5 Life Lessons Learned Hanging Around With The Who
Includes: learning to drive in a van full of smoke bombs, and how to handle Steve McQueen’s killer alsatian
Peter ‘Dougal’ Butler was Keith Moon’s friend and chauffeur in the 1970s, and the author of Full Moon: The Amazing Rock’N’Roll Life Of Keith Moon. Richard ‘Barney’ Barnes was Pete Townshend’s flatmate in the ‘60s, coined the name The Who and later became their official biographer. Here they provide five life lessons learned from being around The Who…
1. Never Build The Stage Too High.
BARNEY: I was there the first night Pete Townshend ever smashed a guitar. It was probably our fault. It was 1964 I was promoting a weekly club night at The Railway Hotel in Wealdstone. It was a downstairs room in this pub – the sort of place you’d go for a depressing wedding. But Tuesday night was The Who’s night. There wasn’t a stage so we had to build one from beer crates and tabletops. One night we just built it too high. Pete stuck his guitar up in the air, like he always did, and it smashed through the ceiling – and got stuck there, hanging from the plaster. So he had to pull it out, which broke the neck of the guitar. The audience were laughing. He didn’t know what to do, so he pretended he’d meant to do it, and smashed the whole guitar to pieces. At the time, that was an extraordinary thing to do. The pub landlord then gave us a bill for £2, 12 shillings and six pence [approximately £49 in 2016]. He said he’d just charge is for materials, not labour. Did we pay it? I don’t think so.
2. Learn How To Drive With A Smoke Bomb In The Car.
DOUGAL: I was working at Heathrow airport in 1968, when I was offered a job driving The Who on a two-week Scottish tour. I turned up to meet them for the first time at the Track Records office in Old Compton Street. Keith [Moon] and John [Entwistle] were there. Keith was wearing this old raccoon fur coat. It had seen better days. Every time he moved, bits of fur fell off. There was more fur on the floor than on the coat. But we hit it off straight away. My first job was to drive some equipment in the band’s van. Keith and John left at the same time in their Bentley. We’d both pulled up side by side at the traffic lights in St John’s Wood, near Abbey Road, when they told me to roll down the window. I did and Keith threw two smoke bombs into the van – “Welcome to the band, dear boy! You’ll be seeing a lot more of this” – and drove off, laughing. We were stuck at the traffic lights, while the van filled with blue smoke. In the end we had to throw the bombs into the middle of the road. That was my introduction to The Who.
3. Roger Daltrey Is A Man Of Many Nicknames.
BARNEY: When I think of The Who in the 1960s, there was Pete, John and Keith on one side and Roger on the other. Roger never joined in – with the drinking, the drugs or the humour. He was always on his own. For a long time, Roger also had problems with his image. He hated his curly hair because he thought you couldn’t be a mod with curly hair. Roger was given a lot of different nicknames by the rest of the band. His first nickname was ‘Dip’ after Dippedy-Do, this gel he used to straighten his hair. Later around 1968 after psychedelia, he had this bouffant, backcombed hair, like a woman. So we started called him ‘Duchess’. Then came Tommy. And that transformed Roger in every way. His singing became fantastic, he had this long curly hair and his top off and his chest out. He turned into a magnificent rock god. It was the making of him. Did we have a new nickname for him then? Yes, of course. Tarzan.
4. Never Buy A ‘Designer’ Overcoat.
BARNEY: Pete invited me on an American Who tour in the early 80s. At the time both lived on the embankment opposite Eel Pie Island on the Thames. He was at Number 2 and I lived at 24, in the house I’d bought off him. On the morning we were flying to New York, I walked up to his house and he was there, waiting. "Look the tour starts now!” he said, and started shaking me. I thought, “Wow! It was like he'd changed into rock star.” He was in ‘tour mode’. Very excited. His wife [Karen] was there looking very concerned. She didn’t want him to go on the road.
Pete was wearing this long red overcoat from a very trendy punk designer. This was around the time he was hanging out with Steve Strange. It cost him thousands and it looked fucking awful. But he insisted on wearing it. We started drinking in the Concorde lounge, carried on drinking on Concorde, and then arrived in New York and went straight to the Navarro hotel, the only hotel that didn’t throw us out when we were with Keith Moon. Our rooms weren’t ready so we visited the 21 Club down the road. We met up with some record company people, everybody was drinking, and then Pete went off to the toilet. After 15 minutes, he still hadn’t come back. Eventually, he reappeared, looking very upset. The club’s security staff had accused him of ‘panhandling’ and tried to throw him out. Neither of us knew what panhandling was. Apparently, it’s begging. They thought he was a beggar – all because of this coat that cost thousands but looked like a down-and-out had got it of the Salvation Army. In the end, they called the police and were going to arrest him, until one of them finally realised, and said, “Don’t I know you?”
5. Beware Of Steve McQueen’s Killer Alsatian.
DOUGAL: In the 70s Keith and I lived in a big beach house in Trancas, Malibu. Steve McQueen was one of our neighbours. McQueen kept himself to himself. But then Keith bought himself an Excalibur that used to belong to Liberace – it was full of diamante. It was an horrendous looking motor. We went to the local bar and drove back to the house around 2am – not that late. But the car had twin exhausts and we’d taken the bafflers off, so it sounded like a spitfire taking off. We’d pulled up outside the house and gone in, when we heard this knock at the door. Keith looked through the spyhole and said, “You ain’t gonna believe who’s outside. It’s only Steve McQueen with his killer Alsatian.” I said “Leave it to me” and opened the door. The dog was on a leash but up on its hind legs. Very intimidating. I just said “Sit!” and the bloody dog actually sat. McQueen stood there and quietly said, “Can you please keep the noise down in the future?”
He got his own back later, though. McQueen hated Keith leaving his bathroom lights on, as it shone into his bedroom. So one night he got his shotgun, and blew the bathroom window – and the light – out.
A Talk And Q&A with Barney & Dougal, Saturday 13 February, 3.30-5.30pm, Wembley Novotel. More information and tickets.