THERE were times when Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend would settle their differences with a swift left hook or a well-aimed uppercut.
Delve into their shared history stretching back to the early Sixties and you’ll discover heart-stopping accounts of red mist descending.
Like when Townshend swung his guitar at Daltrey, calling him “a little f***er,” and the singer responded by knocking his bandmate out cold. “I thought I’d killed him,” he wrote in his recent autobiography.
But The Who’s great rock ‘n’ roll survivors have mellowed with the passing years, developing mutual respect and admiration and even talking of their “love” for each other.
That doesn’t mean they pop into each other’s houses for a cosy chinwag over a glass of rosé like Bono and The Edge.
Aside from Who activities, the singer and the guitarist/songwriter lead very separate lives.
Even the highly- anticipated new album is being recorded with Townshend and fellow musicians in one studio while Daltrey applies those towering vocals in another.
With that in mind, the chance to encounter the pair in the same room for an elusive joint interview seems a tantalising prospect. What an opportunity to get them to talk about each other . . . in front of each other.
The room in question proves to be a fourth-floor suite overlooking Wembley Stadium’s hallowed turf where The Who will perform with an orchestra on July 6.
I walk in and there they are sitting together like an old married couple near the window — Roger, 75, looking dapper in a formal white shirt, black waistcoat and trousers; Pete, 73, more casual in dark grey chinos and black zip-up cardigan.
I start by asking them to explore their enduring relationship. “It’s 18 months since we’ve seen each other,” Daltrey confesses instantly, but it is Townshend who takes the bait first.
“My journey with Roger has gone from what I would call an uncomfortable and uneasy place to the most wonderful of places . . . it’s just got better and better,” he says.
“There have been difficulties but nothing that would cause either of us to lose any sleep.”
Townshend shifts his gaze to his brother-in-arms and continues his heartfelt salute. “When we began, I didn’t even really want to be in a band,” he says.
“Roger’s ambition, his drive, his commitment, his self-discipline, his need to make The Who his job was what kept me hanging on. He had to bully, cajole and force me to a point where I was writing music.
“I was creative. I’d done art school. So I put up with the band in order to write the songs.”
Townshend’s harking back to the days when he, Daltrey, bassist John “The Ox” Entwistle and madcap drummer Keith
Moon burst on to the scene with rocket-fuelled anthems like My Generation and The Kids Are Alright as part of their drive to “maximum R&B.”
Then he moves swiftly on to his feelings for Daltrey right now, after all they’ve been through.
Now, however, by giving each other plenty of space, we’ve developed a sense of respect for each other, which is far, far, far greater than we had when we began
“We’ve got to this point through fallow periods, great successes and some really quite considerable failures,” he says.
“We’ve had albums that didn’t do well and shows that didn’t sell out.
“Now, however, by giving each other plenty of space, we’ve developed a sense of respect for each other, which is far, far, far greater than we had when we began.
“So I’m really happy with our relationship. We really are friends and we really love each other.
“We’re so lucky to do a place like Wembley, go on tour together, play music from the past and we’re working on new music.”
With the mammoth US Moving On! Tour starting in May, the Wembley gig and the first Who studio album since 2006’s
Endless Wire, 2019 is shaping up to be a big year for the boisterous band that once ruffled the feathers of The Beatles and the Stones.
They’re excited by the prospect of playing with symphonic accompaniment but promise it will still be “full throttle Who with bells and horns on.”
Next it’s Daltrey’s turn to talk about Townshend and he’s a little less effusive than when we spoke alone a year ago.
Pete on touring
“TOURING is a piece of cake these days. When we played Rio, we walked into the hotel and there was this very beautiful woman who said, ‘I’m the manager, I’ll show you to your suite?’
“She takes me up in the lift and we walk into this stunning room with views of Rio and the islands. I’m looking around saying, ‘Have we got digestive biscuits and Yorkshire Tea?’ but I just see this bed surrounded by candles and a gorgeous masseuse. So I said to the manager, ‘Look, this is freaking me out. I don’t like massages!’
“When I get to a new country, I still think hotel people might say, ‘Can you go to that s**thole down the road?’
“But everything’s different now. . . we have our own planes, we’re welcomed in hotels and we get days off in between shows. It’s leisurely, just brilliant.
And thank God that Keith (Moon) isn’t here. I miss him terribly but Keith would still be getting up to his mischief.
“We would have got to that Rio hotel and an hour later we would have been thrown out. He would have tried to shag the manager on both beds.”
Then, when praising Townshend’s encouragement and generous contributions to his solo album, As Long As I Have You, he said: “I’m such a fan. He’s one of the best composers of the late 20th century.
“We love each other and we always did. Even though we did this wrestling in public, God help anyone who came between us.”
Today, sitting beside his old mucker, Daltrey focuses on a lifetime of interpreting Townshend songs in his own inimitable way as one of rock’s greatest voices.
“It’s almost like I have to eat them and basically s**t them out the other end and there’s the final product. It’s a weird process but it seems to work,” he laughs.
“Or you could say I stuff them up my arse and they come out my mouth. We’ve always had that chemistry from the very early days. We were so naive but we had incredible energy.”
