Article from The Melbourne Age
pkeets at hotmail.com
Fri Jul 30 21:18:58 CDT 2004
Link from alt.music.who:
They were one of the greatest rock bands, now diminished by death and age,
but the Who are back and better than ever, Roger Daltrey tells Patrick
On January 28, 1968, there was chaos on a 7am Ansett-ANA flight from
Adelaide to Essendon Airport. Two air hostesses were in tears, and the pilot
made a radio call 230 kilometres out from Melbourne requesting police meet
the plane upon landing.
"I suggested to several passengers that we should try to quell the
disturbance," ran a quote from passenger Brian Sandford that appeared in The
Age the following day. "But they agreed that any disruption might make it
Passengers were not being threatened by terrorists; the enemy were English
rock musicians from bands the Who and Small Faces, along with Australian
Paul Jones - or "scruffy little men", as the Who frontman Roger Daltrey
recalls being labelled by an air hostess - armed with open bottles of
The 19-man party from the Big Show tour were escorted from the plane by
police, who were told the musicians had brought beer on board, moved around
and used "very bad language".
The musicians denied causing trouble and said they were unaware beer could
not be taken on board planes in Australia. After giving assurances during a
five-hour interrogation that there would be no misbehaviour, the bands flew
to Sydney and on to New Zealand for more shows.
It wouldn't be the only time the Who would be misunderstood on an aeroplane.
On July 24, 1970, Pete Townshend was hauled off a plane in Memphis for
questioning by police after telling a member of the Who tour crew their
album was "going a bomb".
Daltrey now reflects on the Australian incident with a laugh, but says it
was locals who had opened the beer bottles.
"It was an Aussie roadie, it wasn't one of us, but as usual we had to jump
in and defend him. And then we were called scruffy little men. It all got
blown completely out of proportion."
In his autobiography All the Rage, Small Faces keyboard player Ian McLagan
said it was Paul Jones's Australian backing group who brought the beer on
"It was another world. You wouldn't recognise it now," Daltrey says of
Australia in the year the anti-Vietnam War play America Hurrah was banned in
NSW; Rod Laver beat Tony Roche at Wimbledon; the first hand-held calculator
had just been invented; and Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey hit the
"It was so conservative. We thought the English authorities were stuffy
until we got to Australia. They didn't seem to have any sense of humour -
which is ridiculous, because Aussies are now famous for their humour, thank
But the bands did get to show their wares before the fiasco. In Melbourne
they played four shows at Festival Hall - at 6pm and 8.45pm over two days.
And they certainly made an impression.
Depending on one's sensibilities, the sonic rush from their wall of
amplifiers, windmill strumming, microphone twirling and guitar smashing was
either exhilarating or horrifying.
"No one had ever seen anything like this before," says fan John Moon, who
writes, in a review on the band's website, that he was so inspired by what
he saw that he learnt the guitar and became a full-time musician. There were
probably many more like him. The shows at the same venue four years earlier
by those loveable goofs the Beatles had turned many people on to live music,
but these explosive performances were inspiring people to form bands.
But along with Frank Sinatra's ill-fated 1974 tour, the Big Show tour is
considered one of Australia's most infamous and did little for our
reputation as a touring destination. For the Who it was like being
transported back in time. Daltrey recalls the venues as resembling
corrugated iron boxing rings, like something from wartime.
In his book The Promoters, Sydney-based Stuart Coupe writes that Townshend
called for room service one morning and was told by an incredulous hotel
worker: "This is Oz, mate, we get out of bed in the morning here." And
things weren't going to improve - New Zealand was next.
Bassist John Entwistle captured the mood in the Who's song Postcard:
"There's kangaroos/And we're bad news in Australia/Thrown off the plane for
drinking beer/So long on the plane, it drove us insane/So long on the
Upon their return to England, newly elected Australian prime minister John
Gorton reportedly sent the band a telegram asking them never to return Down
Under. Townshend said he was happy to oblige.
John Gorton died two years ago, and Townshend has softened his stance. The
band said they wouldn't be fooled again, but they're (fortunately) breaking
their word and returning 36 years later. Daltrey is certainly relishing the
"It was a different country in '68. It's great to be able to come back and
show Australia what we really are like. We're getting better reviews today
than we've ever had in our lives. Back in the day, critics were just writing
about the smashing of the gear and our clothes and girlfriends. Now they're
finally writing about the music, and understanding how our music works. I
came back four years ago and I had such a good time."
Daltrey is talking about The Ultimate Rock Symphony, when he and some other
ageing rockers, including Alice Cooper and Peter Frampton, played a few old
hits with a 40- piece orchestra at Telstra Dome in 2000.
