All posts by markrblake

About markrblake

Writer & Editor. Author of Pretend You're In A War: The Who And The Sixties (2014); Is This The Real Life: The Untold Story Of Queen (2010) and Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story Of Pink Floyd (2007 & 2013). More at

The Strange Case Of ‘Iggy The Eskimo’

Iggy Eskimo Day Trip (02)

Syd Barrett’s solo album The Madcap Laughs came out on January 3 1970. Five years ago its mysterious, naked cover star phoned me up out of the blue to tell me her story.

Previously published on in February 2011.

If there is one image of Syd Barrett that never ceases to fascinate it’s the back cover of his debut album, The Madcap Laughs. The reason: the mysterious naked woman perched on a stool with her head thrown back and face obscured by swathes of long dark hair. Syd’s companion was known only as “Iggy The Eskimo”. But as Barrett fans have been wondering since 1970 – who was Iggy and where did she go?

Sydbarrett-madcaplaughsSyd Barrett Madcap Laughs (44)

Photographer Mick Rock believed that his cover girl had “married a rich guy and moved off the scene”. Barrett’s old flatmate, the artist Duggie Fields, heard that “Iggy had become involved with one of the voguish religious cults of the time”, before adding to the mythology with a story of once seeing her disembarking from a Number 31 bus in Kensington, wearing a 1940s-era gold lamé dress, and very little else.
In 2002, Mick’s coffee-table book Psychedelic Renegades featured more shots of Syd and Iggy posing outside the Earls Court mansion block, alongside Barrett’s abandoned Pontiac.

Rock’s photos found their way onto most Pink Floyd fansites, where Iggy had acquired cult status. Before long, The Holy Church Of Iggy The Inuit, a fansite in her honour, had appeared, its webmaster, Felix Atagong, sifting through ever scrap of information gleaned from MOJO and elsewhere with a forensic scientist’s attention to detail. Among Felix’s discoveries was a November 1966 issue of NME (below) which featured a photo of “Iggy who is half eskimo” dancing at South Kensington’s Cromwellian club.


While researching my Pink Floyd biography (2007’s Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story Of Pink Floyd) I quizzed everyone about Iggy’s whereabouts. Anthony Stern, formerly a schoolmate of David Gilmour’s, told me he had met her at a Hendrix gig and had just discovered photos he had taken of her on a houseboat in Chelsea; Anthony had also filmed Iggy dancing in Russell Square. Meanwhile, former Middle Earth club DJ Jeff Dexter recalled meeting “the mysterious-looking” Iggy in 1963, when she was a “part of a group of very wonderful looking South London girls” that danced at The Orchid Ballroom in Purley.

Jeff even hatched a plan with his friend, the late DJ and Shadows songwriter Ian “Sammy” Samwell, to turn Iggy and two of her friends into “a British version of The Supremes. We booked a studio but unfortunately none of them could sing.” Believing that Iggy may have gone to school in Thornton Heath, Jeff and Anthony contacted The Croydon Guardian, who ran an article – So Where Did She Go To, My Lovely – enquiring after the whereabouts of the girl “who entirely captured the spirit of the ’60s”.

Then, in March 2010, MOJO received a letter from ex-Cambridge mod Pete Brown, who had “shared some wild nights on the town with Iggy in the 1970s”. Pete informed us that Iggy had been last heard of in the ’80s “working at a racing stables… and has since been keeping her whereabouts quiet.” Pete sent a copy of the letter to The Croydon Guardian, whose reporter traced Iggy through the stables and phoned her out of the blue.

Their subsequent article included a handful of quotes from its reluctant subject, including the words: “I have now left that life behind me.” Which is why it came as a surprise when my mobile rang late one Saturday night. “It’s Iggy!” declared the voice at the other end, as if I would have known that already. “I’ve been reading what you wrote about me in MOJO… about the pictures of my bottom.”

The local newspaper’s call had prompted Iggy to borrow a neighbour’s computer and go online for the first time. She was amazed to discover MOJO, the fansites, the photos, and the wild speculation and misinformation about her time with Syd Barrett. Which is why, in October 2010, I found myself stepping off a train at an otherwise deserted Sussex railway station to be met by the woman that had once graced the cover of The Madcap Laughs. Three hours in a local gastro-pub and countless phone calls later, Iggy pieced together her story. Some of it was printed in MOJO 207, the rest is here…

Firstly, why Iggy? “My real name is Evelyn,” she explains. “But when I was a child, my neighbour’s young daughter could never pronounce Evelyn, and always called me Iggy. Now everyone calls me as Iggy. But ‘The Eskimo’ nickname was a joke. That was something I told the photographer from the NME when he took my picture at The Cromwellian.” Iggy’s father was a British army officer, who served alongside Louis Mountbatten, and attended the official handover ceremony from Great Britain to India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharial Nehru in 1947. “My father also knew all about Mountbatten’s wife’s affair with Nehru,” she adds mischievously. During a spell of leave, he had travelled to a remote village in the Himalayas “where he met the woman that would become my mother.”

Iggy was born in Pakistan, and attended army schools in India and Aden, before the family moved to England. But not, as believed, Thornton Heath. “I grew up by the seaside,” she reveals. “I went to art school. I became a mod in Brighton, and saw the fights with the rockers, and I met The Who when they were on Ready Steady Go! I loved soul music, loved The Righteous Brothers, and I loved dancing, so I used to go to all the clubs – The Orchid Ballroom in Purley, where I met lovely Jeff Dexter, The Cromwellian, The Flamingo, The Roaring Twenties…”

It was at The Cromwellian that Iggy encountered Eric Clapton. “I didn’t know who he was at first,” she insists. “He took me to meet Lionel Bart and to a party at Brian Epstein’s place…” By the mid-’60s Iggy had become a Zelig-like presence on the capital’s music scene, sometimes in the company of Keith Moon, Brian Jones, Keith Richards…. She saw Hendrix make his UK debut at the Bag O’ Nails in November ’66, and in February ’67, narrowly avoided the police raid at Richards’ country pile, in West Wittering: “The night before, I decided not to go, thank God.” A year later, still in the Stones’ orbit, she found herself watching the recording sessions for what became Sympathy For The Devil.

By then, Iggy had made her film debut (see below). In 1967, IN Gear was a short documentary screened as a supporting film in cinemas around the country. Its theme was Swinging London, including the chic Kings Road clothes shop Granny Takes A Trip, a place, according to the breathless narrator that “conforms to the non-conformist image of the !” A mini-skirted Iggy can be seen in one silent clip, sifting through a rack of clothes and chatting with Granny’s co-owner Nigel Waymouth.

Iggy Eskimo In Gear Video Capture (5)

By 1967, pop music had changed. The summer before, Iggy had met Syd Barrett’s girlfriend Jenny Spires, and drifted into the Floyd’s social clique, showing up at the UFO club nights where Pink Floyd played regularly: “When I recently watched that Syd Barrett documentary [The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett & Story] and saw Syd in the kaftan, chanting [on Pow R Toc H], the memories came rushing back,” she explains. “I’d been there. I’d seen that.” In April ’67, Iggy joined the counter-culture throng in Alexandra Palace for The 14-Hour Technicolor Dream – “all 14 hours of it!” – where Floyd played a hypnotic set at dawn.

By early 1968, though Barrett had been replaced by David Gilmour, and, according to many, was on a drug-fuelled downward spiral. Towards the end of the year, he moved into a new place with his level-headed friend, the would-be artist Duggie Fields. The pair took over a two-bedroom flat at 29 Wetherby Mansions in Earls Court. Around January ’69, at Jenny Spires’ suggestion, Iggy, needing a place to stay, moved in. She hooked up with Barrett, but shared a musical bond with Fields: “Duggie and I were into soul music, and Syd used to laugh at me dancing around to Motown.”

As Iggy told MOJO 207: “I didn’t know Syd had been a pop star.” Elaborating further, “I didn’t make the connection between him and the person I had seen at UFO. I knew he was beautiful looking and he had real presence, but that was all.” Once, when she picked up his acoustic guitar, fooling around, he took it off her and started playing properly. “I was overwhelmed. The way he played the guitar, the way he moved. He said, ‘Do you think I look good?’,” she laughs. “I said, ‘You look amazing. Wow!’ He then said, ‘Would you listen to this?’ And he bought out this big, old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorder, and said, ‘Tell me what you think’.”

Syd then played her the songs that would end up on The Madcap Laughs. One track, Terrapin, made an immediate impression. “I said, ‘That’s quite catchy’, and, of course, I don’t think Syd was really into catchy…It was a long tape, and he didn’t demand any opinion, but just asked if I thought it was OK. At the end he said ‘Someone at EMI – I cannot remember the name – wants me to make a record. How would you feel about having a rock star boyfriend?'”

While there are many reports of Barrett being withdrawn and even aggressive at this time, Iggy remembers it differently. “People talk about Syd’s madness and his dark side, but I never saw it,” she states. “We had a wonderful giggly time. There were no sinister moments.” Only briefly did she glimpse a more troubled side to his personality. “One day, he said to me, ‘How do you feel? Are you sad?’ I was naked, and he went and got some paint and painted two great big eyes on my breasts with two tears coming down, and on my belly button he painted an arrow and underneath that a picture of me with a big belly, and said, ‘There could be life in there. I could give you life.’ But I didn’t want that at all. So I panicked, and scrubbed it off.”

He was also uncomfortable with some aspects of fame, as Iggy discovered on a night out with Syd to The Speakeasy, a music-biz haunt in Margaret Street. “We’d persuaded Syd to go, but it was full of posers,” she admits. “There were a few of us there. Someone asked the DJ to put on See Emily Play, which was a stupid thing to do.” A hit for Pink Floyd more than two years before, the dance-floor cleared. “So I went on and started dancing, but Syd ran off. He was obviously very sensitive about it all.”

In March ’69, Barrett began recording The Madcap Laughs at Abbey Road, but his erratic behaviour in the studio resulted in Roger Waters and David Gilmour helping to oversee the sessions. Gilmour was now living in Richmond Mansions, a block so close to Wetherby Mansions that he could almost see into Syd and Duggie’s kitchen window. One evening, Syd announced that he had to go out. Iggy wanted to go with him, but Barrett insisted she remain at the flat. “I think I thought he was seeing another woman,” she says. “I got a bit jealous, a bit pouty – very silly. Duggie knew where Syd had gone but wouldn’t tell me.”

With Syd gone, Iggy decided to pay a visit to David Gilmour instead. Fields helped Iggy back-comb her hair, plaster her face with make-up and paint her lips black. “I looked like Medusa. Like a banshee. Duggie then took me round to Dave’s place. Dave was very beautiful and very cool, and his flat was nicer than Syd and Duggie’s – it was warmer for a start. Dave opened the door, took one look at me, but didn’t bat an eyelid.”

When Iggy walked in, she saw Syd sat in Gilmour’s living room. “I went in, shouting, ‘OK, where is she?’ thinking there was a woman hiding in one of the rooms. But, of course, the meeting had been with Dave about the record they were making together.” Barrett left Iggy with Gilmour, but rather the worse for wear, she knocked the stylus on his record player accidentally scratching his copy of Pink Floyd’s brand new album. “I have no idea what album it was, only that it was their new album,” Iggy sighs. (The likely candidate seems to be Soundtrack From The Film More) “So Dave threw me out… If he ever reads this I would like to say sorry for scratching his record.”

