Somewhere along the line Keith gave me his home phone number, the only rock star of his renown ever to do so, and it was by calling him at his home and arranging to drive down to Chertsey on a Tuesday afternoon in April 1972 that the following interview took place. (And when reading it please bear in mind that this took place long before any books about The Who or its individual members were ever published.)
Tara House was on the outskirts of Chertsey, off St Anne’s Hill, down a private lane behind a pub called the Golden Grove; a peculiarly-shaped modern dwelling, consisting of five pyramids and too much glass. It was set in extensive grounds and there were at least half-a-dozen expensive cars in the drive, all belonging to Keith. At that time the household also consisted of Keith’s lovely wife Kim, their daughter Mandy, Kim’s mother Joan and her son Dermott who, strangely, was about the same age as Mandy, who was his niece. All were dismissed as Keith and I settled down to talk in his playroom/bar.
He took this interview quite seriously, for him at least. He was sober and, I think, anxious for once to come across as sincere, more than just the legendary Moon The Loon. One thing I remember most vividly was the awe in which he evidently held Pete Townshend. “Pete’s a genius,” he said more than once, clearly aware that his own good fortune rested squarely on the rather skinny shoulders of The Who’s guitarist and principal composer. For some reason this was edited out of the piece that MM published.
It’s quite long, so I've divided it up into three parts.
WHEN DID you first start playing drums?
Twelve years ago, roughly. A friend of mime had a set and a record player in Wembley. I used to pop over to his place and play to records. I had a job selling sticking plaster at the time.
What was the first group you played with?
I don’t think we actually had a name. If we did it was something like The Mighty Avengers or The Escorts or some polite name. We played Shane Fenton or Johnny Kidd & The Pirates or ‘Spanish Harlem’, and Shadows stuff, and Zoots. We played local town halls or factory dances, weddings a speciality. I played in several different groups and I joined one called The Beachcombers.
How did you meet up with the High Numbers?
We were working a circuit which a group called The Detours used to work, and people used to come up to us and say, "You’re not as good as The Detours. They’re a smashing band." After a couple of months of this I was fed up of people saying this and I decided to have a look at them. I had heard a rumour their drummer was leaving, too, so I went down to a pub near me, the Oldfield Hotel, to see them play.
They were outrageous. All the groups at that time were smart, but onstage The Detours had stage things made of leather which were terrible. Pete looked very sullen. They were a bit frightening and I was scared of them. Obviously they had been playing together for a few years and it showed as well. I asked the manager of the club to introduce me to them. I was standing there and I had a few drinks, so I thought I’d play. I crept ‘round the side and asked Dave the drummer if I could do a couple of numbers. He said yes.
They were doing a lot of blues numbers and ‘Roadrunner’ and really great stuff. I was fed up with ‘Spanish Harlem’ and wanted to get into this band, so I got on the drums and I must have been outrageous. I had dyed ginger hair, ginger cord suit. I was horrible. I looked a right state. I did a couple of numbers and broke the bass drum pedal, being rather heavy handed.
They asked me over for a drink but they didn’t say much. They didn’t ask me to join the group but they said they were having a rehearsal at some West Indian Club. Nobody said I had joined the group but I went along. This chap from Philips Records, Chris Parmenter, turns up with another drummer because they had been offered a record deal by Philips and they badly wanted the other drummer out.
This chap from Philips turned up, and so did I, and it was rather embarrassing. He set up his kit and I set mine up and nobody was saying anything. The rest of the band just didn’t care. They were tuning up in one corner and it was dead embarrassing. Then they asked me to play in the first number, but the man from Philips wanted to play. I can’t remember it he played or not, but the group said they didn’t want him. So I just stayed with them. Nobody actually said I was in the group. I was just there and I’ve been there ever since. They were an amazing crowd and they still are.
How long were you with the group?
They were The Detours, then [early ‘64], on the circuit. Then they changed their name to The Who and they were The Who when I joined them. It was a friend of Pete’s idea to call them The Who. We went through various names, like any group. We had a manager called Pete Meaden who thought up The High Numbers and the mod image. I don’t think we quite knew what we were doing, but before we knew it, we had all this mod gear, feeling totally out of place. This phase lasted a long time and at the time there were these legendary fights within the group.
When did [managers] Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp arrive?
They arrived when we were playing the Scene Club as The High Numbers. Kit first saw us in Harrow, and from there we signed with Kit and Chris. We’ve been stuck with them ever since. Somebody’s got to look after them.
Is it true that when you first started playing the Marquee, fans were paid to come and see the Who?
This was the Shepherds Bush mod crowd who came to see us at the Goldhawk Road social club. Kit had an idea to get us into the West End and he wanted to form a nucleus of hard-core Who fans and call them the Hundred Faces. He would give them all a ticket and membership in the Hundred Faces, and make it very exclusive. This was the start of the Marquee sessions. We took the club on a Tuesday night because nothing ever happened on a Tuesday. We moved in and gave all these free tickets to these staunch supporters of ours from Shepherds Bush.
A massive invasion took place with these guys – their chicks and friends and a few people must have wandered in. Gradually we built it up so that by the time we left the Marquee, it was getting packed. That was all our London following. It started from Goldhawk Road, the Marquee, and the West End. People started coming from all over, the Elephant and Castle and East End.
Had you started breaking equipment then?
We started earlier than that, actually. It was an accident at the Railway. Pete did it as a mistake. We were very visual onstage with theatrics, and Pete was always swinging his guitar about. One day – whack – the head fell off! The drums used to really disintegrate on their own – I hit them so hard. The fittings were designed for dance bands. When you got somebody like me, they just snapped off.
My whole style of drumming changed when I joined the band. Before, I had just been copying straight from records, but with the Who I had to develop a style of my own. I took the ideal from Gene Krupa with all the stick twiddling and thought it was great. The sticks used to fly out of my hands because I was sweating like a pig. They’d just slide out. All these things had an effect on the audience. They’d wonder what was going on. There was a lot of raving going on in the States, but over here the ravers were outnumbered by the Shadows-type nice groups.