Pete talks about his new record, and about the state of music today.
PETE TOWNSHEND, creative force behind the Who and father-figure to a whole generation of rock lovers, lashes out of his recent silence this week with a blistering double-edged attack on the opposite ends of the rock spectrum – the Stranglers and Rod Stewart.
In an exclusive interview with the MM, Townshend, who has just released an album with Ronnie Lane that features old friends like Eric Clapton, hit back at criticism by the Stranglers with the comment: "For s— outpourings, that group must take the biscuit for really not knowing anything."
He condemns the band for speaking out with what he calls disregard of the facts and for deliberately discriminating against musicians rather than the bad business side of rock.
Townshend also turns on Rod Stewart, one of the super-tax stars whose desertion of the British music scene was one of the contributory factors to the birth of the new wave.
"If Rod Stewart comes back to Britain he’s going to have to fight to earn his old mates back. You don’t last long as a human being if you live his type of life…
In general Townshend is sympathetic to new wave. "What I can see, without bitterness, is that the current explosion is SO similar to us. Maybe not to someone like Mick Jagger, maybe not to Ian Anderson, maybe not to Rick Wakeman or Genesis, but for Ronnie Lane and I. It’s exactly what we did. EXACTLY what we went through. They are so like us, or the way we were…
Then Townshend put on the verbal gloves and took on the Stranglers, who recently attacked him and the Who for the way the Who developed with massive football stadia concerts and laser shows.
"For ostensibly intelligent people, not knowing what goes on behind the scenes of a rock group, or concert, condemning out of hand any band that plays in a football stadium, condemning out of hand any band that uses a laser beam, saying that rock groups don’t pour their money back into the business, it’s all so much s—.
"We don’t tell people we’re putting on a big show for charity like the Royal Variety Show. I’d be embarrassed about that. We don’t want the OBE. But if people knew what the Who had done, well, I’d be embarrassed about it, listing our achievements and showing the f—— big-mouth in the Stranglers how much I’ve given to charity, how much we’ve given to our roadies, how much I’ve spent on other groups to try and help them along.
"Let him see if he can do it and keep it up for 15 years. THAT’s what commitment is all about, but I don’t want a knighthood for it."
As for Rod Stewart, Townshend blasted: "There ARE certain individuals, your Rod Stewarts who quit the country, took all his bloody money and went off, but look what he’s got. Nothing. Ronnie Lane is out of the group. Ronnie Wood, his best mate, went off to join the Stones. If Rod Stewart comes back to Britain he’s going to have to fight to earn his old mates back."
He did mellow about the general new wave scene – "There is a great humanity in the punk scene, a great moral-social conscience. It’s making it work that is difficult" – and praised one band in particular: "I relate to writers, like the geezer with Vibrators who writes songs that say something."
For the rest of what Townshend says in an astonishing interview, turn to page 8.
The return of you know Who
PETE TOWNSHEND is back – with a new album accompanied by his old mate Ronnie Lane, and with trenchant views on punk. Chris Welch reports
"WHAT time do you call this – we’re supposed to be doing a bleeding interview!" Pete Townshend burst into a Twickenham pub where I sat with Mr. Ronald Lane, well-known sheep farmer and mandolin player extraordinaire, mulling over pints of ale and discussing the price of rams.
But it didn’t take much persuasion from Ronnie to settle Pete down for a drink or two. The first one he managed to pour all over himself while making a sweeping gesture. I admired the calm way Peter accepted the soaking, for his trousers were sodden with Guinness, and put it down to the maturity which rock’s most respected figure has acquired in recent years.
Actually, that calm can be broken by outbursts of the old mercurial Townshend, who wrote one of the few genuine rock anthems in " My Generation." I remember seeing Pete in blacker, more violent moods than most of the patrons of the Vortex could muster, times when he demolished not only the Who’s equipment but most of the record company’s furniture and fittings, in his frustration and fury.
From such evidence it might seem strange that such disparate characters as Lane and Townshend could be friends. Ronnie is East End cockney personified, with a raucous laugh and sense of humour, covering a sensitivity revealed in the beautiful songs he has written since the day he walked out of the Faces and the jet-lagged rat race. Ronnie is a romantic who fled first to the gypsy life with his brave venture, the Passing Show, a travelling rock circus that ended in tears, and then to the border country near Wales where he has attempted to get to grips with agriculture. A complete reaction to the life he led with Rod Stewart on endless tours of America.
Pete, on the other hand, remains the restless city dweller, seeking peace and comfort in the ancient wisdoms of the east as personified in his guru, the late Meher Baba; still desperately concerned with the future of music, and fascinated by the emergence of punk rock.
