In between playing arenas during The Who’s Quadrophenia’s Tour, Simon Townshend – yes, Pete Townshend is his older brother – performs solo at small, intimate venues. He's performing Friday, 7:30 p.m., at Port Washington Public Library.
Simon Townshend’s songs are at once catchy, with the hint of the familiar: there's a trace of Pete's vocals to a sound that is all Simon's own.
Asked what audiences can expect Friday, Simon Townshend answered with a laugh. “I have no idea, I’m happy to play for anyone. As far as I’m concerned, it’s just getting out and playing. I love it. I have no idea what I’m getting into.”
But when pressed, Townshend noted he’d play some of his oldest songs and some new from his latest CD, “Looking Out Looking In,” as well as material from his next album.
“It’s been a productive time,” he said. “It’s a good time for me.”
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And a busy time. Townshend says he’s played guitar and vocals with The Who since 1996. This week, the Quadrophenia tour is taking him to Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, Thursday, and Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Saturday. Sandwiched in is his solo show Friday, with another at Joe's Pub in New York on Dec. 11.
Townshend says he likes performing solo in small venues when he’s not on stage with The Who.
“I really enjoy it,” Townshend said about the contrast. “There’s something on a big stage – you do connect with the audience. But there’s something about playing in a small club. You really do connect with your audience in a different way. You’re right in the mix of it. I love it.”
Townshend grew up in a musical family. His father, Cliff Townshend, was a saxophonist with the Royal Air Force Squadronaires, which enjoyed popularity entertaining troops during World War II. Simon Townshend describes his father as “a legend musician,” who encouraged his sons musically, including another brother who for a time “dabbled” in the industry professionally. And when rock n’ roll got its start, Cliff Townshend encouraged his sons as they explored the new genre.
“My dad could see a change in music,” Simon Townshend said. “When rock n' roll came along, jazz was being pushed to one side. He could see something new happening....My dad was very proud of Pete's and my success.”
Simon Townshend, 15 years younger than his famous brother, got his start in music at about age 8, when he sang the high notes in “Smash The Mirror” in the rock opera “Tommy.”
“My voice was so high – the guys in the band couldn’t sing that high,” he said. “It was probably my first taste in a recording studio. It was a good experience.”
He’s kept going ever since, focusing on his vocals and also his songwriting. Asked about the difference between his music versus The Who's, Townshend said, “I seem to write more about what I know. Pete’s got a very vivid imagination. We both have a lot to say. I’ve always seen myself as an artist, not a musician. The difference – Pete had to be a musician before he started writing. Then, they needed songs and he became a songwriter. They started out doing covers. I see myself as an artist. Someone who comes up with songs. It’s about songs for me. ”
There’s an entrepreneurial spirit that supports Townshend’s solo career.
“I’m determined to get my music out there," he said. "I work very hard. I believe in what I do.”
“Looking Out Looking In” is available online, and is “a good starting point that’s got everything there, so people can get familiar,” Townshend said.
He added, “It’s nice when people are familiar with what they are hearing.”