Back at Wetherby Mansions, Barrett was unfazed by her planned defection: “Syd just said, ‘Come in love, and I’ll make you a cup of tea’. How sweet.” By now, Barrett had prepared his bedroom for The Madcap… cover shoot, painting most of the floorboards orange and mauve. On the morning of the shoot, Syd asked Iggy to help finish the job. “He jumped off the mattress and said, ‘Quick, grab a paint brush.’ He did one stripe and I did another. If you look at Mick Rock’s pictures, I have paint on the soles of my feet.”


When Rock arrived with the Floyd’s sleeve designer Storm Thorgerson to take the photos, a naked Iggy went to put some clothes on. “But Syd said, ‘No, don’t’. That was his wicked sense of humour. I put the kohl around his eyes that day and tousled up his hair: come on Syd, give us a smile, moody, moody, moody! But he knew exactly what he was doing. He was as sharp as anything. He set the tone. He was the manipulator.”

Iggy joined Syd for further photos outside the flat. Later, Rock recalled showing Barrett one of the pictures and Syd mysteriously scratching around Iggy’s image; an act that has acquired some significance among Barrett’s more earnest devotees. “They’re making something out of nothing,” she insists. “Later on, Syd showed me one of the pictures and said, ‘You like that one, don’t you? I know why, because of your cheekbones’. I think I was sucking on a cigarette, and, yes, I was being vain, I liked the way my cheekbones looked. So he tore the pic in half and gave it to me. There was nothing more to it than that.”

Strangely, Iggy also recalls other photographs being taken that day, which have never appeared since. “I don’t think Storm and Mick were very impressed by them. If you’ve ever seen the cover of the Rod Stewart album, Blondes Have More Fun, they were a bit like that… Of me and Syd. There were others of me and Syd, as well, which remind me of the picture of John and Yoko [on Two Virgins] which came out later. I’d love to see those pictures now.”

Before long, Iggy had drifted out of Wetherby Mansions and out of Syd’s life as quickly as she had drifted in. When she returned later, Duggie told her: “Syd’s not here. He’s gone back to Cambridge. Don’t bother trying to find him.” She never saw him again, and is adamant she only became aware of her presence on the cover of The Madcap Laughs after being phoned by the Croydon Guardian: “I went to a boot sale with my husband… When I saw the cover, I thought, Oh yes, that is my bottom.”

Although the stories of her marrying a rich banker and joining a religious cult are untrue, there is a kernel of truth: after Syd, Iggy began seeing a wealthy businessman who was also a scientologist. However Duggie Fields’ recollection of spotting Iggy climbing off a bus in a gold lamé dress is not in dispute: “It was a beautiful dress that cost £50.” Still a fixture on the music scene, Iggy recalls accompanying Pink Fairies’ drummer Twink to the Isle Of Wight Festival and turning up “for the very first Glastonbury… “. But in 1978 Iggy married her husband, Andrew, and “left that life behind me”.

“I heard on the radio that Syd died, and I felt sad, but it was so long ago,” she says. Since reading about those times in MOJO, the memories of the people and the places have slowly come back to her. “Mick Rock took some beautiful picture of me,” she smiles. “But, of course, I wish I’d been paid some money for them. Still, it is amazing that people have been looking for me… and that someone has even set up a website. I still don’t know what to make of all this.”


The fascination continues. Last week, Iggy called to tell me she had found a poem online written about her by a professor at a university in Missouri. “And it’s in French,” she said, sounding astonished. “‘Iggy l’esquimo, Fille De Le Space’…it goes. I never believed anyone would ever write a poem for me.”

Words: Mark Blake (

Photographs: Mick Rock, Anthony Stern, Storm Thorgerson, Chris Lanaway


Freddie Mercury: Before He Was Famous


Saturday, July 13, 1985. A banner in the audience, fluttering in the early-evening breeze, at Wembley Stadium reads ‘Hello World’. It’s a fitting statement for events taking place on stage where the Live Aid concert is in full swing. There are 72,000 people packed into the stadium, their numbers swelled by a gargantuan global television audience watching around the world (a conservative estimate: 1.5 billion). Queen are on stage, thundering through a decade’s worth of hits, craftily spliced together into just 22 minutes and typified by the audacious rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody fused with Radio Ga Ga.
Supposedly past their prime, the superstar rock band have been nagged into performing by Live Aid organiser Bob Geldof whose indignation at Ethiopian famine has prompted this mobilization of musical talent. Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury, pleading a throat infection, has been limousined into Wembley’s VIP enclosure just an hour before showtime. Now, on stage having followed both U2 and Dire Straits, Mercury is in his element: in vest, jeans and boxer boots, he performs a routine that’s part gym instructor, part ballet dancer, part Robert Plant. His voice rings out across the stadium like a Muezzin call to prayer, as he flexes his arms, spins on his heel, tosses his head, wiggles his rear, plays frantic air guitar and, brandishes his mic stand in front of guitarist Brian May, like a matador going in for the kill. When he momentarily runs out of things to do, Freddie grabs a BBC cameraman and beams toothily into his lens. This genuinely is Freddie Mercury’s ‘hello world’ moment. A show-stealing performance burnt into the collective consciousness by a man that many would subsequently consider to be the most flamboyant frontman of all time. But it wasn’t always like that…


Friday, October 31 1969. Freddie Mercury, then known as Fred Bulsara, performed with his band Wreckage in the ‘Noisy Common Room’ at Ealing Technical College & School Of Art. Mercury had recently been a student at the college, and Wreckage had been booked by the Student Union president, Aubrey Malden. The common room was a narrow space on the ground floor, its walls painted bright orange. Without a proper stage, Wreckage had to set up their gear on the floor, alongside the pinball machines and table football; the clattering sounds from which had given the common room its ‘noisy’ moniker.
More than four decades later, Aubrey Malden, now a marketing expert and writer, still remembers the show. “They were crap,” he says simply. “The only good bit was when Freddie lay on his back, took the microphone off the stand and dangled it down his throat while wailing – anything to get the audience’s attention.”
“I knew Fred as this quiet, reserved bloke,” adds fellow ex-Ealing student John Gotting. “I used to sit next to him the same corner of the graphics studio. I’d heard that he sang in a group but he was never very forthcoming about it. Then, at this gig, he just…burst on!” Gotting recalls that the future Freddie Mercury had accessorised his homemade white suit with a pink chiffon scarf: “He was always in a sports jacket and jeans, so it was a shock to see this transformation.”

That night, Wreckage slugged through covers of Elvis’ Jailhouse Rock, The Beatles’ Rain and Led Zeppelin’s Communication Breakdown. But Freddie and lead guitarist, Mike Bersin, had also written some songs of their own. The likes of Vagabond Outcast and Cancer On My Mind were very much in the post-Cream, post-Hendrix spirit of the times. “They sounded like Queen,” remembers Gotting, “but they weren’t wholly Queen.” Indeed, among Fred’s newest creations was Lover, a song that would metamorphose into Liar and turn up on Queen’s debut album three years later. On that Halloween evening few, if any, believed they were witnessing musical history being made. “Some people were watching the band,” says Aubrey, “but others were sitting around chatting, reading newspapers, playing table football…. I honestly thought they were a bit of a joke.”

Despite the indifference displayed by part of the audience, Fred himself had begun to develop a genuine sense of bold ambition. In a letter written five days earlier to a friend, and later auctioned at Sotheby’s, Freddie had declared his intentions for the forthcoming gig: “This Friday…” he wrote, “I’m going to out-ponce everybody in sight.” True to his word, he posed, he strutted and played frantic air guitar in front of Mike Bersin, just as he would years later with Brian May at Live Aid. “The moves that Fred did in Queen, he first did with us,” says Bersin. “It was all there, even then. Fred was a star he was a star.”

When Fred Bulsara changed his name to Freddie Mercury in 1971, the change signified the creation of a new persona: one that would befit a superstar. But the transformation had begun long before. Prior to becoming Fred Bulsara, he was Farrokh Bulsara, born on September 5, 1946 on the East African spice island of Zanzibar. His father Bomi worked for the British governor, and, like his mother Jer, originally came from the Gujarati district of northern India. The family were Parsee Indians; devotees of Zoroastrianism, a religion with its roots in ancient Persia.

In Queen’s formative years, Mercury described himself as a “Persian Popinjay”, giving only the sketchiest details of life in Zanzibar. “The family were upper middle class,” recalls his childhood friend, Subash Shah. “They weren’t rich but Bomi had the income of a civil servant working for the colonial government.” At the age of eight, Mercury was enrolled and sent away to St Peter’s Boys School, in the Panchgani district of India. He would remain there as a boarder until 1962, travelling back to Zanzibar by ship or lodging with his aunt in Bombay during the school holidays. At St Peter’s, he competed as a bantam-weight boxer, learned to paint and play the piano, and began performing with four other schoolfriends in a group called The Hectics. He was sometimes lonely, sometimes homesick and always achingly self-conscious about his prominent front teeth. But as Mercury explained: “One thing boarding school taught me was to fend for myself.”

It was with The Hectics that Mercury’s uncanny ear for composition and melody became apparent. “We used to listen to the pop charts on the radio,” recalls former Hectics singer Bruce Murray. “It was a programme sponsored by a toothpaste company. We’d hear these songs and then Freddie would go to the piano and play them note perfect, after hearing them once.” But beyond the Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele 45s echoing through the dormitory, there were wider musical influences to be heard: classical symphonies, jazz, Hindi pop, Arab contralto Oum Kalthoum, and the revered Indian singer Lata Mangeshkar. It was here that Mercury’s eclectic musical style began to develop.

The Hectics’ played school functions and dances. “I was the singer as I was the best-looking one,” laughs Murray. Their repertoire ran to Elvis, Dion, Ricky Nelson and The Coasters’ Yakety Yak. “Fred sang backing vocals, but his thing was still the piano.” Even then, there was a glimpse of what was to come. “He had this quirky way of moving onstage, which you could see a little of later with Queen.” The Hectics’ guitarist Derrick Branche, later to become one of the first Asian actors on British TV (his credits including Only When I Laugh, The Jewel In Crown and My Beautiful Laundrette), recalled something of Dean Martin’s sidekick Jerry Lewis in the schoolboy Mercury: “Frenzied… hands flapping, legs going everywhere…”

By the time he was 16, Freddie had become distracted from his academic studies. He returned to Zanzibar to complete his education; leaving St Peter’s with poor exam results but an impressive Cliff Richard-style quiff. After his death, India would claim Freddie Mercury as the ‘First Asian pop star’; but he never set foot in India again. Back in Zanzibar, he fed his fascination for Western pop with the BBC World Service and weeks-old copies of the music press. A chance to get closer to the action would come sooner than he though. Following an election in December 1963, Zanzibar’s already weakened British rulers handed control of the island to the Arab-led Zanzibar And Pemba People’s Coalition Party. The rival Afro-Shirazi Party protested, and in January ‘64, several hundred African rebels took control of the island. The short but bloody ‘Zanzibar Revolution’ resulted in a new ruling party and the deaths of thousands of Arabs across the island.

“After the revolution, things went crazy,” remembers Subash Shah. “It was terrifying.” Zanzibar was no longer a safe place for a former employee of the British government. As a result in Spring 1964 Bomi Bulsara took advantage of his British passport and brought his family to England, where they set up home in a Victorian terraced house at 22 Gladstone Avenue, Feltham, some three miles from Heathrow Airport. The family had left behind everything and everyone they knew, starting over as immigrants in a new and often unwelcoming country. Bomi took a job as an accountant with a hotel catering company, while Freddie pondered his next move.

