The New Daltrey Interview

Scott Schrade schrade at
Fri Jan 28 19:03:01 CST 2005

Who's Back,12102,1399761,00.html?gusrc=rss

He has dabbled in trout, worms and charity benefits, but Roger Daltrey
could never quite stay away from rock'n'roll. He tells Dave Simpson
about teaming up with his old sparring partner, Pete Townshend, to
record the first Who album in 23 years

Friday January 28, 2005
The Guardian

Then and now ... Roger Daltrey

Roger Daltrey is remembering a typical business discussion between
himself and Pete Townshend. It was 1973; the Who were filming Love
Reign O'er Me for the Quadrophenia movie [Actually, this took place
during *rehearsals* for the QUAD tour. - S.S.] when Daltrey realised
that the film crew - mates of Townshend's - were just sitting there and
not actually filming anything. Daltrey, who was straining his voice, was
hardly pleased, and voiced his concerns to the guitarist.

"So he whacked me round the bloody 'ead with a guitar," remembers
Daltrey, with a laugh. "I was being held back by two roadies, because
they knew what I was like. I stood there and watched him do it. 'Yeah,
what else you got?' So he said, 'Let him go or I'll kill him.'"

The roadies, unfortunately for the guitarist, let the singer go. "One whack
and he was on the floor. But it was hysterically funny! In five minutes
we'd gone from Love Reign O'er Me to me sittin' in an ambulance
holding 'is hand, saying, 'Sorry, Pete, I didn't mean it,' with him sparko."

The irony of the situation is particularly savoured. "Course, if they'd had
their bloody cameras on, it would have been the best thing in the film.

Thirty-two years later, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend are no longer
knocking seven bells out of each other; since December they have been
holed up in Townshend's London studio, working on the first album of
new Who material since 1982. Fans will be intrigued at the revelation
that the pair are bickering just like they did in the old days. "Let's just
say we don't please each other all the time," says Daltrey.

 It was precisely this dynamic that spawned one of the all-time great British
rock bands. The Beatles were more famous, the Stones arguably sexier, but
neither matched the explosive power of the Who in their prime. Songs like
My Generation (containing the immortal line "I hope I die before I get old")
were delivered with trashed equipment and unparalleled bad behaviour, such
as when drummer Keith Moon drove his Rolls-Royce into the foyer of a
Glasgow hotel.

Townshend - the middle-class, art-school intellectual - created songs
voicing alienation and frustration. Daltrey - the rebellious expelled
schoolboy and disgruntled steelworker - tapped into exactly the right
vein of testosterone, questioning and hurt to bring them all to life. "He is
able to get inside my head and I get inside his," says Daltrey of their

Townshend's savage wit also triggered Daltrey's rages. However, it was
a rumble with Moon that caused Daltrey to reassess his violence. In 1965,
fearing drugs were diluting the band's power, Daltrey flushed Moon's pills
down the loo. Moon attacked him with a tambourine and got flattened,
and Daltrey was kicked out of the band.

He came back, but "with all these conditions!" Daltrey recalls. "Jesus, my
whole personality had to change. But I hated myself for hitting them."
Instead, he channelled his fury into the songs (the 1973 incident was self-
defence, he says) and the Who became more powerful still.

But Daltrey is not here to talk about the Who. He is here to plug Moon-
lighting, an anthology of 30 years of solo work produced "on my days off".
Several songs derive from his fairly successful acting career. His 1989
role in Brecht's Threepenny Opera throws up a Cockney Mack the
Knife. The cracking Free Me hails from the film McVicar, where Daltrey
brilliantly played the notorious criminal-turned-writer who battled the
prison system. "John McVicar had a questioning mind. But his whole
life had been a waste up to that point. He was like a coiled spring
waiting to be released."