The key to their continued friendship, begun in the days when the Who and Small Faces were rival touring pop attractions in the era of Ready, Steady, Go and the Granada, Walthamstow, lies in Meher Baba. Peter turned Ronnie onto the concept of "Why Worry, Be Happy," when the latter suffered from the after-effects of an acid trip. Whatever the merits of the religion, which has remarkably few followers, and remains somewhat obscure to outsiders, it had the effect of providing both hard-bitten musicians with a stable basis for belief in something, when all around them was calculated to break morale and spirit.
For 15 years they have been on the rock treadmill, knowing all it can offer and all it can take away. What is remarkable is that both still retain their sense of humour and perspective. They remain younger in their attitudes than many of the sour, world-weary youths half their age.
Peter is still one of the most stimulating, entertaining conversationalists, with an ability to articulate without sounding pompous. He is a lover of words and delivers them with a relish that is not always possible to convey in cold print. Ronnie, too, is a natural comedian with an impish sense of timing, his humour mostly directed against himself. The closer you examine them the more you realise the album they have just made together was inevitable. Townshend and Lane didn’t die before they got old. They never really aged.
It was ostensibly to talk about the album "Rough Mix" (Polydor) that Pete invited the MM to Eel Pie Productions, his office building in Twickenham near the Thames that also serves as the HQ for Meher Baba activity. But Ronnie was keen to stop off for a drink on the way, which is where I found him last week.
Ronnie was just telling me how he had gone to agricultural college for a while with a bunch of 15-year olds who spent all their time throwing rubbers at the teacher, when Pete arrived anxious to talk about the album. As we drove back to Eel Pie Productions Pete sat in the back seat and produced a pair of binoculars. "Ah, a back seat driver," said Ronnie. "Yes, there’s difficult terrain ahead," warned Pete.
Their album is superb. Patchy, but with some marvellously simple, understated songs from Ronnie, and Peter moving into pastures new he could not have attempted with the Who, like "Street In The City," a big production with strings. They sing their own tracks separately, only coming together for a Don Williams song "Till The Rivers All Run Dry," and helping each other out with various guitars. A bunch of old friends lent sympathetic support including Eric Clapton, Charlie Watts, and the amazing harmonica player Peter Hope Evans. I thought it one of the most charming and original sets of songs heard in a long time.
When did they conceive the idea of the dual album? "I was having a brain trauma at the time," said Ronnie in his best William "Mate" Cobblers voice. "I needed to have a talk with Peter about certain .things that were going on. And I had a talk with Peter about certain things that were going on, and out of it, came this album." A surreptitious explanation, I thought, Hence the reference to "mind games" on the album sleeve? "Well yes, that’s another story," laughed Ronnie. "We won’t go into that."
There had been rumours of rows between the two stalwarts, but as Pete explained: "We tried to do things together to an extent, but I think it was more my failing than Ron’s. Having sat and written with Stevie Marriott I’m sure he could write with anybody. But I never have. I’ve never written anything with anybody. I’ve taken other people’s lyrics and set them to music and I’ve sometimes worked on other people’s songs. but I’ve never written with anybody because I write unconsciously and tend to just let it spill out. And if anybody says, ‘Why don’t you change so-and-so, I don’t know how to approach it. Because I haven’t put it together in an intellectual way, it feels like being caught out. It’s almost like having a ghost writer that writes everything for you."
Did they arrive at the songs separately, then?
"As far as Ronnie’s stuff was concerned I really enjoyed working on them,. But Ronnie’s contribution to my stuff was much, much deeper. It’s hard to explain. For a start, I don’t think I would have done the album or the kind of material I did, if were not for Ronnie’s encouragement. And that hasn’t just started with this album. It has been constant. Ronnie’s been one of the few people that I’ve played demos to and he has always encouraged me to do stuff away from the mainstream of Who clichés. There are two Ron’s in my life. There’s Ronald Lane and Ron Geesin."
Did he think the Who has become clichéd?
"I think you can get in a rut and it must affect the way you work. On a song like ‘Street In The City’ it’s something I wouldn’t have done before. Ron was knocked out with it when we did the playbacks. And it gave me a kick to see that."
Did he feel they had been in competition with each other?
"There was a little bit of that. We were trying desperately for the opposite. The only song we really came together on was ‘Till The Rivers All Run Dry’, which is somebody else’s song. Of Ronnie’s songs, I felt I could fiddle around with ‘Nowhere To Run.’ I did a helluva lot on that. And yet it was one of the songs Ronnie was most unhappy with. It was a bit fast…or something."
"Slow" interjected Ronnie.
"And yet I felt I had achieved something as an arranger on that one, and helped to contribute."
"So we fell out again!" said Ronnie abruptly, and then burst into more laughter. Pete continued unabashed. " You have preconception in your mind the way a song should turn out. You shouldn’t really. I deny myself that when I work with the Who. I just say, right we’ll put it in the bin and see how it turns out."
So they wrote the songs separately to see how the album would turn out?
Said Ronnie: "Some of the songs came together while we were doing the album. But we started off with a clutch of songs anyway."