Delighted to be in England, he jollied his family through their difficult early months in London. Insisting that he “wasn’t clever enough to be a lawyer or an accountant” he urged his parents to let him try for art school. In September Freddie showed up for the first day of a two-year arts foundation course at Isleworth Polytechnic. His aim was to pass the A-level he needed to be accepted at art school. But this choice had less to do with art and everything to do with music, Britain’s art schools famously creating a fecund environment for musicians in the mid-‘60s. Despite his insecurities, Freddie found himself welcomed by his fellow Poly pupils.

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“We met at induction and were put in a class together,” recalls ex-Isleworth Polytechnic student Adrian Morrish (second row, far right in the picture above). “Fred was charmingly shy, but also very engaging, and he desperately wanted to fit in. He dressed weirdly in drainpipe trousers that weren’t quite long enough and middle-aged jackets that were slightly too small.” His trademark item of clothing was a maroon-coloured blazer that his new friends suspected had made the trip with him from Zanzibar. He also had a habit of slipping his top lip over his prominent front teeth to hide them from view.

The issue of exactly when Mercury started using the name Fred or Freddie instead of his birthname Farrokh, is the subject of conflicting memories. Subash Shah maintains that he was always Farrokh while in Zanzibar and India; Bruce Murray is adamant that he took the name Fred in India. Adrian Morrish maintains that Mercury told his friends he wanted an Anglo-fied name and that he was “collectively christened by all of us as Fred” after enrolling at Isleworth.

At the Polytechnic, Fred did everything he could to fit in: he joined the college choir and acted in the Christmas ‘64 drama group production of Arnold Wesker’s The Kitchen (Morrish: “He was rather nervous, but at the same time you could tell he loved the attention”). At weekends he joined Adrian and his friends at Eel Pie Island Hotel, watching Long John Baldry and a youthful Rod Stewart, but often having to leave early to practice his piano.

During the week, he would commandeer an upright piano in the college assembly hall, treating his audience to renditions of the latest hits. “He’d hear a pop song on the radio in the morning, then come in and play it on the piano,” recalls ex-student Patrick Connolly. Once again Freddie’s compositional flare became apparent when, says Patrick, Freddie began throwing in a few adjustments of his own “He’d say, ‘But we can do this or we can do that…’ and start improvising to try and make [the song] sound better.”

Patrick also visited Freddie at home in Feltham. “He struck me as quite lonely,” he says. “But you could tell he’d come from a cultured background and was just seeking a way for himself to develop.” Unusually, on one occasion Freddie opened up about life in Zanzibar, telling Connolly he’d lived in a luxurious house with an ivory-white piano. “I think there were times when he missed the life he’d had. After the revolution, Fred said his father was under threat and was told that if he didn’t leave, the rebels would cut his head off.”
While at Isleworth Poly Freddie persuaded Connolly and another student, a trainee sculptor and guitarist named Paul Martin, to try and write songs together.

“I wasn’t very interested in pop music and I didn’t think I could sing, but the three of us would sit around the piano [at Gladstone Avenue],” says Connolly. “Fred’s enthusiasm brought us together. He’d actually encourage me: ‘Look Patrick! You’re singing, you can do it’.” Already the ringleader, Freddie would write down lyrics and song ideas on scraps of paper, instructing his mother not to throw any of them away. During their second year at the Poly, Mercury tried to audition a band of his own; his first attempt at a group since The Hectics. “I designed a poster and we sent it to all the colleges and schools in the area,” recalls Connolly, who recalls as many as 40 musicians showing up at the Poly to be auditioned by Freddie. Nothing more came of it, but “there was one amazing guitarist that Fred liked, and, of course, years later, I always wondered if it was Brian May.”

In 1966, Freddie left Isleworth with an art A-level, thanks to Patrick Connolly, who painted the figures for him in his depiction of the crucifixion. On December 10, Freddie went back to watch Cream play the college’s Christmas dance. Barely a week later, he saw Jimi Hendrix make his UK TV debut on Ready Steady Go. The power of the music and Hendrix’s flamboyant appearance and mixed-race origins had Freddie entranced. “Hendrix was living out everything I wanted to be,” he said later. Now, the boy from Zanzibar had a new obsession.

In the Summer of 1966, Freddie enrolled at Ealing art college – the recent alma mater of Pete Townshend and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s Roger Ruskin Spear – and initially signed up to study fashion design. At induction, he met the only other male among the 30-strong class of women: Mark Malden, brother of SU president Aubrey. With Mark in tow, Freddie went to see Pink Floyd, The Who, Fleetwood Mac and Elton John – then still plain Reg Dwight – at Richmond’s Crawdaddy club, funding their trips with money earned as nude models at the college’s evening art class. “They let you cover yourself with a towel until you sat down,” says Mark Malden now. “But you got paid £5. I bought my first Levis out of that – so important for one’s status at art college.” In January ‘67, the pair watched Hendrix at the Bag O’ Nails on Kingly Street, Freddie sporting an RAF greatcoat he’d bought specially for the gig. “I found Hendrix interesting,” says Mark. “But not to the extent that Fred did. He idolised the man.”

Quite how much would soon become apparent. Queen drummer Roger Taylor recounts how Freddie once told him he’d seen Hendrix “fourteen nights in a row at different pubs”. Barely a year into the fashion course, Freddie was threatened with expulsion due to his poor attendance record. “He was taking too much time off from college to go and see Hendrix,” says Mark. “But [Fred] talked his way into switching to the graphics course instead. I sometimes wonder if he did it on purpose as a way of prolonging his time at the college and deciding what he was going to do with his life.”

The graphics course had the added benefit of bringing Freddie into contact with 19-year-old Tim Staffell, who sang in a covers group called 1984, that included a guitarist named Brian May. Aubrey Malden noticed a pattern emerging: “Freddie hung around 1984, and any band we booked for the college dances.” Later, these included the newly formed Free, whose singer Paul Rodgers would later take Mercury’s place in Queen. “Free played our Rag ball at Ealing Town Hall,” says Aubrey. “After the gig, Freddie hung around, asking them questions. He desperately wanted to be involved.” When, in the spring of 1969, an unknown David Bowie breezed into the college to perform a lunchtime gig, Freddie was there, offering to carry his gear and shunting tables together to make a stage at Bowie’s request.

Freddie’s desperation to be involved in music increased when Tim Staffell and Brian May started a new group. 1984 had ended. May, who was studying physics and infra-red astronomy at London’s Imperial College, had recruited a 19-year-old Cornish drummer named Roger Taylor, then studying dentistry at Whitechapel’s London School Of Medicine. Staffell played bass and sung, while the group were completed by a keyboard player named Chris Smith, who was also studying graphics at Ealing. They called themselves Smile and made their debut at Imperial College in late 1968, supposedly supporting Pink Floyd, though Chris Smith is adamant it was The Troggs. “Freddie was there in the wings when we first played,” says Chris. “After all the gigs, he’d be like: ‘You know that bit where the drums come in? Well, why don’t we do this instead?’ Full of suggestions.”

Smith would only perform a few times with Smile, before his keyboards became surplus to requirement (“I think Smile wanted to be Cream,” he says). But Mercury’s constant flow of ideas made an impression on him. “I can remember walking down Ealing Broadway with those three [Brian, Roger and Freddie] and thinking, That’s it, the band. I said to Brian, ‘Fred is desperate to be in Smile, but Brian was like, ‘No, no, no. Tim is the lead singer. He’d never wear it’.”

May and Staffell had started writing their own songs, including a wistful, Beatles-like tune called Step On Me. “Freddie was most impressed by that,” remembers Smith. He wanted to write a song, and asked Chris to help him. “I had the keys to the college music room, and Freddie would turn up with scraps of songs that he’d written and play them on the piano.” The pair found that they could join different musical themes together by using the bridge from A Day In The Life [“Woke up/ fell outta bed…”]. “You could link any two pieces of music with that,” says Chris. But it wasn’t an easy process. “Freddie would get annoyed with himself. Some days he’d have his head in his hands, despairing, ‘Why can Tim and Brian do this, and we can’t? Why am I so crap?’” Among his lyrics was the now famous line “Mama, just killed a man…” In 1969, it was used in piece Freddie titled The Cowboy Song, but was never completed. Years later, when Chris heard Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, it forced a wry smile: “I thought, Oh Freddie’s finished the song.”

In tandem with his nascent songwriting, Freddie struck up the courage to start singing, practicing harmonies with Staffell and Smith in Ealing’s high-ceilinged graphics studio. As his confidence grew, the transformation began in earnest: ever-inspired by his hero Hendrix, the clothes became dandier, the hair longer…. One student caught a glimpse of Freddie’s passport and saw that he already had written his occupation as: musician, “because that’s what I’m going to be”.

“He started telling everyone, ‘I’m gonna be a pop star’,” recalls Aubrey Malden. When he wasn’t singing, “Freddie Baby” – as some classmates now called him – was prone to grabbing one of the studio’s yardsticks to ‘do’ his Hendrix impersonation, even ‘playing’ it left-handed. One morning, Chris Smith walked in to find Freddie sat at his desk with a glazed expression on his face: “He just looked up and said, ‘I am going go be mega! You have no idea how mega I am going to be!’ I said, ‘As mega as Hendrix?’ ‘Oh yes’. I was like, ‘Well, good luck with that one.’”

In the summer of 1969, Mercury’s creative visualisation started to pay off. Smile’s social scene centred around The Kensington Tavern on Elsham Road, W14. The pub was close to both Imperial and the Maria Assumpta Teacher Training College, where Roger Taylor and Brian May had girlfriends. Also studying there was a student from the northwest named Pat McConnell. A fan of Smile, Pat celebrated her twenty first birthday with a trip The Kensington, knowing that the band would be there. That evening, Pat brought with her a three-piece rock group from Liverpool called Ibex. Pat’s sister’s boyfriend was Ibex’s manager/roadie/driver Ken Testi, and the group were spending the college holidays in London. The entrepreneurial Testi (who would go on to become one of the founders of Liverpool’s Eric’s club) had big plans: “We thought we’d go to London and get famous.”
Ibex had formed at Wade Deacon grammar school in Widnes by bassist John ‘Tupp’ Taylor and guitarist Mike Bersin, later joined by drummer, Mick ‘Miffer’ Smith. By now, Smile had opened for Yes and Family, and had been given a one-single deal with Mercury Records. “We felt like Northern hicks compared to them,” laughs Testi.

Later, back at Pat McConnell’s flat, the guitars came out, and Smile gave an impromptu performance, with a little help from their friend. “They had a chum with them,” continues Testi. “And that was Freddie Bulsara. He knew all the words to the Smile songs and even started singing harmonies.” Like Chris Smith before him, Ken realised that “it was obvious he wanted to be in the band.” Like Smile, Ibex played heavy blues-rock, tipping a nod to the likes of Ten Years After and Cream. But they needed a singer. At some point in the coming weeks, Freddie made his move. “His opening gambit was, ‘I’m a singer but I haven’t got a band’,” remembers Ken Testi. “Looking back, it was a brilliant strategy.”

Testi had booked Ibex a lunchtime gig at Bolton’s Octagon Theatre on August 23, and another the day after at an open-air festival in the town’s Queen Park. The night before the first show, Ken drove the band and assorted girlfriends and hangers-on up to Lancashire. “Freddie had no money,” observes Mike Bersin, “so he only had one outfit: he always wore this T-shirt with a belt and trousers and before crashing out for the night, would take them off and fold them ever so neatly so they’d be perfect for the morning. At the time we thought it was a southern thing… OK, men in the north don’t do that but men in the south do.” Outside the Octagon, Ken Testi noticed that Freddie’s first move after disembarking from the van was to check the hair, check the threads…..

