September 26, 2020

’96 Cleveland Live Interview

Townshend talking to Ira Robbins about what it took to get the ’96 Quadrophenia tour off the ground; working with Roger and John again; the tentative steps of his planned autobiography; the future of Lifehouse; and various other future projects.


Shortly before the reunited Who began its month-plus Quadrophenia tour of North America in Portland, Oregon on October 13th, guitarist, singer and composer Pete Townshend rang from London to talk about the project that is currently occupying his attention. Always one of rock’s most articulate and eloquent figures, he filled an evening hour with his thoughts about taking Quadrophenia out for another spin, where it might go from here, and the obstacles and benefits of getting back together with singer Roger Daltrey and bassist John Entwistle.

The Return Of Quadrophenia

ROBBINS: How long has Quadrophenia been on your mind?

TOWNSHEND: When Tommy hit Broadway in early ’93, a couple of people asked me what I was going to do next. There were a few projects floating around in my head, and Quadrophenia was, I suppose, one of them. But I never really thought about it seriously until about a year ago, when Bill Curbishley, our manager, came to me with a proposal to do a European tour of a rough treatment that I’d done, which was very, very expensive.

It was a very ambitious project, a bit like [U2’s] Zoo TV, with two bands. I was very excited. Then I told him that I wouldn’t appear in it, and he said he didn’t think it would sell out, and therefore the funding wasn’t available in advance.

And then Des McAnuff [director of the Broadway version of Tommy] came to see me in February or March of this year with a proposal from Robbie Robertson to do a celebration for fifty years of the Vespa motorscooter [a preferred mode of transportation for the ’60s mods who are the cultural subject of Quadrophenia] from the Piaggio company in Rome in August.

That’s when I started to think about it seriously. I started to think about the fact that a company like Piaqqio might be able to put up the money required to do a fairly simple but elegant staging. And then the Prince’s Trust thing came up. [The outdoor charity concert, held in London’s Hyde Park in June and subsequently broadcast on HBO, unveiled the revived Quadrophenia.]

That’s basically what happened. I haven’t been sitting thinking about it particularly, it’s just something that happened partly because of timing. Piaggio being 50 kind of got the whole thing going.

ROBBINS: Did the Rome show take place?

TOWNSHEND: No. We missed it. We missed the actual anniversary because we didn’t want to work in August. It was too soon after the extended workshop that we did in New York. [Following the London event, the company played a week at New York’s Madison Square Garden in July.] So we’re doing it next year, I think it’s in May.

ROBBINS: What are your plans for Quadrophenia after this tour?

TOWNSHEND: We’ll probably do a few more shows with it in London and Europe, and after that I really don’t know. I’m already getting interest from theatrical producers in developing it as a simple sit-down theatrical production with a band on stage, like Rent, that kind of thing. I’ve had a couple of offers already, which I’m thinking about.

What I think Quadrophenia lends itself to, and what I might be able to pull off where others have failed in the long term is to create a rock’n’roll event of great integrity and authenticity which can sit down somewhere in an installation. Des McAnuff took me to see Cirque du Soleil Mystere at Las Vegas in 1994, and I was just blown away by it. I’m a big fan of Cirque du Soleil, but what blew me away was, in the rather bizarre and confused ever-changing scene that Las Vegas now represents in show business, there was this incredibly powerful — I think spiritually uplifting — show doing fantastic business. They do four shows a day, I think, in a twelve- or fourteen-thousand seat arena. I’ve been looking at a slightly more modest installation, but something that would provide a setting for this kind of musical work. This is what interests me for the future, not so much music theater in the old tradition, but an aspect of music theater that allows technology to play an important and vital part without being subject to the vagaries of Broadway.

ROBBINS: If Quadrophenia were to wind up in the theater, how difficult would the creative conversion be?

