An interview with Pete Townshend: “I might retire… from making money…”

Plus the future of The Who, memories of Moon and Entwistle and his rocky relationship with Roger Daltrey

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You talk about these arena tours as a monolithic money generator; but isn’t this supposed to be the last Who tour on this level?
To be honest, I don’t think Roger and I really know why it’s happened. Our manager, Bill Curbishley, since he came into our lives in 1973, we started to make money, because we hadn’t made any before that. But he speaks about “The celebration”. 50 years. “We’ve been through so much, let’s get together and have a party.” What that means is, “Go on tour.” Roger looks at it, thinking, ‘Am I going to get through this? Is my voice going to make it? Imagine, Pete, if what you had to do is what you did when you were 24.’ It would be impossible. But I don’t have to do that. He still has to sing the way that he used to sing, and I would say that he has raised the bar. But this is an ordeal for both of us. But it’s about seeing where this fucking journey is going to go. I think the Stones are doing the same thing of going round and round and round and round and it looks like they’re mopping up money, doesn’t it? I saw the Stones at a charity concert in New York. They hadn’t even rehearsed, they hadn’t played together for a long time, and they were great. Mad, but great.

But if this is the final tour on this scale, what do you see as being the next incarnation of The Who live? Smaller shows..? Acoustic shows..?
Oh, fucking God forbid! Roger often sidles up to me and says, “I think Tommy would be so great done acoustic.” I reply, “So what you’re saying, Rog, is that you want me to sit for an hour and a half and accompany you on my acoustic guitar? For an hour and a half, while you noodle on around on vocals? There’s a quick ‘Fuck off!’ to that idea.” An unplugged show? I’ll save it for the charity gigs or the occasional solo shows. Going beyond that, what I think is possible is for Roger and I to further explore our career. But there is a problem. I’m pretty sure Roger sees it, too. Since John’s death, we’ve become polarised, Roger and I. It’s very extreme, but it’s also brought us incredibly close together. We’re much more honest with each other. I don’t think Roger would be offended to hear me say he exalts The Who and the memory of The Who in a way that I don’t.

How is that manifested?
It’s a more singer-driven presentation. As I said, I find what I do easy. As long as I have a few moments of joy, I can endure the rigidness of playing the same songs every night. Roger has got the whole focus of the audience on him. He has opportunities now to employ some of his other skills – he is a more practical storyteller and dramatist than I am. When we did that last big Quadrophenia tour, I was hoping to revive what I call ‘the Hyde Park script’, which I wrote for a Prince’s Trust show and we toured in ’96 and ’97. I felt I couldn’t really work on anything else. He came in sideways. He said, “I will do this with you, but I want complete control.” This was a massive shift. I was always the one with complete control. I thought, ‘Why shouldn’t I let him have complete control? What’s my problem? Let’s see what happens.’ He started putting together this presentation, which worried me terribly. I felt it was rather abstract and stole quite a lot of stuff from Tommy – a young man growing up in a post-war British world, ration books, royal weddings, coronations, all that kind of stuff. We play out first show in Florida to a non-sell out crowd. We were about 300 seats short. The next day, everyone’s very buoyant. Robert Rosenberg says, “Have you read the reviews? They’re incredible. Everyone is blown away by the band.” I’d had to use Roger’s musicians, which I wasn’t keen on. It progressed, the reviews got better and better. So I thought, ‘Fuck, this guy know this business.’ And so he should.
But there’s a desire that I have sometimes to do a show which is just crap. Go out in front of a bunch of devoted Who fans and say, “Listen, you bunch of fucking cunts. Fuck off. Don’t come back. This is the last time I’m every going to fucking say anything that’s even slightly nice to you.” Then what you do is plug your guitar into overdrive and walk off stage. Roger’s done a few walk offs. We did a show in Verona in 2005, 2006. He had a hissy fit and went off into the streets and we lost him. I took over the show and turned it into an R&B gig. I still meet people in Italy who say, “It was the best show ever, it was like opera!” I don’t mean deliberately play crap. I mean allow a degree of experimentation that would allow you to make the kind of mistakes that people might say, “This is crap.”


You talk about being constricted by the setlists. Why not change them around, then? You’re not exactly short of songs…
Roger thinks that way. I definitely don’t. but I’m not looking for something different. I’ve played “Baba O’Riley” a lot of times, but no guitar player has ever been given such a great opening chord. BANG BANG BANG. FUCK OFF! AREN’T I FUCKING AMAZING? AND I WROTE IT. Why would I want to noodle around with “My name is Ivor, I’m an engine driver?” But Roger loves doing mini opera. He laughs. He giggles. He thinks it’s an inside joke. I keep whispering to him, “It’s about paedophilia. It’s about child abuse.” “Yeah, but that’s your thing. Not mine.” Those old songs, we have fans who sit at the front and when they think I’m listening shout for “Naked Eye” or “Slip Kid”. So I’m happy with the hits because the hits work for me on stage. I do it naturally. It’s a better script for me.


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