At The Octagon, Ibex opened with Jailhouse Rock, only for Freddie’s nerves to get the better of him. “He had his back to the audience for half of the first number,” recalls Testi. “But by the end of the first song, the shyness had gone, and he was performing well.” A day later, on the bandstand in Queen’s Park, Freddie Bulsara started becoming ‘Freddie Mercury’. “When he stepped on that stage [at Queen’s Park] he was all action,” says ‘Tupp’ Taylor. “I thought, Fuck, yes! This is what we want.” Freddie’s sessions with the yardstick at Ealing had also paid off. “I was used to playing guitar solos with my eyes shut,” adds Mike Bersin. “Now there’s a guy on his knees in front holding the mic up to me…”

Three weeks later, Ibex played the Sink Club on Liverpool’s Hardman Street. Smile, in town for a gig of their own, dropped by the Sink and jammed at the end of Ibex’s set; everyone blissfully unaware that three of the musicians on stage would go on to form one of the biggest rock groups in the world. Not that Freddie sounded like a star, just yet. An existing tape of Ibex’s set finds the singer making up for in enthusiasm what he lacks in finesse. “When I listen to that bootleg, I think, God, we were awful,” groans ‘Tupp’ Taylor, “Freddie was no Winwood, Marriott or Cocker. At the beginning, his pitching was awful.” As Roger Taylor later confessed: “I remember thinking, Good on showmanship, but not sure about the singing.”

Back in London, Smile’s entourage had taken over the ground floor of a decrepit house at 40 Ferry Road, Barnes. Their landlady lived upstairs, Ice-Cold In Alex actress Sylvia Sims next door. After spending months crashing on friends’ floors, Freddie moved in. The turntable at Ferry Road was occupied by the Mothers Of Invention’s We’re Only In It For The Money, the Island Records sampler All Join Hands and The Who’s Tommy. Having acquired an acoustic guitar, Freddie would pace the floor, annoying his stoned or sleeping friends by endlessly strumming the chords to Pinball Wizard.

On October 12, he experienced a ‘Eureka!’ moment after going to see Led Zeppelin at The Lyceum. Inspired by the band’s portentous name, Mercury came up with one of his own: Wreckage. “Fred called me and said he’d called everyone else in the band and that they were happy to change the name of the band to Wreckage,” says Mike Bersin. “I said that if everyone else was OK, then so was I… I later found out that he’d called each of us and said exactly the same thing.”

Prior to picking up the phone to anyone, Mercury had stenciled the new band name on all of their equipment. Freddie’s next call was to Aubrey Malden, who agreed to put Wreckage on in the ‘Noisy Common Room’. By then, drummer Mick ‘Miffer’ Smith had bailed out for a job as a milkman. His replacement, Richard Thompson, had previously played in Brian May’s 1984. Mercury was inching closer to the musicians he was destined to perform with.

With the start of a new college term, Mike Bersin had moved back to Liverpool to attend art school. Determined, to make Wreckage work, Freddie scavenged the money to pay for Mike’s rail fare to London and the two begun writing songs. A recording of one, Green, made at Ferry Road still exists; Freddie ad-libbing the lyrics and calling out instructions to the rest of the band. However, as Bersin admits, his musical knowledge trailed behind Mercury’s ambition. Freddie wanted key changes, “he wanted to use the black notes”. As Mike explains: “We knew where music was, Freddie knew where it was going.”

Wreckage would only last until Christmas: playing St Martin’s art school, Richmond Rugby club… and Imperial College, where Brian May recalled “Freddie being very ebullient and making a big noise. We could hardly keep up with it.” Chris Smith saw Wreckage and was taken about by Freddie’s “strutting and posing. It didn’t quite work in a pub. But ten out of ten for bravery.” In November, they played a girls’ school dance in Widnes. Mercury launched into his usual routine only for the base of his microphone stand to fall off. Undeterred, he sung the rest of the gig without it. When a sceptical Ken Testi spotted Mercury’s sawn-off stand, he was informed: “It’s my gimmick, dear. You must have a gimmick.”

But as 1969 turned into 1970, Wreckage broke up under the pressure of college and family commitments. Freddie’s stomping ground was now Kensington Market on the High Street (alluded to in a lyric to Queen’s Keep Yourself Alive – “I sold a million mirrors in a shopping alleyway”). It was a Mecca for pop stars, actors, models and wannabes; a good place to go, as Mercury put it “poncing and ultra-blagging”.

Having dropped out of Ealing before completing the final year of his graphics course, Mercury started running a second-hand clothes stall, with Roger Taylor, flogging what Ken Testi remembers as “bits of tat, the odd cricket blazer, some old lady’s cape sawn off and masquerading as a cape”. Visiting rock dignitaries, among them Bowie and Yes’ Chris Squire, would later recall Freddie, the market-stall trader and his familiar mantra: “I’m a singer but I haven’t got a band.”


Still hustling, in Spring 1970, Mercury answered a ‘Vocalist Wanted’ advert in Melody Maker. The band was called Sour Milk Sea. Freddie had one of Smile’s roadies drive him to the audition, which was being held in a church hall in Dorking, Surrey. On arrival, he stepped out of the van “dripping in velvet”, and strode into the youth club, the roadie carrying his microphone in a wooden box, behind him. Folk singer Bridget St John was among the other hopefuls, but didn’t stand a chance. Mercury was hired on the spot.
Sour Milk Sea were fresh out of public school.

Their lead guitarist Chris Chesney (second row, middle) was the son of an Oxford don, and the band (completed by bassist Paul Milne and ex-Charterhouse pupil and drummer Rob Tyrrell) were bankrolled by second guitarist Jeremy ‘Rubber’ Gallop’s father. Like Ibex, Sour Milk Sea had come out of the progressive blues boom; just like Ibex, they needed a frontman. “When Freddie fired up with us, he was fantastic,” says Chesney. “He came up straight away, jabbing the mic stand at me while I played a solo. He didn’t quite have the voice then, but he sang falsetto, and I liked that.” Once again, Freddie was cautious about giving too much away. “Our manager asked him his name when he phoned up for the audition. Freddie said, ‘Fred Bull’. He stopped himself from saying Bulsara. He was always watching himself. He never talked about his childhood and we didn’t even know he came from Zanzibar.”
Sour Milk Sea opened for Black Sabbath and played a handful of gigs in long-forgotten London clubs, but before long there was dissent within the ranks. Six years older than his teenage bandmates, Mercury started to take charge. “Freddie said, ‘I’m tossing out your lyrics and writing my own’,” says Chesney. “I didn’t care. I was seventeen, I welcomed the education. He was writing songs with wild chord changes, big harmonies. He had this showbiz angle, which was rare at the time.”

At Freddie’s behest, Chesney moved into Ferry Road, but “the others thought me and Fred were cooking up something in Barnes.” Chris points out that there was never a sexual angle to their relationship, and recalls Mercury having a girlfriend. However, Freddie was also mixing with a gay crowd, and would amuse the laddish Roger Taylor by regularly announcing “I’m off to see my bender friends!”. It was over music that Chesney and Mercury bonded: “Fred loved Led Zeppelin, but he was also very quick to spot pop music. The Jackson 5 single, I Want You Back, had just come out, and Fred was very into that. Nobody else was. I also remember him telling me that David Bowie was the perfect pop star, and he’d only had a hit with Space Oddity.”

Despite Chesney’s enthusiasm, it couldn’t last. Mercury was accused of hijacking the group, and by April, Sour Milk Sea had split. In the meantime, Smile’s deal with Mercury Records had failed to produce a hit, and the trio were still slogging around the circuit to diminishing returns. Tim Staffell’s departure seemed to spell the end. With Sour Milk Sea and Smile in freefall, the Woodstock documentary movie opened in cinemas. For Brian May it was a pivotal moment: “When I saw that film it was a shock to realise how little I related to it,” he said. May was a passionate Who and Hendrix fan, but much of Woodstock left him cold. For Brian, the days of seeing bands “getting stoned and shuffling around” were over. Whatever happened next would have to be a reaction against that.

Smile had been all about the music; style and flamboyance were not part of their remit. For more than a year, they had listened to Freddie’s suggestions about how to dress, how to look, how to move on stage… Before long, the inevitable happened. On June 27, Smile fulfilled a charity gig booking at Truro City Hall, Cornwall. Their new, temporary bassist was a friend of Taylor’s named Mike Grose; their new lead singer was a strutting, preening, “out-poncing” Fred Bulsara. They played to 200 people in the 800-capacity hall, and pocketed a measly £50. But the wheels were in motion.

“It made sense to hear that he was in a band with Roger and Brian,” says Ken Testi. “It should have been that way all along.” Ken heard the news in a call from the public phone box (“Freddie’s office”) next to the stall at Kensington Market. “He then told me the band’s name: Queen. I said, ‘You’ll never get away with that, Fred’. I was wrong.” Neither May or Taylor cared much for the name to start with, but Mercury insisted. Meanwhile, the name change from Fred Bulsara to Freddie Mercury came as another shock. Freddie took his stage name from a lyric in a new Queen song, My Fairy King (most specifically: ‘Mother mercury/Look what they’ve done to me’). But it was also his way of assuming a different skin. As Brian May pointed out later, “The young Bulsara was still there, but for the public he was going to be this .”

In August, Queen made their official debut at Imperial College. In the audience was producer and A&R rep John Anthony. He’d seen Smile several times and produced their one-off single, but this was something else altogether. “Onstage, Freddie filled the whole room. He was like Nijinksy,” he says now, evoking Vaslav Nijinsky the Russian ballet dancer. Anthony would be instrumental in signing Queen to a management and publishing deal, and would end up co-producing their debut album. “Freddie showed me copies of Queen, the fashion magazine,” he recalls. “He said, ‘This is what we’re about… But it’s not just the name… it’s the pictures, the articles, the whole thing. This is how we want our record to sound – like different topics and different photos.’ He had the whole thing mapped out in his head.”

At Ealing, John Gotting remembers Mercury’s style of illustration as being “very Queen-like, rather florid. It reminded me a little of [Victorian aesthetic illustrator] Aubrey Beardsley.” Before Queen had made a record, Mercury had employed the same ornate style to design the band’s crest and logo. Meanwhile, skills learned on the fashion course found him creating dramatic stage costumes. One Ealing student recalls swapping a handmate satin coat with Freddie for an LP: “Then the next time I saw it, he’d turned it into a top and was wearing it on stage with Queen.” Even when fronting the group in tiny village halls, military bases and provincial pubs, Mercury thought and acted like a star he believed he was. “He was like a young lamb, so enthusiastic,” said Roger Taylor. “Freddie was his own creation. He made himself.”

On October 11, 1974 his oldest friends realised just how much of a creation he was. That night, Queen performed their hit single Killer Queen on Top Of The Pops. The Hectics’ singer Bruce Murray and guitarist Derrick Branche were now living in London; neither had seen Farrokh Bulsara since India. Murray was working as a mini-cab driver and waiting for a fare, when he saw the performance on TV in the cab company’s office in Norbury, South London. Mercury had the fingernails of his left hand painted black and was wearing a huge feather blouson. “He had all this long hair now but there was something I recognised. Then I realised. I phoned Derrick and said, ‘Are you watching TV? Turn it on now. My God! That’s Freddie Bulsara!’” The transformation was complete.

