Any day now Omnibus Press will publish A Tribute To Keith Moon: There Is No Substitute, compiled by Ian Snowball, designed by Who designer Richard Evans and produced in association with the Moon Estate, headed by Amanda De Wolf, Keith’s daughter. ‘There Is No Substitute’, of course, is the inscription on the plaque at Golders Green Crematorium where Keith’s last rites were held, on September 13, 1978.
With an introduction by Pete Townshend, the book is chock full of contributions from fellow drummers, Keith’s friends and Who fans. Focusing as much on Keith’s extraordinary talents as a drummer as his notoriety as a prankster, the book reflects the deep affection that this madcap genius inspired amongst all those with whom he came into contact.
Packed with photographs, many previously unseen, the interviewees include fellow drummers like Kenney Jones, Rick Buckler, Carl Palmer, Mick Avory, Max Weinberg, Don Powell, Clem Burke and many more, as well as other musicians like Jack Bruce and ‘Legs’ Larry Smith, various Who associates and some who’d known Keith since before he was famous.
Among the latter is John Schollar, the rhythm guitarist in The Beachcombers, the Harrow-based group for whom Keith played drums before he joined The Who. Keith was a Beachcomber for almost 18 months, from December 1962 to April 1964, and after he left John maintained his friendship with him though all the turbulence of The Who years, right up to the end. After Keith’s death John continued to visit Kit, Keith’s mum, on a regular basis, and he recalls Kit telling him in the eighties that if Keith had remained in The Beachcombers he’d still be alive. Kit, incidentally, is still alive, aged 95, now cared for by her daughter Leslie.
John Schollar’s contribution to There Is No Substitute is among the most poignant in the entire book, and I’ve reproduced it below. John also sent me the photograph below which wasn’t used in the finished book; taken at the Kodak Theatre in Harrow, probably very in early 1963, not long after Keith joined The Beachcombers. “He brought the gold lame suit with him,” John told me last night. “He’d worn it in his last group but he soon wore out the trousers, couldn’t sit still could he?”
From left to the right The Beachcombers are John Schollar, Moonie, Tony Brind on bass, singer Ron Chenery (aka Clyde Burns) and lead guitarist Norman Mitchener. The picture was taken by their friend Roger Nichols who drove the group from gig to gig in his van.
“I grew up in an area not far from Wembley, where Keith grew up. Most of the early Beachcomber gigs were in venues in that area. We had a drummer, but he wasn’t really up to scratch, so we kicked him out and auditioned a few drummers. Keith was one of them and he was just superb. He was also very young, I don’t think even sixteen, but when he started playing we all looked at each other and knew he was something special. For a little bloke he produced so much energy and noise. And he made the most of what kit he had. Even with us he rarely used a hi-hat.
“When The Beachcombers started out we were playing Shadows numbers and listening to Elvis, Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, and when the surf stuff came in we did some Beach Boys and Jan & Dean songs too. In fact people on the circuit knew us as the shadows of The Shadows. Can you imagine Keith playing drums on Shadows songs? He was shit-hot at it and would add a bit more drive to it. We had to drop some ballads because Keith would rock them up a bit too much. Plus he pranked about. Whilst playing ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight’ one night Keith produced one of those duck decoy calls, the ones people blow when they go duck shooting, and in the middle of the verse he would blow it making the ‘quack quack’ sound. He even had a starting pistol one night and accidently shot our singer.
“We had some laughs in The Beachcombers. There was a time when a friend managed to get hold of a pantomime horse, from the Wembley Ice Rink. He brought it to one of our shows and Keith loved it. He climbed inside it, fooled around and we couldn’t get him out. Keith held onto the pantomime horse’s head and took it to some audition we had to do in central London. He spent most of that night inside it charging around Piccadilly Circus. I remember we both went for a wee in one of the public urinals in Leicester Square. Keith kept the horses head on. God knows what people thought when they saw him. Another time he tried to get on one of the old London buses, the ones where you have to jump on the back. The conductor tried to refuse him but Keith just replied, ‘It’s okay we’ll go upstairs and don’t worry, the horse don’t smoke.’ The whole time Keith was in The Beachcombers it was non-stop laughter.
One of the things that doesn’t really tend to come out in books about The Who or Keith is what a nice bloke he was and even back then he was. I was only talking to one of Keith’s sisters at the weekend and we were saying that there were only a few people that really knew him and saw that side of him. Even when he was a huge rock star he would still ring me up and invite me to gigs; several times, in the early Who days, I ended up bringing Keith home in my car. And there was never a hint of ‘how big I am’.
“I remember he was on Top Of The Pops one time and just after the show he rung me up and asked, ‘So how was it mate?’ He did several things like that. In the early days there were times when he’d tell me about a gig and the next thing I knew I would be picking him up and taking him to it. It was only when The Who got much bigger did he become a bit distant and a bit wild.
“The Who were lovely blokes. I knew them when they were The Detours; we played the same clubs on the circuit. I was there on the night Keith got up and played drums with them. We all knew that Doug (Sandom) had left the band. I mean Keith wouldn’t have done it otherwise. As soon I heard Keith play with them I just knew that he had found the band that he should be in and they had found their drummer.
“I remember when The Who did a University tour. Keith rang me and said, ‘John we’re playing in Brighton, do you want to come? Come over and we’ll drive down in the Rolls’. I said I did and my girlfriend (now my wife) and me drove over to his place. But when I got there Keith had left a note on the door where he had scribbled some message about having to go and pick someone else up and see you in Brighton. The problem was I didn’t have a clue where he was playing in Brighton.
