I wrote this Profile of Kit Lambert, the Who's co-manager, for a Mojo special on The Who a few years ago. 

“Get him out of here.”
“Get him out. He’s making things worse.”
“But Pete, he’s… he’s Kit, their manager.”
“I don’t care whether he’s the fucking President, just get him the fuck out of here.”
I’m in The Who’s dressing room backstage at Madison Square Garden, post concert, June 10, 1974, and I’ve been privy to a frank and noisy exchange of views between the band and their immediate entourage concerning the shortcomings of tonight’s show. Unjustly, Bob Pridden, their ever-loyal soundman, is the focus of this anger.
Kit Lambert, their co-manager, albeit in name only by this time and who wasn’t often seen at Who concerts by 1974, has turned up unexpectedly, drunk as a lord, demanding to mix the on-stage PA in future, a ludicrous suggestion. Pridden doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The band stare at Kit in disbelief.
As the screaming grows to a crescendo, it’s clear that Lambert’s presence is exacerbating an already explosive situation, hence tour manager Pete Rudge’s request to me.
“Please take him back to the hotel,” he pleads.

Of all the schemers and dreamers, duckers and divers, and predatory queens drawn to the pop industry in the wake of The Beatles, the maddest, baddest, most dangerous to know was Christopher Sebastian Lambert, born May 11, 1935, in Knightsbridge; public school and Oxford educated, cultured in the Arts, multi-lingual, sophisticated epicurean, former Army officer and jungle explorer, unrepentant gay libertine, wilfully disregardful of conventional behaviour and virtues, and the most financially irresponsible rock entrepreneur ever to sign a contract.
Family genes contributed to his extraordinary character. His Russian grandfather George became Australia’s foremost war artist while father Constant was a classical composer and acclaimed music critic. Constant and his model wife Florence split up when Kit was two, and thereafter their son, an only child, was raised almost entirely by women. He passed somewhat precociously through Lancing College and spent most of his time up at Oxford drinking and experimenting with his troubled sexuality. National Service, much of it spent in Hong Kong, was followed by an episode as unsettling as any in his short life when, during an expedition to trace the source of the River Iriri in Brazil, his closest friend was hacked to death - and scalped - by a tribe of Indians. Lambert, scared out of his wits, ravaged by tropical insects and dangerously ill, somehow managed to survive.
On his return he opted for a career in film, which led to a friendship with skirt-chasing Chris Stamp, brother of actor Terence, whose background as the son of an East End tugboat man was about as far removed from Kit’s upper-class Bohemian upbringing as could be imagined. That he and Stamp should engage with The Who – themselves a combination of extreme personalities on a par with their own – seems in hindsight to be one of the most perfect acts of symbiosis in the history of pop. At the time, though, it precipitated chaos of the grandest order, out of which emerged an alliance that forever altered the course of popular music.
“As solemn management, it’s always been farcical,” wrote Nik Cohn in Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom, his seminal primer of pop. “Almost everyone involved is a maniac, almost everyone is extremely bright and hardly a week goes by without some kind of major trauma.”
It all began one night in July 1964 when Kit was scouring London seeking an up-and-coming band to star in a film he and Stamp intended to make. So taken was he with The High Numbers, soon to be The Who, that the film idea was dropped and they became their managers instead. That they knew absolutely nothing about the music business probably acted in their favour since everything they did broke all previous rules.
Brimming with ideas born of his headstrong genius, Lambert’s influence on The Who was incalculable. He encouraged their violent stage act and ear-splitting volume; he introduced the concept of stage lighting and making short promotional films (videos in today’s parlance); and he encouraged them to behave as if they were far more successful than they actually were, thus hastening their descent into chronic debt. Perhaps most importantly, Kit encouraged Pete Townshend’s songwriting ambitions by buying him two Revox tape recorders, in the process ensuring the guitarist’s eternal loyalty. Having first signed with and then breaking their recording contract with producer Shel Talmy in circumstances that proved financially catastrophic, Lambert became The Who’s record producer himself and, in time, a very good one. He begged, stole and borrowed to stay solvent, while at the same time he and Stamp creamed off 40% of The Who’s earnings between them. When it became clear to them that record companies made far more money than artists, the pair formed their own label, Track Records, signing Jimi Hendrix among others. Track was among the first independent rock labels in the UK – a blueprint for dozens that would follow – and an immense cash cow.
While Stamp busied himself promoting The Who in America, Lambert produced all The Who’s post-1965 hit singles and albums, A Quick One (which, at Kit’s suggestion, included Townshend’s first extended work), the highly original The Who Sell Out and the ground-breaking Tommy. As the creative foil for Townshend, Lambert was a key element in Tommy, mapping out an early rough narrative for the project and encouraging Pete all the way. Kit revelled in its success and took pride in presenting The Who at opera houses in Europe and America.
“He educated me by encouraging me,” Townshend told Lambert biographer Andrew Motion. “It’s what made him a great mentor. He could see that I was at my best when I was dealing with my conscience.”
“Kit’s greatest contribution to The Who… was his unrelenting expansion and projection of Townshend’s fantasies and ideas,” wrote Who biographer Dave Marsh.
He was also a man for the grand gesture. “Kit often used to fantasize about doing things on a grand scale,” Townshend told Marsh. “It was him pushing us to do things in a grander way… [he] was telling me I was a great writer. And I believed him because I wanted to believe him.”
Lambert influenced the group in other, less professional, ways too. “[He] was largely responsible for setting the example of preposterously high standards of living Keith demanded for himself throughout his life,” wrote Tony Fletcher in Dear Boy, his Moon biography. “Kit thought that he would sophisticate these working-class boys,” Who associate Richard Barnes told Fletcher. “He would introduce them to the world of restaurants and other things that in those days you didn’t go to. He only tried it with Pete and Keith. Pete was obviously intelligent, at art school, looking for the deeper meaning, and Moon was just way alive and full of energy.”
“Kit taught Keith about wine, about fancy restaurants,” Chris Stamp told Tony Fletcher. “But Keith turned Kit on to pills. They always had an incredible strange affinity.”       
Whatever closeness Lambert enjoyed socially with The Who, Townshend and Moon in particular, Tommy proved to be his last gasp with the group. In 1971, after a series of disastrous, drug and alcohol-fuelled recording sessions in New York, the band opted to use Glyn Johns as their producer for what became Who’s Next, and the relationship never recovered. By this time Kit’s recklessness had extended towards The Who’s financial affairs, prompting Roger Daltrey to demand his resignation. “We’d been screwed up the fucking alley,” said the singer. A reluctant Townshend had to agree. After a struggle Lambert and Stamp gave up control of the group in 1975, handing over the reins to their subordinate, the far more prudent Bill Curbishley, who looks after their affairs to this day.
By this time Kit was dividing his time between increasingly squalid West London flats and a crumbling Venetian palace he’d bought with his share of the Tommy royalties. With creditors baying at his heels, in 1976 he was made a Ward of Court to prevent them forcing bankruptcy proceedings, a procedure that resulted in Lambert receiving a small weekly stipend on which to live. It was never enough.
There followed five years of idle misery exacerbated by alcoholism and a decade long addiction to heroin. Kit’s last encounter with The Who was at Frejus, France in May 1979, during the group’s first tour with Kenney Jones on drums in place of the departed Moon. “The band seemed very happy to see him,” says sleeve designer Richard Evans, who was backstage that night. “He had a touch of the Brian Wilsons about him, sort of not all there… a bit scruffy too, but he was always that way.”
Townshend, too, was upbeat about the encounter. “Kit Lambert has just spent fifteen minutes telling me what’s wrong with The Who - and he was right,” he told reporters afterwards.
But there was to be no rebirth for Kit. By the time of this sighting he had squandered everything and was living back in London, either dossing down at the homes of long-suffering friends or staying at his mother’s house in Fulham. He would die in April 1981, virtually destitute, in an Acton hospital from a brain haemorrhage incurred after falling down her staircase. The previous night he’d been beaten up in the toilets of a gay nightclub in Earl’s Court, allegedly over a drug debt. At least one mourner at his cremation ducked as the coffin slid into the furnace, convinced that it would explode with all the alcohol and chemicals inside him.
In a wonderful piece of understatement, Andrew Motion wrote of Kit: “His impetuosity and his relish for living at risk seemed not to include any fully developed appreciation of the difficulties into which he might be led.”