Joking aside, he continues: “I recognised Pete’s talent from the start because he was playing real chords.
“But those early days weren’t easy. I’m not a bully, I’m a kind person, but I probably had to be a bit of bully.
“I’d been bullied myself and was on a hair trigger. If I ever felt threatened, I would always lash out because being little — as the little ones find out — you’ve only got one chance.
If you don’t get the first poke in you’re dead. That’s what I was like and it must have been a nightmare for the other members of the band
“If you don’t get the first poke in you’re dead. That’s what I was like and it must have been a nightmare for the other members of the band.
“I’m glad things turned out the way they did and I don’t regret a thing. . . except hitting Pete on the stage when we were rehearsing Quadrophenia. It was so stupid!”
Daltrey’s referring to the infamous incident when he knocked out Townshend, who remains remarkably understanding about it to this day.
Pete remembers being completely involved in the music “while Roger had a different scenario. He was desperately worried we were on the verge of financial collapse.
“John Entwistle and Keith Moon were spending money they didn’t have and I was spending money to build studios.”
Daltrey joins in: “Our office, contracts and management were out of control. It was a serious, serious situation.”
Townshend again: “And I wasn’t supporting Roger enough. We weren’t very close at that time. Now I look at the work that Roger did on Quadrophenia, the work everybody did, and it was so incredible.”
A key part of that work was the astonishing primal scream vocal Daltrey gave to the concept album’s epic finale, Love Reign O’er Me.
“He didn’t like it,” sighs the singer pointing his finger in the direction of the songwriter.
“No, it wasn’t that I didn’t like it,” retorts Townshend. “It was supposed to be a song for a pathetic boy who was sitting on a rock, drowning.
“Of course Roger sang it from the gut and it’s actually a much better expression of what was going on inside the boy’s head.
“I was thinking about it theatrically and Roger thought about it emotionally. It didn’t take me long to realise that he’d done a great vocal. . . it was just that first playback.”
The story reminds Townshend of another momentous Who “rock opera,” Tommy, the troubling story of a “deaf, dumb and blind kid.”
“Kit Lambert was producing and I told him I didn’t think Roger could sing ‘see me/feel me/touch me/heal me.’ I didn’t think he’d got it in him.
“Anyway, one day I arrived at the studio and coming down the steps was this gentle version. I walked in and said to Roger, ‘You’re Tommy.’”
It’s incredible to think that Tommy was recorded 50 years ago and that, in 2019, The Who are making a new album full of new ideas.
The recording process still isn’t exactly straightforward, as Daltrey explains: “Pete’s music arrived at a time when I was having trouble with my ears so I couldn’t hear it.
“I don’t listen to much now because my hearing is getting so bad. Every tour I do, it gets a little worse.
“I can still hear the birds singing and I want to keep what little hearing I’ve got left. I just like silence.”
But Daltrey did eventually engage with the new material and adds: “I thought, ‘These songs are so good but they sound like a Pete solo album.’
Writing music he can sing, even if there are only two of us left, makes it The Who
“But then I’m going, ‘How can I make them mine, how can we turn them into an even better Who album?’”
Townshend picks up the thread: “I wrote about 40 songs and extracted ten or 15 I could challenge Roger with. I wanted him to feel excited.
“Writing music he can sing, even if there are only two of us left, makes it The Who.”
After all these years, Townshend still reveals his compositions to Daltrey with a degree of trepidation. “If he says anything negative about the songs, I’m going to be bruised, even if he says, ‘I really like the middle bit. . . ’
Daltrey: “Exactly, it’s like criticising his children. For me, interpreting the songs is challenging, like painting a portrait of an incredibly interesting looking person.
“I have to do a lot of sketches before I get it right and when I get it right, I know it in my head.
“One of my problems is that I can’t read lyrics and sing them. They have to come from my heart.”
By the sound of it, the new Who album will be a contemporary affair with songs about the changing roles of women, homelessness, gun crime and political uncertainty and, says Townshend, “how there’s nothing new in music. When we write music today, we are stealing.”
And he adds: “Some of the album looks backwards as well. I wrote one song about a one-night stand when I was bang at it in the Eighties.
“We’d had a few drinks and when we’d got to her house, five or six in the morning, her teenage daughter had to vacate the bed to go to school so that we could get in and have sex.”
With that typically frank anecdote, our chat draws to a close but not before I mention the My Generation lyric “I hope I die before I get old” to these senior citizens of rock’s aristocracy.
“You’ve won the banana!” cries Daltrey. “You win a banana if you bring that up in an interview. . . where’s the banana?”
Despite kicking myself for such a clichéd comment, I’m thankful the surviving two from The Who are still causing “a b-big s-s-sensation.”
Pete on My Generation
“MY Generation never really felt like our song, ever.
“I very much doubt whether Roger has sung the song thinking it was about him.
“It’s about them, the audience, and what they were going through. We were in a band, we were watchers, we were performers, we were entertainers, we were passing through and we carried that song with us.
“We went through a long period in the middle years of not playing it but one day we woke up and thought, ‘How arrogant are we to say we can’t play this song, that this is ours and we’re too old to play it, for f***’s sake?’”