The Time Paul McCartney Called Pete Townshend ‘a Poof’ on Stage

Keeping a rock band together is hard. Anytime you read about the clashes of The Who or the dissolution of The Beatles, you can’t deny that. But getting famous musicians together for a benefit show might be almost as hard.

George Harrison learned that while organizing the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971. In the end, neither John Lennon nor Paul McCartney played the shows. But the concert ended up being a big success in spite of their absence.

Later in the decade, McCartney found himself in a similar position when he put together the Concert for Kampuchea (1979). While he got The Clash, The Who, and The Pretenders to perform over two nights, McCartney decided to put his all-star Rockestra band on the bill as well.

That meant dealing with Pete Townshend during his peak drinking years. When Townshend showed up piss-drunk on the second night and refused to dress like the rest of the Rockestra, McCartney called him “a poof” in front of the audience.

McCartney may have grown tired of Townshend’s antics

Paul McCartney and Pete Townshend of The Who joke during the Concerts for Kampuchea, 29 December 1979. | Mike Lawn/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In Who Are You: The Life of Pete Townshend, author Mark Wilkerson describes the state of his book’s subject those nights in December ’79. On the first evening of performances, Townshend and The Who (minus the late Keith Moon) played a long set.

Wilkerson notes that Townshend was “clearly drunk” and delivered “often out-of-tune guitar work” at that show. At times, Townshend didn’t play at all, preferring to fill the spaces in the music with “embarrassing dancing.” Worse, he belittled the country benefiting from the concert at one point.

“Aren’t you glad you were born in London and not in poxy Kampuchea?” Townshend asked the crowd. The following day, Townshend got the Rockestra rehearsal time wrong and went drinking when he found no one at the venue.

By the time he made it back, Townshend was hammered. At 1:30 in the video posted above, you see the Who guitarist approach McCartney (at that point, singing “Lucille”). After standing immediately behind him for a few seconds, Townshend gives him a demonic, mocking look.

At the close of the following track (“Let It Be”), Townshend cranks out a guitar flourish (at 7:20) that gets McCartney’s attention. “Thank you, Peter,” he says. And, after pointing out how everyone wore silver suits except Townshend, McCartney said Townshend declined “’cause he’s a poof.”

No one reacted strongly at all to McCartney’s word-choice

1979: Paul McCartney and an all-star band (including Pete Townshend) play a benefit concert for Kampuchea in 1979. | Evening Standard/Getty Images

Clearly, the days of the Concert for Kampuchea were of a different time. Townshend’s tasteless comment about the country was one thing ; McCartney’s equally tasteless choice of words was another. And the moment recalled a Lennon interview from the start of the decade.

When asked about Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones, Lennon tore into Jagger for copying The Beatles and what he described as Jagger’s “f*g dancing.” Indeed, it was an era when those types of references were common in the mainstream.

In the 21st century, you will still hear that sort of thing in rap music, but the mainstream rock and pop scene has changed. Certainly, you can bet you’d never hear McCartney use any such words these days. But in 1979 no one really batted an eye.

Also see: Why The Beatles Knocked George Harrison’s Guitar Solo Off ‘Mr Moonlight’