By José Oliveira and Rosine Alleva, Rock At Night Journalist/Photographers–Colmar, France
INTERVIEW : SUBSTITUTE – Tribute to THE WHO
Venue: Woodstock Guitares – Ensisheim, February 2017
This Belgian band is amazing, full of energy and very sympathic!! Belgians always are! Formed in 2010, these professional musicians are already very known on the Belgian scene and beyond….
Line-up : Alain Pire (guitar) Philippe Coibion (vocals), Jack Thysen (bass) and Marcus Weymaere (drums, replacing Rudy Lenners for this concert.)
RAN- It’s a great pleasure for us to be here tonight to discover SUBSTITUTE, the tribute to this mythic band THE WHO! A band from my youth who showed what the word “Rebel” really meant! I had the chance to see the original line-up. Did you?
Alain Pire– Yes! I saw them in Brussels, with Keith Moon attraction of course!
RAN– We live a strange period! We are told it’s the end of the CD, we assist to the Vinyl return, and there is a big boom for Rock tributes!!! How do you explain fthis phenomena?
A.P- There are people between 40, 50, 60 years old having a purchasing power, who want to listen again to songs they liked when they were young. The symbol of Rock is still the music from the 60, 70, even from the 80’s and there is a kind of return to this music. The idea that it all was better before subsist. I don’t know if people are right but sometimes, we want to listen to hits or bands again we saw, maybe when we were young. In Belgium like in France, there is this “Tributes” phenomena but I don’t know how long it’s gonna last. It exists and that’s a fact!
Philippe Coibion- And for young people, at least for some of them, it’s also the opportunity to discover bands playing the music from famous ones who don’t exist anymore. Let’s be honest, when you see the price increasing for big bands concerts, going to see tributes helps to be more affordable, cause some are of high quality. Just maybe like SUBSTITUTE!!! (Laughts)
RAN– The Who have so many songs, why did you choose “SUBSTITUTE”? It’s today exactly, that the WHO were recording » Substitute » in 1966, 51 years ago !!!
A.P- It’s the drummer, Rudy Lenners, who is not here tonight, who got the idea. The project was from the beginning, to form a tribute from the WHO. We were looking for a name that is both short and meaningful! SUBSTITUTE is indeed “the one who replaces someone”. Now, we are the WHO substitutes because we are not the real ones! So, there is at the same time, an emblematic title of the group and the function that we occupy by signing the WHO’s titles! So, we are very happy to know that we will be celebrating the 51st anniversary of this magical title on stage tonight!
RAN- Why did you choose THE WHO and not any other mythical band from the Sixties, like the SMALL FACES?
A.P- Ah! I think it’s a matter of taste! It must talk to us! We’re not playing variety music, we do it with heart, great pleasure, enthusiasm and energy, even if we pick up the music of someone else. I think it suits us. We could not have done or felt the same thing with another group. Everyone in the band likes the WHO. We play their music with heart! And it perfectly suits our personal tastes.
RAN– You are certainly immersed in the work of this famous British band. Which record has your preferences?
PH.C- Oh! I love Tommy It is a mythical masterpiece! When I was a teenager, I discovered the WHO with TOMMY. That’s when I learned to love them. As I am a little younger than the rest of the band, for me, this album was a real revelation!
A.P- Yes and after Tommy there was Who’s Next, which is also a great album with songs that we will interpret tonight, with for example “WE DO NOT FOOLED AGAIN”, “BARGAIN” and especially a great album with a very punk cover. You see them urinating on a concrete pylon. It was not just any cover and “WHO’S NEXT” which means “Who is next” is also a pun. Who is the new WHO and who will be the next to urinate on the pylon! It was pretty funny and daring for the time! So we really concentrate on the 66, 67 period until 1970, which for us, is the great WHO period. Well, they have done other stuff afterwards but it’s this period that we focus on.
RAN– You know the first single of the WHO was “I can not explain”?
A.P- Allright! We’re gonna play it tonight!!!
RAN- You talked about Tommy…Can you consider Tommy, as a generational masterpiece? Able to transmit a character of innovation in the chapter of theatrical composition?
PH.C- Well, there was the movie and they also played it on stage …
A.P- You want a scoop? Well, Tommy will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year and we just had a request to play the whole titles of Tommy and, it will be a good idea to rediscover this mythical work, which inspired many people at the time . It’s one of the greatest albums of the late 60s, I think. A real concept album, with the idea to tell a story in music, which was quite new. There is of course “S.F. Sorrow” of the Pretty Things, the previous year but in the opera-rock genre, it was nevertheless quite new. It marked a milestone for the history of Rock , I think.
RAN– Let’s not forget that at the time it really was a very ambitious project and it has been very complicated for Peter TOWNSHEND to carry it out to its end but he finally made it. And what do you think of the importance in the way they dressed that was defining them at the time? As you know, they were MOD’s.
