I remember: Roger Daltrey

Amanda Riley-Jones

Roger Daltrey, 74, is the legendary frontman of one of the world’s biggest rock bands, with a career spanning more than half a century. He’s also been an actor and film producer and raised more than £2.5 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust

...I was lucky to have been born at all

My mum, Irene, ended up contracting polio when the doctors removed one of her kidneys. She spent two months in an iron lung. For the next few years she was in a wheelchair and the doctors told her she would never have children. When war broke out, my dad, Harry, who was a clerk, went to France with the Royal Artillery. He was given regular compassionate leave to see Mum. Against the odds, I was born in Hammersmith Hospital, London, on March 1, 1944.

 

…16 Percy Road 

We lived in rented rooms at number 16 Percy Road, Shepherd’s Bush. Aunt Jessie and Uncle Ed were downstairs with my cousins, Enid, Brenda and Margaret. Me, Mum and Dad were upstairs. We had two bedrooms, a lounge and kitchen, which became a little cramped when my sisters came along.

 

...Rationing through my childhood

It’s no coincidence that everyone born in my year was stunted. The rationing went on for most of my childhood. We had sugar sandwiches for tea. Twice a year, we’d have a stringy little roast chicken. Everything was second-, third-, fourth-, sixth-hand. We wore our shoes till we had holes in them and then Dad showed us how to mend them.

"I wanted to disappear. I found Mum’s sleeping pills and took four or five. Mum and Dad couldn’t work out why I’d slept for 48 hours"

 

…Family sundays playing cricket

The whole extended Daltrey brigade would begin the day at church. I was in the choir—a little angel. After Sunday School, we’d drive to Hanwell in convoy, Dad leading in his Austin 12/4 Low Loader grand old taxicab. We [kids] were all in the back, giving the royal wave to one’s subjects. I’d spend all Sunday afternoon in a place called Bunny Park, playing cricket with my cousins, aunts and uncles as the Great Western steam trains raced past.

 

...Being miserable at school

I passed my eleven-plus and “won” a place to Acton County Grammar. The kids were from places with trees and grass and wide pavements. Very predictably, I was bullied. My nickname was “Trog” and the older boys used to hang me from the wire-mesh fence that surrounded the playground.

 

…Taking sleeping pills 

One Friday it was break-time, and I was on the playground, trying not to look alone. I [knew] I had years of this to go. I walked out of school and went home, feeling empty. No one was there. I wanted to disappear. I found Mum’s sleeping pills and took four or five. Mum and Dad couldn’t work out why I’d slept for 48 hours. I never told them.

 

…Being inspired by Lonnie Donegan

Mum had the radio on all day. When the Scottish skiffle singer Lonnie Donegan put his head back and wailed, I thought, This is really moving me. This is what I want to do. I made my first guitar when I was 12. I copied a cheap Spanish guitar lent to me by my one of Dad’s workmates at Armitage Shanks. Within weeks I’d mastered the three chords you needed to play pretty much anything on the radio. A couple of weeks after that, I played my first gig at the youth club dance, channelling Lonnie with Elvis hair.

 

…Being expelled on my 15th birthday

I’d been caught smoking and playing truant. I was disruptive in class and was the unofficial school tailor. Mum had a sewing machine and my customers would come in with grey baggy trousers and leave with drainpipes. The final straw was [when] I took my air gun to school and my mate fired it. Another friend lost the sight in his right eye. That was when the headmaster, Mr Kibblewhite, said, “You’re out. You’ll never make anything of your life, Daltrey.” The title of my book is a genuine thank you to him.

"I found myself living with Jackie and our newborn son, Simon, in her mum’s place—six storeys up a council block"

 

…Singing all day on the factory floor

I started as a tea boy for a sheet metal factory in South Acton. There were young apprentices like me and older lads, many of them back from Korea and the war in Malaya. We had adolescent angst and they had veterans’ shell shock, and we held it all together with singing. One of the guys could do a beautiful Nat King Cole. He had perfect pitch so I used to sing along with him until I had it perfect, too. We got some pretty good rhythm going with our improvised drum kits of hammers, presses and guillotines.

 

…How The Who came together

In 1957 I formed a skiffle band called the Detours. When our bass player left, John Entwhistle joined. He played in a trad jazz band with Pete Townshend and bought him to my house for a try-out. Pete was only 16 but knew all these clever chords and the way he played was unique. The two of them playing together in that bedroom was the moment we went up another gear. We were playing at a hotel in Greenford and this kid comes up and says his mate can play drums better than our session guy. And then steps forward Moonie. The session drummer chucked him his sticks and we went straight into Bo Diddley’s “Road Runner.” Halfway through, Keith started to do his syncopations. It’s all mathematics drumming, but his mathematics were from another planet.

