How he won’t get fooled again by Jeremy Corbyn. Why his wife and kids are alright with his VERY rock ’n’ roll past. And how close he’s come to dying before he gets really old– as Roger Daltrey tells Event… ‘My brain was crushed. I went completely doolally. I was calling friends to say goodbye’
Roger Daltrey, rock’s feistiest frontman, doesn’t have time for many politicians of his generation.
But there’s one he’d like to just f-f-fade away.
‘Jeremy Corbyn is not a socialist,’ The Who’s redoubtable singer declares. ‘He’s a communist. Be honest about that and see how many votes you get, Jeremy, because otherwise you’re going to be moving in to Downing Street under a false premise.’
Roger Daltrey is releasing As Long As I Have You, his first solo album for a quarter of a century. Photo by Paul Mobley. www.paulmobleystudio.com
Daltrey, who in a 55-year career has fearlessly confronted audiences at Woodstock, Live Aid, Glastonbury, Hyde Park and the Super Bowl, was born to have opinions.
In his youth he was prepared to back them up, sometimes with his fists. These days he relies on passionately argued discourse. Take, for instance, his position on the European Union.
‘What I’m against is Brussels, not the EU,’ Daltrey declaims emphatically, his eyes flashing behind blue specs.
‘I can’t live with that because we lost people in my family fighting for our right to be democratic.’
Daltrey takes a dainty sip of water in the parlour of a quaint Georgian hotel in central London, where the floorboards creak discreetly and the speeches of Winston Churchill play on an invigorating loop in the lavatory.
Dapper in a tailored waistcoat, crisp shirt and slim-cut jeans, Daltrey has just returned from the hairdresser, where his full head of pewter curls has been tamed. At 74, he looks fit and strong, compact at 5ft 7in and built like a breezeblock. He invites closer inspection of his bulging biceps (‘They’re like rocks!’). See me, feel me, indeed.
Daltrey is here to discuss As Long As I Have You, his first solo album for a quarter of a century, but somewhere between prawn sandwiches becomes sidetracked by pesky politics and bullish Brexit predictions. Later the vocalist, who has sold more than 100 million albums, will talk candidly about his recently completed autobiography, his ‘brother’ Pete Townshend, his dear wife Heather, his beloved friend Keith Moon and his near-death experience with meningitis.
He will also address his violent past, knife crime, prison reform, media harassment, teenage cancer and his unusual perspective on mortality.
Daltrey’s excellent new album delves back into his soul singing in the early days of The Who, when he would belt out sprightly Motown songs with a flavour of Shepherd’s Bush, his birthplace.
Daltrey in 1975. Daltrey’s excellent new album delves back into his soul singing in the early days of The Who, when he would belt out sprightly Motown songs
‘I was always a soul singer,’ Daltrey says, his working-class London accent still intact. ‘If music doesn’t move you, if it isn’t honest, then there’s no point.
‘I’m singing the same words on the songs that we did all those years ago, but now they’re full of life. And full of living.’
In 2016, life presented Daltrey with ‘a slight case of meningitis’ – a viral infection of the brain membrane – that almost finished him. ‘I don’t recommend getting it,’ he says with a shudder.
‘I had a problem with overheating and getting low on salt. It’s a real danger, you can die. We did two very hot gigs and all of a sudden, wham, within a week I was crawling into the hospital on my hands and knees.
‘They stuck tubes and needles in everywhere, bone marrow, lumbar punctures, brain scans, you name it. Just trying to find out what was wrong because everything had stopped working.
‘I was in agony and I was going mad. The lining of your brain swells up. So the brain is being crushed. I tried to get out of the car on the way to the hospital at 70mph on the motorway to throw up. I was completely doolally.
Daltrey, who in a 55-year career has fearlessly confronted audiences at Woodstock, Live Aid, Glastonbury, Hyde Park and the Super Bowl, was born to have opinions
‘For a few days it was touch and go. I was calling people to say goodbye. I said, “I don’t think I’m coming out of here.” I was that bad.’
The experience has given As Long As I Have You a soulful depth and a sensitivity not always associated with Daltrey’s more robust rock output.
‘People think I’m a tough nut but I’m not,’ he confides. ‘Inside, I’m incredibly sensitive.’
In As Long As I Have You’s more reflective moments, it reads like a love letter to Daltrey’s wife of 51 years, Heather, with tender covers of Boz Scaggs’ I’ve Got Your Love, Stephen Stills’ How Far and a moving rendition of Nick Cave’s In Your Arms.
‘I hope she gets that,’ he says. ‘I did tell her, “I sang this for you, you know.”
Daltrey married Heather Taylor in 1971 and they have three grown-up children and ‘many wonderful grandchildren’.