TOWNSHEND: I don’t think it would be particularly difficult. It would be easy enough to do. What one can’t ascertain at this time is whether it would be worth doing because it might be that the audience is a narrow one. If somebody like Des McAnuff or any young, hip director with experience in theatrical musicals would work alongside Roger [Daltrey] and I, we could make it work. I think we could make it speak. We could provide "tracks" for actors that make them feel like real people in a play about life and growing. It could feel real; if not more real than, at least as real as, Tommy or Rent or Crazy for fucking You.

Quadrophenia’s Past

ROBBINS: When the Who performed Quadrophenia live as part of regular concert sets in 1973, was that a failure, a success, or a necessary first step?

TOWNSHEND: We were exhausted from making the record and all kinds of things by the time we started touring, I got very wrecked. I was working on the screenplay for the Tommy movie, doing the Rainbow concert with Eric Clapton and other things. I suppose it was courageous. It’s a pretty difficult task today. Those screaming teenagers have grown up to be screaming adults. I feel I’m being dragged up to their level.

ROBBINS: What role did your 1993 Psychoderelict solo tour and the Who’s 1989 reunion performances of Tommy play in shaping your ideas about staging Quadrophenia?

TOWNSHEND: They helped. They gave me the certainty that it would work. Psychoderelict, by the end–the Jones Beach show [Long Island, New York] is the one that I remember as the most successful amalgam of a rock concert and a theatrical piece, It was a little bit circus-ish in a way, a little bit bawdy. It was the last date on a fourteen-date tour. By the time we got to the end, the actors were rather parodying themselves and having fun with the thing. But the audience was familiar with it, they were comfortable with it, they knew what was going to happen, they knew that there were going to be people acting, they’d heard it from their friends or whatever. By the end of the tour, people knew what was going to happen, and it worked. So I’m confident that having a couple of actors on the stage, or even performers pretending to be actors, would work.

What working on Tommy has done is it’s taught me to collaborate, to let go. When I started to think about how to get a sense of how Quadrophenia would work, I suddenly thought that obviously the path that would be the easiest to go and the most straightforward to go would be exactly the path that I went on with Tommy, which would be to do a bunch of concerts in which we had celebrity performers, and to see whether it would work. So the first concert we did at Hyde Park was exactly that. With Tommy, its first step toward a theatrical production was undoubtedly the Los Angeles show in ’89 at the Universal Amphitheater. It was there that I, and a lot of theatrical producers, suddenly realized that Tommy would fly as a theater piece.

Staging Quadrophenia

ROBBINS: What was the process of getting this project together?

TOWNSHEND: Knowing that I was going to put the thing up in the UK for the first time, and that the audience in the UK is not as deeply committed to the band and its complete body of work as our fans are in New York, I had to have some kind of visible link to the movie [Quadrophenia, directed by Francis Roddam; 1979; starring Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash and Sting]. So the first person I asked was Phil Daniels, and when he agreed to narrate the show in Hyde Park, I then asked Roger if he would sing.

ROBBINS: Did you ask Sting to be involved?

TOWNSHEND: [Laughs.] I didn’t ask Sting. I don’t want to tell you who I did ask.

ROBBINS: Gary Glitter is an inspired bit of casting.

TOWNSHEND: I don’t know whether it was inspired, it was just a natural choice. I wanted somebody who is able to parody the whole idea of a rock star and a rock godfather, and he is that. The only thing is that I’m not sure that he is entirely aware of the success of his own parody. He feels that he has to work at it a bit too hard. In a way, what’s happening here is that we’re having him be himself but play a role. He didn’t seem to me to be entirely confident in New York. He was afraid that he wouldn’t be as well known as Billy Idol, and I think in that respect he’s probably right. His role is a lot harder than Billy’s is.

ROBBINS: Zak Starkey, Ringo Starr’s son, is a great drummer.

TOWNSHEND: We’re really pleased to have him in the band. He’s just stunning. He’s very easy to play with. Mind you, I’m very spoiled with drummers. I don’t fuck around anymore. I only play with people who are really easy to play with: Simon Phillips is a different kind of drummer, but he’s very easy to play with, he’s very much a listening drummer.

