ONE assumes it is the question that has been dogging the 67-year-old for decades. Pete Townshend may have written the words but it was Roger Daltrey who sang ‘I hope I die before I get old’ on The Who’s first major hit, My Generation, in 1965.
It was a Mod anthem but also one embraced by youth culture as a rallying cry. Live fast, die young.
But before I can even ask the obvious, Daltrey jumps in.
“I’m working on it,” he says bluntly, closing that particular subject.
He’ll be performing My Generation among a number of Who classics at the Royal Concert Hall next weekend but the bulk of the show will be Tommy, the hit album and subsequent 1975 film, that starred Daltrey, alongside Oliver Reed, Jack Nicholson, Ann-Margret, Elton John and The Who’s Keith Moon.
The album sold more than 20 million copies and included songs such as Pinball Wizard, The Acid Queen, I’m Free, See Me, Feel Me and We’re Not Gonna Take It,
Daltrey’s idea to bring Tommy back to life was originally just as a one-off for his annual Teenage Cancer Trust Concert at the Royal Albert Hall.
“I was short of a show to put on so I thought I’d better step up to the plate,” he says.
“And it was so well received and sounded so fresh so I thought I’ve got to give it a try out on the road.
“The way we play it is in some ways more faithful to The Who than ever The Who actually played it on stage. When The Who did it we didn’t have the backing vocal ability and there was a lack of instrumentation; We didn’t have horns, it was just guitar, bass and drums. And we never played all the songs.”
He adds: “There’s nothing like it out there at the moment. It’s unique.”
For the gig he was joined by Pete Townshend, so why not for the tour?
“He knows that he’s welcome to join me anytime. But of course if he did then that would be The Who and a whole new ball game. In some ways I’m glad this isn’t The Who because it allows me to play small, intimate venues, places The Who couldn’t possibly do.
“But in other ways, if this was The Who, I could do so much more with it. I could afford to have my visuals with me. Everything seems to be going through the roof in this country in terms of costs.
“When I take it to America I will have the visuals. There’s some fantastic animation....”
We don’t want to know if we’re not seeing it.
Townshend, who is busy writing his long-awaited autobiography and working on a Quadrophenia album reissue, has given his approval to the tour, saying: “‘Roger has my complete support. He is touring his unique concert version of Tommy using his faithful presentation of the original work as the backbone for a set of wider material. It is wonderful to hear the way Roger and his new band re-interpret the old Who songs. I will be there in spirit.”
Daltrey’s band includes Frank Simes (guitarist for Don Henley and Glenn Frey), Scott Deavours (drums), Jon Button (Sheryl Crow’s bassist), Loren Gold (keyboards) and guitarist Simon Townshend, Pete’s younger brother.
“We just love to work together,” says Daltrey.
“And being as the music industry is in such dire straits at the moment, anything you can do to give musicians work is fine by me.”
Bizarrely, this short UK tour is his first ever solo outing in the UK.
“I’ve done loads in America but never in England, apart from charity stuff.”
“I’ve never been interested. My solo career has always been a hobby.”
The Tommy show is all about the music.
“It’s not theatrical. It’s not me leaping around in my underpants. There are no baked beans, no fire...” he laughs.
“We do some of the classic hits. We have to, they’re such fun to play.”
“Not in the way The Who do it. Sometimes I do a blues version of it. We also do some of the rarities that The Who never played live, like Going Mobile. We do stuff from Live At Leeds. I do a couple of my own and depending on the kind of vibe in the audience, we might even do a Johnny Cash medley. I love to sing Johnny Cash because I was a sheet metal worker and because we didn’t have radio in the factory we’d spend hours thumping out rhythms. Johnny Cash rhythms were great to thump out.”
Daltrey grew up in West London and went to school in Acton, where he met Pete Townshend and John Entwistle.
He now lives in Sussex on a farm with his second wife, where he paints and builds for pleasure. The couple have three children but he’s a grandfather to... many.
“By my close family I’ve four. No, six - because I count my first marriage in that. But I’ve got lots of children that kind of came from the sixties, before I was married. And they have grandchildren now. They’re all great and wonderful. I see them all but I can never be a father to them. It can’t be like that.
“It’s a difficult scenario to describe,” he adds, laughing heartily.
It’s been along time since he’s been to Nottingham but he can remember enjoying it in what he refers to as “the old days.”
He says: “They were all pleasurable experiences because of the male to female ratio. I don’t know if it’s still the same but it was wonderfully low.”
It’s a recurring theme. Another legend you might say. As far as outsiders are concerned Nottingham means Robin Hood, Brian Clough, DH Lawrence, Lord Byron and a 3:1 ratio of women to men. It’s a figure that has been whispered up to 8:1.
“Really,” laughs Daltrey. “You lucky buggers.”
Not as lucky as starring opposite movie pin-up Ann-Margret in Tommy.
“(Laughs) I had to reign myself in every day looking at Ann-Margret and having to pretend she’s my mother. That could very easily have slipped in to an Oedipus syndrome, I tell you.”
Tommy also starred The Who’s wild man drummer Keith Moon and the equally hedonistic Oliver Reed. So who was worse?
“Keith, if that’s possible. Keith actually did, just after we’d finished Tommy, drink Ollie Reed under the table. I think he’s one of the only people ever to do that.”
He hasn’t sat through the film in a long time.
“I’ve always had problems with it because it’s hard to watch yourself.
“And I think Tommy got boring once he was all right,” he guffaws.
It was his first lead acting role and sparked a passion for film, TV and the stage. Daltrey has since appeared in everything from the movie McVicar to Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, The Bill, Highlander: The Series, The New Adventures of Superman and The Simpsons. Some were more successful than others.
“I fell in love with it doing Tommy but then realised I knew sweet FA about it. So I had to make all my mistakes in glorious technicolor.”
Why does he think Tommy was such a success?
“When people sat down and listened to it there was something in themselves that they identified with being deaf, dumb and blind. It’s that isolated feeling you have when you’re young. Music takes you to a difference space and it is like feeling life through vibrations.”
He adds: “I always felt that the characters were metaphors for part of the human condition.”
If there will be any more of The Who he’s not committing either way.
“I had a bit of a scare on my voice 18 months ago. Since having it sorted out and it’s all OK and better than ever, I’m just enjoying singing. And I want to make the most of it because I know that it’s not going to go on forever.”
Who: Roger Daltrey
Where: Royal Concert Hall
When: Saturday July 9, 7.30pm
Tickets: Tickets are £40/£45, 0115 989 5555
Ask him about his cruise on the QE2 with Chris Difford (nottinghamropes Dave)
"I was a guest with Diffy. I was doing a songwriting thing on it. I went along as one of his guests. I’ve always wanted to do the Atlantic on a boat. God knows why. I was so damned bored I ended up doing anything to keep myself amused. I was playing at parties, playing in a bar... anywhere just to have a laugh. It was good fun. He’s a lovely guy. He’s trying to get these songwriting things going on board as activities during the day and God knows they need them.
I’m so glad I never bought myself a small fking boat - cus even the Queen Mary wasn’t big enough for me."
He once did backing vocals on a song for Barry Gibb back in the 80s. How did that come about, are they mates? Does he remember..? (Steve McGill)
"I was just on vacation in Miami where they were recording, I went down and he said stick something on this record."
Is it true that as a child you swallowed a rusty nail? (Bob)
"Yeah. I had an iron deficiency. It didn’t go down very well though"