Martin Bailey mbailey at
Tue Jan 20 13:32:52 UTC 2009


Pete makes lots of interesting points here; it's not just the normal stock answers to the normal stock questions.

For example: here's a stunning quote: 
"I am not a Who fan, I have always wanted to stop. (I feel I should insert a smiley face here or something, but I am not being ironic, I really don't like being in The Who very much, but that is another story)."

The interview also contains a surprising answer to the question "what is Pete's current favourite Who Album?"

And the best answer I've ever heard as to whether Keith really drove his Rolls Royce into a swimming pool or not...


20th January, 2009

In advance of The Who's tour of Australia and New Zealand in March/April, Pete Townshend has completed three e-mail interviews with journalists from 'down under'. Here's the first, with NOEL MENGEL of the Brisbane Courier. 

NOEL MENGEL: There seems to be a real energy to the band now, a sense that time can't be wasted. Does that mean there could be a swift follow-up to Endless Wire? 

PETE TOWNSHEND: This is the question that I sit asking myself today. Whether swift or otherwise, it would have to be good, and that means having time to write, and also knowing precisely what it is I want to say as a writer that Roger would stand by. To be perfectly honest I am looking at things very short-term at the moment. Coming back to Australia is about making good the promise we made to include Oz in our tour to support Endless Wire in 2006-2007. Sheer exhaustion saw that plan founder. We are in better shape now with lots of rest, and the recent tour in the USA and Japan (especially) were really heartening. We're still playing very well. 

NM: I've been a Who fan since 1965, and Endless Wire has become one of my favourite Who albums. A couple of years on, what are your thoughts on what you achieved with that recording? 

PT: That makes me happy to hear. Endless Wire surprises me when I go back to it because it features such a mixture of styles. But it has lyrical teeth, and that is what I always feel most determined to achieve as a song-writer. It also has moment of lyrical flaccidity, especially in the songs written for the new mini-opera Wire and Glass. What is most important to me is that this was an album I managed to stay with until the end, and managed to drive until we arrived. As the producer of the record I did a lot of work in my home studio, but this time I used that studio to keep things very simple and low-fi, rather than try to produce grand sweeping schemes. You know, I'm proud of it, not just because it happened, but because it seems to join the dots somehow, even over the 24 year gap. Usually I look at my solo records to make that join, and in some ways that works. Songs like Face the Face and Let My Love Open the Door were big hits. And Rough Boys could have been a great Who song. But what you miss on my solo stuff is Roger's delivery, he always wants to wring a little more out of the songs than I am prepared to give. 

NM:Do you agree that Roger is improving with age as a singer? His performance on Endless Wire is stunning. 

PT:I do agree. I wish we were able to bring some of his new skills to the very early material but we seem to end up playing it like heavy metal. He has shades now that are fully developed, that started as long ago as when he first found a way to sing "See me, feel me, touch me, heal me' on Tommy, and that in The Who song collection until now there have few opportunities for him to show off. Roger has a strange style of singing. It is partly singing, and partly a kind of screaming rage-passion-call-to-arms. Only he seems to be able to work out how to control it. It is hard work, and sometimes he'll do a show that he feels has failed. But that is always more because he feels he hasn't given his best for some reason. We all hit bum notes now and then, but what Roger has now is deep empathy and wisdom to bring to the older songs, and an amazing interpretive angle on the newer ones. 

NM: An essential element of The Who is the balance of the primal power of rock'n'roll with insightful and intelligent lyrical themes. Are you disappointed that there appear to be so few challengers for that mantle among younger bands? 

PT:It's a tough thing to do. I don't write primal rock. When we record and perform is when the primal element comes into play. Our generation, the boomers, still carry some kind of rage, I'm not sure why. As a writer I've always had a softer side, but even when I perform solo I find myself going nuts sometimes. Not sure why. Younger bands don't have the boomers' frustrations. They have different problems. For example, a wise and smart young person of today will not challenge someone of their same age who mugged them with a blade. In my day, if you didn't fight back you were worthless. So a lot of us ended up dead, pointlessly. Rage is not useful any more. 

NM: Relationships in The Who had always been volatile. But the grief following John Entwistle's death and the stress you had to endure when facing court charges seems to have brought you and Roger closer together than ever. How would you describe your relationship now? 

PT:It's good. Very good. Roger did bravely stand by me when I couldn't really speak for myself. He took a chance, as did Jerry Hall and some other people who spoke up for me. They made their public statements of belief in me several months before it was established that there was no evidence against me, and that my researches were genuine, and a part of a long-standing commitment to help adult survivors of child abuse - not a perverse interest in children. John's death was a different matter. That was a different challenge and in that case I have to say that I was the one who had to decide and act. Roger was smashed by John's sudden death, and couldn't even think straight. I was the one who made the decision to go on at the Hollywood Bowl and do the tour we had booked, Roger stood by my decision. 