But what Zak has is a lot of karmic Keith Moon about him, which is wonderful. It’s easy to make too much of that — he really is his own drummer. He has his own style. But he’s very intelligent. What he did was adapt his own style as an imitator of Keith Moon — he does a garage band imitation of Keith Moon which is probably unbeatable — but he’s modified that, moderated it, in a very intelligent and musical way so that he won’t be directly compared. He won’t evoke uncomfortable memories for the audience.

ROBBINS: How did you come to get him in the band?

TOWNSHEND: I’ve known him for a long time. Keith used to be a kind of musical godfather to him. He gave him his first drum kit, which I think is rather strange. Ringo may have actually given him his first drum kit, but I think Keith gave him the first drum kit that he really wanted. It had nude women on it.

ROBBINS: How has it been to work so closely with your younger brother Simon?

TOWNSHEND: I’m glad he’s comfortable doing this, because it’s a chance to spend time together, which we tend only to do when we’re working. We see each other at Christmas and birthdays and other occasions, but we both shut ourselves off in our respective studios and write, write, write, write. He’s been doing it since he was eight, so he’s been doing it nearly as long as I have.

I had my first demo studio in a flat that is now Simon’s demo studio. The first couple of songs I wrote in that studio were "It Was You," a thing called "Silver Stingray" and a couple of other mock-Jan and Dean things. A couple of years later, I brought him and my brother Paul, they both played guitar — he was 8 and Paul was 10 — up to my studio where I was doing the demos for Tommy, in Victoria, in London and made a couple of tapes with them.

Working Out The Kinks

ROBBINS: Besides billing the tour explicitly as the Who and including a longer Who-unplugged segment at the end, what changes were made from the New York shows?

TOWNSHEND: I’m playing a bit of electric guitar. My brother Simon is still playing most of the work, but I decided I would actually get myself a rig like the one I used in ’89, which certainly didn’t hurt my ears, and play a few solos, basically because I felt that Geoff Whitehorn was getting a bad rap. I thought he played beautifully and elegantly, and people seemed to think in some way that he shouldn’t have been there. So I just thought that I would bow to public opinion and play a bit of electric.

The cast is the same. Except we’ve made some fundamental changes to the treatment. Roger has come in with quite profound energy and really made some very good decisions with me and with Frank Nealon, the director — there’s another guy, Aubrey Powell, who is looking after all the visual material, the film material — which is to have the narrator, the Jimmy figure, be the same person that we see onscreen. I think we confused things a bit by having a boy called Jimmy on the screen, a narrator called Jimmy on the stage in the shape of Phil Daniels and then Jimmy’s various inner voices strutting about the stage. It got a bit confusing. We’re in the process of tidying that up a bit. We’re shooting a lot of film, another half-a-million dollars worth of movie.

ROBBINS: Based on a press release that went out from Billy Idol’s camp, has his part been expanded since the New York shows?

TOWNSHEND: It hasn’t been changed at all. We’re certainly relying on those guys to do a lot more. The tableaux of mods and rockers on the stage were probably superfluous, and so they’re going to have to work a lot harder to establish their own sense of being and communicate that.

The Reunion

ROBBINS: Given your history, what sort of barriers did you have to get over to reunite with Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle?

TOWNSHEND: Strange as it may see, the only barrier there’s even been for me is just a feling on my part that my emotional frailty would cause anything that we attempted to do to collapse. To this day, I don’t believe that I have any kind of real creative energy to support a rock band with a long chain of anthemic rock songs.

This [project] is working particularly well for me, because I asked Roger to help me stage the thing. I asked him to help me in a number of very fundamental ways. I made it clear that I couldn’t do what I felt I needed to do without him: which was to stage the thing as a huge workshop. A work in progress, a typically out of control rock and roll experiment, which may work or may fail. But I couldn’t do it on my own. And no one could sing the stuff like he can sing it.