However, the compilation is peppered with Townshend classics such as
Pinball Wizard, and talk keeps returning to these. Nothing, Daltrey says,
challenges him like a Townshend song. Everything else, even the acting
career, is "secondary". Thus, when he is singing new Townshend material,
Daltrey can hardly contain his excitement. They already have two songs
down for the new Who album. One is about Beslan, another about the
redemptive power of music. And that, he beams, is "classic Townshend".

Some will doubt whether Townshend and Daltrey on their own can really
be the Who. Moon died in 1978 after overdosing on pills prescribed to
help his alcoholism; bassist John "Ox" Entwistle died a similarly rock-
related death in 2002. Surprisingly, Daltrey agrees with the critics. Townshend
is toying with calling them Who2; Daltrey, typically contrary, jokes about
"Who's Left".

More seriously, he sees this as an attempt not to revive the Who, but
develop it. He thinks they did the wrong thing by simply replacing Moon
with another drummer (Kenney Jones).

"It's like, in a room of four walls if you lose one, the room can be any
size you want it. But we built another fuckin' wall! Keith and now John
are gone and we can never replace those walls, but with me and Pete,
the possibilities are infinite." Daltrey hopes to have an album finished by

Until now, the Who have made two albums without Moon: 1981's Face
Dances and 1982's It's Hard. Since then, they have functioned on and
off as a live band, boosting charities such as Daltrey's Teenage Cancer
Trust; he says it is important to him for family reasons (and "a working-
class thing, putting something back") and fits with the Who's long-standing
connection with youth. Daltrey lives for playing live ("I'd do 300 gigs a
year if Townshend was up for it. And we are physically able, haha!") but,
since the early 1990s, he has kept out of the studio. It wasn't the same
without Pete.

Townshend has contemplated doing new material for years. Entwistle's
death reignited the fire, but the petrol on the flames came when
Townshend was arrested in an internet paedophilia swoop in 2003.
Daltrey's defence was immediate and unflinching. "I know Pete. I knew
it was bollocks," he says, citing Townshend's record in helping abuse
victims, including battered wives. However, he admits that it was as big
a crisis as he had ever faced. "The shock of it, coming so soon after John's
death, almost put me on overload."

Townshend faced the press and offered an explanation (he visited a
website, just once, researching child abuse for his biography) that was
eventually accepted. But Daltrey still suspects a witch-hunt. "The police
actually told me that if he wasn't who he was, they would never have even
investigated it, because they knew he'd only visited the site once."

Equally, Daltrey knew that the character of Uncle Ernie from the Who's
rock opera, Tommy, is based on a character from Townshend's "weird
childhood", and was aware of the guitarist's long-standing concern about
the issue. "He used to tell me, 'My son picks up the internet and all he
gets is porn.'"

Those famous blue eyes are piercing into mine, searching for doubt. Daltrey
continues: "What's really amazing is that nobody answers the question he
wanted answering: 'Why can't they stop it?' If you give your credit card
details, the banks must know who you're dealing with. The servers can
stamp it out. What the fuck is going on at government level? It's because
there's too much money being made."

Townshend was cautioned. The incident has brought the pair closer together,
fuelled Townshend's "creative juices" and their long distrust of the establishment.

Daltrey was recently awarded a CBE but nevertheless, he blasts forth at
everything from parliamentary "pigs in the trough" to David Kelly's "suspicious
death". It angers him that everything the Who deemed "old" - bureaucracy,
class, the two-party system and hidden corridors of power - is still here.

The band return to the ring as their stock among young bands is again high.
Daltrey mentions the Bees and Franz Ferdinand, who recently had a Who-
like punch-up. He "quite likes" wild boys the Libertines, but he frets that
there is "something missing".

One of the frontmen, usually.

"Harhar! Yeah ... but he's a clever guy, that one," he says of the errant Pete
Doherty. "He's got the X factor, hasn't he? He's magic to watch. You can't
learn that.

"What's so disarming about Peter [Doherty] is that he pretends he's in control,
or he thinks he is. But if he's up to everything [with drugs] people say he is,
he cannot be in control. He is a genius. But I've known many people like that
and they're all dead."

