‘Lambert & Stamp’ Tells Story of the Who’s Managers: Movie Review
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These days, it seems like every other band has a documentary about them. From the legendary to the super-obscure, tales of sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, collision, catastrophe and redemption are being told at every turn. The stories are usually reserved for those on the front line, but in Lambert & Stamp, the spotlight shines on a pair of figures behind the scenes of the Who.
Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp were two like-minded souls who met in the early ’60s. Both were in their 20s and shared aspirations to become filmmakers. The route they decided to take to achieve that goal is as roundabout as it is captivating.
With pop music and rock culture an all-time high following the explosion of the Beatles, the pair figured the best way into the film business was to make a movie about some young, exciting rock ‘n’ roll band. They searched the corners of England until they stumbled on a band called the High Numbers.
The Railway Hotel was packed with smartly dressed people — which took Lambert by surprise at first as he tried to make his way into the venue. He got word out that he was looking for a band to shoot, and he soon discovered the High Numbers, who would later rename themselves the Who. “I look at these guys,” recalls Stamp in the movie. “They weren’t handsome, they weren’t nice, they were sort of like misfits.”
Lambert & Stamp tells the story of how two young wannabe movie mavericks had a sudden career change when they ended up buying out the band’s contract and became their managers. “We had no idea of what they did in the music business,” says Stamp. “We didn’t come to the group as professional managers.” Who associate Richard Barnes adds, “There were not two guys on the planet that knew less about rock than these two, and they had no connection.”
The film explains how the pair built everything from the ground up, even starting their own label, Track Records, which would be home to the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Golden Earring, as well as the Who.
The movie project that got this whole thing rolling never got made, but Lambert and Stamp built an empire on the songs of Pete Townshend and the sonic assault and antics of the Who. They made everything up as they went along, seizing upon whatever opportunities were presented, with full support of the band.
Lambert went on to produce every Who album from 1966’s A Quick One through 1970’s Live at Leeds. He also served as a muse of sorts for Townshend, encouraging the songwriter and guitarist to take bigger and broader steps on songs like “A Quick One,” which led to the rock opera Tommy. (It was also Lambert’s idea to have the Who perform Tommy in opera houses.)
By the early ’70s, drugs and alcohol began to invade their lives, particularly Lambert, who became a junkie, leaving Townshend feeling disappointed and abandoned. During the making of the Tommy movie in 1975, everything fell apart. Lambert and Stamp were relieved of their management duties. Lambert died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1981; Stamp passed away in 2012 from cancer.
Director James D. Cooper covers a lot of ground in Lambert & Stamp. There’s plenty of insightful and often moving interviews with Townshend and Roger Daltrey. And there’s also some rarely and never-before-seen footage of the Who in full flight. Ultimately, the movie is a portrait of two men, their journey and their friendship; it’s not just another retelling of the Who’s story, though that’s by default a part of it.
Still, the film feels somewhat disjointed at times. There are moments when the timeline skips ahead, then jumps back and seemingly leaves out important parts of the story, only to return to them later. But the film never tries to paint either figure as anything more than who and what they were. It’s a loving look at an iconic era, and the men, who shaped it.
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