In these early days of trying to find out what the piece is really about, I had to do it with him. And when he agreed, it became natural to bring John in partly to capitalize on the feeling that this is a Who project and to make sure that we sold tickets, but on the other hand partly to start to get–this is the word Des McAnuff uses a lot–the karma in the piece right. With Zak Starkey on drums and my brother on guitar we’ve managed to spin some karma into the piece, which makes it feel very comfortable for me. I’ve enjoyed the concerts so far. I’m not sure how I’m going to feel about being on a long, drawn-out tour again, but I’m sure I’ll be okay. I absolutely loved the New York show.

ROBBINS: How has this project affected your relationships with Daltrey and Entwistle?

TOWNSHEND: I found a way to contribute to the artistic needs of John and Roger by asking them to do me a favor. Which was kind of like an upside down Chinese puzzle for me. It’s always felt to me that the burden was the other way’round. I suddenly realized that it wasn’t really like that at all — I’m the one with the problem, not them. They don’t have a problem, what they have is a career which has just stopped. I have a series of continuing artistic and creative difficulties and, in this particular case, I luckily turned to the right people for help. Roger’s been magnificent. Partly, it’s purely emotional, because these are the guys that I grew up with. I’ve been playing with them since I was really young and unformed. I became a man in their company. There’s a dignity they can bring to the work.

When the three of us stand together with a piece like this you can get more of a sense of it having genuine authority. When I speak for the mod movement, or the English working class in the ’60s, I can’t speak with complete authority. It’s not just because I wasn’t exactly working class, nor because I didn’t emphasize or identify with what my peers were going through. The three of us are ‘from the neighborhood’; it just somehow feels right.

Roger speaks a lot about the magic that happens when the three of us get together to play. I have to say I’ve yet to experience that. [Laughs.] I’m trying hard not to be cynical. It doesn’t feel that magical to me, but I am enjoying performing for the first time in a long time. I must give myself some credit: I’ve worked very hard learning to do that. The Supper Club dates that I did recently [a pair of solo shows that took place in New York in May’96; Townshend, joined by one accompanist, played mostly acoustic guitar and piano; the venture also included a couple of shows at the House of Blues in Los Angeles] were all part of a program to try and get myself to ease back into being in the public eye and accepting the fact that my audience — mv fans, the Who’s audience and Who fans — are people that I utterly depend on, and I should accept that with some good grace and enjoy it.

Roger And Pete

ROBBINS: What about the friction that took place when Roger did his fiftieth-birthday orchestra-and-guests solo tour in 1994, playing your songs? How did you resolve that conflict?

TOWNSHEND: I think we addressed it really by addressing it. Our counselors kept telling us that we had to sit and talk, and it was frightening. In the end, we got the courage, and we sat down and we talked to one another about it. And it was hard, but we resolved it.

Around the time of his tour, he was out there doing his thing and I was going through probably one of the worst chapters of my life, having just messed up in London with Iron Man. Although it was a success in its way, I was emotionally fucked up by it. I couldn’t work out what had gone on. I knew that Tommy was hugely successful and I knew that Iron Man had somehow failed and it didn’t have to do with the disparity in their budgets, it was something else. When I realized what it was, which I don’t particularly want to talk about at the moment, I went away to review my life and think about what I was going to do next. Meanwhile, Roger’s tour was rolling and I was somehow expected to be a happy-go-lucky part of it all. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do any more than I did, which was to run on the stage and give him a birthday hug, sing a couple of songs and then go home. I was not a well boy, I don’t think.

The problem for me with Roger’s tour was that it was meant as a way of both honoring the work, celebrating the work and using it in the absence of the Who. But I felt comfortable with it. Where I started to feel uncomfortable with it was when Roger’s manager started to suggest that I might change horses as well, and move away from what I was doing in my life and turn Roqer’s tribute to Pete Townshend into the new Who. I’m not suggesting that that was [the manager’s] motive, but like a lot of Who fans, his dream was to find some way to get the Who back together. That is still probably Roger’s self-confessed dream.