Queen celebrate their 40th anniversary in 2011. In fact, they first performed as Queen in 1970, but the arrival of permanent bass guitarist John Deacon a year later is now deemed their official starting date. Then again, in Queen’s world, rules are there to be broken and history re-written. After all, their lead singer re-wrote his own history and was his own creation. Mercury, a man who never wanted to miss an opportunity, would have enjoyed seeing his legacy live on so long after his death.
Ultimately, Freddie was his own kind of rock star: as seen through the prism of his exotic upbringing and magpie-like tastes. In the 1970s he was a remote star – a heavy metal Marlene Dietrich. In the ‘80s, he’d swapped it all for a butch haircut and moustache, inspired by the look in the gay clubs he was now frequenting. Less aloof, he teased his audience with comedy insults and racy banter (“Do you like big tits and fat bottoms?”); combining consummate musicianship with the crowd-pleasing shtick of a pantomime dame.

In hindsight, Freddie Mercury was a very 21st century rock star, a man who always wanted to be famous, unconcerned with musical boundaries in a time when those things still mattered: heavy rock, light opera, gay disco, Elvis Presley, Robert Plant, Lata Mangeshkar: as Freddie might say, It’s all good, dear.

For brand guru Aubrey Malden, the Freddie Mercury he knew as a student over 40 years ago is the embodiment of good marketing. Malden advises his clients to follow Mercury’s lead: “Don’t have dreams: have visions. Get like-minded followers around your vision. Don’t follow blaze trails… Freddie drove himself, and Queen. He had one objective: to be a star.”

First published in MOJO magazine, January 2011.
Read more in Is This The Real Life: The Untold Story Of Queen.



“They both wanted to make money, and nothing binds people together closer than that.”


I recently watched the forthcoming Lambert & Stamp documentary – which is great. I interviewed Chris Stamp in 2004, when he was promoting a new Who reissue. He was quick witted, funny and outspoken. I contacted him again when I began researching my book, but, sadly, he was unwell, and died in 2012. Here’s an extract from the book Pretend You’re In A War: The Who & The Sixties, all about the early life and times of Chris…

Christopher Thomas Stamp and his five siblings were the children of merchant seamen Tom Stamp and his wife Ethel Perrott. Their oldest son, Terence, would go on to become a film actor and writer. Their second son, Chris (photo below with Terence), was born in Plaistow, East London, on 7 July 1942. Tom spent the war years as a stoker in the merchant navy. It was a harrowing experience that Chris would refer to in interviews many years later, and which helped him identify with Pete Townshend’s notion of a generation damaged by war.

On several occasions, Tom Stamp’s merchant vessel was caught up in a skirmish and its crew forced to abandon ship. More than once, Ethel went to the shipping company’s office to collect her husband’s wages, only to be told there wasn’t any as Tom’s ship had gone down. During the Blitz, his crew received a wire informing them that London was under attack. When Tom received a second wire, he was so sure it would tell him that his wife and son had been killed in an air raid, that without opening the telegram, he tried to throw himself overboard. His shipmates restrained him while one of them read the message, telling Tom that Ethel and Terence were safe and had been evacuated to Yorkshire.

On a voyage from Ireland to Iceland, Stamp’s father’s vessel sailed into a Force 10 gale. Tom and his fellow stoker spent twelve hours shovelling coal into the ship’s boiler, while up to their waists in freezing water. The Iceland voyage would be the tipping point. By the end of the trip, Tom Stamp’s jet-black hair had apparently turned white. He was psychologically scarred, and, for a time, struggled to settle down to life in peacetime before taking a job as a tugboat man on the River Thames.

Ethel Stamp had raised Terence while his father was away at sea, and Tom focussed much of his attention on his second son, Chris. “Dad decided to bring Chris up himself, or at least to influence him as much as he could,” wrote Terence in Stamp Album, the first volume of his autobiography. Tom soon taught Chris how to fight, and, as a teenager, encouraged him to enter a school boxing championship. He made it through to the quarterfinals before being beaten. After the bout at Plaistow Town Hall, Stamp waited outside for his opponent and promptly knocked him unconscious. “Chris was a natural fighter,” wrote his brother, “but a street fighter.”

Chris Stamp left Plaistow Grammar School in 1958. Together with a group of friends, he bought a Daimler Hearse in which they rode around East End dancehalls offering to quell any trouble in exchange for free entry. One of the gang was fellow ex-Plaistow Grammar schoolboy Bill Curbishley (who would, much late, succeed Stamp and Lambert as the Who’s manager.) According to Terence Stamp, the gang’s activities eventually attracted the attention of East London’s notorious criminal twins, Ronnie and Reggie Kray “who were always on the lookout for likely young lads.”

In 1960, Ethel Stamp told Terence she was worried about Chris’ involvement with the gang and urged him to intervene. Terence had moved out of the East End to a flat in Harley Street and was trying to break into acting. He summoned his brother to the flat where Chris begrudgingly told him that the only thing he was interested in was girls. Terence loaned Chris his theatre employee’s union card enabling his brother to get a backstage job at Sadler’s Wells Theatre: “Two months later he rings up from Glasgow, and says, ‘I’ve just shagged all of the corps de ballet. The last one’s here – she wants to say hello’.” Despite the perks of the Sadler’s Wells job, it was only when Chris was hired as a prop man on the West End production of Leonard Bernstein’s musical West Side Story that he realised he’d found his ideal career. “It changed his life,” said Terence. “From that moment on he knew he wanted to be in showbusiness.”

Like Kit Lambert, Stamp had a steely charm and fearlessness that enabled him to talk his way into jobs without having the necessary experience. A year later, Lionel Bart, the songwriter behind the West End hits Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be (1960) and Oliver! (1960), met Chris backstage and was instantly besotted. Terence assured Bart that his brother was heterosexual, but agreed to arrange a meeting. Chris met with the songwriter who promptly hired him to run his publishing company.

Stamp had gained another foothold in showbusiness, but the hand-to-mouth nature of the industry was evident in his living conditions. The writer Christine Day (née Bowler) met Chris in 1962 when he shared a flat with her brother, Clive Colin Bowler, an actor who’d appeared with Terence Stamp in the TV drama Term Of Trial (photo below). Stamp, with his jeans, leather jacket and gruff East End accent made quite an impression at the Bowler family home in Wembley.


“Chris and my brother’s fortunes seemed to fluctuate,” says Christine now. “For a time they rented a room in Ladbroke Grove, when Ladbroke Grove was an absolute no-go area. My mother sent me down there with a bag of groceries because they had no money at all. I think there was this thing in the sixties of wanting to dabble in an authentic lifestyle rather than thinking you were actually down and out.”

Not that this penury impacted on their social life. One evening, Christine, joined the pair on a trip to gatecrash a party in West London. The partygoers set off in Clive’s newly acquired second-hand Jaguar, the bonnet of which was secured with a length of rope but floated off as they crossed Hammersmith Bridge. Once at the party, Stamp emptied the contents of the host’s well-stocked fridge into the boot of the car.

Nevertheless, their fortunes changed soon enough, when the pair moved into a chic penthouse flat at 23 Cadogan Gardens, near Sloane Square. This new residence soon became a magnet for Chelsea’s beautiful people, with models, actors, photographers, gamblers and debutantes regularly passing through. Mim Scala, a young film agent, shared the flat with Stamp and Bowler, and wrote about it in his 2012 memoir, Diary Of A Teddy Boy: “The most desirable girls in the world traipsed through these portals on a daily basis.”

Mim Scala, whose parents ran an ice cream parlour in Fulham, also observed a crumbling of social barriers: “For the first time since the days of the Regency Bucks the riff-raff and the aristocracy mingled freely. Etonians acquired strange cockney accents, and cockneys started speaking posh. It had become completely credible for well-bred young girls to have naughty King’s Road boyfriends.” Among the regular visitors to Cadogan Gardens was John Fenton, who would go on to work with Lambert and Stamp, and would soon become involved in a lucrative deal to sell Beatles merchandise. “We were hanging around the Kings Road Chelsea set, doing three or four parties a night,” says Fenton now. “Forget La Dolce Vita. Our lifestyle was twenty-four-seven. I liked Chris Stamp because, like me, he came from a serious working-class background.”

At Cadogan Gardens, Christine Day witnessed her brother and Stamp’s mod-like attention to detail, when Clive came padding down the stairs in wet jeans he’d been shrinking to fit in the bath: “They were both absolutely obsessed with getting the perfect shape on their jeans.” This obsession led to Terence Stamp, now a star after his lead role in the naval drama Billy Budd (1962), treating his brother and Clive to a stay at Hampshire’s Forest Mere Health Farm: “Terry paid for it, so that the pair of them could eat fruit and get really fit and healthy, and look great in their clothes.”

According to his older brother, by the time Chris Stamp worked on The L-Shaped Room, he was subsisting on a diet of apples in an attempt to shift some extra weight and impress Leslie Caron. In the end, though, it was Kit Lambert’s eye that he caught. “It never surprised me that those two got together,” says Lambert’s friend, Robert Fearnley-Whittingstall. “It may have seemed like an implausible partnership, but only superficially. It was a meeting of minds. They both wanted to make money, and nothing binds people together closer than that.”

Read more in: Pretend You’re In A War: The Who & The Sixties.


“Keith wasn’t very good.”

The Who’s ‘lost’ drummer Dave Golding remembers Keith Moon’s audition, April 1964.

When you write a book about events that happened more than fifty years ago, you quickly discover that memories fade and no two people will ever agree on anything. It’s commonly believed that Keith Moon auditioned for The Who during one of the band’s gigs at The Oldfield pub in Greenford, West London in spring 1964. That’s the way Moon told it, and the way the band still tell it. However, in Tony Fletcher’s Keith Moon biography, Dear Boy, the pub’s former doorman was adamant that the public audition never happened.
What’s never been in dispute is that prior to Moon joining The Who, the band were playing gigs with temporary session musician Dave Golding (sometimes referred to in books as ‘Dave Gold’). The only thing to do, then, was to track down Dave Golding, and ask him. Here’s my interview with Dave, from September 2013, some of which was used in Pretend You’re In A War: The Who And The Sixties.

Let’s recap then: you played drums with The Who for a few weeks around spring 1964. You took over from Doug Sandom, but it was only ever a temporary post.

Yes. Somebody wrote that big thick book about Keith Moon [Dear Boy] and the guy reckoned [the audition at The Oldfield] never happened. I keep meaning to get in touch with him and tell him it did. I am still playing and rehearsing. I’m 76 now, and in a band with older guys who are younger than me [laughing], and some of them have mentioned that book to me. So it would be good to put the record straight. The Keith Moon thing happened. I can remember the night.

Firstly, what was your musical background before sitting in with The Who.

I’d done sessions for [producer] Joe Meek in a group called The Blue Men [in the late 50s]. By 1963 I had my own band The Flintstones, a seven-piece band that Jim Marshall’s son, Terry, played in, and we went to Germany, like The Beatles and Gerry And The Pacemakers. We were not in the Star Club but around the corner, sharing a bill with The Barron Knights [laughing] We did a month and it all went very successful. We were working musicians, we weren’t looking to be pop stars. It was another attitude then. There was a lot of music around, nobody was looking for fame and fortune, or as far as I know they weren’t.

Had you seen The Detours/The Who around at much at the time?

We all knew each other. We were all running around town, all working, all the time, playing the ballrooms, the Mecca, the Top Rank – all the pubs had bands in. At the time I was playing all sorts of music. I’d played with Pete Townshend’s dad Cliff’s big band [The Squadronaires]. I depped when Cliff’s drummer wasn’t able to play. All the groups used to meet at The Wimpy Bar in west Ealing any time after 10:30 at night – all musicians, Cliff Bennett And The Rabble Rousers, The Who, everyone. It was all musicians’ chat – who’s playing where, who’s left which band, that’s how it developed.