A.P- They were MOD’s but mostly HIPPIES. Nevertheless, they were first a MOD band, Vespas representatives… Peter TOWNSHEND did the Art School and was very influenced by Design. Draped with the English flag and driving vespas, was really a unique look that they developed. They were able to federate a whole generation around them because they carried, with the SMALL FACES, the MOD banner!
RAN– Yes the visual was really primordial at that time. I remember when we went to see the first bands like GENESIS, YES, the WHO, there was a craze for the light show! And the first lasers had a very attractive effect. Nowadays, this craze has turned to technology. Recording techniques, sound innovations, sophisticated instruments and accessories.
A.P- There were also the costume changes, as in GENESIS with PETER GABRIEL.
PH.C- Yes, there has been a huge technological change but it doesn’t mean at all
that we forget what has been produced before. Quite the opposite!
RAN– Would you have liked to see them live, I mean the original band?
A.P- Of course! This is one of our biggest regrets !!!! (laughs). When you see their performance at the Woodstock Festival, for example, I find it magnificent! The two tracks “See Me, Feel Me” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” we will play tonight, were a masterful performance in Woodstock. They were really at the top! It remains a model for us! There’s a lot of energy. It’s the real thing! We want to reproduce this “real” side Not necessarily millions of notes but it’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. The spirit they had was truly amazing !
RAN- In 1969, WOODSTOCK was the concert that should not be missed! I was born in Portugal and at the time I had succeeded in persuading my father to pay for the trip. But when I applied to the passport department, the regime rather sent me to another Festival! Instead of a guitar, they offered me a G3 Mitraillette and 4 years of Mandatory Military Service!!! So, two years in ANGOLA, one of the Portuguese colonies.
A.P- Ah! Yes ! Indeed SALAZAR the Dictator was terrible!
RAN– But I got revenge! I created a band on the second year of my military service in Angola, to which I gave the name of WOODSTOCK !!! The buckle was buckled !!! (Laughs)
A.P.- Cool! What a story !
RAN – What do you think of PETE TOWNSHEND’s guitar playing? Very innovative for the time, right?
A.P.- Yes because it is not a solo guitarist like HENDRIX was, but it was someone who really had his own style, with a lot of chords. He really developed a personality rather based on rhythms than on solos but at the same time with an extremely powerful game. He invented this “windmilling” with the arms that make my fingers hurt each time I tap close to the strings (laughs)!
RAN– KEITH MOON! The WHO’s terrible child! Perfectly venerated at the time with his eccentric escapades! What is your opinion about him?
A.P- He was an extraordinary drummer! Another reference today!
Marcus Weymaere- He was telling a story with his drums!
RAN– KEITH MOON often frequented the famous “MARQUEE” in London and ERIC CLAPTON often likes to say that he always loved to go because Keith MOON often was on the other side of the bar. When he paid his drinks, he received more money than he had given him!!!
A.P. – And we can not forget the scene that took place on a TV show, when his bass drum literally exploded !!! He used the wrong amount of powder!!
RAN: What was the hardest thing to reproduce in this adventure? The vocal parts or the instrumental one?
PH.C- The vocal parts!! I talk for me!!
A.P.- Yes it is true that for the WHO vocals…It might not seem like it, but in fact, they were four excellent singers because Keith Moon had a very beautiful voice too. They were three to make vocal harmonies, which often were not so simple and, therefore, in some pieces we had to work very hard to get there. Instrumentally there are themes that are very easy to play as “I CAN NOT EXPLAIN” but others, like “I’M A BOY” aren’t easy to play at all!! They would not have reached that level if it had not been something innovative and complex. It’s a real challenge to play the WHO’s repertoire!!
RAN– Well, last question. Will you break a guitar on stage tonight?
A.P.- In general, we do!
A.P.- Yes but tonight we do not have spare guitars!!
RAN– Laughs….But you have an instrument store next to the venue!!!
A.P.- We do not have the budget of PETE TOWNSHEND to break a GIBSON SG every night !! Tonight, we will play “soft” in this guitar temple WOODSTOCK GUITARES !!!
RAN– Thank you very much for this interesting interview!
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I was born in Portugal and lived the Sixties exploring the great UK Rock magazines: "The New Musical Express" and "Melody Maker". Ray Charles and Pat Boone were my father’s fav. I became “The Great Pretender”. Cliff Richard was our Elvis Presley. As a beach boy, with my first guitar, I met a beautiful French girl on the beach! It was the Summer of 69!! We got married and rock music was our dowry. In France, I became a Wine Genetic Research Scientist. One of my works contributed to the decoding of the genome of the vine! As a rock journalist, I’ve worked twenty years for the Portuguese and Brazilian Rock Press. I ‘ve interviewed so many great artists. Then, one day I met FRANK ZAPPA! I got into trouble for introducing my wife to "Uncle Meat"!