That was a real problem for me, because what I felt at the time was that I couldn’t see a creative route to that state of affairs. I couldn’t see us going into a studio and coming up with songs that were a credit to each of us as human beings.

I’m not sure I feel that degree of conviction that it must fail today. I’m not raising hopes for any kind of Who reunion or Who album — fuck knows when I’d fit it in if we did — but what has made it feel possible to me is really just the fact that Roger and I are creatively collaborating on this script for this play. It’s the first thing we’ve ever creatively collaborated on in our lives.

In the past, we collaborated by default. I would play Roger, say, 20 demos and any that he wanted to change slightly I’d just take away. We’d do something else. I would present so many songs that there was no need to modify the material. I never gave anybody the chance to contribute. I think that was an immature way of carrying on. I’m better now. I think I am capable of collaborating as a songwriter. Whether I can collaborate with Roger I don’t know.

It requires a certain level of intimacy to sit and write a song with somebody, and intimacy is very hard for me, it’s something I find quite difficult in any relationship. Roger and I are building up a real intimacy at the moment and I think there’s a possibility we could do that.

Basically, the Who has not existed for about as long as it existed in the first place. The differences in your adulthoods, as opposed to the protracted adolescence that being in a rock band with people is about, must have changed the dynamic between the three of you.

The only way I can talk about that is by getting extremely personal, and I don’t want to do that. Let me just say that there are still tremendous differences. We have, each of us, changed a lot since the last album that we made. Although it’s easy to count the times we’ve got together to make a buck or celebrate some birthday or whatever, there’s nothing like getting together to make a record to allow you to see into another person’s frail heart. The last two albums for the Who [1981’s Face Dances and 1982’s It’s Hard] were incredibly painful affairs, because we were fucking up and it was quite clear and there was nothing we could do to stop the process. We all looked around for someone to blame but it was quite clear there wasn’t much we could do about it.

We have changed a lot, each of us, but only in certain ways. In other ways, each of us has clung on to something about his personality and their character which is quintessential. Enough to make me feel like I’m on familiar ground.

Whenever I spend time with John, who now hardly speaks — at least not to me — I am full of tremendous love and affection for him. He’s always been a great leveller for me. He’s such a brilliant man, such a fantastic musician and such a generous spirit. I suppose he was one of the first people for me as a child who affirmed me, who believed in me and felt that I was destined for some kind of, if not greatness, a steady job in a band. And Roger was the first guy to hire me.

Those things go back a long way. This is all relevant to the kind of emotional stuff that we’re drawing on in Quadrophenia, that period, those early formative periods in boy relationships — all of that stuff is pretty much as it was. The things that have changed are actually rather difficult, and if I gave you my rundown of them, it might jar with your rundown. I’m sure you’ve got your own view of it. I’m sure we have changed quite a lot.

ROBBINS: The original notion of Quadrophenia was that the character’s four personalities were meant to represent the members of the Who. Is that still a major part of it for you?

TOWNSHEND: No, it’s not. The four-personality concept grew out of a naive understanding of schizophrenia — a misunderstanding of schizophrenia. Jimmy is a kid who suffers from schizophrenia, and when he takes pills, his schizophrenia divides up and he suffers from quadrophrenia. It was a silly gag but it was something I felt.

I tend towards manic depresssion — I don’t think I am a classic manic-depressive, but I tend towards it; I have, or have had, high highs and low lows in my life. In the times when I abused drugs, when I was very young — and particularly when I used to use the amphetamines of the mods — I used to feel that my manic depression became very complicated. That aspect is still there, it’s just we don’t hang it so obviously on the characters in the band.

ROBBINS: I always thought the four personalities were all yours.

TOWNSHEND: Well, you’re entitled to your opinion.