Said Pete: "The only song I wrote specially for the album was’ Street In The City.’ I did another jazzy, bossa nova thing with Dave Marquee that didn’t get put on the album because it was too middle-of-the-road."
But you played on each other’s tracks?
"Yeah, pretty much," said Pete. "I didn’t play on ‘Annie’ and Ronnie didn’t play on ‘Street In The City’ but everything else…yeah. We generally made room for each other."
" ‘Ee gave me something to do somewhere," said Ronnie " When things got too complicated for my standard of musicianship he found something for me to do…like make the tea, or go out and buy a packet of biscuits."
There was a great deal of contrast in their styles, I hazarded. The jolly, jogalong rhythmic style of Mr. Lane with his penchant for piano accordions, mandolins and heartfe1t, wryly romantic lyrics dealing in simple but wonderfully effective terms with the human condition, and then again, the abrasive, accusatory declaiming style of Mr. Townshend, with his feeling for the classic pop style inbred from the Sixties and…I paused for breath as Mr. Townshend and Mr. Lane waited quizzically for me to finish. Did they get my point?
There was a brief silence and said Pete uncertainly: "It’s weird. Yeah, I think there is a lot of contrast…"
I pursued my theme. There were so many albums that are billed as "So-and-So And Friends" which usually ended up as one long jam. Did they want this kind of result?
"Oh no," said Ronnie looking worried. "We didn’t go out of our way to avoid it. That wasn’t what was going to happen! But it’s ended up harder-edged that we intended. We just sailed into it to see what wou1d happen, and we were as interested in the results as anybody else."
Said Pete: "There are a lat of albums by ‘So-and So And Friends,’ and that’s not what they are about, whereas our album is primarily about friendship; with music secondary, in a way, What we rapidly learnt in the studio was that…"
"…We didn’t like each other at all," grinned Ronnie and I burst into deafening laughter which didn’t worry Pete at all. He continued…"we cared a lot about our music, We’ve known each other for 15 years, for as long as my band has been together." (Incidentally, Who freaks, that’s the first time I’ve heard Pete say ‘my band.’ He nearly always talks about ‘the Who,’ rather like Charlie Watts insists on talking about ‘the Rolling Stones ‘).
It was amusing to recall that when the Who and Small Faces first appeared they were projected as rival leaders of the Mod movement." That was the media’ insisted Ronnie. "When we met we were amazed to find we all listened to the same records."
"We knocked about together over the years," said Ronnie, "but basically the thing that kept us together was Meher Baba which meant there was a mutual understanding about it. I’m not wishing to preach about it, I’m just saying that. But it’s basically kept us together. We bumped into each other from time, to time. It’s always nice to see the old bugger, He’s very hard to phone up or send the odd vitrolic letter, saying. ‘how about giving me a phone call sometimes’ or ‘can’t you afford it ‘,"
Pete almost looked embarrassed at this chiding.
"Well, it’s only in your twilight years that you appreciate the value of friendship," he protested." I’m a late learner. Everybody has been telling me in that respect I’ve been a right c— so perhaps they’ve been right all along…"
Ronnie emitted a low chuckle. "Oh shaddup, you’ll make me cry in a minute."
"I do now value mates," continued Pete, " particularly mates in the business. The business has suddenly started to change very rapidly leaving a lot of us feeling a little bit, y’know, like fish out of water. No, not threatened because we’ve been anticipating something happening for such a long time and disappointed to an extent that it hadn’t happened.
"But let’s put it more directly. If you’ve got a full house, a full bank balance and adoring fans, friends aren’t quite as important as they were before. You tend to be a bit blasé, y’know? The Who have enjoyed a lot of success and…" Pete paused to think. "It’s not made me harder, but blasé, I suppose. Maybe it’s just part of growing up, I dunno. But I enjoy times spent with mates, with me family and me mum and dad. But most of all, if you’ve got the makings of a musician then friendship is very important; because I can count the number of friends in the music business on one hand.
"With friends outside the music business you. don’t measure them by how well they perform. If you meet a bloke in a pub who’s a welder, you don’t say: ‘Listen, can I look at your work,’ before you decide if you’re gonna be mates. But with a musician there is that terrible barrier. You can’t forget you’ve got very powerful, rigid professional tastes."
"Listen," said Pete, suddenly changing the subject. "I’m trying desperately to get a beer gut."
"Are you?" said Ronnie. "Oh, I can show you how to do that." They have time to practice the fine art of distending the belly with strong drink as they are not planning to do another album together in the foreseeable future. "We ain’t going to do it again," said Ronnie. "We ain’t going to knock out one a year. The nice thing about this album was one we could grab whoever we wanted. Except when it came to ringing them up, nearly everybody was on holiday."
"Funny that," said Pete. "Yet we could always get Eric. We didn’t really want ‘im."