The singer had one child from his four-year marriage to Jackie Rickman in 1964, and another son was born in 1968 as a result of an affair with model Elisabeth Aronsson.
He concedes that marital life hasn’t always been easy for Heather, ‘when your husband is on the road with the world’s biggest rock ’n’ roll band’, but they have, Daltrey says, an understanding that has deepened with the passing years.
‘She knew what business I was in,’ Daltrey insists. ‘Was she ever going to believe me coming back from a three-month tour that I’d been a good boy? I mean, come on. Men are men.
‘No one needed to say anything, it was all open and it worked. That kind of relationship worked for the aristocracy for centuries.
‘It’s remarkable that we have survived, but we’ve survived because she understood.
Daltrey on stage in 1975. Before he became a mod icon with The Who, Daltrey had been a Teddy Boy – a Fifties youth cult who dressed in Edwardian garb and were partial to a punch-up
Roger Daltrey on stage with Pete Townshend in 1982 (left). The Who in 1971 (right)
‘It’s not been all easy and there have been times when I’ve hurt her and that’s upset me, but you can’t go backwards, you have to go forwards. We’ve hung in there and what I love about being married this long is you get the value-added.’
Daltrey excitedly remembers ‘this girl with an incredible pair of legs and the most beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen in my life’ standing over him in London’s Speakeasy Club in the summer of 1967.
They still enjoy a fulfilling love life, although sex, Daltrey acknowledges, has become about something more than the physical.
‘It’s not just a lust thing,’ he agrees. ‘It’s just as important but it’s a different caring, a different nurturing. I love it because it’s another life lesson. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for her,’ he says quietly. ‘I think the world of her.’
For a time, so did Jimi Hendrix, vigorously pursuing redheaded Heather and writing Foxy Lady for her in an attempt to woo the striking model. ‘Jimi was always after Heather, even though he was going out with her best friend,’ Daltrey chuckles. ‘But he didn’t get her. I did.’
This wasn’t Daltrey’s only triumph over the frisky guitarist. The Who famously pulled rank over Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 to headline the landmark show, at which – contrary to reports of the time – Daltrey was not ‘draped in a psychedelic hippy shawl’ but a tablecloth purchased from Shepherd’s Bush Market.
‘Chelsea Antiques Market, dear boy’ he corrects with a hoot. ‘And it was a big bedspread.’
Such essential rock minutiae will be available in October when Daltrey’s autobiography Thanks A Lot, Mr Kibblewhite (a reference to his old headmaster) is published.
‘Normal rock biogs are so boring now,’ he complains. ‘It’s too much of the same story. I wanted to take you into what it felt like to do it, to be in the eye of the hurricane.’
Although Daltrey admits that ‘there are periods I don’t remember because I’ve had quite a lot of bad concussions in my life’.
He’s also survived a throat cancer scare in 2009. Health is now of paramount importance to Daltrey. ‘I’m an instrument and if I don’t maintain the body, the voice will suffer,’ he explains. ‘I work hard, I don’t eat a lot, I try and keep the weight down, I don’t like getting heavy, it doesn’t suit me.’ He tugs at his waistcoat. ‘I keep myself in order.’
Psychologically, Daltrey has always been a fiery customer. In 1965 he was temporarily sacked from The Who for attacking drummer Keith Moon. He knocked Pete Townshend out cold ‘with a perfect uppercut’ while recording Quadrophenia in 1973 and head-butted their visionary producer Glyn Johns during the making of Who Are You in 1977 (‘he called me a c*** so I nutted him’).
Even this afternoon, in these genteel surrounds, Daltrey can exude a faint air of menace. Asked if he’s ever heard Led Zeppelin’s version of As Long As I Have You, he snaps. ‘Yep, it’s dreadful – absolutely awful.’
Daltrey with Keith Moon in 1977 (left). Daltrey with wife Heather in 1985 (right)
Daltrey and Georgina Hale in the 1980 movie McVicar, in which Daltrey played the title role
At the risk of incurring Daltrey’s wrath further, I ask him about the questionable reputations of certain rock musicians. In the light of the Weinstein scandal in Hollywood, does he believe there might be sexual predators lurking within the music business?
He immediately takes umbrage.
‘Why would any rock star need to push themselves on women?’ Daltrey demands. ‘Usually it’s the other way around. I’d like to have £1 for every woman that screws my ass. Mick Jagger would be a billionaire out of it.
‘If it was going to be in the rock business, it would’ve been out by now. It would’ve been out a long time ago.
‘I find this whole thing so obnoxious. It’s always allegations and it’s just salacious crap. Like the allegations against Pete when he got arrested.’
In 2003, Townshend was held for using his credit card to access a website containing indecent images of children in 1999. He was cautioned by police and subsequently cleared of all charges.