Getting Older

ROBBINS: What are your thoughts on playing rock music these days?

TOWNSHEND: When I play electric guitar, the adrenaline starts to pump. It takes an hour or two to come down. One can do some pretty stupid, childish, undignified things when you’re high on adrenaline. You can do things that can get you into trouble.

Musically speaking, one of the things that does happen is you cease to be a channel for any kind of spiritual flow that might be in the room. It’s important that you’ve got energy and that there’s some adrenaline pumping, it’s important that you can move and express yourself, and that your body language and that your face and the rest of it send the message that you’re glad to be there, but it’s also important to be in control enough of what you’re doing that you can actually be some kind of channel. That’s what I’ve found, anyway. When I started to respond to the audiences at the Supper Club in a rock’n’roll tradition, I suddenly thought, what am I — a fucking stand-up comic or something? I’m in a small place ’cause I want to play in a small place. Just shut up.

ROBBINS: The adrenaline rush makes you stop channeling? I would think just the opposite — a loss of conscious control, going strictly on instinct and inspiration — that is the spirit.

TOWNSHEND: That’s not what I said. When I get an adrenaline rush, I kind of go blind. I stabbed myself on my tremolo arm — all kinds of stupid things happen to me. For me, at my age as well, it’s really important to find a middle-aged equivalent to the kind of young man’s abandon that took me to play the kind of solos I played on Live at Leeds, for example. Let’s take that as an example. That happened to be an evening when I was concentrating very hard, I don’t think I got out of control.

ROBBINS: With more than two decades of Quadrophenia history to build on, who do you see this as being for: the old audience or a new one? Who fans or the non-rock population that made Tommy such a success on Broadway?

TOWNSHEND: Who fans, I’m confident, if they come, they’ll enjoy this. At this time, we’re not trying to attract theater goers at all. But if there are people other than Who fans who would enjoy Quadrophenia they are the type of music fan who wants their adolescent difficulties to be validated. Fans of younger bands who have been greatly influenced by Quadrophenia and that particular aspect of the Who’s personal growth as individuals. These are people who maybe have had a hard time being young.What they want is to be told by people who are ostensibly heroic and artistic that it’s okay. I’m not saying that’s what I do these days, but it’s certainly what a lot of modern bands are achieving. They don’t just ask questions. Bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and R.E.M. and a number of others that have, to some extent, ended up winding up their idea of their own youth and their difficulties with being young as a way of validating political ideas, their political frustrations, their anger or whatever — until, in the end, they become grownups and they realize that they don’t need to validate at all.

There’s certainly a lot of people that have been through that process of feeling that what Quadrophenia did for rock’n’roll was to show that a very simple thing happens when you suffer, which is that you escape. And when you escape, you’re suddenly on your own. And when you’re on your own, you can decide what you’re going to do with your life. It’s one of the cornerstones of what I believe rock music is about. If I call something "rock music," it means that it has something to do with the rite of passage from adolescence into maturity, into adulthood.

ROBBINS: Which leaves open the question of what do you do when you get there?

TOWSHEND: Who cares? [laughs] What you do is you live your life. What I meant was who cares what the individual does? The collective spirit of rock does dissipate quite quickly — it has anyway, to some extent, dissipated simply the way modern pop music has proliferated and run off into strands.

Pete’s Future

ROBBINS: You seem to be shifting your emphasis from composing new music to restoring and reshaping some of your enduring works.

TOWNSHEND: I’ve never apologized for restoring and reshaping things I’ve already done. Partly, that’s because there’s a quality of energy in my early work that’s really difficult to emulate. It’s not because I can’t do it, I think I can do it sometimes, it’s because I don’t want to do it. I suppose the work that I did when I was young stands on its own two feet, and I don’t want to go down the same road again. I’ve never been afraid of going and looking at that stuff and trying to make it better. I feel like, in a way, what I’m doing is honoring myself as a writer and making up for the fact that, in many respects, a lot of the Who’s music was underrated and undervalued.