Much great art comes out of pain and turmoil. But despite the common assumption, the artist doesn't really have to be unhappy to create great art, do they? 

Of course they do. Why would anyone try to make art if they thought the world was fine without it? You have to believe you can enrich the world, change it, affect it or even challenge it by attacking it. The problem here is that rock and pop were never intended to be Great Art, they were meant to provide a kind of conduit for the audience to express their own needs and hopes. I think occasionally good art has been created in pop and rock - once or twice by me. But the art I am most proud of - the ability to give my audience a place to rage at the frustrations of their badly managed childhoods, and the mess of a world they grew up in - is a performance method that definitely came from conflict, pain and some inner turmoil. 

This will sound pretentious but I can carry it: look at Tolstoy. Here's the man who wrote War & Peace. Was he happy? Some of the time, but this amazing writer grew more and more unhappy as he got older. It's been the reverse for me I'm glad to say, thus it is perhaps that my work goes downhill! 

NM: Some fans were shocked when The Who returned to the stage so soon after John's death, but it seems you and Roger both took great comfort from it. What is your response to those who said it was wrong go on without Keith and John? 

PT: I don't enter into discussions with fans who feel they have some role in what I do with The Who. We provide a service to fans, if they don't like the service they can go elsewhere. We are not a religion, a huge family or a political party. We are musicians and performers and if we don't keep our own circus running someone else's will come to town in our place. In fact our continuing as The Who rather than 'Daltrey & Townshend' benefits Keith and John's families, and keeps Who music alive. 

I don't think we took comfort from continuing after John's death - I really wanted to use John's death as an excuse to stop. Ask any knowledgeable Who fan if that is right or wrong, I am not a Who fan, I have always wanted to stop. (I feel I should insert a smiley face here or something, but I am not being ironic, I really don't like being in The Who very much, but that is another story). So for me, the question was not what I wanted, not what would comfort me, but what was my duty. I felt the buck stopped with me, and I made the decision, right or wrong, I stand by it. 

NM: Zak Starkey (drums) and Pino Palladino (bass) are both great musicians. How is the feeling in the band now playing with them? 

PT: Even now they are both evolving, Pino is always great, but he is starting to stretch out now in the most explosive and exciting way when we play on stage. Zak has always been adventurous, but now he is bringing a lot of discipline to his work. We are achieving a real balance now. You mustn't forget Rabbit on keyboards - he's a genius. My brother Simon also does work that we cannot do without now. Mainly vocal, he also plays vital second guitar parts that were important on the original Who records where there were almost always at least two guitar parts. He's also a great energy to have in The Who. 

NM: Looking back, what is The Who album/albums that gives/give you most satisfaction? 

PT: So long ago - Quadrophenia, but only partly because I had so much control over it. More recently I'm with Roger in my liking for Who By Numbers - a strange little record, but knocked out in just two weeks at our studios in Shepperton on a mobile studio with Glyn Johns. Keith Moon was recovering from the loss of his wife Kim (she left him) and was in full flight, drinking, and using drugs, but playing well, holding court and being incredibly funny. 

NM: We can send a spaceship to Mars and communicate via the internet, but I still don't think I've heard a better-sounding rock album than Who's Next. Endless Wire is a great sounding album too, but do you agree that generally something has gone amiss with sonic quality in the digital age? 

PT: Ah! Some of the sonics on Who's Next emanated from my home studio (producer Glyn Johns was never too proud to use my demo as the basis for a Who backing track). Glyn was and still is a master of sonics. But he also knew when to stop recording. A lot of musicians these days get lost in perfectionism that is inherently possible in the digital method of recording. That said, I like a lot of recent lo-fi stuff. Sufjan Stevens, Wilco, and so on. I also think there are some great sounding recordings being made today, I just think producers have to a long way to go to compare to the great moments in recorded history. On Who's Next I had the best studio in West London, and it happened to be in a tiny room in my house opposite Eel Pie Island in Twickenham. 

NM: There was a very feverish atmosphere to rock music in the '60s, a real hothouse of creativity, perhaps fuelled by the feeling that it might be all over in a few years. Rock'n'roll today seems very corporate by comparison. Are you pessimistic or optimistic about rock music in the future? 