This was the man I was asked to remove from The Who’s dressing room that June night in New York. Somehow I accomplished the task and on the limousine ride back to the Navarro Hotel on Central Park South, I asked him to request the driver to stop so I could buy a packet of cigarettes. We stopped and Kit himself rushed into a liquor store. He came back with two cartons – 20 packets.
“I only wanted one pack,” I said.
“Bah… never do things by halves, old boy.” 


Anonymous said...

One afternoon, not long before he died, a very drunk Kit stormed into our offices in Wardour Street accompanied by a very fierce looking black Dobermann dog. Wielding the dog's chain in one hand he somehow found his way upstairs to Bill's office and began ranting at the top of his voice with all kinds of accusations. He started to crash the chain down on Bill's desk for emphasis. I came out of my office and talked calmly to Kit, eventually managing to get him to leave quietly. After that he was banned from our office and took to leaving little gifts for me on the bonnet of my car in the car park next door. I still have a pressed flower from a bouquet he left there the day after the altercation and the note he left with it. It was addressed to No 1 Lady Jackie, BMW, Wardour Street Car Park, and thanked me for dealing with him kindly and quietly. In the following weeks I received a bottle of wine, a scarf and a book of poems.

Anonymous said...

i don't like the insinuation that ''he was raised mostly by women'' and had a ''troubled sexuality.'' one does not justify the other.