Daltrey is aware of comparisons between Doherty and the Who's own rock
tragedy, Keith Moon; he points out that public fascination fuels their behaviour
 but people missed the point with Moon.

At the moment, Hollywood wants to make a film about Moon, "the madcap
character". But Daltrey would like such a film to shed new light on one of
rock's most complex characters, whose sideways take on life went far
beyond filling bass drums with gunpowder and playing as if his whole body
was exploding.

"Keith was a savant," he says. "The most amazing mimic. He could vacuum
a character off someone in 10 minutes and he would then become them.
Not just a caricature, he'd get inside. It was scary! He may have been a
little bit autistic; we didn't know about those things then. There was definitely
something different in his head."

For a millisecond, the cheery demeanour gives way to something wistful. All
this musical activity coincides with a lull in Daltrey's life. He is rock's most
celebrated trout farmer (although in fact he "got out of trout" five years ago)
and recently ("disastrously!") experimented with farming worms. His children
are now adults; he hasn't acted for some time.

A psychologist might say the man who hoped he'd die before he got old is
fighting against time. Daltrey insists not: the only Who member who never
got into hard drugs is chasing something almost mythical that he can find
only in the band.

"Some nights," he confides, "it's like pushing an elephant upstairs, but then
suddenly that elephant starts to run and it's that fleeting moment that amazes
 me ... it's like a zen experience. You see so many acts who don't even get
the elephant to the fuckin' stairs. I think that's why the Who is still valuable."

So when will you stop?

"When it leaves me," he says. "And when it leaves me, I'll know."

Who are you?

March 1 1944: Roger Harry Daltrey survives a difficult birth in Shepherd's
Bush, London.

1957: After hearing Elvis, Daltrey makes a guitar from a block of wood.

1959: Daltry [sic] passes his 11-plus and qualifies for Acton grammar
school, where he is expelled for causing trouble among boys of higher
social backgrounds.

1962: Steelworker Daltrey is invited by former Acton pupil Townshend
to join Mod band the Detours, who become the High Numbers, then the

September 1964: The group destroy their equipment at the Railway
Hotel, Harrow, the first glimpse of an enduring image of rock rebellion.

November 1965: Daltrey accompanies Number 2 hit My Generation
by telling an interviewer:"When I'm 30 I'm going to kill myself. I don't
ever want to get old."

1967: Daltrey faces a choice between his first marriage and the Who.
He chooses the band.

August 17 1969: The Who's performance at Woodstock turns them
into US superstars. "Field of bloody hippies. We were tired, stoned
and jetlagged," Daltrey says today.

July 19 1971: Marries Heather Taylor. Their marriage still survives.

April 1975: Daltrey wins the US New Star of the Year for his acting in
the Tommy film.

August 1975: Daltrey stars in Ken Russell's Lisztomania ("I made all
my mistakes in terrifying Technicolor").

May 3 1976: The Who's gig at Charlton football stadium is certified
the loudest ever (120 decibels).

May 1979: The Quadrophenia film starts a Mod revival.

April 1980: The film McVicar opens in London.

Dec 16 1983: The Who split.

July 13 1985: The Who reform for Live Aid.

November 1985: Daltrey's Under a Raging Moon, about Keith, reaches
number 42.

April 1989: Daltrey plays a street singer in Brecht's Threepenny Opera.

2003: Daltrey presents TV programme Extreme History, in which he
demonstrates survival techniques and dons wolf skin.

July 2004: The Who return in triumph to the Isle of Wight festival after
34 years.

December 31 2004: Daltrey awarded a CBE. "It's nice to be honoured
by your country, but I have my own criticisms of the honours system," he
says. "If it helps my charity work open doors towards huge amounts of
money sittin' in fuckin' foundations everywhere, then fine!"

· Moonlighting is released on Sanctuary on Monday. To order a copy for
£12.99, call the Guardian music service on 0870 836 0712

- SCHRADE in Akron

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