For the past few days Pete and Roger have stared out at me from the cover of Mojo magazine’s November issue which sits on the coffee table in our front room. There’s a bit of a mystery surrounding the session from whence the picture came as no one seems able to identify the photographer or the precise date of the photo session, not the usual gang of Who experts with whom I am in fairly regular contact, nor even Richard Evans who has for years been the group’s art director and who probably has the world's biggest archive of Who images on his computer.
The picture, however, is very well-known and was first seen on the sleeve of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ when it was released as a single in June 1971. Richard used a variation of it on the cover of the booklet in the Track Singles box that came out in 2015. Pete is in a blue denim shirt and white dungarees similar to the overalls he was fond of wearing on stage in those days and Roger, all golden curls and come-hither eyes, wears a colourful top and has a crucifix around his neck. Below is the original shot from the session, so Mojo have photoshopped it to eliminate Keith, who was second left on the original picture, and John, who was on the right. The effect is to bring Pete and Roger closer together.
Closer together? Well, up to a point Lord Copper. The 14-page feature inside dwells on the forthcoming new Who album, to be titled simply WHO, and includes new interviews with the two surviving members of the group but, as ever, there seems to be an element of mistrust between them. Pete begins his interview by complaining that Roger didn’t turn up to the sessions for the new album and Roger complains that, at first, he felt was being asked to sing the songs on a Pete Townshend solo album.
“I got so fed up with just going out touring,” says Townshend. “I’ve spent so much time saying, ‘I don’t like touring. I don’t even like The Who. I’m certainly not sure I like Roger’.” So Pete spent five months writing 15 new songs. “I thought I was just going to send him these songs and he was gonna love ’em. He actually didn’t listen to them for a long time.”
“I was very negative because I couldn’t see myself inhabiting these songs,” counters Daltrey. “A lot of them were ‘I’ songs which means they’re Pete Townshend singing at you. I suggested we change the tenses… But Pete had the grace to allow me to do what I wanted and the songs have come out really well. I had a wobble though.”
So an accord was reached and the new album will be released on November 22. I have gleaned from the Mojo feature that one song is called ‘Hero Ground Zero’ – “Somewhere between ELO, The Who, Led Zeppelin and Fleetwood Mac,” says Townshend – and another, called ‘Street Song’, was inspired by the Grenfell Tower Disaster. The first single from the album, ‘Ball And Chain’, is already previewed on the internet and certainly sounds to these ears more like The Who of old than anything on 2006’s Endless Wire. There’s a typically Townshend guitar flourish at the start and a lengthy looping keyboard intro before Roger, his voice much deeper now, growls a 12-bar that laments the immorality of America’s Guantanamo Bay prison on the island of Cuba. At the midway point the song steps back to twist and turn around Pete’s blend of acoustic and electric guitars before finding its way back, a dynamic I feel sounds not unlike several songs from the Who’s Next era.
The sleeve of the new album has been designed by Peter Blake who selected the 16 portraits that appeared on Face Dances in 1981. In a somewhat similar style, WHO features 22 images that suggest The Who and/or the songs within.
Mojo’s Who coverage also features brief interviews with Simon Townshend, Zak Starkey, Pino Palladino and Dave Sardy, who produced the new album. There’s also a retrospective glance at the Quadrophenia movie, info on Townshend’s forthcoming novel The Age Of Anxiety, to be published by Coronet on November 5, and the revelation that Daltrey has just received from screen writer Jeff Pope the first draft of a script for the long-awaited Keith Moon biopic. Since this project has been doing the rounds for about 20 years now I’m not holding my breath – but I am looking forward to getting my hands on WHO.