How did you end up playing in The Who?

I got married in ‘63 and went away to Hamburg and my new wife was not too happy. So when I came back from Germany I was going to pack it all in. I piled my drum kit into Jim Marshall’s shop [in Ealing] so he could sell it for me. The thing is Jim was not keen on me packing up. I had had drum lessons from Jim in the past. He wanted me to keep playing.

So was it Jim Marshall that put your name forward for The Who?

Yes. Because out of the blue I got a phone call from Jim saying ‘I can’t stand this drum kit being in my shop, take it out, you got a gig with Cliff’s boy, Pete’s group.’ It was in Brighton at the Aquarium [The Scene club, 18 April 1964, flyer below].


I said, ‘Yeah, OK’. So I took my then wife out for a day in Brighton and then played the gig in the evening. That was the first one, as far as I can remember. But out of that gig came several more. We did The Goldhawk, but there was another club in Shepherd’s Bush we played as well. Once I started playing with The Who, my wife knitted me this big, loose jumper. It was sort of beatnik-y and loose, like something a beatnik would wear. I called it my ‘R&B jumper’ (Laughing).

What were The Who like at the time?

They were still a covers band. We did Shadows numbers and whatever the pop hits were of the day. Entwistle still used to take this French horn with him to the gigs, so sometimes they’d even do a few numbers that used brass. Pete was doing that windmill thing with his arm. I remember he was already doing that (laughing). But I was always aware I was a dep. There was no talk even from my point of view of joining the band.

What do you remember about the night of Moon’s audition (believed to be on 30 April 1964)?

I turned up at the Oldfield (see below) and couldn’t believe what I saw on stage. Pete Townshend had these new Marshall cabs stacked up on stage as far as the ceiling. It was as loud as you could possibly get. But he hadn’t told me about this. So that night, I turned up at for gig, and it was as if the whole idea of what The Who was about had changed. Whether Keith Moon had timed it to turn up that night, I don’t know. Anyway, I’m playing away but it was so bloody loud… I liked playing with them, but I thought it was too loud, and all I wanted to do was get off and go round the long bar at the back of the pub and have a drink. Which is what I did as soon as we took an interval.
In the meantime a guy had come up to Pete and asked if Keith Moon could play. I wasn’t aware of what going on, and I didn’t mind, I just had the feeling someone was asking on Moonie’s behalf. So in the interval I went to the bar to get away from it all.


The story goes that Moon played Bo Diddley’s Road Runner and was so ferocious he broke your drum kit. What do you remember?

I was having a drink, Moonie was playing. Then suddenly I hear over the Tannoy ‘Is Dave Golding around, can he come up to the ballroom please?’ I went round the corner and Moonie was still playing away but he’d broken the bass pedal. Could have happened to anybody. I clambered underneath and fixed it. That was all that happened. I didn’t mind him playing at all.

What did you think of his playing?

It was erratic and mad. I thought Bloody hell, what this? Enthusiastic, certainly. He did a couple of numbers. I watched, but thought it was all very new, but it wasn’t good. I’ve got to say. It was very erratic.
At the end of the night we were packing up, and Pete Townshend said, ‘We’ve got a chance of a recording thing?” [widely believed to be a demo session for Fontana] Could I do the recording? I said, ‘If you’re looking for someone, what’s wrong with the guy you’ve just got?’ He said, ‘Ohhh. He’s a bit this… a bit that.’ I said I am not keen on joining the band if this is the band you’re going to be. Let him do it.’ He said, ‘OK we’ll try it.’ I was older anyway.

What happened next?

I left them to it and an opportunity came up for a job as manager at Drum City [a music shop in London, in which, coincidentally Keith Moon had met the drummer he replaced in his very first group The Escorts] for seven years. I carried on playing drums. I’d played with orchestras and I could read [music], so I started to do a lot of sessions. I was working and doing all sorts of things – all the American musicians were coming in to the shop.

Any regrets?

No. I was only ever a dep. I and others like [world-famous session drummer] Clem Cattini were just guys in and around the London music scene. But we were all just working musicians. Out of nothing legends have been built.

Dave Golding is interviewed in the forthcoming Joe Meek documentary, ‘A Life In The Death Of Joe Meek




Nico’s Private Parts And Other Stories

Late last year, fellow rock author Mick Wall and I decided to review each other's new books on our respective blogs. Here are some words about his: Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre: A Biography Of The Doors.

51VSls21Z-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One of the first music books I ever read as a teenager was the Jim Morrison biography, No One Here Gets Out Alive. Even in 1982, more than a decade after his death, that cover photo of a bare-chested Jim seemed to be everywhere. A friend had a poster of it on her wall and she lent me the book. It was a good read, but left you with the impression that Morrison was, to put it bluntly, a bit of a prick.

Reading Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre is illuminating because a) I haven’t overdosed on the Doors’ story or music, and b) author Mick Wall pulls few punches when laying into the myth of Morrison and the 1960s. As Mick points out, part of keeping the Morrison/Doors brand alive has involved his former bandmatesJohn Densmore, Robbie Krieger and the now late Ray Manzarek shaping the ‘truth’ about their dead singer to fit their current partyline. This kind of revisionism isn’t just confined to The Doors; any group dragging the legacy of a dead band member around will do the same. It’s just what they do.

That Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre begins with Jim Morrison zonked out on the lavatory in a Paris nightclub is a fair indication of what follows. But it’s not all sex, drugs and bog deaths. Wall makes a strong case for The Doors’ music and Love Becomes… is great at detailing how they made that music with input from interviewees such as producer Bruce Botnik and Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman. Be warned, though: after reading about the making of the Strange Days or Waiting For The Sun albums, you’ll lose an hour or two digging out the music or scouring You Tube for clips such as this.

So, yes, the music gets a good look in, but Wall also recounts in sometimes hilarious eye-popping detail how Jim Morrison morphed from a shy, chubby army brat into a drug-guzzling, priapic rock monster. After a few chapters, you almost can feel your own heart valves protesting as gentleman Jim shoves another line up his nose or necks another handful of pills.

Mick works hard to explain that what made Morrison such a mercurial and charismatic star probably made him a bit of a prick the rest of the time. He salutes Morrison’s talent but also bemoans the fact that he pissed and snorted it away. There’s sex too, and lots if it (Jim’s ex-wife Patricia Kennealy and former lover ‘Miss Pamela’ are among the interviewees). In fact, this will be the only music biography you’ll read this year – or any other – to mention Velvet Underground singer Nico’s, er, “livery, sweet labia”.

Ultimately, this is a fast, frantic, sad, funny, riotous, very grown-up re-telling of The Doors’ story. Those who prefer to ignore the seamier aspects of the 1960s or their favourite bands, and don’t want to believe that their idols have feet of clay will struggle with aspects of it. Everyone else should dive in and get drunk/stoned on the experience. Just don’t end up dead on the lavatory.

Love Becomes A Funeral Pyre: A Biography Of The Doors by Mick Wall, published by Orion, is out now.

Pete Townshend Won’t Shut Up

In September 2012, Pete Townshend talked to me about his post-war childhood, Shepherd’s Bush villains, punching his ex-manager, how The Who helped invent the Sex Pistols, gay British Rail guards, Mick Jagger’s penis… and much more.

UnknownThis is a much longer version of an interview that ran in Mojo magazine in December 2012. It took place at Pete Townshend’s offices in Richmond, Southwest London, just before publication of his autobiography, Who I Am. There’s a lot here about Townshend’s arrest, his book and the Who’s plans to tour Quadrophenia, which happened the following year. But there’s also a lot about the Who’s early years that I used in my book, Pretend You’re In A War: The Who And The Sixties.

Pete was on good form. He talked and talked and talked… Even when I hit the ‘pause’ button and we had a quick tea break, he carried on talking (about Phil Collins, freemasonry and the police force, if I recall). In fact, Townshend was still talking when his PR started waving his hands and telling us the writer from The Guardian was due in ten minutes and it was time to finish. It’s always good when you can’t get an interviewee to shut up…

Is it true you first wanted to write an autobiography when you were twenty?

Yes. But the book I talk about wanting to write when I was twenty would have been a very different book to this one. I wanted to write about what was happening to when The Who were very young. What happened when The Who first started and around the time of [first single] I Can’t Explain was that I realised the need to talk about the function of the song and pop music. Pop hadn’t become rock yet – it was still fairly simple stuff. But I knew because of my background with my dad who was in a dance band [The Squadronaires] that something had changed in quite a dramatic way. What was interesting to me was to look back and imagine what that book would have been about. Because a lot of it was going to be about The Who’s fans, the way they perceived us. I also wanted to write about the readers of [defunct music mag] Disc & Music Echo fans, and the journalist Penny Valentine.

Penny Valentine was a big advocate of The Who’s music in the early days.

Yes, a word about Penny – she started off writing in that fan way but then became an incredibly serious music journalist, and became the first person to write a confessional about suffering from depression. In that, she talked about a night getting drunk in my flat in Wardour Street, not with me but with her then boyfriend Ray Tolliday who shared a flat with me. So I wanted to write about Penny and fans, particularly female fans and how they would get so upset if they found out you had a girlfriend.

But you didn’t revisit the book idea again until the mid-‘90s?

The Who finished – in my eyes, at least – in 1982 when I left. We didn’t tour for a time. But then I started to think about my solo career, which didn’t so much run out of steam as disperse. I got into a thing – which I have seen happen with very few other artists, perhaps Brian Eno – of my solo career dispersing into loads and loads of other projects. So my energies were dispersed.

So I thought the thing to do was to write a book about art, music, and the post-war scene – almost a sociological thing. So I started in earnest in 1993, and about a third of what’s in the book now came from that. Not much survived, and when I came back it again, it was in 2005, and I did a whole batch of writing, and then I put it down again, and then this time I decided I just had to do it.

And then you started for the final time…

Yes. This time I decided I just had to do it. It was nothing to do with my arrest. Because I could have just done a piece about that with a newspaper and controlled the facts, but the thing about the arrest was that was what made me want to draw my story right up to the present day – which meant there was a bit of groundhog day going on. I’m like a cracked vinyl record – post-war post-war post-war. Younger people must wonder what the fuck I’m talking about [laughing].

I’ve heard that the book was originally much bigger than the published version. How much was lost?

The book was brutally edited. Oh, it was bigger. It’s big now, almost too big. The last editing job we did we cut a thousand pages to five hundred, and you can see that because there are these strange conjunctures. Before I wrote it like a story, a narrative, no jumps. It just flowed. But what happened was my editors, particularly at my American publishers, kept saying to me, “This is not fiction. People are not sitting back reading a book. They want to be carried through. You need to pick up the pace.” I think the book is better for it. But there is quite a lot missing.

How did Roger Daltrey and your ex-wife, Karen [Astley] feel about the book?

Both those two people you have mentioned didn’t want me to write the book. I think they had copies before it was published. But neither of them had read it, I don’t think. It might be they came out of it well simply because they are still alive, and what I don’t want to do is cause them pain. But I also think that I am honest about them.

There might have been a few things I could have said about my ex wife and about Roger that would have made things a lot worse [laughing]. But that’s not the purpose of it. It was handy that a few people like Kit Lambert and Keith Moon and John Entwistle are dead because I just felt I could write freely.

How do you think Kit, Keith and John come across?