"Yeah, he was NEVER on holiday," said Ronnie.
"When Eric does a session he must consciously think ‘I must not be the great Eric Clapton’," said Pete. "’I will just be a normal guitar player who is just one of the lads.’ And consequently he plays terrible. I had to keep pushing ‘im."
"Also after that he wants paying!" said Ronnie with mock horror." Which adds insult to injury." (laughter).
" But his Dobro playing on ‘April Fool’ was something," said Pete kindly. "A little spark. When Eric sparks, he’s great. But it’s quite difficult to get him to take off. Even on stage he lays back quite a lot. He’s a double-edged character. He’s got that thing where he doesn’t always like to show that side of him."
"He’s just fed up with what he’s supposed to be," opined Ronnie. "That’s what strikes me. I don’t think it oppresses him. He doesn’t walk around saying: ‘Ooh I’m fed up with what I’m supposed to be.’ It just comes out in little ways. Sometimes he just wants to sit and play the guitar, he doesn’t want to be ERIC CLAPTON, he just wants to play some guitar."
"It’s a bit of a backlash on what has gone before," agreed Pete. "’I’ve known people who have had him in the studio and when he’s gone, they’ve said: ‘Was that Eric Clapton? Nothing special about ‘im ‘."
Did they want Eric to be special on the album?
"Nah, just a mate," said Ronnie.
"He was very keen to do it. He had nothing to do and was itching to play. He even came down when there was nothing to do at the studio."
"In Switzerland," said Pete. "We decided to do it in Switzerland, for…(in chorus) tax reasons. Yeah, it was Olympic in Zurich. Branches everywhere. There’s a beautiful little town in Zurich. It’s even got the River Thames. They like the English out there. The number 37 bus goes right by. We had all the tape boxes marked: ‘Recorded abroad ‘."
Simmer down, chaps. Now these lyrics…they seemed very accusing, redolent of the folk singer who puts a hand over one ear and fixing his audience with a fierce gaze begins: ‘Ah, ye think yer so clever, ye sinner men all ‘."
Pete pondered. "’Street In The City’ was a bit accusing actually, because when I was writing it I did stand back and just look. But if I was one of the passers-by, I’d include meself. Like I say, I tend to write very unconsciously, it’s not written at arms length. ‘5.15’ I sat and wrote that in Carnaby Street and I thought that was very accusatory at the time."
"It’s only accusing if you feel guilty about something," said Ronnie. " Otherwise it’s not accusing at all."
"The bit about the Wig & Pen," said Pete referring to a line in the song about the famous Fleet Street haunt of journalists and lawyers…was referring to a journalist who was being sued and was down and out. It was the only way I could think of doing it. When I wrote Misunderstood’ I only found out later it could be taken as a p— take of the…"
"Of the Who," said Ronnie swiftly.
"Well yeah! But also a p— take perhaps of the average Johnny Rotten character. I wanna be misunderstood, I wanna be feared in my neighbourhood.’ In fact I wrote more about ME than I did about anybody else. Then I realised it was like a punk p—- take. It was a gag. It was just a gag. I wanna be really INSCRUTABLE. I wanna be inscrutable and vague and so hard to pin down and leave open mouths when I speak."
"You take the p—- out of things you don’t like about yourself," said Ronnie wisely. "We’ve all got things we don’t like about ourselves but…we control them. Every now and then it’s nice to take the p—- out of yourself, acknowledging the faults that are there."
Said Pete: "I got the title for the song from a line I heard somewhere about how all the teenagers in America were desperately trying to be misunderstood, but they didn’t quite make it."
I supposed there was certain pleasure to be had in appearing significant and mysterious. Did Pete feel he could see through people and their motivations?
"No, not really," he said somewhat awkwardly. "What I suffer from at the moment when I write a song is that I tend to think about the people around me. Christ, am I going to turn into Somerset Maugham writing secret stories about the people I know? It’s surprising how far you can go before people recognise themselves. Or am I going to keep writing about what I see happening on the street?
"I still find the street more interesting even if it’s only the occasional glimpse. My contact with kids on the street has never been great. I suppose the most concerted period was in ’63 when the Who used to play the Goldhawk. Those characters we met then have hung on somehow with the band even today. I still meet them and study what has happened to their lives. They all seem to be incredibly eccentric characters."
REVERTING to today’s kids, it was my impression that they had a strong sense of direction or at least a strong sense of frustration.
"Well, that is where the confusion arises," said Pete. "It doesn’t really matter if you know where you are going or not, the problem is thinking that you know the answer. Believing it. Then waking up one day and realising that you don’t. Life isn’t as it seems. Life isn’t as uncomplicated as it seems. And frustration comes when you realise that even violence isn’t going to get you anywhere."
