Cork postman Jack Lyons’s tales of his days hanging out with The Who feature in a major new documentary on the band, writes Ellie O’Byrne
JACK LYONS adds six white sugars to his coffee. His red scooter is parked outside the café and he’s in a talkative mood. “I’m an old dyed-in-the-wool mod. I grew up with The Who and their songs spoke for me. They said what I wasn’t articulate enough to say,” he explains. Lyons, or Irish Jack as he came to be known, is a postman from Cork with an extraordinary tale to tell.
Moving to London in the early 1960s, he fell in with the band who would later become The Who, became friendly with guitarist Pete Townshend and found himself immortalised in the leading character of Jimmy in the 1973 rock opera, Quadrophenia, later a cult movie starring Phil Daniels.
“A week after I left school with no qualification I moved to Shepherd’s Bush to live with my aunt and uncle and I landed a job with the London Electricity Board, the same job that Jimmy had in Quadrophenia,” he says.
Lyons immersed himself in the burgeoning mod movement and started going to gigs and hanging around with a band called The High Numbers, who would later become The Who.
“Numbers were like little mods, not ‘faces’,” Jack explains. Like many subcultures, mods (short for modernists) had their own particular slang, and a ‘face’ was a trendsetter, an alpha, an influencer. “So the ‘High Numbers’ meant mods on Purple hearts. We used to call them Junior Aspirin.”
Drinamyl, a prescription drug containing amphetamine originally prescribed to housewives for anxiety, was the drug of choice for the newly emerging mod youth, who nicknamed them Purple Hearts.
For the naïve Lyons, London was an eye-opener — seedy, fast-paced and rough: “I lived on baked beans and toast and over-boiled soup; everything was moving so fast there wasn’t time to eat.”
Moving back to Cork in the late ’60s, he met his wife and settled down, but is still fond of reminiscing about the time he spent with a band commonly hailed as one of the most influential groups in music culture, and still keeps in close contact with Townshend.
Lyons appears in Lambert & Stamp, a music documentary from cinematographer and first-time director James D Cooper which will be screened as part of this year’s IndieCork film festival.
Lambert & Stamp, which premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, a pair of filmmakers who set out to make a movie about youth culture and ended up managing, moulding and marketing The Who.
It is the incongruous pairing of Lambert and Stamp that forms the backbone of this documentary, which is rich with intriguing and revealing archive footage and also features interviews with Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle.
“I think it’s the greatest untold story in rock,” director James D Cooper says. “It’s not necessarily unknown, it’s just untold; the depth and complexity and rather epic nature of it hasn’t really been explored before.”
LABOUR OF LOVE
The film was born out of Cooper’s close friendship with Chris Stamp in the latter years of his life.
Stamp, who remained a frustrated filmmaker until the end (he died in 2012, just after Cooper finished shooting), was instrumental in corralling Who guitarist Pete Townshend, lead singer Roger Daltrey and bassist John Entwistle for the project.
The 10-year process of making the film was a labour of love for Cooper, who didn’t set out to make a standard music documentary but rather an exploration of the relationships that fed the band’s creative output.
“What really interested me was the vulnerability of the relationship dynamics,” Cooper says. “It’s based on relationships and the acceptance of what can come of being available in any relationship.
“Other than the greatest untold story in rock, it’s a fabulous love story. As much as you see that in the footage I wanted the film to embody that emotional reality that Kit and Chris had for one another.”
Chris Stamp, devilishly handsome and charismatic and very definitely working-class (he was the son of a tug-boat driver); and erudite, aristocratic Kit Lambert, who was Oxford educated and the son of the founder of Sadler’s Wells Theatre, have an irresistible on-screen dynamism that goes a long way towards explaining how they managed to ‘wing it’ in the cut-throat world of music management with absolutely no experience.
Their partnership was undeniably fed on love; in the old footage of Lambert and Stamp socialising, Lambert, who was gay, had a love for and attraction to the straight Chris Stamp that jumps off the screen.
In the documentary, Stamp is candid about how this unrequited frisson charged their creative relationship. Lambert, sadly, died in 1981 after spiralling into addiction.
Cooper navigates the difficult terrain of a story beset by legal battles, creative differences, money issues, addictions and, of course, the tragic death of Who drummer Keith Moon with sensitivity, drawing forth a candour in his subjects.
STAMP OF APPROVAL
Chris Stamp handed down his filmmaker’s legacy to Cooper when Cooper first approached him with his documentary idea, saying, “If that’s your intention, then this film is the continuation and hopefully the completion of the film that Kit and I originally set out to make”.
It was a passing-of-the-torch that sometimes didn’t sit lightly with Cooper, but which makes him doubly proud of the film now.
“Since it’s been out, wonderful things have been written about the film and all that, but inside I’m telling Chris, ‘Congratulations on the completion of your film, mate’,” he says.
And what about working with Irish Jack? “He was really like a light. He embodied in a sense the essence of The Who dynamic and what it tried to communicate and who it communicated with; they achieved a synthesis and identification with their audience that Irish Jack personifies.”
Lambert & Stamp shows on Saturday at the Gate Cinema at 6pm
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