I think what happens with Keith is you get a good sense that he drove me barmy, but that I loved him to bits at the same time. And the same with Kit Lambert. He drove me to distraction but even as I am punching him in the face during the making of Quadrophenia, I loved him. Of course John was much easier to love, as he was no trouble. In a sense, being able to write about people honestly, does lead you to getting a better fix on them.

How about your relationship with Roger?

With Roger what I have been trying to deal with is that our relationship has been mythologised a bit. There is only thing that has been wrong with my relationship with Roger Daltrey, and that is that I’m not very good at co-writing with anyone and Roger is not very good at writing songs period. But that’s not to say that he doesn’t have tremendously good ideas. So for years and years he’s been carrying all these ideas and doesn’t have anywhere to put them, but instead he’s always having to deliver my sometimes quite tricky, audacious and sometimes very pretentious and silly ideas. And it has created tension.

Has the relationship between the two of you been portrayed as more violent than it was?

Yes. The only time it came to a physical head was around the time of Quadrophenia. Which for both of us was a triumph. The time when he knocked me out was while we were rehearsing for Quadrophenia. It was my fault, not his. But it came from exhaustion not from anger.

When you’re writing about your childhood, it seems that you were a little kid sometimes adrift in a very adult environment.

Yes, one of the thing’s that affected me about being on my dad’s band bus at that young age was the celebration of alcohol. There were also a couple of guys on the bus in latter years and you would smell the funny Jamaican weed coming down the bus.

It does seem like a glamorous world, though: travelling with your dad’s band and watching them play?

Yes, and the other thing that suggests glamour is that there were Americans everywhere. It’s not that we’ve forgotten that but we have mythologised that. There was this scenario where my mum and dad would take me round to see one of their fabulous American officer mates and we would sit in their fabulous house with their fabulous car outside, and there would loads of money and food about, and they’d have food we didn’t have – like sugar.

There’s violence as well, though.

As I got a bit older, eight, nine, ten and eleven I had this sense of being in these romantic ballrooms where beautiful young women were dancing. But where men who would be, like “Can I have the pleasure of this dance?” one minute and then the next pulling out this blade and trying to hack someone to death. When I got a bit older, nine or ten at the Palace Ballroom in the Isle Of Man, a policeman was murdered in front of me. He was a motorcycle rider and a fight had broken out. He didn’t die on the spot. He died subsequently after being kicked to death. This was in 1950-something.

There would be Scottish week, Northern Irish week, Liverpool week and Welsh week at the Palace Ballroom and it was when they intercepted that the trouble would start: “We’re talking over now Jimmy!” – and it would kick off. The girls would run away screaming, and the Palace Ballroom was massive with a bouncing floor, which would bounce as the fighting started, but the band wouldn’t stop. They kept playing. And later The Who wouldn’t stop either when it kicked off. Roger would jump in to the crowd, kick off, and then get back on the stage and finish the song.

The book also addresses the possibly sexual abuse you experienced as a child. How difficult was it to write about that?

I think for one of the things that has been so strange is to have such extraordinarily vivid early memories of my childhood which stop within a few weeks of being sent to stay with my [maternal] grandmother Denny [Emma Dennis]. When I first went to stay with her I was about four and a half, and I quite enjoyed it, which is why I thought my mother [Betty] thought it would be OK to send me to live with her later when she was going nuts. It does seem extraordinary.

The thing was I was still very young. Between five-and-a-half and a month I turned seven [May 1952] because in June I was back in school in Acton, I completely blacked out. But I know a lot of what went on. What happened in the 80s was I went into therapy for no other reason that I had stopped drinking and using drugs, and I just wanted to stay on my own case. I didn’t want to hang out in groups with people telling me how wonderful I was for staying sober, but I thought it would be good for me as an artist. And I did it for three years, and at the end I sat down and wrote. I remembered a lot but I couldn’t put the bits together. But then I went and worked in groups [for survivors of childhood abuse] and sometimes guys in the groups would take me aside and say, “I was abused. I am older than you. But I was shipped out in the middle of the war to Wales and the guy that ran the farm was a Nazi, who believed the Germans were going to take over and he just had his way with all of us – boys and girls. And after the war we were shipped home and I said, ‘Dad, Dad, that farmer…’ And he said, ‘Shut it! He saved your fucking life! That’s what he did – so shut it! You didn’t hear it. You didn’t see it.” So that’s where the words ‘See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me’ [on The Who’s Tommy] come from. Listen, I’m not trying to ring a tear out of people’s hearts, but that’s where the writing came from.

There’s also the fact that a woman was involved in this abuse, which will surprise people.

The abuse I suffered from my grandmother that I do remember was the physical brutality. The punishments, being shut away in the metaphorical cupboard under the stairs – that kind of thing. But also the lascivious underlying sense of bizarre smutty eroticism there was around her life. The fact that she would pursue handsome US serviceman trying to get something from them. I could never work out what we got.

She was horrible to me, she would punish me by not giving me food, she tried to drown me in the bath, she had these weird blokes to stay who would bounce me on their fucking knee. Let’s get this in perspective. I am not that much of a little boy. I am six years old. You don’t bounce a six-year-old on your knee if you are a ‘distant uncle’ – in inverted commas. The whole thing was so strange. I was terrified. I lived in constant fear. She did this other thing of these unbelievable forced marches. She would wake up at four o’clock in the morning and then get me up and at five we would start to walk all the way from Westgate to Manston Airport just to meet some fucking US officer.

Can you tell us more about how you came to remember some of this abuse?

When I finally did the thing of trying to regress myself, the body chemistry gave it away, because I just started shaking. That’s the indicator. You start to realise that your head can say one thing, your heart can tell you another, but when you start to shake it’s a clear sign of anxiety that something happened.

That’s when people you’d experienced abuse, took me aside and said, “Pete, I think, it’s clear that you’re one of us.”| And the term used for survivors of childhood sexual abuse is we call ourselves brothers and sisters. So that if I ever meet that guy, It’s “Hey, brother.” So you know. But we don’t have to talk about the details [of the abuse]. I don’t remember, but if I did I might pretend not to remember. I am not trying to do a double bluff here. I promise. But I don’t want to excite other people – I don’t want to create fires I couldn’t put out.

What does it matter in a sense? The detail. Esther Rantzen has recently published a book for Childline with adults talking about the abuse they suffered as kids. But I just think, Fuck. Why do that? I think she’s got a good heart, and OK it is done now. But I don’t know that I want to know the details. I feel like I’m lucky that I don’t remember, because it has allowed me to approach this issue, though not consciously, but through my work, but to be able to own it.

Listen, this is not a good thing that happened to me but it was relatively brief, it didn’t last my whole life. But it has perfumed by work and allowed me to express something in my work that has resonated with Who fans, and continues to resonate. I went away and wrote a song called I’m A Boy, where I am a boy who is surrounded by girls and my mum dressed me up as a girl. A couple of blokes have come up and said, “That song saved my life.” They’re not saying, “Oh you used to dress up as a girl, didn’t you?” Because I didn’t. But that song came from somewhere in me that had an empathy with that viewpoint.

A Quick One While He’s Away [on The Who’s second album, A Quick One] actually touches on the subject of abuse. Was that really subconscious?

I was completely unaware of it at the time. My friend, Barney [Richard Barnes, Who biographer] would say A Quick One… was “the first mini opera and a silly story.” It is a load of rubbish and a silly story. But when I looked at it again it is a story that many of us post-war kids share of being sent away, of losing a precious loved one and being greatly changed when they returned.

A Quick One While He’s Away features a predatory train driver. In a BBC interview in 2011, you talked about kicking a train driver in the balls after he tried to abuse you on the train to Westgate?

[Laughing] Yes, I was put in the care of the guard. There was this tradition that a lot of the guys that worked for British Rail at this time were gay. It was a safe place to talk about being gay and you got to wear a uniform.

Going back to your mother’s response to what happened to you as a child, you said that her explanation for sending you away was “satisfactory”. Can you explain more?

I interviewed my mother about this for three days running, and she wouldn’t talk. And then she started to talk, but only about herself. And she talked about her mother leaving her father [for another man] and how she was left to look after her little brother, and how angry she was with her. What happened after a while was I said, “Your mother left you and then you sent me to live with her?” But then she would go to another place, “Oh yes, yes, yes, but your father was letting me down. He was away on the road so much…”

She didn’t go as far as to say, he was off shagging chorus girls but that could have been happening. I don’t get the sense that my dad would have done that. I did know that he had a girlfriend when my parents had split up for a bit. But prior to that I think my mother was screwed up. She found this man who was very rich. I think he was the head of the oil division in Aden, which would have been BP. He had shares in BP. Had a car, bizarrely a VW Beetle. I was about five or six at the time and he said to my mother, “I want you to divorce Cliff and I want you and Pete to come and join me in Aden.” But in the end she decided not to do that, she and my father got back together. But for a long time, all this stuff was going on which is how she justified me going to live with her mother.

You’ve talked about wanting to write a book about The Who’s fans as far back as the early 60s; you’ve talked about having a certain empathy with The Who’s fans. Do you think Who fans are different from other band’s fans?

There’s no point pretending that any of us are perfect. We all have a little bit that is vulnerable, a little bit that is shy, a little bit that is arrogant, a little bit that is a complete arsehole, and the rest that is just what we call human. We all have chunks of that stuff in different degrees. Some of us have one percent that is vulnerable; with some it’s twenty per cent. What has become clear to me is that The Who’s audience, the people that are really serious Who fans have a big chunk of a fucked-up personality – equal to my own.

Their response to things might not to be the same as mine. But what they like about us is that there’s wimpy little Townshend writing these vulnerable songs, but the guy who sings them, if you argue with him he’ll beat your brains out.

Is this something you learned from doing the book?

It made me think about our strange chemistry. In the early days of The Who, there’s the sense that we were also a gang, and we were cool. John had this profound stoicism and musicianship; Moon was a clown but very sought after by girls; Roger was very powerful, and I wrote the songs. I wouldn’t say they were songs from the heart but they were songs from the psyche. That’s the thing about doing this book; I’m kinda on my own. I am on my own with it. It feels weird not to have Roger there going [growling] “Don’t ask him a question about that.” That’s the thing, we do agree more then we ever did. With the other two guys not being there anymore, we now find the dynamic of the two of us easier to manage.

Let’s go back to the whole post-war thing in the book. There’s a lot here about what it was like being at school just after the war, and how that influenced your writing.

It wasn’t just a theme for me. Other people over the years would come up to me and go, “Ah, yes, you’re talking about what happened to us.” Humiliation was a part of the education system when I was growing up. There’s the guy writing on the blackboard and he’s got a blackboard rubber – which is a lump of wood – and a boy’s messing around and he shouts, “Wilson! Quiet!” Bang – the lump of wood hits the boy on the head and knocks him out – and the boy is carried out of the classroom. That happened!

And a boy is running in the corridor and is stopped and caned on the spot. It wasn’t so bad until the second year when they brought in girls [Townshend’s school Acton County Grammar, had previously been an all-boys school]. So the old guard were still doing all that stuff – and giving you a thick ear that made you cry out of shock, with tears all over your face. But now there was a group of girls looking at you while it happened.

Then again, I can remember Roger swanning back into my school, the one he’d been expelled from a year before, quite capable of beating to death any teacher that hit him with a blackboard rubber.

The abolition of National Service in the late ‘50s changed everything for your generation, though, didn’t it?