 

…Becoming a dad at 20 

After years of slogging away in pubs and clubs, things were starting to go well with the band. In 1963, I met Jacqueline Rickman. She was wonderful but neither of us was ready to have a kid. I found myself living with Jackie and our newborn son, Simon, in her mum’s place—six storeys up a council block. A few days after I walked out on them, my dad was raving at me and then threw a punch. My behaviour was terrible for him to endure and it wasn’t something I felt good about either.

 

…Recording “My Generation”

We changed our name to The Who in 1963 and made our first appearance on Top of the Pops with “I Can’t Explain”. Then Pete wrote “My Generation” after the Queen Mother got his Packard hearse towed from outside his flat in Belgravia because it reminded Her Majesty of Her Majesty’s late husband. The first two demos Pete played didn’t feel right. Then we got to the studios and Keith stuck it on the on-beat, full of aggression, which gave it the kick up the arse it needed. His genius was the absolute, utter anarchy. I tried to follow him and I stuttered on the first line. Next take, I corrected it but our manager said, “Keep that in.”

 

...The best thing that ever happened to me

I met Heather Taylor in 1967 on The Who’s first trip to the US. We were both with other people. Five months later, I was in the Speakeasy Club behind Oxford Circus. I was reading a book when a girl’s voice says, “Hello”. I look up and see Heather, five foot eleven of a gorgeous redhead, and she said, “Don’t you remember me?” It frightens me to think how differently things could have turned out. Jimi Hendrix had been after her that night. Heather and I tied the knot at Battle registry office and were in the first flush of marriage when the kids started coming along: Rosie [in 1972] and then Willow three years later. We had our son, Jamie, in 1981.

 

…Hallucinogenic tea at Woodstock, 1969

We were due on in the evening but by four the next morning we were still hanging around backstage in a muddy field. There was no food and even the ice cubes were laced with LSD. I’d brought my own bottle of Southern Comfort so I was fine—until I decided to have a cup of tea. That’s how they got me. We were finally onstage after 5am. The monitors kept breaking [but] every time we felt like we were losing it, we dug in a bit deeper. Shortly after 6am, we got to “See Me, Feel Me” from our rock opera, Tommy, and the sun came up. Once in a lifetime.

"In June 2015 I came down with viral meningitis. I was in tears. I was phoning people to say goodbye"

 

...Making it to Tinseltown

Tommy was about a deaf, dumb and blind boy who experiences life through vibration. I wasn’t sure I could do it when I was cast as Tommy for the [1975] film. I got off lightly because it was all singing. The attention the film directed my way was a different level from anything I’d had in The Who. I was in some shopping mall in Texas, promoting my second solo album, and there were thousands and thousands of people. The hysteria was daunting.

 

…A special family Christmas

Some of my friends in the business found it hard to re-adjust to a normal family existence after the madness on the road. Me? No problem. Christmas 1976, I brought the whole family down by coach, about 60 aunts and uncles, nieces, third cousins and nephews twice removed, to have a beano in Sussex. I remember Dad looked me in the eye and said, “Isn’t it grand?” He was happy and that really meant the world to me.

 

…Creating my trout fishery

Apart from doing Live Aid in 1985, that was it for The Who for a decade. For me, the Eighties were about acting, solo albums and fish farming. In the Seventies, I enlisted help to dig out the silt and raise the dam in the lake below the house where we lived in. I ended up with four interconnected lakes and invited my old mates from the factory to come fly fishing for trout almost every weekend I wasn’t touring. In the Eighties, I opened Lakedown Trout Fishery to the public and met lots of people who were more interested in fish than they were in the rock star Roger.

 

…Getting a CBE in 2005

I took Heather, my sister, and eldest granddaughter with me. It meant so much to me because it was the final recognition that my headmaster was wrong.

 

…Thinking I was dying

In June 2015, I came down with viral meningitis. I was in hospital having blackouts, memory loss, hallucinations. At the height of it, before the doctors worked out what it was and got me on the right drugs, the agony was unbearable. I was in tears. I was phoning people in order to say goodbye.

 

…Experiencing absolute peace

And then, when I could hardly bear it, the pain just went away. It was sudden and stunning, like sunshine after a storm. I [experienced] a floating sensation that felt incredible, not just because the pain was gone but also because there was contentment. I was looking at my life as though I was someone else. In the middle of this strange out of body experience, I said to myself, “Would you ever imagine the things you’ve done?”

Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite: My Story by Roger Daltrey (£20, Blink Publishing) is out now, also as ebook and audiobook