pulls together.
"Sometime today go into the field, go on into the toilet, or somewhere quiet, and just think about your part, and everything you need. Jot down on a bit of paper and ask yourself "Have I got them? Have I got all the little bits and pieces I need?"
A few people grin.
"If you think yes, the next thing to ask is "Where are they?"
The cast bursts into laughter and somebody shouts "Where are yours, sir?"
"Seriously now", he continues, "this is very serious. If you haven't got small props it's very bad." (Malcolm breaks into laughter). "If you've got a big prop it's great".
He clears his throat, self consciously.
"And for heaven's sake when you come on stage, even if Aunt Ethel is sitting there, don't give her this……" He makes a gesture with his hand. "No matter what the audience is doing…ignore them. I know it's hard, but it'll really spoil things if you start getting a relationship going with somebody down there".
"No matter what happens – if your bra strap snaps, or your belt breaks, or George passes wind on the organ, you still carry on. No matter what happens tonight the show will not stop.
Will the kids be alright?
THEY WILL if they show as few pre-show nerves as the two Tommys parading round the hall an hour before the performance. Despite the fact that they're mildly embarrassed by their blow-dry hair-do's they both want to be interviewed, and it's impossible to take them seriously.
Colin Lamb is baby faced while John Deacon is not dissimilar to a half-pint Budge.
Colin wants to be the singer in a rock 'n' roll band.
"Oh aye," he says in broad Geordie brogue. "I'm in a group y'know? We want to do clubs, and we do our own stuff an' all".
What's the name of the group and we'll give you a plug?
"Ummm. Well, we've just split up, if yer really want ta know. We've been going a pretty long time. I used to enjoy it, but they didn't want to do the commercial stuff – just to get recognised."
Ah yes, Col, know exactly what you mean. With those little boy features, you could be the next David Cassidy.
"I wouldn't like to be a teenybopper," he asserts, raising himself to his full five-foot might. "I'd rather be a Paul Rodgers, or in a group like Yes……."
"Status Quo or Uriah Heep," adds John.
"Status Quo are too monotonous……."
OK lads. here's a tricky one. What do you think of "Tommy" –
There's a long silence.
John: "The mother isn't a nice one, is she?"
Colin protests: "But she issss."
"Shurrup," says John. "She takes a lover." he adds scornfully, "as soon as she finds out he husband's gone. Do you know what I mean? There's a message in that".
Perhaps it means she needs sex?
"Action" corrects John.
14. As the lights go down...
"More action than anything else".
"I think," begins Colin, pensively, "she's frustrated."
The girls around him laugh.
"Now then, lads, this is a school production. By the way, do your parents think this is suitable for school?"
Colin answers first: "Oh yeah, they're completely permissive, my parents. They've got their limits, but they're great".
John is more serious.
"My parents say I cannae do anything right. I'm clumsy and I usually break dishes, and I never do anything right. This is the first thing that I've done well and me mam's proud of us.
"Aye, she cuts out the bits from the papers and goes round saying 'That's my son, you know, you'll have to come and see him'. Everybody knows, coz me mam telt them. She's proud. She's coming three nights, but not tonight, because Wednesday night'll be the worst fer me as well".
IF YOU THINK this is going to be a pen-and-ink production with spotty brats playing rusty trombones, then you're very much mistaken. Ryhope School made history last Wednesday night: Come On The Amazing Journey.
THE HALL is in darkness and, looking like an impervious, arrogant prize-fighter, a pinball machine is situated stage-centre, glowering garishly at the audience. Behind it is the huge silver-foiled construction that will later act as Tommy's shrine.
Suddenly the orchestra erupts into the "overture", and you notice – standing to each side of the stage – Captain Walker and The Mother. Tommy strolls on and moves to the mirror high up on the left wall, flanking the bandstand.
With a rush of thundering feet, the chorus charges through the audience and files methodically onto the stage. Six months work is now all but four performances completed, and the finished production is quite remarkably impressive.
At first all is by no means perfect – electric rock part of the "Overture" is a shambles, and it's not until the delicate vocal tones of The Nurse (Sheila Houghton) skilfully handle the lyric of "It's A Boy", that everyone seems to settle into a common rhythm.
It would serve little purpose to describe the whole production from the beginning to the end. There is little doubt that Malcolm and George wish the cast to act out "Tommy" as dramatically as possible, while turning in the best possible vocal performances. This they achieve with such vigour and vitality that it makes me wonder why the hell this rock-opera always seems to demand a Big Name cast list.
The Ryhope Band have no string-section, and so more emphasis is laid on the rock section. Pieces such as "Pinball Wizard" are therefore performed with such balls (and a few moves borrowed by Paul Oliver, from Rod Stewart) that they take on completely new characteristics.
Although Sheila as The Mother, Henry Ford as The Father, David Holmes as The Lover and half-pint John as Tommy act out "1921" with such tender and then violent realism, it's not until the "sparks" scene that one fully appreciates the very considerable imagination of this production.
The setting's as spooky as an East End backstreet after closing time, counterpointed excellently by a sinister brass section. Round the back of the stage stand four evil-looking greaseball teds, their backs to the audience. Five blind men then tip-tap their way to the front of the stage with white canes – over the sprawled Tommy and then out of sight through the audience.