"It’s one of the great frustrations in my life. Obviously I’ve never been the kind of violent individual who has ended up in jail – but I’ve used very violent words, and I’ve realised it doesn’t really get things done. You can be identified with violence, but it doesn’t change your life. It doesn’t change the way you see things or the way people see you. All it does is change your status. It’s another form of power.
"As far as kids on the street today are concerned, their alleged positivity comes from being totally nihilistic, condemning everything. It’s a kind of positiveness, but all it does is bring the vacuum down quicker.
"Like with me, when I wrote. My Generation’ I condemned everybody except my own generation and I rapidly found out that most of my own generation were wasters and very eager to get on the dole. All they wanted to do was prop up the bar at the pub. I was very glad when I got away from it. That’s what I used to believe though." (‘My Generation’). "Now I don’t think it’s true.
"Now I think that behind every bar propper-up and geezer on the dole is a desperate man. That’s really what ‘Quadrophenia’ was all about, that you could take a kid, who had everything going for him, an explosive individual, and you could squash him down. They end up not wanting to change society any more but make their own immediate life a bit better, or even quieter.
"It’s amazing how early people do it. When I think back to my childhood, there were kids of 17 rushing to get married and settled down and get a job at the butcher’s shop. By the Way, that’s not brandy you can smell, it’s new flykiller."
I looked at Pete. He had seen my eyes revert to some empty glasses on the table. Hastily I plied more questions. What did they think of the vitriolic outbursts of the new wave chaps who have been making such a din of late?
Ronnie looked up, his face a picture of disinterest.
"Well, I s’pose it’s healthy enough ennit? It had to happen sooner or later. I’ll tell you what I think. I could be totally wrong. I’m an old man now. But these people with really ‘orrible names, GREAT names, what a lot of front. Good stuff. But can they… can they sorta like mature? And keep those names? What’s Rat Scabies gonna look like when he’s 31 years old still called Rat Scabies? Do you know what I mean like? I wonder about that. I reckon they’ve really jumped in it, with both boots."
"Well," said Pete, "I reckon that is a deeper commitment to those immortal words "Hope I die before I get old,’ which I’ve had great difficulty living with, and growing up with. They have jumped in a bit deeper and have not just said, ‘Hope I die before I get old’ but they’ve actually called themselves something which literally limits them to a three-year career.
"What must come of the whole new movement…and I hate the word new wave…I know Keith Altham invented it…but the whole Punk Phenomenon right? As far as I’m concerned it swept away an acceptance of a lot of s—, it swept away a dependence on people spending acres of money they can’t afford on albums and stereo sets; it’s brought back an interest in the way you look; it’s given people a special identity, and revitalised an interest in music in young people which doesn’t involve out-and-out adulation, which the Who have never had by the way. We never had adulatory fans.
"Kids didn’t come to Who concerts because they thought we were the cat’s whiskers. We never ‘ad any screamers. Stevenage…people used to scream at us. But they used to scream at everybody at Stevenage. Really I don’t think anybody has screamed at the ’00. Only to get off. But in the long term the interesting thing is yet to come. When I look now at where they are starting I just see so many real dynamite individuals there. I think there are a few poorly put-together groups. They are hurrying groups together. When the scramble is over something will come out of it. You don’t need time to tell who is good or bad. I can tell now. I tend to relate to the writers, like the geezer with Vibrators who writes songs that say something. They don’t just say ‘f—, f—, f—, f—,’ That’s easy."
Did Pete think perhaps the Sex Pistols and their camp followers were just merrily pulling down the Great Temple of Rock? Maybe they would rebuild it later on?
"Well they can’t ever pull down the Great Temple of Rock unfortunately," said Peter, a dangerous glint appearing in his eyes. "It’s never been there. So how can they pull it down?"
But it has been dominated for a long time by, shall we say, familiar faces?
"Oh yeah," said Ronnie, "Too long."
"That’s not the fault of the familiar faces," insisted Pete. "I’ve seen familiar faces break down rock and roll temples. I’ve seen Ronnie Lane walk away from the Small Faces, and I’ve seen Ronnie walk away from the Faces Faces. And I’ve seen him walk away from the Small reformed. Y’know? He’s not willing to do things that have been done before, to perpetuate them. The Who, despite the fact that we do go on and on and on, one of the things that has driven us on and on and on; is that we’ve looked around and said, well who is there to pick up the f—— glove? Nobody. And now there is. And now I think you will find the Who will diversify far more, Not to the extent of breaking up, but there is a stronger likelihood that we could HAPPILY go our separate ways more than ever before. At the moment we are anxious to go on to other things."
"What Ronnie and I can see, without bitterness, is that the current explosion is SO similar to us. Maybe not to somebody like Mick Jagger, maybe not to Ian Anderson, maybe not to Rick Wakeman or Genesis, but for Ronnie and I, it’s EXACTLY what we did, EXACTLY what we went through. They are so like us, or the way we were."
