Interview: Roger Daltrey

The Who frontman Roger Daltrey played Tommy in the 1975 film now he's performing the whole album live for the first time. DAVID BALE speaks to one of his heroes ahead of his performance at Blickling Hall.

The Who singer Roger Daltrey won't have his sidekick Pete Townshend with him when he performs a live open-air concert at Blickling Hall – but he'll have the next best thing – Pete's brother Simon Townshend on guitar.

The legendary singer will be performing the whole of The Who's landmark album Tommy — something The Who never did in its entirety — plus some old Who favourites.

The singer and actor played Tommy in the 1975 film version of the rock opera directed by Ken Russell, and the 1969 album — mainly written by Townshend — marked a new phase in his singing career and also in the history of the Who.

They immediately became one of the biggest bands in the world both in the studio and on stage, and, as the golden-haired frontman, Daltrey was pivotal to their success.

While he dominated the stage flaunting his bare chest and long hair and swinging his microphone, guitarist Townshend was another focal point with his trademark windmill arm movements, John Entwistle on bass was the ice-man, and Keith Moon was the wild man behind the drums.

At this point, I should really point out that I have been a huge Who fan since I started getting into records. I have all of their CDs and have seen them countless times on video clips or old TV shows.

Most Read

I had never spoken to the singer before, but from watching the clips, I got the impression he was a quite tough character. He grew up in Shepherd's Bush in London, which was rougher than where the others came from, and he seemed the toughest. I was therefore apprehensive about what he would be like.

Would he be the sometimes fractious character I had seen on TV and read about in Who biographies? The answer was a definite no — the man I spoke to on the phone was incredibly friendly, ingratiating and helpful.

To put me at ease, he joked that he hoped it would not be washed out at Blickling, as he had heard that parts of Norfolk were due some heavy rainfall after a long dry spell.

He also seemed to have lost some of his London accent, and appeared quite softly-spoken.

I hasten to add that the Roger Daltrey I had seen interviewed on TV was obviously a young man, who sang on The Who's My Generation that he hoped he would die before he got old. He's now 67 and entitled to a free bus pass, so that probably, partially, accounts for his mellowed state.

It will be a long-awaited return to Blickling, he performed there in 1999.

'It's a beautiful place to have a concert but it's quite a difficult place to visit. It's somewhere you have got to be going to,' he said.

But he is looking forward to performing the 70-minute rock opera.

'The way we are doing Tommy has never been done before. It's quite a challenging piece, to hang it all together.

'I enjoy it all, and don't have a favourite song or part of it, but I'm always relieved when I get near the end.

'It's a great way of losing yourself completely. I did have a scare with my voice about 18 months ago, so it's great that I can do it.

'I have a great band with me and we're doing it with all the backing vocals.'

He said he decided to do Tommy rather than other Who albums, because most people knew him from it. 'I did consider doing Quadrophenia, but The Who might do that later, although there will have to be a lot of problems resolved before we can do it,' he mused.

'We are also doing some hits, misses and obscurities from the Who's back catalogue, some of which I have not done for years.

'Hopefully we can do songs like I Can See for Miles and stuff from Live at Leeds. Another song we might do is Going Mobile, from Who's Next. I might even do some of my own solo songs, and a medley of songs by Johnny Cash, whom I idolise.'

He's bringing with him a band of crack American session musicians including Frank Simes, lead guitarist, who has worked with Glenn Frey from The Eagles.

His bass player John Button has toured with Sheryl Crow and the band also includes drummer Scott Devours and keyboard player Loren Gold.

As lead singer with The Who, Daltrey has sold around 100 million records, charted 27 Top 40 singles in the UK and US, and landed 17 Top 10 albums, with 18 gold, 12 platinum and five multi-platinum awards in the US alone.

But he's not just a singer, as his fans will appreciate. As well as acting in the film version of Tommy, he was also in the prison film McVicar.

But he said he had no immediate plans for any more acting work.

'I get lots of offers, and I'm looking at something I might do on stage. The last thing I did was CSI,' he said.

And as to the future of rock music, something he's long been concerned about, he's more optimistic than you might imagine.

'I think it will find its feet in a different form. But it's difficult for musicians to make a living, even at my level, and that's the biggest concern.'

n Roger Daltrey is performing at Blickling Hall on July 22, �35/�20 children (subject to booking fee), 0871 224 1112/1113, www.nationalboxoffice.c