Lambert and Stamp tells the story of the improbable pair of Brits who plucked a band from inevitable obscurity, eventually making the band one of the most creative and innovative bands to emerge from the British Invasion. The Who by their own latter day admission look to Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert as the managers who pushed the band to their creative potential. Although the band and their managers were eventually forced into acrimonious lawsuits to sever their business relationship a decade after they met, they eventually overcame their differences. The remaining living men are now friendly and acknowledging of their respective shortcomings and successes.
The history of The Who has been told in various documentaries, but this film shines a light on a story that has not been adequately told. Director James D. Cooper has done a great job in peeling back the layers.
Lambert came from an Oxford upper-class background, which is not dissimilar from the backgrounds of two other managers of famous British bands (The Beatles / Brian Epstein and the Rolling Stones / Prince Rupert Lowenstein), an observation overlooked in the film. Never mentioned in the film is the additional parallel between Epstein and Lambert of their homosexuality, although Townshend seems amused that he was never propositioned by Lambert (a longstanding rumor swirls about the extent of the Lennon-Epstein relationship).
Lambert and Stamp discovered their mutual desire to get into filmmaking. They eventually shaped a plan of making a film that required finding an interesting band to be at the center.
As with most origin stories, this one is filled with intriguing components. Stamp’s working-class background was closer to the rest of The Who (then known as The High Numbers, a nod to the pills popped by fellow Mods). The managers went to the parents of the band members, promising a salary to their sons. Lambert (who got his start as a camera operator on a grueling documentary shot in uncharted Brazil) signed on for a documentary shot in Norway, sending his £80 week pay to London. But the band remained in perpetual debt, smashing instruments and spending beyond their means.
It is quite clear that Lambert and Stamp were absolute beginners when it came to rock management. Nonetheless, they made it up as they went along, and seemed to gain traction at each turn. At one point they want to manage Jimi Hendrix, but he has management. They want to produce Hendrix, but he has a producer. They learn he needs a record label, so they form Track Records. That leads to various offshoots, which Townshend hilariously describes as working on a series of acts that went to number one, with The Who still unable to get there.
The film is well edited between fairly recent talking head interviews and archival footage. Much of the early footage sets the stage of post war Britain and the emerging music scene of the early 60s. Townshend is his usual loquacious, intellectual self. One particular scene may have answered my long puzzlement over his derision of Led Zeppelin. I thought it was because Jimmy Page incongruously played on early Who sessions, but it emerges that Townshend overheard Keith Moon and John Entwistle discussing leaving The Who to join Page in his new band.
Other great clips show Lambert speaking fluently in German and French with journalists during some of The Who’s early European tours. The venerable actor Terence Stamp provides good retrospective context for his brother’s relationship with Lambert and the band. Townshend eruditely explains again that Lambert and Stamp were very astute in encouraging the band ‘to market the fan rather than marketing to the fan’. Townshend then explains he would see a sharp dressed fan in the audience and then at the next gig Townsend would be dressed similarly, which would create a ripple effect of other fans dressing in that same style.
Significant time is spent explaining how the band’s history can be defined as pre-Tommy and post-Tommy, because it was that release which finally brought the band out of massive debt and defined the role of Daltrey as the golden rock god lead singer. The pre-Tommy descriptions of management’s style of scamming money wherever possible seems preposterous in hindsight, but was necessary at the time.
The film’s music includes mostly Who and Townshend material, but there is a significant amount of relevant music provided (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown footage is a hoot).
Much of the live performance footage is new to this long time Who fan. The overall production values are excellent, with cuts and graphics capturing well the Mod era.
The film winds up by alternating between Washington DC and Shepperton Studios, where are the final prelitigation meetings happened between the band and Lambert and Stamp. Looking back, Stamp wryly noted that claims of mismanagement seemed a bit strange when the entire studio facility in which they were having the meeting was owned by the band at the initiative of Stamp and Lambert. Indeed, it was at Shepperton Studios where I interviewed Entwistle in the early 80s, the bassist prophetically observing then that there were ‘no such things as old rock stars, we are making it up as we go along.’
The final footage is from the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors, at which Daltrey insisted Stamp attend. The deaths of Lambert, Moon and Entwistle invariably provide poignancy, but in the end it is comforting to know that Townsend, Daltrey and Stamp have reconciled and acknowledge the importance of their original time working together.
With The Who about to embark on what will surely be their final farewell tour after a series of many farewell tours, this film sets the stage in very timely fashion.