PT: I refuse to be pessimistic about anything at all. I've lived through so many scares that never happened. I think it's shocking the way we try to frighten people today, in order to cow them down, bully them into feeling bad, instead of just getting on with the business of making the world a better place. Rock 'n' roll? It's just a conduit, whether it's commercial or New-Age hippy, the audience are the ones who count, and who use the music for their own purposes. 

NM: What's your preferred guitar/amp set-up now? 

PT: Fender Stratocaster (Eric Clapton model) and Fender VibroKing amp. 

NM: I've seen The Who once: Concerts for Kampuchea, Hammersmith Odeon, December 28, 1979. Any memories of the concerts? 

PT: I loved it. Remember it well. Had a great time. Got a message from Blondie saying she heard I looked cool in my 'baggy suit'. Lots of Remy Martin Cognac. 

NM: I also saw you do an encore with The Clash in Brighton a few weeks later. Thank you, I'll never forget either night. 

PT: Same period. Same baggy suit. Same Cognac. The Clash gigs of that time were just sublime. We felt so spoiled. Some great bands when you remember that early U2 and Bruce Springsteen played the same hall in the same year. 

NM: The 1968 tour of Australia with The Small Faces has become the stuff of legend. What are your memories of the experience, "The Fortnight of Furore" as it was described in the title of Andrew Neill's book? 

PT: It was fun in some ways, and I have some good stories to balance out the bad. But at the end of the day it was the press who screwed up. They were very tough back then. You must be very grateful they all came to work in Britain. 

NM: You didn't tour Australia again for 35 years, and we've been left to presume it was because that tour was such an awful experience. Was that the reason? 

PT: We didn't play Japan either. The reason was that I always felt we had too much pressure on us already to properly serve our established audiences in the UK, Europe the USA. We never seemed to have enough time. Taking on a Pacific tour would have seen The Who fold much earlier than we did (in 1982). We also never played Spain, Portugal, Mexico, South America or anywhere in the Balkans. You didn't see us simply because we didn't have enough time, not because you were too far away or we held a grudge. Roger once said on the subject of my resistance to revisit Oz that I am capable of holding a grudge for a long time. Others say I am always changing my mind. You can't have it both ways. I think my decision was sad for our fans in Oz, but may have saved my life in the long-term. I'm glad it's so much easier to travel today, first class, great hotels, and we are treated like royalty not scumbags. 

NM: What were your thoughts on returning to Australia to play Sydney and Melbourne after 35 years? Hopefully you had a more enjoyable visit. 

PT: It was a dream from start to finish. I bought Aboriginal art, Ugg boots, had some of the best food I've ever eaten, and looked stunned at Sydney harbour. Our shows were just straight-up rock shows with earnest and friendly audiences. I can't wait to come back. 

NM: I know we have to take what we read about early Who history with a grain of salt since there are probably as many myths as facts. Do you intend to set the record straight with a book we can believe? 

PT: I have written my own story up to the premiere of Tommy at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London. Then I took a break. My book will not be finished until I stop touring. I take a long time to write, and I try hard to get it right. In the meantime the stories you hear are probably mostly true, and the ones that aren't are always amusing. 

NM: Keith didn't drive his Rolls-Royce into a swimming pool. To your knowledge, did he really drive his hire car into the foyer of his Brisbane hotel in 1968? PT: Ah, but you see he did drive his Rolls Royce into a pool - just not his swimming pool. What went into the swimming pool was a lesser car, an Iso Rivolta or something. The RR went into the muddy swamp at the bottom of his garden about the same time. So it's just two poor stories combined to make one good one. Keith was famously bad at steering. Just that. He was steering-dyslexic. To turn right, he steered left. He would probably have made a good dingy sailer. He drove a hire car into the lobby of a hotel in Scotland somewhere. Right up the steps, through the glass doors and up to the desk where he opened the window and asked for his room key. I'm certain of that. Luckily I was staying elsewhere. But in Brisbane? I never heard that story. 

NM: If there is one erroneous Who myth you could correct, what would it be? 

PT: Probably the story I just told about Keith. I wasn't actually there, as I admit. In the end I don't know whether I remember what really happened, or what we all laughed about later, which would have had some juicy bits added. Our publicist Keith Altham used to sit with Keith and try to think up ways of getting The Who on the front pages of the newspapers. By that time, lucky for us, all the press hacks from Australia worked for the tabloids in London and they would print anything that allowed the sub to scream: MOON THE LOON DOES IT AGAIN! The Oz-owned UK tabloids loved Moon, and he loved the tabloids. To reassure your readers, Moon the Loon does not feature in our lives today except safely on screens at the back of the stage. 

* The Who play Brisbane Entertainment Centre <> on March 24. 

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