The domestic arrangements of The Who were never a mystery to journalists. Alone among acts of their stature during the early 1970s they welcomed music writers into their homes for interviews, and it was no secret that Roger Daltrey owned a manor house in the village of Burwash on the Kent-Sussex border, that John Entwistle lived in a relatively modest semi-detached house in Ealing, and that after staying in a series of rented flats in central London Pete Townshend had moved his growing family into a large house next to the River Thames in Twickenham, a stone’s throw from Eel Pie Island where on October 30, 1968, The Who had performed in the dance hall of the island’s small hotel.
As might be expected, Keith Moon was less settled than his three colleagues, moving from his birthplace in Wembley to a flat in St John’s Wood, then to the top half of a house in Maida Vale, then to a flat above a garage in Highgate and then to a substantial house in North London’s Winchmore Hill. Along the way he had married a model named Kim Kerrigan and become the father of a daughter but while at Winchmore Hill his marriage to Kim faltered and she went back to live with her parents in Bournemouth, taking daughter Mandy with her. Keith promptly abandoned the North London house for a bachelor flat in Chelsea, but when Kim decided to give him another chance they bought a property off St Ann’s Hill Road, on the outskirts of Chertsey in Surrey. I would visit Tara House, as it was called, many times, both before and after it became notorious as Moon’s ultra-modern pleasure-dome, a futuristic fantasy house consisting of five pyramids, four at each corner with a giant one in the middle. It was set in its own grounds but not too far away from a pub, The Golden Grove, conveniently located at the end of a 300-yard lane that led to chez Moon and, unhappily for its occupants, one other property.
Keith and Kim bought the house for £65,000 (approximately £925,000 in today’s money) and moved in during the early months of 1971. On two of its corners were bedrooms, each with en-suite bathrooms, another housed a ‘den’, its walls decorated with murals of superhero comic characters, and the fourth the kitchen which led to a guest bedroom and thence to the garage. The strange layout of Tara consisted of rooms within rooms, and the main bedroom housed a bathroom within it, ie you could walk all the way around it. The bed-head was up against the outer bathroom wall, facing a huge wall-sized window, and there was a spherical TV hanging from a chain fixed to the ceiling. The loo was within the bathroom, and John Lennon’s gold disc for ‘She Loves You’ was mounted on the wall next to a mirror above the basin. Keith told me he’d swopped it for his gold disc for ‘My Generation’.
In the centre of the huge main room was a sunken conversation pit with seating on three sides, a brass chimney pipe descending from the apex of the pyramid to an open fire next to a built-in TV. Around the pit was a spacious raised area on all four sides. Three sides of the building boasted glass walls to a height of about six feet, a decidedly rash choice since the master of the household had a habit of walking into them, sober or otherwise.
In the manner of the modern day trend of B-listers for welcoming photographers from celebrity magazines into their homes in exchange for a sum of money and a picture spread within, the Moons announced their acquisition to the world by opening up the grounds for a July housewarming party that doubled as a celebration for the release of Who’s Next. The press were bussed in from London, many other rock stars were in attendance – among them George Harrison and Ronnie Wood as I recall – and the evening concluded with a firework display that climaxed with the words ‘Long Live The Who’ illuminated in the sky. Predictably there were complaints from neighbours and the police were called, a taster of things to come.
The likelihood that Keith Moon would settle into quiet domesticity in his new home was remote. The household consisted of Keith and Kim, their daughter Mandy, Kim’s mother Joan, who was separated from Kim’s father, and her son Dermot, and despite the presence of two young children the atmosphere at Tara was constantly chaotic. Keith was at all times performing, at least when I was there, though he did let his guard down late at night when no one else was around. He had a habit of playing Beach Boys’ music extremely loudly, often the same song – ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ – over and over again on his juke box in the den. Such was the regularity of police visits that he and they became affably acquainted, largely because Keith was invariably genial towards the long arm of the law. “Come in chaps,” he’d say. “Have a brandy. Let’s listen to some music while we discuss what seems to be troubling you. I’m sure we can work things out.” In the fullness of time a relationship developed between ma-in-law Joan and a member of the Chertsey Constabulary that further reinforced the unlikely but convivial rapport between the drummer of The Who’s, rock’s wildest extrovert, and the forces of law and order in this deeply conservative corner of rural Surrey.
