When it comes to Rock Operas, it is difficult not to the mention the Who. Due to their success with those, they became a very visual band and that led them into the world of film. Here is a report from the set of “Tommy”.
Penny Valentine meets the most expensive prop any film ever had, Roger Daltrey.
In about an hour`s time Roger Daltrey, attired in nothing more protective than a loin cloth that closely resembles a baby`s nappy, will be pinned inside a silver iron maiden and have over 100 butterflies crawling and fluttering all over him.
Right now it`s lunch break on the set of “Tommy”, Ken Russell`s latest extravaganza, and Daltrey – the man who humbly calls himself “the most expensive prop any film ever had” – is incongerously merry in his dressing room at the Ladbroke Grove film studios.
There aren`t too many people that, faced with the prospect of “things” crawling all over their bodies could lash into a steak with as much relish as Daltrey is now, or indeed be laughing about it at all. But then filming the Who`s prodigious musical under Russell`s extraordinary visual eye has, as I find out, been an excellent lesson in survival. Man against cameras and effects. Almost a film within a film.
It is not surprising that people report tales of Daltrey`s explosion three days into filming, when he turned round to those nearest and cried in desperation: “This is the first and bloody last film I make”. Russell likes his stars to come hardy.
First there was the saga of the filthy pond water being hosed all over Roger, complete, as it transpires, with the fish that were harmlessly lying on the pond bottom.
Then there was the moment when Daltrey was thrown on set as part of the action and unfortunately missed the mattress that was supposed to break his fall. The result of this was that Daltrey had concussion and was unconcious for seven minutes. At the end of which time our hero came round to feebly enquire: “Did you get that take, Ken?”.
The fact that Roger now boasts absolutely no hair on one arm shouldn`t worry anyone either. Just a little incident, I hear, of walking through banks of flames in a thin T-shirt.
Of course the rest of the set and crew were wrapped up in asbestos suits at the time. And Daltrey did weakly mutter, “I think I`m burning, Ken” before going into what he described as a “yoga like trance and oddly dancing over the broken glass and through the heat not feeling a thing”.
When you hear all that, and think that there`s only three of the fifteen weeks filming to go, perhaps it`s a little easier to understand why the prospect of being locked in with butterflies for a couple of days should hold no worries for Daltrey.
He`s really enjoying the process of filming – the novelty of it, the professionalism, the ability to create the role in yet another way. And he does look shatteringly well, tanned boot polish brown from the filming at “Tommy`s holiday camp”. He`s happy too that Russell is pleased with the way things are going and confident enough to offer him the starring role in his next epic on composer Franz Liszt. Certainly things couldn`t be going better for Roger Daltrey ex-sheet metal worker.
But like everything in life Daltrey`s glee is not 100 per cent infallible. Over lunch it`s apparent that all is not as well as it would appear and rumours that the Who are coming close to their millionth reported break-up is obviously having its usual effect.
For the last two years Daltrey has had this somewhat frantic desire to keep everything going at top rate all at once – of being offered chances he couldn`t turn down, but only doing them when it suited the band he clings on to like a lover. He has always jealously advocated the group`s right to be bigger and better than they`ve ever been. And it has always been Roger that has somehow tried to use the things he`s been offered outside the group to give them a kick into action when things looked like they were getting too quiet.
Today it`s questions about the next film – due to start in January – and maybe the recording of his own second solo album that seems to suddenly bring things to the fore. The fact that the progress of the Who has always been Roger`s biggest worry is not helped by the current rumours that Moon wants to go and live in America, and that Pete can`t decide whether he wants to keep going out on the road. And Daltrey really does need the Who more than maybe anyone realises. To him the band has always been his security, his jumping off board. To make films and solo albums – a rewarding and ego boosting experience though it may be – has really always taken second place to the band and the three guys in it.
The frustration at the situation right now is easy to see in Daltrey`s eyes. The fact that it`s something that has become harder to sort out privately but has to be done in the constant glare of public attention only makes the situation worse.
“Bloody news stories”, he suddenly says pushing away the half eaten steak. “Stupid bloody news stories. As far as the papers are concerned the Who have bloody well been breaking up since the day they formed. And this situation now – well it`s the same one that was going on last year. It`s just that we`re going through a difficult period. It`s not down to breaking up. Everytime the Who are a bit quiet that starts. But it`s not. It`s down to – where do we go from here?”
And where DO they go from here?
“I think we`ve got to start thinking bigger than we have done. I think we`re going to do a TV special after this film – because once this film comes out believe me it`s going to make us important. I mean it`ll be bloody lunacy for the Who.
