September 23, 2020

’71 Melody Maker Roger Daltrey Interview

Roger talks a bit about his new house, his desire to produce a record, and, of course, The Who.

You can take the boy out of Shepherds Bush, but can you take Shepherds Bush out of the boy, asks Chris Welch


Roger Daltrey of The ‘Oo lives in a 15th century mansion equipped with 30 rooms, 18 log fireplaces, 35 acres of land, several horses, an oasthouse, trout fishing in the lake and the finest view across the Sussex weald, courtesy of the National Grid.


"Not a bad bungalow is it?" says Roger tersely, a Shepherds Bush mod who doesn’t like to mince words.


He fought for his mansion like others from his environment have fought for street status. But instead of venting frustration with bovver boots, Roger made a career for himself as a singer. He gambled on rock – and won.


Now he can escape by fast car from the drudgery, noise and insecurity of the big city where he was born, and savour the life that until recently was the sole preserve of wealthy farmers, the aristocracy and successful criminals.


"At the age of 21 we were in 60 grand debt each," says Roger with a grimace at the memory. Even now, after the years of success, he claims he got the house "cheap".

The Who saga is well known – the once clashing personalities, the unpredictable outbursts of creativity, victory in America, survival into another decade.


And Roger is proud of the band they said would never make it, never survive. But it doesn’t make him satisfied. Criticism of The Who makes him angry, yet he is the first to say when they have played badly, or made a poor record. Today he feels The Who are still searching for the successor to ‘Tommy’, which gave them one of the greatest stage acts in rock history.


An afternoon and evening at Daltrey Towers and the nearby inn proved a shattering experience. Wives and fiancées were left fuming as Roger embarked on a game of darts that explored every sophistication of the art.


Tanks of lager flowed and the darts whistled over the heads of locals who seemed to gaze quite fondly upon the new squire up at the big house, with his polo-neck white pullover, wading boots, pack of dogs and American wife.


"I’ve never seen Roger play darts before," said Heather, in a long dress, smiling upon the scene.


But Roger managed to thrash MM, utilising arm muscles developed from spinning microphones.


A slight chilliness detected at Daltrey Towers may have been imagination, but might well have been due to Roger’s pique at recent MM attacks on The Who.


At any rate, he began to thaw soon after we arrived, and cheerfully showed us part of the mansion which sits on the crest of a ridge: "Like the ‘ouse on ‘aunted ‘ill."


Autumn sunshine filtered through the clouds and huge hedges huddled around the house to protect it from the stiffening breeze. Ancient brick paths wound about the garden, and across the valley stretched Roger’s fields. On the horizon, two horses could be seen, chewing something.


Do you ride them?


"Not half!" says Roger, stomping across priceless carpets, dappled by light through stained glass windows.


"I’ve been here about four months," he revealed, as he sprawled on antique furniture beneath a massive portrait in oils of Roger Daltrey, lead singer with The Who.


"I ‘ad to clean the chimney meself. I ‘ad to climb up this bleeder, and clear it out with an ‘ammer and chisel. I even had to put a garden rake up it. All sorts.


"I never really wanted a big house when I was a kid. I was born in Shepherds Bush – and I never want to go back! I noticed this place was going cheap and now I can stay here, for at least a couple of years. I want to be a farmer. I really want to get out and work at it. Cattle. I’ve got friends who are into it, and I can learn from them."


Has Roger no… err… musical plans?


"Oh, I want to produce some records. I want to do an LP for Steve Ellis." Roger waxed enthusiastic over the talents of the ex-Love Affair singer, who has been staying at the house: "I think we’ve got a hit single in the can." He was referring to Bent Frame, a group he also produced. "It was called ‘Accidents’. But for political reasons it never came out."

Soup was served and Roger warmed up. He listened to some new Keith Moon stories that are told wherever journalists and publicists gather, and laughed heartily.


"I’ve heard Keith’s house is wrecked already," he offered. "Someone told me it looks derelict."


Why do The Who live so far apart?


"We just moved to where we could find houses."


How is life in The Who?


"It’s getting harder, keeping on the road, and keeping up the ideas and enthusiasm. The drive is still there. I just think we should come off the road for six months. We need time off to think. We need to get off the road and work out a whole new chunk of material."


A film featuring the group is the next major project. "We start in January, and Pete is I writing the music. In the film we do what we are I good at – and that’s playing. We’ll get more I involved as it progresses. It’s going to be called Guitar Farm, but I don’t want to say too much about the story."


The last film I saw of The Who was of them as short-haired mods known as The High Numbers.


"Oh – that old film clip! It really hurt cutting our hair for that. It was when we were discovered by Kit Lambert. We didn’t really have short hair at all."


Had Roger seen the recent book on The Who?


"What’s it like? Very intellectual?"


Were The Who fed up with their material?


"’Tommy’ was the greatest stage act any group ever had. What we had to follow was not good enough. It’s history now. But Pete is working on something and he’ll get it out. We haven’t been together enough lately to get a creative spur. We have been going down incredibly well on gigs, but I wish I could put my finger on what was wrong. There’s nothing I like more than being on stage and having a good time. But it is so hard to follow ‘Tommy’. It’s not dissatisfaction -I don’t know what it is."


Roger has the task of compiling The Who’s stage routine and says: "I try to get a flow of numbers.


We use some tapes on stage now, which are a bit strange, and only in two numbers. But it’s better than getting another musician in or playing the poxy synthesizer. At one time it was in the air for Pete not to play guitar any more, and just play keyboards. But you can’t beat just guitar, bass and drums."


A mental picture of Peter Townshend smashing up Moog synthesizers was quickly dispatched.


So will there be any surprises from future Who? "No, we just hope to play better than we have ever played before.


"Cup of tea Heather. CUP OF TEA ‘EVER!" Roger suddenly bawled at the top of his voice, his command echoing through the 30 rooms.


"That’s the trouble with this house. You never know where anybody is. The thing is, you can’t please all the people all the time."


What did he think of The Who’s new single? "I haven’t heard it. What’s it like? No -I really like it, but I haven’t heard the shortened version. It can’t do any harm. We’ve got a lot of material ready. What we really need is a new direction. I like our last LP. It’s good for what it is, treading water.


"You know, rock used to be a right laugh. The trouble is the rock press have made it all so serious. Fifty per cent of rock is having a good time. All that slagging that groups like Led Zeppelin get – they don’t deserve it at all. That criticism of us – it was as if we were a bloody great rip-off. And when 300,000 people read that – it matters to me.


"The kids would sooner believe what they read in the papers that what they see with their own eyes."