To the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone for the Who Literary Event where six authors, myself included, have been invited to talk about the group and their books.
Unbeknowst to me until I got there the event had been brought forward by an hour so I missed Ben Marshall whose Official History I felt obliged to censure here on Just Backdated a few weeks ago. Had I known that Ben had only two months in which to write it I would have been more understanding towards the book and, also, laid the blame at the publishers for allowing him so little time to complete a project that they obviously wanted to publish in the optimum time slot leading up to Christmas. In my view Ben ought to have been given at least a year to write a book such as this.
Two months! Hold that thought while I digress a little. Tony Fletcher approached me in 1994 with his proposal for Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon, which Omnibus Press published in 1998 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the great drummer’s death, and delivered the draft manuscript 12 months before we published the book. Irish Jack and Joe McMichael had spent a decade compiling The Who Concert File before they brought the fruits of their research to me to publish. I took Dave Marsh to the Oldfield, the now demolished pub in Greenford where Keith first stepped up to the Who drum stool, a good 18 months before I first opened the pages of Before I Get Old. I have no doubt that Matt Kent and Andy Neill spent half a lifetime compiling material for Anyway Anyhow Anywhere, and we all know that Pete was posting extracts from Who I Am on his website several years before the book’s eventual publication in 2012. All of which puts things into perspective and perhaps explains why the Official History suffered in the way it did, and having now met Ben I am sympathetic towards the predicament in which he found himself. I blame the publishers, the same publishers who incidentally have behaved less than honourably with regards to Matt and Andy’s book.
When I arrived at the Cockpit Mark Blake was talking about his book Pretend You’re In A War, which I enjoyed immensely while on holiday in Spain a few years ago and wrote about here. Mark’s diligence included tracing school friends of the three eldest members of The Who – Roger, Pete and John – who of course all went to Acton County Grammar. At least one he traced refused to speak to him, an altercation with Roger evidently still festering almost 60 years later. “I think Rog bopped him one,” said Mark, prompting a bloke in the audience to observe that Roger couldn’t smash the skin off a rice pudding. Well, he felled Pete during those rehearsals for the Quadrophenia tour didn’t he?
Mark was followed by Dougal Butler and Tony Fletcher but if I’d been organising the event I’d have put them on separately. Time restraints probably meant they had to be interviewed together and, inevitably, Dougal got the lion’s share of the time, and he spoke both amusingly and movingly of the years he spent with Keith. As ever I was left in no doubt that Moon was a troubled soul, enormously gifted yet somehow unable to believe that the world wouldn’t love him unless he was constantly performing. His lack of faith in his own talents was as sad as the manner of his accidental death, as Tony pointed out. On a lighter note Dougal had us all in stitches with stories of encounters with Steve McQueen at Trancas, the house where in 1976 Keith lived amongst millionaires by the beach north of Santa Monica. Keeping those two apart required all Dougal’s diplomatic skills.
I bemoaned the fate of the UK’s weekly music press and told a few Who stories, some of which can be found here on Just Backdated, and the afternoon concluded with Richard Barnes and anecdotes of college life with art student Townshend and their time together in the Ealing flat where their American pal Tom Wright had left behind the fabulous collection of blues records that became the basis of The Detours’ stage set. Barney’s lifelong friendship with Pete has no doubt endured because to him Pete is still that same ex-flatmate and not a great rock star to whom he might otherwise genuflect. I can’t help but think that all rock stars need a friend like Barney, a friend who knew them before the crowds began to cheer and the gold records piled up in the attic, a friend who’d still be their friend even if no one else knew their name. Dougal did his best, of course, but perhaps if Keith had somehow maintained a friendship from before fame beckoned the story that Who biographers like us have told might have turned out differently.
Tony F, Dougal & CC
Finally, my thanks to Stuart Deabill for organising this event and inviting me to attend and speak, and to Simon Wells for interviewing me about my adventures with The Who, not really an onerous task as I do tend to bang on a bit...