“But right now we need to go and record another album. A Who rock and roll album. “Quadrophenia” got blown out of all proportion. No, WE blew it out of all proportion.
“I thought `Quad` had that old Who thing but somehow it didn`t, it got lost again. It`s partly because we tried to do too much ourselves again and because we didn`t have a producer.
“And I think now`s the time we could all do a lot more in films. I mean we`ve got this one which, in Russell`s hands, is going to give us all another new dimension. I mean Moon for instance is fantastic in it. His Uncle Ernie is a bloody classic. No, I haven`t seen any of my own rushes yet, I don`t think I want to”.
Anyway, back to the subject at hand Roger…….
“Yeah, well we`ve wanted to do film things for the past four years and after this thing up and even if I do Liszt I`ll only do it if it says in the contract I can still work two days a week with the band. I mean we`ve GOT to work on the road and make more than one album a year. Otherwise it`s not the bleedin` Who, it`s a joke – like a session band.
“Look it`s not as upsetting as it could be because we`ve been through it all before and come out of it. It just gets me down when we play badly and those four nights we did in New York a couple of weeks ago weren`t good. Oh I mean the kids enjoyed it, but they`d have been happy if we`d got up there and farted. But there was only one night out of the four where we really played well and that`s just because we don`t work enough.
“Either we work or we don`t work. I`m not going on and on like this, because the Who are a bloody good band, they`re not a shit band.But we`ve got to stay on the ball. Gawd,” he sighs. “It`s at times like this that I wish the group wasn`t a name group. I wish we were small again so that we could just get on stage and gig. I think we should get out and play England in any little pissholes we can find”.
Daltrey has a habit of making you feel his frustration. Suddenly and strangely you`re getting as involved as he is, as worried that what he`s saying into a tape machine now is going to come out in cold print like a death knell. Good God y`ll what is happening here……?
But then maybe it`s not so strange. Ten years ago I looned out on Monday nights to The Scene Club to have my hand stamped in fluorescent ink and watch a band called the High Numbers. When, then, rock music was an exciting and unreliable child this band reflected it all. And that they became the Who and kept all that excitement is one of music`s more honourable hours.
Nostalgia may not be what it used to be, but the Who are definitely a band that hold a special place in everyone`s affections.
“Roger!” – the air of doom which suddenly hangs over our heads is whipped away by the entrance of the Who`s press brain, Keith Altham, bearing the trade papers. “It`s all conjecture” he says calmly. “After all how many other bands get involved in sole efforts and don`t split up. You`ve always had this “split” thing hanging over the Who right from the start – everything`ll be alright”.
Nice one Keith. Daltrey looks cheerier and starts leaping about getting ready for the afternoon`s shooting. Activily back to normal. Doug Clark comes breezing in to tell Roger he`s got to go to make up. Big next to Roger`s small brown frame, and with a creasing smile Doug is “Batman” to Daltrey`s “Robin”.
The stories start flowing again. The one about Moon getting so engrossed in his role as Uncle Ernie that where all the other actors used to filming – Oliver Reed, Jack Nicholson – could switch off their parts after a day`s work Moon couldn`t. And so Moon was Uncle Ernie morning, noon and night flashing raincoat and all.
The one about Roger having already started some background work into the life of Franz Liszt, discovering the fellow was pretty damn lary, and so christening him Franz Lust.
They reel out and we reel round some, I fear, just not printable here. But one of the best clean ones comes from Doug…
While they`ve been working in London some miles from the Daltrey manor house they`ve been staying in a penthouse on the 18th floor of a nearby hotel. One night last week, coming off set after ten hours solid slog, they staggered into the hotel in their T-shirts and jeans and went up to wash and change.
As they emerged from the penthouse lift, relates Doug, he was attacked by a frantic hotel employee who had leapt into the next lift and followed them up.
“Look here” he said grabbing Doug`s arm. “Don`t you realise that you building workers aren`t allowed up here on the 18th floor”.
Luckily the lead singer of the Who and the man about to immortalise Franz Liszt on celluloid was busy negotiating the lock on his room door and so was out of earshot.
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: The Graeme Edge Band, Robin Trower, Man, Nigel Thomas, Chris Stainton, Chilli Willi, Robert Wyatt, J.J. Cale, Dobie Gray, Nazareth, Sonny Rollins, Druick and Lorange, The SHF Band.
The original music paper this article came from (pictured at the top) is for sale!
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