At the press conference for that show, Daltrey - as if embarrassed by the
grandiose nature of the tour compared to the raw, stripped-back unit he used
to front - played up to his old streetthug image. When the singers were
asked by photographers to look a bit happier, Daltrey snapped: "How are we
supposed to look happy at 10 o'clock in the morning? This is a f---ing
Daltrey was clearly out of sorts without his band, in particular his
sidekick, guitar-slinger Pete Townshend.
Five years earlier, Daltrey attempted to tour under the Who banner with
Entwistle, Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey on drums and Townshend's brother
Simon on guitar. But for the fans, it wasn't the real deal. The tour was
cancelled after poor ticket sales.
Like fuel and a flame, Daltrey and Townshend are innocuous in isolation, but
explosive when combined. Daltrey, a former sheet metal worker, had the
working-class roots and work ethic, the curls, pecs and the voice;
Townshend, the former art school student, had the head full of ideas, lyrics
and riffs. Their relationship was symbiotic and they weren't terribly
"The chemistry between Pete and I, how we play off each other, I don't know
how it works, but it does. I just can't explain it. It's another world. This
music seems to come out of thin air ... My solo career was just a hobby,
something to do when the Who weren't working."
Fans certainly won't be disappointed by the tour's set lists. The gig in
Birmingham last month opened with their first hit, I Can't Explain, and
included most of their hits - Substitute, My Generation, Pinball Wizard and
Won't Get Fooled Again - as well as two new songs, Real Good Looking Boy and
the band's tribute to Entwistle, Old Red Wine.
"Pete is on fire at the moment," says Daltrey. "He's playing the best guitar
I've heard him play since the '70s. There's as much free-form stuff. It's
just matured. Our youth used to give it an edge, but now it's got a
different kind of edge. I don't know how to explain it, because I've never
seen the Who play."
He says Townshend, who was investigated in Britain last year for downloading
child pornography off the internet, had recovered from his ordeal. "He's
fine, and I'm just really proud that he's been proven to have told the truth
and it's all over. He should have known better, and he's been made to look a
bit stupid." (Charges were dropped against Townshend, who years ago said he
was abused as a child and claimed he was downloading the images for research
purposes for a book. He will remain on a British sex offenders' register for
Some rhythm sections can be replaced, but the Who were greater than the sum
of their parts. They were four disparate individuals, each a vital cog in
the rhythm of the music.
"You couldn't pick four more juxtaposed people if you tried. For one reason
or another the chemistry that it created on stage just went 'bang'," says
Despite the drug-related deaths of the rhythm section - drummer Keith Moon
died in 1978 and Entwistle on the eve of a US tour last year - Daltrey and
Townshend have continued to play as the Who. Daltrey defends his decision,
but says if he or Townshend could no longer play, the Who would be no more.
"We'll do it as long as we can do it well. It will stop us, rather than us
waking up and deciding that we don't want to do it any more. We'll just get
up there one night, won't be able to do it, and that will be the end of it.
We owe it to our generation, because life goes on through those kinds of
"It would have been so easy to stop after John's death. Our generation is
losing friends all the time now - we're all in the drop zone. We owe it to
them to show them how to live, not just to give up."
While there are plenty of new young fans at their gigs, Daltrey says the
anthem My Generation, with the line "Hope I die before I get old", isn't for
"I'm still singing it for our generation, because we haven't gone away.
We're still struggling with our lives."
Moon is irreplaceable as a drummer, Daltrey says, but Starkey fits right in,
because he learnt his licks from Moon.
"Keith taught Zak the fundamentals of the drums when he was about four. He's
organic to the band. He's not only an incredibly talented drummer, but he
understands our music - the way it's structured, and where the drums fit in.
The Who's music is not like normal rock'n'roll; it has classical layers and
is very structured. If you put the wrong element in at the wrong time, it
just falls apart."
Daltrey is trying to keep Moon's memory alive by making a film about the
livewire sticksman. "It's incredibly difficult. I know there's a film there,
but I just can't get it in the script. I will get it there. I couldn't just
make a normal biopic of Keith Moon. He was too big a personality and too
important a rock'n'roll character."
How does one separate the myth from the truth? Did Keith Moon really
literally turn a New Zealand hotel room upside down by nailing and gluing
the furniture to the ceiling?
"Yes," Daltrey says with a hearty chuckle. "I've got so many stories. I
don't want to think about them. I could go on all night about things that
"A lot of it did get blown out of proportion, though. But the hotel room
stuff was true. What's wrong with a TV out the window anyway? It's a broken
pane of glass and a new TV. No one ever got killed or hurt. We had
casualties, but in ourselves. Keith and John both overdosed on drugs, so the
only people who ever got really hurt were us, I'm afraid."
One of Daltrey's few regrets is not working harder to keep Moon alive - "I
don't know whether I would have prevented it, because he had lived nine
lives already" - and these days there's no high jinks on the road.
"It's very different. We just live to get on that stage to deliver to the
audience. That's the challenge. It's enough for me now. And it seems to be
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