I told Pete about Generation X, how their young drummer waved his arms around, wore a target tee shirt and was the dead spit of the young Keith Moon circa 1964.
"Imagine the country full of f—— Keith Moons," grunted Pete.
"It’s really nice to see a bit of new blood around," said Ronnie with sincerity. "Pete knows the names and the records, I just hear all about it. But I’m glad there’s new blood because it was well overdue from 1970, never mind getting to ’77."
"It must have been very peculiar for all those people who were petrified by the New Wave," said Pete.
"It was just the same when Mick’s mob turned up," said Ronnie.
"I used to wake up in the night praying to be destroyed." said Pete. "Get me out of this bloody whirlpool! In the end I actually thought inventing a new form of music which would take over from where the Who left off. In my imagination I invented punk rock a thousand times. I thought the hypocrisy of the position we were in was just unbelievable. ‘Where are the young people of today?’ I thought. ‘Where are their heroes of today?’"
Did Pete ever feel like quitting the Who, knocking it on the head as Ronnie did with the Faces?
"Oh yeah, a lot of the time. What has really stopped me from doing it has been an unwillingness to change, because this is the way I am, and also I had a great loyalty to the group and its fans. We’ve got real diehard fans, probably more in America than we have here. If the small Faces had stuck together they would have got the same fanaticism in America as we had."
How did Ronnie feel about the Small Faces reforming?
"It was rather strange. As I understand it, the idea was to have one or two nights at the Hammersmith Odeon as an old boys reunion as ‘Itchycoo Park’ was in the charts. I thought it sounded like a good thing to do, but when we got together everybody else had something far more long-term in mind. I wasn’t into that. That’s why I didn’t want to get involved. You can’t go back, all that ended for me in 1969. You can’t dig it all up again. No, I haven’t got a band. I don’t have bands anymore. I can’t afford it."
Ronnie toured with Eric Clapton this year and will set off with the maestro for an American tour next year. It seems the days of Slim Chance are over. "Yeah, I’ll be fixing Eric’s drinks."
I had expected a stronger statement about Meher Baba from the pair on the album. "There’s nothing significant about this album," Pete observed. "We wanted to do it because we had that shared interest. But you are talking about something that is very private, a particular commitment we’ve made."
This sparked off a train of thought in Pete about recent attacks, along the lines that the big established bands failed to put anything back into the business. Ironic if one includes Townshend in that bracket, because, more than anybody else in rock, he has for the past 15 years or so devoted himself to helping other talents, some who have achieved success, some who haven’t, from Jimi Hendrix to John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett.
Pete has never made a great fuss about the help he has given people, but I’ve known him to lend recording equipment to down and out struggling musicians who have paid him by selling off the stuff. Everybody in the music business knows of Pete’s generosity and the kind of intelligent encouragement he offers to original talent. But recently some berks have come along shouting their mouths off with more than usual ignorance, thus goading Pete to untypical response.
"We were talking earlier about the Stranglers and for s— outpourings, that group must take the biscuit for really not knowing anything. For ostensibly intelligent people, not knowing what goes on behind the scenes of a rock group or concert, condemning out of hand any band that plays in a football stadium, condemning out of hand any band that uses a laser beam, saying that rock groups don’t pour their money back into the business, it’s all so much s—."
"There are certain individuals, your Rod Stewarts who quit the country, took all his bloody money and went off, but look what he’s got. Nothing. Ronnie Lane is out of the group. Ronnie Wood, his best mate, went off to join the Stones. If Rod Stewart comes back to Britain he’s going to have to fight to earn his old mates back. You don’t last long as a human being if you live his type of life. There is a great humanity in the punk scene, a great moral social conscience. It’s making it work that is f—— difficult."
"We don’t tell people we’re putting on a big show for charity like the Royal Variety Club. I’d be embarrassed about that. We don’t want the OBE. But, if people knew what the Who had done, on a big list, well I’d be EMBARRASSED about it, listing our achievements and showing the big-mouth in the Stranglers how much I’ve given to charity, how much we’ve given to our roadies, how much I’ve spent on other groups to try and help them along, how much I’ve loaned mates of mine who have been struggling, how much I put into Track Records, Arthur Brown, Jimi Hendrix, John Otway and Willy Barrett…the energy that went into that.
"Let him f—— see if he can do it, and keep it up for 15 years. And then open his big mouth. THAT’s what commitment is all about, but I don’t want a knighthood for it. Jimmy Savile was once telling me about God’s little list in heaven. But there is another kind of banking on the future, which is giving, without expecting anything back.
"It’s a case of putting your ACTION where your mouth is and there is a lot of talking going on in rock during a period when I have been completely silent and it has probably been a good thing I haven’t come across any of these geezers (i.e. the Stranglers), because I could tell them a few stories. When it boils down to it, this is one of the things this album is about, after ten years of the bloody rock business with its corruption, rip-offs everything else. People fleecing us, stealing from us, screwing us, exploiting us, insulting us. After all that we get together, do an album, we enjoy it and it’s good music. That’s really we care about. We’ve lost 99 per cent of them."
