When the Who wrapped up their farewell tour in 1982 Pete Townshend was so convinced that his days as a rock star were behind him that he went out and got an actual job working as a book editor at Faber and Faber. He enjoyed the work, but in 1985 he was inspired to create a concept album about a low-income housing estate in London known as White City. He cut the record with Who keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick, bassist Steve Barnacle, drummer Mark Brzezicki and a ton of guests, including Pink Floyd‘s David Gilmour and future Who bassist Pino Palladino. He called the project White City: A Novel despite the fact that it was, in no way, an actual novel, though he did create an hour-long film about the work.
To promote the album, Townshend assembled a 16-piece band that he called Deep End and booked a two-night stand at London’s Brixton Academy in November of 1985. Pink Floyd were between projects at the time, so David Gilmour had time to serve as the lead guitarist. In a sign of things to come for the Who, the stage was packed with horn players and background singers and Townshend stuck to acoustic guitar. The shows were ostensibly in support of White City: A Novel, but they largely focused on Who classics, older Townshend solo tunes and cover songs like “Harlem Shuffle” and “That’s Alright, Mama.” Here’s video of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” where Gilmour adds some cool Floyd-like touches to the familiar tune.
A Townshend/Gilmour tour would have likely been a big hit, but they never hit the road. They did release the concert LP Deep End Live! “I remember listening to those tapes and thinking, ‘Fuck!” Townshend told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “‘It was such a great band! I’m singing so well, and it sounds so good. I’m obviously enjoying it. Why didn’t I tour it?’ And the answer is very simple. On the second night at Brixton my daughter was taken into the hospital. My wife sent a note saying, ‘I’m not sure Aminta’s illness is just about being sick.’ I took that to heart. I’m not saying that I didn’t tour because of my family, or because of the fear, but I think that the Who was a terrifying band to be a part of for our children and for our family. It was terrifying. When you look back at the story, the stuff that surrounded us, it was fucking awful.”
That said, four years later Pete Townshend hit the road for a Who reunion tour that utilized many of the Deep End musicians. By this point, Gilmour was busy with a reconstituted version of Pink Floyd. Townshend still wanted to stick to acoustic guitar and briefly thought about bringing in Joe Walsh, but ultimately went with Steve “Boltz” Bolton. He’s largely faded from view since that tour, though you can catch him at the Varne Boat Club in Kent, England, later this month.