I never kept a diary, so I can’t remember all my visits to Tara that well. On one occasion, though, I rashly drove Keith in his great big lilac Roll-Royce to the Fox & Hounds pub in nearby Englefield Green, where I once lived. It was hell to drive, like a big truck with very soft suspension, a mattress on wheels, and the bonnet with its Flying Lady mascot seemed to stretch out before you for ever, and each time you went around a corner you had to turn the wheel round and round and round again to make it. Keith sat in the back playing 8-track tapes at deafening volume. The drive back, in the dark after a few drinks, was even more nerve wracking. On this occasion I spent the night there, as I recall in Tony Fletcher’s definitive Moon biography Dear Boy. Keith gave me a sleeping pill that knocked me out until well into the following afternoon but before we hit the sack he had a disagreement with Kim, something about the soup she had made being insufficiently spicy, and he threw it at her. I thought she was an angel and I wanted to disappear.
On one of my last visits to Tara, in the spring of 1973, Keith was having a swimming pool built, complete with wave machine, and I remember riding around the grounds on tiny motor bikes he’d bought. During his occupation he acquired many expensive cars that were parked outside: two Rolls-Royces, one the lilac Silver Cloud III that I drove, the other a white two-door Corniche with an opening roof; a white Mercedes coupé; a red Ferrari Dino 426 that bit the dust on a nearby double-carriageway; a silver AC Cobra that once belonged to Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham; and his ‘fun’ vehicles, a milk-float, an old American ‘Al Capone’ style car with running boards at the sides, a hot rod and a hovercraft, not to mention the ‘ordinary’ cars for other members of the household. “Cars were simply toys for Keith,” says Peter ‘Dougal’ Butler, Moon’s long-suffering PA and chauffeur. “Most people see cars as transport, as a means of getting from A to B but for Keith they were things to play with, usually late at night when he was in the mood for a fast drive. He didn’t even have a driving licence.”
Keith’s bar bills from the Golden Grove were outrageous. He invariably bought several bottles on the slate to take home at closing time, usually vodka and Courvoisier, along with several of the customers. I had Keith’s phone number, which in itself was pretty remarkable as rock stars never gave out their phone numbers to anyone other than family, group associates and drug dealers, and after a while I thought nothing of calling up to ask what he was up to. If he was in he’d as likely as not say, “Come on over dear boy,” his typical greeting to all and sundry.
I was by no means the only late evening visitors to Tara, and eventually Kim decided enough was enough. She left Keith for the second and final time in the autumn on 1973, subsequently moving in with Ian McLagan of The Faces whom she would eventually marry and settle down with in Austin, Texas. Keith remained at Tara for another year, hopelessly adrift in his ocean of disorder, and one night invited Jeff Beck, whom he had bumped into at the Speakeasy, back to his home, ostensibly to sell him the hot rod. “I realised that he was a bachelor in the true sense of the word although there was this girl lurking about [a girlfriend from Staines],” Beck told Tony Fletcher. “He showed me around the house and it was covered in dog shit. I’d never seen such a mess in my life. He hadn’t made the slightest attempt to clean it up. He was like, ’Mind the dog shit,’ like it had been there and it was going to be there. I mean, everyone has accidents, but this was in every room. [He hadn’t] any idea how to look after a dog. He opened up all the closets he had custom made, every single one was a disaster, stuff fell out on the floor and he didn’t put it back. It was as if a director had said, ‘Action!’ and coordinated the most incredible stunt of collapsing things… When we finally drank ourselves into oblivion, [the girl] tapped on the room where I was and said, ‘Do you mind if I come in?’ and I said, ‘No,’ and we wound up sleeping in the same bed even though she was purporting to be with Keith. She said, ‘I can’t take it any more, he’s driving me berserk.’”
Keith Moon sold Tara in 1975, the proceeds winding up in Kim’s bank account. It was bought by Kevin Godley of 10cc who in 1990 sold it to Vince Clarke of Erasure. Clarke demolished the house and built a new one on the same site, complete with a commercial recording studio called Ammonite. Moon found a second partner, Swedish model Annette Walter-Lax, and relocated to California where he lived in hotels and a series of rented homes until he settled down on Victoria Point Road in the Trancas area of exclusive Malibu. There, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, he built a split-level house from the ground up, no expense spared, and became the Beach Boy of his dreams. The actor Steve McQueen and his wife Ali McGraw were his next-door neighbours, but the relationship was not cordial. Keith would remain there until September 1977 when, tired of America and virtually penniless, he returned to the UK, eventually moving into Flat 12 at 9, Curzon Square in the Mayfair district of London. It was here, on September 7, 1978, that Annette found his lifeless body and the rock world mourned one of its best loved sons.