Roger Daltrey, owner of one of the greatest voices in rock history, played the O2 Academy Bournemouth on 19 March 2011 ahead of a triumphant re-imagining of The Who’s classic rock opera Tommy at the Royal Albert Hall five days later. He brought with him the band of crack American session musicians he toured the States with the year before opening for Eric Clapton – and Who partner Pete Townshend’s younger brother Simon – to warm up for his latest show in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust, the charity for which he has been organising shows that have raised some £10 million over the last decade.
Hi Roger, are you ready to tackle the whole of Tommy?
Probably yeah, I think we’re well enough rehearsed to give it a go, yeah. And lots of little treats, some stuff I like, some stuff of my own and just have fun really, great music. The Who stuff we do play outside of Tommy is songs that The Who haven’t played for years, some of which we’ve never ever played live.
Are you going to draw songs from right across the catalogue?
Mostly from the early days, with all the harmonies, because I’ve got an incredible band of musicians with great voices and it’s great to revisit that early sound. That’s what interests me.
The mid-60s albums were very ambitious, they pushed the boundaries of what was possible in a studio – A Quick One… was arguably the first rock opera and The Who Sell Out was one of a defining pop-art rock statement. It should be some show.
Yeah, we do things like Pictures of Lily and Tattoo and it’s just great to hear the real sound of what they used to sound like. They were very unique songs. And they stand up today – I mean everyone’s got a Tattoo today haven’t they?!
And as for Pictures of Lily, what better song for an adolescent boy?
Can you still relate to that adolescent boy?
Yeah, of course. I’ll never give that up!
So, how’s the eyesight?
Oh, we don’t talk about that!
It must have been difficult to realise those songs on stage at the time, can you add something now that you didn’t have back then?
I think so, but it can’t be The Who without Pete for sure; and we can’t be what we were 40 years ago, but the point is that underneath all that circus and all that youthful testosterone and all that stuff that was flying around then, there was actually some incredible music and that’s what interests me now.
I’ve seen what’s out there with a lot of these young bands and I think some of this music stands up better.
Ultimately that’s all we ever were interested in. We were musicians. We made it a circus to sell it, but I think people ultimately, if they go to any kind of show they want to hear first and foremost great music. You can stick the circus on top.
That’s not say we’re dead on our feet onstage, the day that happens to me, I dunno, I’ll give up.
The band – Pete’s brother Simon Townshend has played with The Who for a while now – but who else?
The band is a bunch of American musicians. Frank Simes is my music director and lead guitarist who does loads of work with Glenn Frey from The Eagles; my bass player has done loads of touring with Sheryl Crow, John Button; I’ve got a fabulous young drummer – Scotty, Scott Devours; and a keyboard player called Loren Gold.
So it’s quite stripped down in that way. We’ve got rid of all the brass and all that, all the bells, baubles and bangles which I never really liked anyway to be honest. It works in certain songs in Quadrophenia but that’s about it and I think every time we put it in Tommy it just killed it. The beauty in Tommy is in the subtlety
Is it difficult for musicians to step into a body of work like The Who’s, and an album like Tommy in particular, which is so well known?
It’s tricky for musicians, definitely, because Pete used very strange voices and chords, but these guys have got it down, they’ve been really amazing. I’m very proud of them, very proud. I mean, they’ve schlepped all the way over here for a charity gig for one thing.
Actually, the reason we’re doing Bournemouth is because we were going to do another charity gig to warm up for the Albert Hall but that fell through and the guys were coming over anyway so I thought we’d better do a gig which is why it came in at such short notice.
Does it feel different going out there to do a Roger Daltrey solo show as opposed to a Who show?
Well, yes, I suppose it does in the preparation and the getting there and all that, but once you’re out there playing it’s the same – it’s coming from the same place. I’ve never actually done a UK solo show like this, but we toured the States with Eric Clapton last year and it got some fantastic reviews.
Do you know The Who warmed up for Isle of Wight Festival in 1969 in Bournemouth?
Did we really, not at the same place? No, it wasn’t, it was the Pavilion wasn’t it? There I remembered it. I do remember that, we had some good times in Bournemouth.
And Keith married a girl (Kim Kerrigan) from Bournemouth?
You also did a residency at Le Disque a Go Go in the Lansdowne about six months before My Generation came out.
Yeah, that was a little basement club.
I’ve spoken to some old guys over the years who said they remember hanging out with you in the Gander before and after Le Disque gigs, having a drink because the club was dry. A few of then have told me they couldn’t possibly have spoken to you because it wouldn’t have been cool. It was a Mod thing.
Well, there you go!
So, will this set at the Academy feature Tommy as a whole, followed by some other treats, or are you going to dip in and out of Tommy?
We’ll probably play Tommy as a whole when we do it, we’ll probably play a few warm ups and let’s just see where we go. I like spontaneity. I even play a bit of Johnny Cash sometimes, I like to play my influences sometimes and if I’m in the mood. It’s just no-one plays Johnny Cash and he was one of my idols back in the day.
And I tell stories about things, things that happened, what things were like back then.
This is the tenth year of Teenage Cancer Trust gigs, you must be proud?
It’s something I’m passionate about getting done in this country because we lead the world in this. The Teenage Cancer Trust, I’m so passionate about this. I think how these teenagers deserve it. It’s the only way we’re going to actually change our society – from the ground up.
You start treating them properly when they’re teenagers they will be good adults, it’s not exactly a difficult equation to make and yet… We wouldn’t say our politicians are very good at forward thinking, would we? They’re driven by ego.