You’ve always had a love-hate relationship with rock and roll?
"Hated the industry and loved the music."
It did seem odd that the new wave should attack the musicians of rock rather than the people who actually did all the foul, nefarious deeds.
"Well they don’t know about that yet," said Ronnie. "But people need to discriminate, don’t they? If your colour is wrong, if your hair is wrong, if you’ve got spots, they’ll discriminate. Now this lot are discriminating. I don’t read music papers so I don’t know what they are saying. If they are having a go, good luck. I’m glad they are there, but I’m not influenced by them."
"I must admit," said Pete, "I don’t read record papers either, but I picked up one thing where the Stranglers were writing something that seemed intelligent, and it ended up with them being asked, what will happen to you if you make a lot of money and become a big established group, what will you do with it? And he said, ‘I suppose we’ll be corrupted and compromise like all the rest.’"
Ronnie rocked with laughter; "I HOPE we’ll become corrupted, more like."
"They, assume a fantastic amount, don’t they," boiled Townshend, leaping around the room as if he might lay waste Eel Pie Productions as he once laid waste Track Records during an exciting Christmas party a few years ago. "They assume we’ve still got money. They assume that THEY are going to get rich. He’s going to put his money into a political party."
"Oh good," said Ronnie. " He won’t HAVE any f—— money. He’s not going to be a rich man. He won’t have the option to buy a country estate."
"Somebody will rake it out of them and buy it for them-selves," said Ronnie.
"How many established groups have got big country places? I can only think of a few, like Led Zeppelin who worked their balls off for years to stash away big amounts of cash. That was their thing, wasn’t it? Tomorrow we die seems to be their attitude? But the Who have always worked thinking we’1l go on for another five years. This has always been Rod’s problem He’s always thinking he might have had it."
His lifestyle seems to be the one that has aroused the most antagonism.
"You knew him as he was?" queried Pete, "He was such a nice bloke."
"Don’t believe all your own, publicity, that’s the answer," said Ronnie. "It’s the worst thing you can do, it’s the death!"
"The only reason I’ve talked so much about punk rock," said Pete, "is it’s the first opportunity I’ve had for such a long time. The enthusiasm I’ve got for it, I want to get across, but I’m very worried for it because I feel it’s the first thing I can relate to for a long time. 1 like this band and that band, and I even quite like the Eagles, but I wouldn’t stake my life on them. This is something real and I just feel that…"
"You’ve gotta let your kids go and graze their own knees," said Ronnie.
"That’s right. But there are always a few examples in front of you. Remember Phil Seamen (the legendary jazz drummer who died a few years ago)? Looking at that man stopped me ever putting a needle in me arm. Thank you very much, Phil, wherever you are today. There are hundreds of examples of people who have been screwed." Pete mentioned a British rock idol of the early Sixties. "What a tragic figure. Screwed up the arse, and screwed everywhere else as well. An enormous British star. No talent. He put in a lot of work and all he has to show for it is a little farm and horse."
What did Pete think of the violent mood that accompanied new developments in rock?
"I remember an early Who gig at the Marquee where we saw a kid with a hatchet stuck in his back, only he didn’t know he had it in his back, and I thought, ‘f—— hell, this is part of the business I’m in.’ Guys who used to come to our gigs with sawn-off shotguns who went nutting moving buses, all that sort of thing."
"Ere," said Ronnie, "my dad used to nut moving buses. I used to content myself with kneeing hubcaps, of moving buses."
In view of the aggressive nature of so many of today’s kids, did Pete really think the gentle precepts and Christian-style ethics of Meher Baba’s teachings would have any appeal or relevance to them?
"I dunno," said Pete, and began to break up into fits. "I don’t think they are the kind of people we want. We are looking for the more select individual…old ladies, with plenty of loot. The rich jaded pop star is more our suitable client. We do the £40 treatment, or the 100 guinea version."
When did Ronnie first take an interest in Meher Baba? "Oh, a long time ago. I took too much of a certain substance one night and got into difficulties. Actually 1 had a lovely time. The difficulty was living with it afterwards. Acid, yeah. It took me a couple of years to get over it. I’d already had some on that disastrous Who-Small Faces tour of Australia where we got exported by the army! Pete had been through the same things as me and we just talked about it. Rather than getting the teachings out of a mouldy old book, we actually met people. That was ten years ago."
But why didn’t they put more of Baba into the album?