What I’m writing today is very different from anything that I’ve ever written before. I don’t know that my audience would feel comfortable with it. I started to demonstrate some of that — I suppose it’s the style in which I’ve been playing for almost the last ten years — in my recent solo concerts. As I grew in confidence I also grew in pragmatic sense of self-preservation, where I would have been quite happy to sit and bang away at the piano all night, or play John Fahey ragtime all night. That’s what I do.

I also do a lot of extended compositions — I wouldn’t call them jazz, but they’re very modal, they’re very simplistic. It’s a style of composition I’ve been developing to support dramatic language. I’ve never been interested at all in film composition, so everything I’ve been doing is about training myself for another life as somebody who could write for the stage. While I’ve been trying to learn to play the piano a little bit better, trying to learn to score a bit more elegantly, trying to learn to deal with other players without being quite so dictatorial, show business is changing under me. Las Vegas is a good example. The whole world of theme parks is an area where specially commissioned music from somebody like me is welcomed. So I don’t quite know where I’m gonna go.

The piece I’m working on at the moment is quite a modest piece called "Stella"; out of that grew another piece called "Trilby’s Piano," which was a thing about something that happened to me when I was a kid with an aunt of mine — a very positive experience for me. I’ve started to look at the more positive experiences I’ve had in my life, and I find it very difficult to compose for that stuff because I’ve spent most of my time drawing on my negative experiences, or what I would call my growth experiences.

ROBBINS: And what’s happening with your autobiography?

TOWNSHEND: I haven’t started it yet. If I can get some of the deal points sorted out — it’s not so much about money as about how much the book would cost to produce if I were to decide to fill it with black and white pictures of my dear old dad or something — I’ll probably start early next year, and it’ll take me two years.

The term autobiography is a bit mischievous; what I’m really doing is writing about my life and my music. About life and music in general. It’s going to be an artist’s view of the last fifty years and what’s been going on with music in that time. I don’t pretend to be an arch academic musicologist, but my journey is a unique one, and does give me a very special and acute view of where pop music came from and what it means. I hope this book will elucidate a lot of that stuff simply by me telling my story without any frills. Just talking about my grandparents and my parents and the music that they listened to, and what they did when they were young, and my life and how I grew up and what I did when I was young and the people that I met and then suddenly hey ho here we are. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been gathering materials for it, most of which has been a bit of a waste of time, but it’s all good memory-jogging stuff.

ROBBINS: And Lifehouse?

TOWNSHEND: Lifehouse is a going concern. The music that’s been written for the various incarnations of that project, most of which have failed, has always been of the highest quality. I think if I could get a story together that really worked that didn’t feel dated — because of virtual reality as a subject having become rather passe — then I think Lifehouse would pay off. A lot of the new stories that I work on these days are very different. The kind of stuff I work on today is, I suppose, much more intimate and much more two- or three- handed. And that’s not particularly because I’ve abandoned my lust for big-bucks productions and huge audiences, it’s because I’ve emotionally passed through that stage of ambition in my life creatively. But as an entrepreneur and as a producer, I’m still very keen on doing things which are commensurate with the size of the world’s population.

ROBBINS: How do you feel about the 1970 Who at the Isle of Wight concert film and soundtrack album that are now being released?

TOWNSHEND: The album? Oh, I don’t care really. I don’t have strong feelings about it. It doesn’t seem like a big item in Who history. But it was a real pleasure seeing the film materialize. I never expected to see it. When we found the sound reels in my tape cupboard down at the bottom of the garden, we were over the moon. We found everyone else’s sound reels as well. [That allowed a separate film, a documentary look at the entire 1970 Isle of Wight festival, with Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Jethro Tull, the Moody Blues, Joni Mitchell and others to be finished and shown.]

I’m slightly embarrassed by myself in that film. It’s a little hard to watch. but everyone seems to love it. It’s getting the most sustained good press we’ve ever had in the UK.