Young people do see it though and they put it across very idealistically and nobody really listens to them, so maybe we need the wisdom of age that gives you a platform to talk from where you’re still interacting with young people?
Well, I try.
What is it that keeps you going, keeps driving you to carry on, because I’m sure you don’t really need to work?
Well, I was given a gift. I was given a gift of a good voice. I was given a gift of finding a great bunch of musicians who are unique, then on top of that I was given the gift that one of those people happens to be, I think, one of the most important composers of the last part of the 20th century, so that gift deserves to be used and I think we owe it to the music to take it to the day we die.
We played the soundtrack to people’s lives, we owe it to them to play it all the way down the pipe. Now we need to play the soundtrack to their deaths as well. There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s what is so great about music, it’s elevating.
We’re into territory now that nobody had a map for – the rock stars of the 50s had fans who are now into their 60s, 70s and 80s.
Nobody thought any of this would last of course. One of the things I’m hugely involved in is trying to get the copyright for musicians extended on records.
You know, that’s our art form and the stupid politicians when they made the law of 50 years on a record, well now of course, most people that were recording that music 50 years ago now, they’re not big names, they’re session men who probably rely on a thousand pounds a year from their royalties to boost their pensions and all they’re going to do by not extending the copyright is to take that money away from those people.
The politicians seem to have this idea that the records are going to become cheaper – ha ha ha – not a chance. We’re already being robbed blind by the internet, but my art form should be the same as a photographer’s, it should be the same as a painter’s and it should be the same as a writer and that should be so many years after your death. The issue goes much deeper than that because intellectual property rights is going to be one of the major issues we have to overcome in the international business world in the next 25 years because if no one can protect intellectual property rights we’re all fucked!
The internet does many things, but it doesn’t always help you get paid?
No, and that’s the issue. These stupid politicians think the musicians don’t deserve it – well, why don’t they deserve it? Every bit of expression that was put on that record in the first place is a unique moment. You can copy it, but you can’t go back and recreate it. It’s a nonsense and they’re completely flawed in their thinking.
It was never viewed as art in the first place though.
Well, they didn’t understand the industry and, like you say, it was just a racket!
I guess it still is.
No, I don’t mean racket in that sense, I meant it was just a noise to them. Well, that was a racket always on the part of the record companies, certainly.
Are you still writing and recording?
I’m always looking for material, but I haven’t found anything that inspires me lately. There’s a couple of songs I do in my show which are kind of in the direction that I’d like to go in, but I’m very fussy about what the songs have to mean to me to sing them properly. And it takes me years to find a collection of songs – and that’s getting longer as I get older.
I did a few things with The Chieftains back in the 90s and I’ve always loved that kind of traditional music. So I do a couple of songs, but they’re more like The Band, that kind of style, so I love that kind of music, something different. I hate to go and see bands where within 20 minutes you think: ‘Haven’t they played this one before?’
You know, they’re all in the same key, they all sound the same, they just become incredibly tedious after an hour and a half, so I like to get dynamic.
What s the state of The Who these days?
As it’s always been – legless!
No, Pete’s got a problem with his ear so we’re not working, but we’re very much not saying we’re not going to be here. We did a gig six weeks ago, for charity. You just never know. Pete’s a bit concerned about losing his hearing for good, as a composer I don’t blame him, but when we get on stage it’s as vibrant as ever. It’s still lively, don’t worry.
Any acting on the horizon?
No, I haven’t done any acting for a long time now. The last thing I did was CSI so I just haven’t really seen anything good come through actually. And when you look at TV these days, apart from a few great American shows and a very few great English shows there’s not much out there. The older you get the less parts there are. I don’t need to be encroaching on great actors’ parts. Really, I don’t really have to work anyway, I do it because it’s fun.
You’ve been involved in [newspaper publisher] Richard Desmond’s charity band the RD Crusaders with Steve Smith from Room With A View studio at St Leonards, is that on-going?
It does raise an awful lot of money, some incredible work they do. It’s on-going, but it’s the kind of thing that’s been on the back burner during the recession because nobody’s got any money to donate, that’s the problem.
Have the Teenage Cancer Trust shows suffered in a similar way?
Those gigs are getting harder and harder though because musicians are getting robbed so much on their royalties from records their live performance is worth so much more to them, but I’m working on next year already and that’s looking very promising at the moment.
I’m not giving up, but I’d like to find someone else to do the press for it because sadly the press get bored with the same person telling the same story, but if Noel Gallagher or someone goes out and tells the same story it’ll be a news story, you know what it’s like. It’s a fact.
I won’t be going away from it, from the back room, I just need someone to do the press. I need a new front man!
The Who set, Poole Arts Centre, 16.3.81:
Substitute, I Can’t Explain, Baba O’Riley, The Quiet One, Don’t Let Go The Coat, Sister Disco, Dreaming From The Waist, You Better You Bet, Drowned, Another Tricky Day, Behind Blue Eyes, Pinball Wizard, The Punk And The Godfather, Who Are You, 5.15, My Generation, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Summertime Blues, Twist And Shout, See Me Feel Me
The Who set, Poole College SU Rag Ball, Bournemouth Pavilion Ballroom, 29.8.69:
Heaven And Hell, I Can’t Explain, It’s A Boy, 1921, Amazing Journey, Sparks, The Hawker, Christmas, The Acid Queen, Pinball Wizard, Do You Think It’s Alright, Fiddle About, There’s A Doctor, Go To The Mirror, Smash The Mirror, I’m Free, Tommy’s Holiday Camp, We’re Not Gonna Take It, Summertime Blues, Shakin’ All Over, My Generation
• Photos by Steve Cook