"’Till The Rivers All Run Dry’ is a reflection of it,’ said Pete. "We went to a Don Williams concert, heard this song, and both thought about the lyrics, and whatever happens, as funky rock comes and goes, in the end there are still basic, fundamental needs that man has. Let’s face it, we went through our little mill very rapidly. Ten years ago we had only been in the game for two years and we were already finished. Desperate. F—– up. Screwed. And we NEEDED something. I suppose drugs were a lot to do with it. Meher Baba was a relief. I discovered through myself. I could never, for example, get into Christianity through a Jehovah’s Witness who bangs on the door and gets a medal for saving.
"But on the other hand I don’t think the existence of Jehovah’s Witnesses belittles the power of Christ’s Teaching. It’s hard to explain, but the one thing I like about Meher Baba, the one thing that brings me back to him, is his sense of humour. It seems to be the thing you need in this age. You’ve got to be able to laugh, have your little moan then come out at the other end with a grin, or else you are bloody well done for. I’m sad about the violence today, sure, but I’ve had me head kicked in so many times I sometimes think it’s damaged it!! You damage it from the outside – by getting into fights, and you damage it from the inside by pouring LSD inside you or whatever other drugs you are using. At the end you can still see a little light at the end of the tunnel.
"I dunno about violence. Maybe people feel there isn’t enough happening. Britain is very drab, isn’t it? With its dole queues and strikes, and its non-political parties. It’s hard to see a way out of it. Ronnie here is out of it in the sense that he lives out in Wales. I’m out of it to the extent that I don’t have that contact anymore. I have other business interests, which I like. I really enjoy book and music publishing. It’s my recreation, or wreck-creation. That’s a good word. I’ll use that for the next album."
Pete’s occasional lapses into irrelevance are an understandable reaction to the pressures often put upon him. For example, he finally split from the Who’s old management team of Chris stamp and Kit Lambert, but only after a protracted series of meetings that could last up to eleven hours at a stretch. "It was after such a meeting with Allen Klein, that Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert clung on to one another and went down the Speakeasy to see Wild Willy Barrett. And I had two whiskies and exploded. I went completely bananas. I went around hitting people and practically got myself arrested.
"Funnily enough it was the night I met two of the Sex Pistols. They must have wondered what was going on. Someone said, that’s one of the Sex Pistols, and I turned around and went ARRRH!" (Here Pete emitted a lion-like roar, causing Mr. Lane and myself to flinch). "I picked him up, and he said, ‘Ullo Pete, pleased to meet you,’ whereupon I started to preach at him. No it wasn’t Johnny Rotten. Poor old Johnny, I hear he’s always being done up, or threatened. They’re probably used to it, but they were really smashing blokes. And I was shouting at them, ‘You’ve got to take over where the ’00 left off!!’ And he said, ‘The Who aren’t breaking up are they? They’re our favourite group.’ And I’m going, ‘I’m disappointed in you!’
"These two guys were a slightly different kettle of fish to Johnny Rotten though. They’re much less rigid. They want to be in a band and play, get success and f—- birds."
Did Pete get banned from the Speak, the fate that awaits all rock sinners?
"No, but only out of compassion. The next day I woke up in a doorway with a policeman kicking me. He said: ‘Wake up, Pete. As a special treat, if you can get up and walk away, you can sleep in your own bed tonight.’ So I staggered home on the Underground. I was sad about it afterwards because the whole day seemed a comedown.
"I felt I was spending all my time behind a desk and the Sex Pistols were out enjoying the dream. No, I don’t think the new wave groups will be rooked by their managers – I think it’s more likely the new and green managers will be rooked by the record companies."
Would we be seeing either Ronnie or Pete out on the road again soon? "I’m playing down the Miner’s Arms on Saturday night," said Ronnie. "Pete used to play down there. Couldn’t get ‘im off the piano."
"The Who were going to go into the studio." said Pete. "I don’t know if we are still going. I talked to Roger about it yesterday. But I don’t want to do another album. I’d rather make a film which Roger seemed keen to do. But of course John is keen to get back on the road or at least to play. I dunno what we’re going to do. Keith came over from Los Angeles for the rehearsals then he went back again. I think he’s selling his place there. We tried to persuade him to come back to England. It’s ironic but I don’t think Keith-is financially very well off."
It is a shame that Townshend and Lane won’t be recording together again, or ever doing a one-off concert, for – despite the strands of their friendship, each remains a separate entity with strong ideas about how their lives should be run and how they can write and work. Of the two, Pete is the most affected and influenced by outside events, probably the most shocked and concerned. He tells the story how he was waiting out the Wig & Pen in Fleet Street for an appointment when suddenly a man stepped out on a high window ledge and a crowd gathered. "Two journalists were standing nearby and I heard one say. ‘If he falls, we’re in the money.’ Then the bloke on the ledge started cleaning the windows, and the crowd melted away."
I suppose the moral of the tale is if you are sitting on the ledge there are more people ready to shout ‘jump,’ than there are to save you. But as Townshend and Lane will tell you, it’s strange who you meet on the ledge.