There's a distinctly audible intake of breath as the heavies suddenly turn and begin, one at a time, to advance towards the footlights. The lighting cuts to a single strobe – and there follows the most vividly devastating stage-fight I've ever seen.
Suddenly we're provided with humour and local colour, as The Father and Hawker (John McGee) burst into the hall as Geordie drinks to act out Malcolm Gerrie's own dramatised addition to the score. It works a treat.
The Acid Queen (Pauline Humphries) comes over as a freaky, spaced-out apparition capable of singing the glasses off any bar shelf. Cousin Kevin (Gary Shaw) is the school playground horror to end them all, the black comedy element retained but in a slightly whimsical manner, recalling a kind of hardcase Terry Thomas.
Gary Beresford as Uncle Ernie is an absolute scream, and the introduction in his scene of four drag queens (who eventually have their "balloons" popped) transposes much of the overt sexual perversion into the realms of subtle farce.
Diane, as the narrator, does exceptionally well, considering the natural limitations to her vocal range, and the spoken narration by Graeme Nisbett was generally fine, albeit with the odd nervous stutter.
BUT SINGLING OUT members of what was a thoroughly rehearsed, gifted and enthusiastic cast, is eventually, invidious. Everyone was good.
It was only to be expected that the "finale" – where the chorus turn on Tommy, and he merges with his old self (the two walk away hand in hand) – was magnificent.
The whole cast was on the stage, balloons descended from the ceiling, confetti was thrown into the audience, and even the lady who had earlier grimaced at Uncle Ernie was up on her feet applauding.
I've never enjoyed a show so much in my life. That's how it seemed to me, anyway. It was tremendous.
16. Last word...
ALMOST THE LAST WORD must surely come from Pete Townsend – on being informed of the success of the Ryhope production.
"The thing that bemuses me is that obviously these people are very young – which makes me feel very old – and that this year they're doing my work, and next year it'll be Gilbert and Sullivan, or 'Arthur', or 'Brain Salad Surgery' even……Why not?"
Well, because they already have another rather unique idea (which unfortunately can't be revealed at present in case somebody pinches it).
And, anyway, the director's wife Linda swore me to secrecy when she persuaded her husband to let me in on it.
"I'll swap it for Roger Daltrey's phone-number", she giggled.
THE CAST & CREW LIST
Narrator Diane Hepple
Nurse Sheila Houghton
Mother Sheila Forsyth
Father Henry Ford
Tommy John Deacon. Colin Lamb
Acid Queen Pauline Humphries
Hawker John McGee
Cousin Kevin Gary Shaw
Uncle Ernie Gary Beresford
Doctor Brian Telfer
Local Lad Paul Oliver
Lover David Holmes
Postwoman Dorothy Martin
Sally Simpson Karen Page
Drag Artists David Holmes, Stephen O'Hara, David Bell, Michael Edwards
Spoken Narrator Graeme Nisbett
Dancers Margaret Oswald, Pat Taylor
4th Year Y. Mill, L. Hardy, L. Burnett, D. Moore, M. Byers, J. Beaney,
K. Aspey, G. Fishwick, C. Longstaff, D. Hunter, D. Martin,
V. Rowntree, M. Edwards, A. Bates, P. Ritchie, J. Stoker,
S. Child, A. Douglas, S. Cain, A. Jackson.
5th Year M. Oswald, J. Eltringham, P. Taylor, P. Reid, P. Knapp, H. Hopps.
6th Year I. Dodsworth, Y. Sweeney, F. Black, S. Kirton, C. Foster, D. Bell,
S. O'Hara, N. Gibbons, L. Hawkins.
7th Year J. Watson, C. Dibb, D. Holmes, A. Cooper, J. Davis.
Director Malcolm C. Gerrie
Musical Director George Robinson
Producer Margaret Hewitt
Gen. Managers Dave Treweeke
Finance & Promotion Ray Lloyd
Costumes Carol Bateman
Design George Ives
Floor Manager Bob Hughes
Props Neil Reed
Display Liz Muir
Make-Up Elizabeth Bissett
Lighting Michael Taylor
Audio Grahame Snowdon
Photography Richard Laurence
Refreshments Eileen Burdon
Photography for "Amazing Journey" by M. C. Gerrie
All interval background music is by the Who.
Ryhope School would like to extend a warm and
sincere gesture of appreciation to Mr. R. E. Copland
(Headteacher), all those staff, both teaching and clerical,
caretakers, cleaners and students whose help, although
not registered above, has made this production possible.
Cornets A Losh; V. Bovill; J Eastaugh
W. Daglish; S. Williams;
G. Burnicle; E. Border; S. Boxall
K. Daglish; B. Burnicle
Flugel Horn J. Hedley
Tenor Horns C. Taylor; S. O'Hara; P. Carr
Euphoniums I. Willis; J. Rain
Baritones L. Davis; T. Stoker; K Boxall
Trombones S. Muir; S. Crake
Basses D. Grant; J. Teare
Percussion T Gartland; P Bell
Group Stephan Wilcock: David Charlton
William Gillam; Colin Butler
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