As his new book is pub­lished, The Who’s Roger Dal­trey talks to about the legacy of a life in rock‘n’roll

Leicester Mercury - - Bookshelf - CHART COUR­TESY OF WATER­STONES

HE USED to boast long, wild, corkscrew curls, but to­day, Roger Dal­trey’s short grey hair is more con­ser­va­tive than chaotic. That said, with his black T-shirt and jeans combo, and sun­glasses with smoky blue lenses (which he wears in­doors), there’s still an air of age­ing rock star about him.

At 74, The Who’s lead singer looks a decade younger than his age. He was the rel­a­tively clean-liv­ing front­man of the band, known for his stage pres­ence and en­ergy, while his drug and al­co­hol-fu­elled band­mates Pete Town­shend, John En­twistle and Keith Moon fre­quently got wasted in the Six­ties and Seven­ties.

Meet­ing Roger, the work­ing-class Shep­herd’s Bush-boy-made-good is still a bun­dle of en­ergy, stand­ing when he could sit, an­i­mated, full of ideas and opin­ions, re­fresh­ingly de­void of fil­ters in his re­sponses.

But then he was the band mem­ber whose brain was never ad­dled by long-term co­caine use or week-long ben­ders. He wasn’t the one who drove a Cadil­lac into a ho­tel swim­ming pool (that was Keith) or smashed up in­stru­ments (Pete and Keith), or de­mol­ished ho­tel rooms to such an ex­tent that the band was banned from many dur­ing their hey­day.

“Some­body had to be the sen­si­ble one,” he says now. “I was the straight one with three ad­dicts in the band. I could have very eas­ily gone off the rails too but the most im­por­tant thing in my life was to be a singer. I knew I had a sound in me which could move peo­ple.”

He de­tails all the ex­cesses – from the high points of hits in­clud­ing My Gen­er­a­tion and rock op­eras Tommy and Quadrophe­nia, to the lows, no­tably the deaths of Keith and John – in his mem­oir, Thanks A Lot Mr Kib­ble­white: My Story (named af­ter his old gram­mar school teacher who said he’d never amount to any­thing).

Off stage, Roger would dis­tance him­self from his drug-rav­aged band­mates, he re­calls.

“In the Seven­ties, quite of­ten I’d stay in dif­fer­ent ho­tels be­cause we got thrown out of so many.

“We used to do three-hour shows at enor­mous vol­ume. So if you didn’t sleep that night and you had a show the next day, your voice wouldn’t re­cover for the next show.

“The last thing I wanted to do was to let the au­di­ence down.”

He may not have been a drug ad­dict, but he was a sex sym­bol. He had left his first wife Jackie and their son Si­mon to pur­sue a rock ca­reer, and when he mar­ried Amer­i­can model Heather Tay­lor in 1971, she knew the score, he says.

“If it was go­ing to last, it had to be a mar­riage with no is­sues be­cause of the busi­ness I was in,” he writes.

“Life on the road, month af­ter month, can be a very lonely place with­out com­pany. And we were away on tour for five, six months at a time as one of the big­gest rock bands in the world.”

He ad­mits that to come home and tell her he’d been a good boy would have been a lie.

“Sex­ual in­fi­delity should never be a rea­son for di­vorce,” he writes. “For a man, it’s mostly just a s**g, un­less you fall in love.”

He and Heather, who have three chil­dren, have been to­gether for nearly 50 years.

“I’m start­ing to like her and I’m think­ing of not kick­ing her out,” he says, laugh­ing out loud. “I wor­ship her. We are closer now than ever.

“She un­der­stood me and knew the busi­ness I was in, and ac­cepted me for my hon­esty at the be­gin­ning, and it worked. We never let those silly things that usu­ally break mar­riages up break ours up.”

So, at what point did the mar­riage be­come monog­a­mous?

“You just grow out of it,” he says. “I’m an old man now. Grand­kids (he has 15) come along, and you’re sud­denly look­ing through the right end of the tele­scope of life and it all makes sense.”

Roger has had other chil­dren out of wed­lock, al­though he’s vague as to ex­actly how many.

“I can’t pre­tend that my re­la­tion­ship with my chil­dren that turned up when I was 50 (Roger had no idea that he had three daugh­ters, born in the 60s be­tween his mar­riages, un­til they got in touch) is the same as it is with the chil­dren that I brought up and changed their nap­pies,” he says.

In 1971, Roger and Heather moved to Holmshurst Manor in East Sus­sex, which was used for a few years as the ul­ti­mate hippy crash pad. There were par­ties, but there was also peace and quiet.

“It was some­thing I needed to do. I be­came trapped in Lon­don. There were al­ways girls sit­ting on the front wall. I couldn’t take it. I was only 30 miles from Lon­don but we might as well have been in the Sa­hara Desert, and I learned the value of com­mu­nity again, which I’d had in Shep­herd’s Bush.”

He still lives in East Sus­sex, where he goes trout fish­ing and builds dry-stone walls – an an­ti­dote to the mad­ness of per­form­ing in front of le­gions of fans.

The years of of rock have taken their toll on his health though. Af­ter col­laps­ing on stage in Florida in 2007, doc­tors dis­cov­ered that at some point in his ca­reer he’d bro­ken his back, which he thinks might be when he fell badly do­ing a som­er­sault, while film­ing I’m Free on the set of Tommy in 1974.

He’s suf­fered se­ri­ous con­cus­sions thanks to mi­cro­phone stands ram­ming his face, wears hear­ing aids to coun­ter­act the deaf­ness, and has suf­fered de­pres­sion.

Three years ago, the sec­ond half of The Who’s 50th an­niver­sary sta­dium tour had to be post­poned af­ter he suf­fered a hor­rific strain of vi­ral menin­gi­tis.

“I don’t rec­om­mend that one,” he says now. “I was quite ready to go. I learned not to fear death. I lay there on my last knock­ings. They didn’t re­ally know what was wrong with me. I’d been given all kinds of tests. I was go­ing barmy be­cause the lin­ing of the brain swells up and it drives you crazy.

“I had a phys­io­ther­a­pist I used to take on the road to keep me in shape, and when I was feel­ing stiff or there was a knot in my back, she used to say, ‘Let go of it, what are you hang­ing on to it for?’ When I was in hos­pi­tal those words came into my head, ‘What are you hang­ing on for? Let go’. And I felt an in­cred­i­ble peace came over me.

“We think about death as an exit, but if you turn it around it be­comes an en­trance. So I head for the en­trance now. I feel I’m ready to ac­cept it at any time now.”

Yet Roger is still hun­gry for life and we haven’t seen the end of The Who, he says.

“It’s not over. We are on our last farewell tour and we al­ways said it’s the be­gin­ning of the long good­bye,” he says. “But how long that good­bye is, we don’t know...”

■ Thanks A Lot Mr Kib­ble­white: My Story (left) by Roger Dal­trey is pub­lished by Blink, priced £20.

The last thing I wanted to do was to let the au­di­ence down

Roger Dal­trey

Roger Dal­trey on stage, right, and pic­tured left with his The Who band­mates Keith Moon, Pete Town­shend and John En­twistle in 1968

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