"Let’s just make an album, it doesn’t matter what we do, just throw some songs at me..." hmv.com talks to Roger Daltrey
How did the collaboration between you and Wilko Johnson come about? Where did you first meet?
“We met at the MOJO Awards about four or five years ago, we were at the same table and so we had a good jolly up together, discussed our past, our influences and things. It turned out our influences and interests were all very similar. So I said then that maybe we should do something together. I mean, he was in a band that lost its singer, I’m in a band where we occasionally lose our guitarist for years at a time! So I said let’s make an album, you know? But nothing came of it, we talked and talked and discussed what direction it should go in, originally we wanted to do something new. But when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the beginning of last year, I just said ‘look, let’s just make an album, it doesn’t matter what we do, just throw some songs at me and we’ll do something.’ So, lo and behold, come November last year, we went into a studio for eight afternoons or whatever it was and this is what we came up with. I had no expectations at all and I’m absolutely gobsmacked, really. It’s got so much joy and life in it. There’s so much energy in it.”
It’s done pretty well commercially too, No.3 in the album charts…
“I know, it’s done great. Like I said, we had no expectations really, it’s been amazing.”
Was it all literally done in those eight days?
“Yeah, that was it. They went in and did the backing tracks, ‘cause they’ve been playing these songs for thirty years or so, you know? No point in me trying to re-arrange them or anything. You wouldn’t change the way Wilko played, it’s too ingrained! But for me it was a bit different, because they way these songs were originally sung turned out to be very different to what I did, so it was maybe a bit more work for me, but it was great. I just went in and let myself go, took myself back, in my head, to 1964 at the Marquee Club and just sang the way I would’ve done it then, basically.”
The songs you chose for the record, there’s a Bob Dylan cover on there but are the rest all old songs or is any of it new material?
“There’s the Dylan cover on there, yeah, but the rest are all Wilko’s songs. This was all for him really. He’s got family and if he’s leaving he wants to make sure they’re supported, so that’s what the record was all about.”
It’s a pretty straight-down-the-line rock & roll record, was there much discussion about the direction of the album? Or did you just dive straight in and start jamming?
“There wasn’t really any discussion, I was busy biting my nails thinking ‘right, how am I going to sing this?!’ I mean, not that I couldn’t sing it, but how do I add something extra to it that takes it from being what it was to what it is now? So like I said, I went back to my roots, people like Howling Wolf, James Brown, Otis Redding, all these people. I wanted to create the feel of that, and I suppose a little bit of the voicing as well. That’s where my head was at.”
You’ve got Dave Eringa producing, how did he get involved?
“He came in at the last minute. I mean, we were going to go into the studio without even a record deal. I was quite prepared to fund it myself. But then Universal picked it up and offered Dave to us, and he turned out to be an absolute gem.”
Was that the first time either of you had worked with him?
“Yeah. I mean, he was absolutely great. He kept it on track, kept it fresh, it never once got boring, it was a joy going to work every day. Sometimes it can be painful, you can’t quite get it how you want it and you’re going ‘well, it’s not quite there yet, could be better.’ It’s just like painting, you know?! But once you’ve finished it you just have to walk away and leave it. That’s where Dave was really good, saying ‘no, it’s done, it’s in the bag!’ But he kept it tight, kept it earthy and live. The tracks were all recorded live and then we put the vocals on afterwards.”
Did you find it quite refreshing for you working that way? Some of The Who’s albums are pretty ambitious productions…
“Well, Who lyrics are so wordy and it’s a different mindset completely, this was just great fun. I mean, I’ve always loved the challenge of Townshend’s songs, but I wouldn’t say they’re all fun! It’s always a great sense of achievement when you get a great vocal done on one of them, but it’s a lot of work sometimes, not necessarily always fun to do at the time!”
And the proceeds from your share are going to Teenage Cancer Trust?
“Yeah, that’s right. I’m a patron, so that will probably go to fund one of the American projects, we’re only three years in from startup over there. We’ve got thirty hospitals at the moment that we’re in conversations with, we’ve got one unit built and two being built over there. They’ve got great medicine, but they don’t have so much as a broom closet that’s teen-friendly. I find that unacceptable in this day and age, if you can build a nursery why don’t teenagers deserve something that’s akin to their kind of space?”
It’s obviously something you’re quite passionate about, how did you get involved with the charity?
“It was my doctor who started Teenage Cancer Trust, so I’ve been a patron from the start. This was back in the early 90s when there’d been a long quiet period for The Who and I’d always promised him that if we ever got back together we’d put on a show as a fundraiser. Then in 2000 we did the first Albert Hall gig and that really only came about because we were going to lose two hospitals and we figured we’d raise enough money to save one of them. As it turned out we raised enough to replace them both.”
“What happened from that is awareness. This isn’t anything new, teenagers getting cancer. The press have been fantastic, actually, but the problem is that news today is next week’s fish and chip paper. People forget. So two years later we did another one. We’ve now built 28 units in hospitals and we’ll be up to 32 next year. What people don’t realise is, if you take away the money the charities raise – Maggie’s, MacMaillian, Click Sergeant – the NHS would collapse.”
You spoke recently about wanting to do a follow-up, obviously we hope that opportunity comes around, but would you write some new material together next time?
“Yeah, well we’d love to do another, but we’ve got to get him through this first. It’s a long haul, but he’s doing well. But ultimately if he gets through he could have another ten years in him, so as soon as he feels up to it the first thing we’ll do is go back in the studio and have a real laugh this time, it will be a proper celebration. And yeah, we’ll write some stuff together, why not? I’m not a complete ignoramus when it comes to writing. I’m not Townshend level, but I do alright!”
Before we let you go, you have a new live album coming for Quadrophenia’s 40th Anniversary don’t you?
“That’s right, it was filmed at Wembley last year - Quadrophenia Live in London. Hottest day of the year, I look like a drowned rat! But I think they’ve captured it really well. Musically it’s a very complex project, so it’s a difficult show to capture, with the visuals and everything behind it. I’ve been watching a lot of bands on the TV lately and I must say, they all look the fucking same. The swooping cameras, the lights, the hair. It’s so dull. There’s so much going on the videos you forget the music. We just said ‘look, put the cameras on me & Pete and watch the performance.’ There’s not a swooping camera in it. I don’t know anyone who’s watched a rock & roll show running from left to right at 30 miles an hour.”
Are you surprised by that film’s legacy? People still take photos of that alleyway in Brighton…
“I know! It’s weird isn’t it? I mean the film is a great British film, I think it will always stand the test of time, so will the music because it’s about adolescence and all the shit that goes with that, and that will never really change. Ok, the society they live in is different and you might have computers instead of TVs and old fashioned radios, but they’re problems are still the same. I don’t think that will ever change. It’s the adolescent dilemma.”