“We drove to Brighton and flagged someone down who told me The Who were playing in the Sussex University. So we drove there. We parked up and headed for the venue. We walked through the doors and walked up some steps but got stopped by the bouncers. I said, ‘We are invited by Keith,’ to which he replied, ‘Yeah and plenty of others. No tickets. No entry.’
“Thankfully, a few minutes later Keith turned up, headed straight for us and gave my missus a big hug. I then told him that we were having trouble getting in. ‘Right,’ he says and goes and demands that the manager comes and speaks with him. The manager appeared and Keith explained that he had invited some friends down from London and the bouncers wouldn’t let them in, but there was still a no ticket, no entry type attitude. ‘Hmm,’ says Keith, ‘Have you ever seen The Who play without a drummer? I tell you they are bloody awful.’
“By this time there’s a reasonable sized group that had gathered around us, all listening to what was going on. The manager seeing this eventually gives in and says it’s okay for Keith’s friends to go inside. To this Keith turns to the crowd and shouts out, ‘The manager says that any of my friends that don’t have tickets can go in. Who doesn’t have tickets?’ To which about a dozen hands go up in the air. We all got it and that was what Keith was like.
“The missus and I followed Keith into the dressing room and there was John and Pete sitting around a little table with a bottle of brandy. They filled up small plastic beakers and handed us drinks and we chatted. They were also being interviewed by some journalist and as soon as Keith got involved it just turned into the Goon show. It was very funny to watch.
“There was a bit of time before the show so we decided to go to the bar to get a drink. When we got there the barman says, ‘Oh mister Moon, these people have been waiting for you to arrive because they want you to open a tab, so that they can have a drink.’
“‘Oh okay,’ says Keith, get them a drink. But I stepped in and said. ‘Sod them Keith, just have a drink with me’ and I ordered some brandies. The barman said, ‘But what about them?’ pointing to the crowd. Keith looks at them, then at me and replies, ‘My friend says sod them, they can wait.’
“After a drink Keith had to leave us and go and do the show but before he left he told us that he had arranged for us to sit in one of the balcony booths. We sat down and the waiter appeared with a tray full of drinks for us. Keith had arranged that too. Keith could be incredibly thoughtful and generous. He was a great friend.
“I was mortified when I heard that Keith had died. Unfortunately, I heard about it on the news. I came in, sat down, turned on the TV and the news about Keith was on the telly. I just couldn’t believe it. Then the phone started ringing and people were asking me if I had seen the news. I was so upset. And then I had to ring Keith’s mum Kitty. We spoke and she was so upset. We even talked about the funeral and she said she wanted a private event and didn’t want it turning into a circus.
“The funeral was held at Golders Green Crematorium and was an actually brilliant but sad day out. Every major rock star was there and after the service they were all sitting around telling stories about Keith, it was amazing. In fact the table that I was sitting on was getting louder and louder and Kitty came over. I looked at her and said, ‘Oh sorry Kit’ but she said, ‘No John, you’re telling stories aren’t you, you carry on, that’s what Keith would have wanted.’
“I remember looking around the room and seeing Charlie Watts laughing and Pete Townshend in a hell of state. It was obvious that everybody loved him, even though he had done so many things to also piss people off.
“There were loads of flowers too. Roger had sent a large bunch fashioned into a floral television set with a smashed champagne bottle hanging out of it. I spent some time reading the labels attached to the flowers and there were so many from famous people like Eric Clapton and members of The Rolling Stones. There was also a small posy of flowers and I looked to see who they were from. It turned out to be from a Children’s Home that Keith had helped out at some point.
“After the service Kit asked me (and two members of The Beachcombers, Tony and Norman) to go back to the house. The house was jammed packed with people, you couldn’t move so Kit said to us, ‘You boys go out into the garden for a bit of privacy.’ We went to the garden and found Roger, Pete and John standing there. There was complete silence. It was very sad.
“The other sad thing was that people were expecting something to happen to Keith. I thought he’d end up having an accident in a car. I think we just sensed that he was never going to make old age. At first the media tried to make out that Keith had committed suicide but that was nonsense. Kit even said to me: ‘I don’t know what this suicide business is all about.’ I replied: ‘No Kit, it’s rubbish, he was too much of a coward to do anything like that. He couldn’t stand any pain. Anyway, if Keith was going to do anything like that he would have hired Wembley Stadium and blown himself up in a coffin or something.’
“A few days after the funeral Kit phoned me and told me that someone had rung her to tell her that lots of Keith’s stuff was in a room over in the Shepperton Studios. She asked me to go over and have a look to see what was there. There was loads of stuff just lying around and anyone could have walked in and walked off with anything, and quite possibly some people did. But I phoned Kit and told her that she needed to get Keith’s stuff out and store it somewhere safer.
“Kit went over and collected the stuff. There were gold discs and all sorts. Kit then rung me and asked me to pop in and see her after work one day. So I went over to her place and she had piles of gold discs and awards scattered around her living room. It was an amazing sight and she told me to just pick whatever I wanted. There was some very rare stuff and I explained to Kit that she had some priceless stuff and should hold onto it. But she wanted me to have something so I took one of the gold discs for Tommy, which I have on my wall to this day.”