‘He didn’t have anything on his computer at all,’ Daltrey erupts angrily. ‘He was accused of downloading, accused of this and accused of that. They never found one f****** thing on 35 computers. It’s a joke.’
Daltrey plainly adores Townshend, whose inimitable guitar playing appears on seven tracks on As Long As I Have You. ‘We love each other,’ he shrugs. ‘We’re brothers.’
Before he became a mod icon with The Who, Daltrey had been a Teddy Boy – a Fifties youth cult who dressed in Edwardian garb and were partial to a punch-up.
The bequiffed young sheet-metal worker ‘with hands hard as hammers’, was always fighting fit. ‘I wasn’t ever very good at backing down from a fight,’ Daltrey confesses. ‘I’ve ended up on the floor a lot because of that but you can’t step away.’
Knife crime, he recalls, was a problem in London as far back as the Fifties, although deaths from stabbing weren’t as common.
‘People think I’m a tough nut but I’m not,’ Daltrey confides. ‘Inside, I’m incredibly sensitive’
‘It’s always been around,’ he accepts. ‘When I was a Ted, it was the razor, but that was always the choice for striping grasses,’ he says referring, in slang, to street retribution meted out to police informants.
As to a solution to the current spate of knife crime in the capital, he’s leaning towards a less lenient penal system.
‘You’ve got to start being a lot bloody tougher in the prisons,’ says Daltrey, who in a successful parallel acting career, starred in the 1980 movie McVicar, as the notorious titular armed robber and jailbreaker, since reformed. ‘I never thought I’d say this because I campaigned for a long time to make things better but I’m not so sure it’s worked. Our prisons are becoming too much like holiday camps and I’m not sure this do-good liberal idea is working.
‘I’ve been in Cat A in Belmarsh visiting people,’ he sniffs. ‘Once you see the inside of these prisons, you suddenly realise that people can do time standing on their head nowadays. They didn’t used to be able to do that when they were breaking rocks.’
Daltrey is ‘a wealthy man’, worth in the region of £60 million. He has lived at Holmshurst Manor, a Jacobean pile in East Sussex, since 1970. When he’s not on tour, Daltrey enjoys working on the adjoining 35-acre farm.
‘I only paid £39,500 for my house,’ he grunts with a grin. ‘People call it a mansion, it’s not, it is a Grade II-listed manor, but in those days nobody wanted them. I’ve done it all up myself. I’ve protected it. You never own a listed house, you caretake it.’
He is also caretaking The Who’s legacy, currently producing a movie about the life of Keith Moon.
Five music legends to see this year
1. Tom Jones
After topping up his tan with gigs in California, the Welsh powerhouse plays the Hampton Court Festival next month, with dates around the UK in July. Jun 21-Jul 22
2. Roger Waters
The Pink Floyd legend’s Us + Them tour has been going since May 2017 and features plenty of material from The Dark Side Of The Moon. His UK dates begin in Glasgow next month. Jun 29-Jul 7
3. Paul Simon
His final UK tour means it will really be the sound of silence after these shows. Jul 10-15
4. Jeff Lynne’s ELO
Roll over Beethoven as Jeff Lynne and co set out to prove, once again, that rock ’n’ roll is king. Sep 30-Oct 26
No Joshua Tree tracks but plenty of high-def action in their most dazzling tour yet. Oct 19-28
His initial choice to play the troubled drummer was Robert Downey Jr, who is ‘now too old unfortunately’, so Daltrey’s search for his star continues.
I suggest that Sherlock co-star and acclaimed Hamlet actor Andrew Scott would make a great Moon and Daltrey immediately Googles him. ‘It’s all in the eyes with Moon,’ he murmurs, alternating images of Scott then Moon. ‘Mischief, danger, darkness, pain.’ The drummer died of an overdose of Heminevrin, a drug intended to prevent the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, at the age of 32 in 1978. Townshend remembered Daltrey being ‘devastated’ at Moon’s funeral.
‘It killed me,’ Daltrey exhales. ‘I loved him.’
Daltrey’s view of mortality has changed since his work with the Teenage Cancer Trust, for which he has raised tens of millions.
‘You can look at death two ways: one as an exit or another as an entrance,’ he says. ‘I meet a lot of people who are dying – many of them young people – and, strange as it might sound, I say, “Just head for the entrance.”’
Daltrey was awarded a CBE in 2004 ‘but I only use it working for my charities as it opens doors’. How would a knighthood work for him? ‘Obviously, it’d be a great honour,’ he says stammering slightly, My Generation-style. ‘The question is, do I deserve to be a Sir?’ The volatile showman’s voice drops and he finally sits back in his chair. ‘My wife definitely deserves to be a Lady,’ the old softie smiles.
‘As Long As I Have You’ is released by Polydor on June 1