Yes, those of us born after the war was over, were never called up or asked to go and kill Germans or Vietnamese or go and kill anybody. But I remember at the time, this attitude from parents or grandparents – We were the ones who were told, ‘You are no use to this country or to anyone, just go out and enjoy the sugar, you’re lucky to have it.’

There’s an element to your story of wanting to be a part of the gang, whether that was at school, at art college or even in The Who.

I needed that. Was I looking for an older brother?….. Both my younger brothers [Simon and Paul] who were separated from me in age by some distance would say that I was a good older brother. Because I learned from that. I think it might not be so necessary now with the middle classes. But I think that if you come from the Whitton Estate it’s good to have someone on your side who is big and strong and has some influence. And that’s what we had. And that’s what I wanted to be. My neighbourhood, Acton, was not a terrifying neighbourhood, but we were close to places like Shepherd’s Bush and the White City estate which was murderous. There was a gypsy encampment under where The Westway is now. Reason it’s under there is because they wouldn’t fucking move when they built The Westway on top of them over their fucking heads – proper Romany guys.

I knew that what I wanted to do [in The Who] I couldn’t do unless I had a gang. Because I was a little Hitler, wasn’t I? So I needed my army. Because I wanted to go out there and say, ‘They’re all cunts! Hey, Winston Churchill is a bastard!’

So what you have got to do is find is a good bloke. A strong bloke. And if you can find the top man and become his lieutenant… It worked for me tremendously well as a young kid. In negotiation with boys in the gang, humiliation was a very important part of that too. It was the way gang leaders ran the gang. What they would do is to subjugate junior members of the gang is beat them up in full view of everyone else and then might take you aside after and say, “Nuffin’ personal”. This might all sound a bit Reggie Kray but it was happening on the Crane River estate. When I write about my childhood it is not to get a tear but to explain the context. And where it ended up was being told that the world was gonna end, a nuclear bomb would drop on us – not might – but would, so that sense of disenfranchisement was absolute.

The book addresses the impact of the atomic bomb on your life in the ‘50s and 60s. It’s easy to forget how permanent that threat was, even into the 1970s.

Yes. I was really angry from the age of eleven or twelve, growing up, because I had been told by really smart intelligent men that I became very friendly with later, like Michael Foot that the bomb was going to kill us. Years later, I said to him, ‘Michael, I remember you telling us in Trafalgar Square that we weren’t gonna survive, and here we are now. You’re eighty-five, I’m nearly fifty – where was the bomb that you promised me?’ He used to say, ‘Maybe because we threatened it, it didn’t happen.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, but you blighted my teenage years.’

This is what my new piece, Floss, is about. I don’t like the fact that the middle classes today are so doom-struck that they can accept that the Olympics was a wonderful, poetic event. And I’m not taking the piss, but it was. We all thought it was going to be a disaster. But everyone is now, like, Right, let’s just concentrate on the Islamic man that is going to blow us up, or the fact that we’re going to be poisoned or someone is going to steal all out money.’ There is this misery that we have created. There is no vision, no hope, no optimism. And I understand that people are having a hard time and I’m not financially speaking… But I was angry with those men, Michael Foot, Bertrand Russell and Victor Gollancz. He spelled it out, as I said in the book, “You will walk into the sea with pus running from your eyes” – I was twelve when I heard that!

Going back to your original idea for a book about the changing function of pop music – you were well placed to observe that change up close.

Yes, because I was in this world where as a child I was on the bus with my dad and his dance band. But when I was twelve or thirteen, suddenly there was skiffle, Elvis and Bill Haley. The first guitar I ever played was the one my mate Jimpy – Graham Beard’s – dad had made for him just so he could pose in front of the mirror. It was barely functional, but I got a tune out of it. This was 1955, 1956. Suddenly I’ve got this mankey homemade guitar. My dad is handsome, well-dressed and he wakes up in the morning and plays Prokofiev, he’s sophisticated, he drinks and all the women love him but I’ve got my guitar and I know I can point it at him and go, “Bang! You’re dead!” And I couldn’t even play it at that point.

Let’s talk about the part in Who I Am where you talk about “hearing angels” as a child: “Violins, cellos, horns, harps and voices… countless threads of an angelic choir.”

It might be an admission of some kind of aspect of bipolar. But I am able to go to a place where I can hear sound – not music and I don’t hear voices – but just sound.

Does it still happen?

Not as much, and I miss it. It subsided with age. I am certainly happier in my skin than when I was younger. When I was working on Baba O Riley I found this old organ and tried to make the same sound. I just about approached it. But it was nothing like as beautiful. I have never heard a piece of orchestral music that comes close.

When I worked on Iron Man later [in 1989] with Ted Hughes – he was the Poet Laureate at the time – I told him about it, and he called it ‘celestial music’. He told me, “Yes, it exists, it’s the music of the spheres.” And I said, “Well, I don’t want to call it that.”

You also mentioned trying to hear the same sound when you were singing in the church choir.

Yes, I became a bit religious, but my parents weren’t. I don’t know how that happened. They sent me to Sunday school probably so they could go to the pub or have sex. Then I graduated from Sunday School to the choir and I sang in the choir every weekend when I was at Acton. I don’t know if that made me religious. But I had this sense – I might be revising this because of my later discovery of Meher Baba and how he talks about every great spiritual messenger – that maybe because I had heard this stuff, that if I sang in church I might hear it again.

But later on, listening to all this, ‘Oh Jesus Christ, our lord’, there was something about all this ritual that made think its time had come. I had this sense that everything had become worn out, we needed new values, and much as loved that ‘Oh Jesus Christ our lord’ had come to save our souls and I loved being part of the flock, it felt to me like it was over. Like I was looking at the end of the show. The celestial music thing was important, because as much as I loved this choral music I was hearing in church, compared to what I heard in my head it came up wanting. I thought, What I hear is much better than this crap. That’s what made me want to start to compose.

Your father, Cliff, was a musician, but it doesn’t sound as if he encouraged you very much.

I probably took a pop at him with my crap guitar. It’s easy to say in hindsight. But the guitar replaced the sax as the sexy instrument of the late 20th century. I think the problem was that I didn’t play music in the way that he understood it. He was a classically trained clarinetist who played sax in a dance band and was over qualified for the job. He didn’t see any point in having a piano in the house because I showed no musical aptitude. He tried to teach me how to read music. I would kinda get it. I can do it now but as long as its simple. Rachel [Fuller, Townshend’s partner] can see a score and hear the brass parts. It’s not that my dad didn’t support me, just that he used to encourage me to be a writer, instead: ‘Be a journalist. That’s a good idea.’ Then when it was clear that I was good at painting he encouraged me to go to art school. I could have gone in any of those ways. I would have been happier I think – and people don’t believe me – as a painter-type artist than in a rock band, but that wasn’t my journey.

You also reveal that when you auditioned for The Detours (the group that became The Who) in Roger Daltrey’s bedroom, one of Roger’s criminal acquaintances was hiding under the bed.

Yes, Roger only told me that a couple of years ago. There were two brothers [names withheld to protect the innocent – or guilty] that we knew. XXXXXXX was totally crooked, a villain, but always really good to me. I used to see him at Acton baths a lot, and he had the most beautiful girlfriend. The other one, XXXXXX was awful, an awful man. They would have been a year or so older than us, which makes a big difference. Roger knew them both and liked XXXXXXX. But XXXXXX had got into trouble and rushed round to Roger’s place and was staying under his bed. So he’s there while Roger’s going, “Can you do [The Shadows hit] Apache?” I was sat there doing my [Shadows rhythm guitarist] Bruce Welch bit and playing the rhythm. Then he says, ‘Can you play [Buddy Holly’s] Peggy Sue? And then can you do the Shadows steps?’ So I practiced the footwork. Then he said, “OK, see you Tuesday.” But that audition came almost six months after he had walked up to me at school in my GCE period and said, “Do you wanna join my band?” I was like ‘Yeah’. But I didn’t get the call until much later. So I was sat there drumming my fingers waiting. And I didn’t get the call to audition until I was at art school

You also write about only discovering that John Entwisle was a freemason when you went to his funeral.

It was because he was so disparaging about his stepfather who was a mason. He hated his stepfather until he grew up and then he loved him. John’s stepfather was a good guy. John’s dad was a Welshman who we all liked, as he used to come to gigs and he was in a big proper mining choir. John brought that choir to our studio a few times, and got them all pissed and he would produce. But, John was a mason, yeah. We knew that John’s first job was at the Acton Inland Revenue and we used to think at that time the masons had infiltrated the Revenue. Nowadays they’re less mysterious, more like the rotary club.

The differences between yours and Roger’s teenage years are very apparent, though. He’s an apprentice steelworker; you’re basically a lazy art student…

Yes, I had it a lot easier. It was a very liberal time at art college – even more than at university. You were supposed to start at ten, but if you showed up at eleven, the lecturer would just so, ‘Oh, Ok you’re here.’ Nobody gave a fuck. My son [Joseph] is now at St Martin’s and part of what they do is train you to have the initiative to work on your own. At the time, I just thought it was just a case of, Great, I don’t have to get up.

In the past when Roger has talked about getting me out of bed to go to a gig, it was a rare occasion when we had a gig in somewhere like Blackpool, and we had to leave at seven o’clock in the morning because he’d bought a truck that would only go at 45mph. So it would take us all day. But there were days when he arrived at our flat [in Ealing] and me and Barney would have spent the day with a couple of gorgeous girls. There were some fantastic looking girls at the art college, one of whom I was lucky enough to marry. Beautiful smart women, and we’d be sat there smoking grass and listening to Jimmy Reed, and at half six, you’d hear this knock on the door. And I’d think, “Oh shit! Now I’ve got to play at the Peckham whatever it is…” And in walks Roger. “Alright then, come on!’ I would be like, “Urrrgh.” “Come on, get your gear, you got your suit?” And of course I didn’t want to get the crimson suit I wore for gigs out in front of the girls. And I’d always look back as I was leaving, and Barney would say, “Don’t worry Pete, I’ll look after them.” Fucking awful. Roger did get me out there, though, and I think if he hadn’t I would have stayed there. I know people my age from school still sat there smoking grass and frozen in time.

That was the trouble with my age group. We smoked a joint and thought, Ah that makes me feel nice. Then you put a record on and it was like, Aaaaahhh! Remember we had shitty little mono record players, but on dope you were hearing everything in stereo. When I first heard stereo, I thought, ‘Well, this is how it has always sounded to me.’

You also talk about being a late starter when it came sex.

I had mixed stuff about sex. Which was strange. If I hadn’t have gone to art school maybe I wouldn’t be looking back at in this way. I was quite happier to have been smaller than everyone else, younger than everyone else. They’re all sixteen. I am sixteen but I look like I’m fourteen and I am behaving like I’m fourteen. I’m a little boy, happy with that because they, the gang, like me. They hear me playing guitar and banjo and they are like, “Hey!” I can make them laugh, so as far as the gang goes, I’m alright.

But when it came to sex, I remember when I was at Acton County, me and my mate Phil would go to Hyde Park on a Saturday afternoon. It’s nice and sunny. He pulls a couple of girls, rolls over and starts snogging the really good-looking one. The other one’s left, and she’s looking over at me. While snogging his one, he’s waving his hand and saying, “Move in, move in.” But she’s looking at me with a look as if to say, “You move in on me I will fucking kill you.” And on the way back on the train I am saying to him, “Phil, for fuck’s sake, we were in the middle of Hyde Park with everybody around and you’re trying to fuck this girl, while we’re surrounded by… spaniels. Explain it to me.” And he goes, “Oh OK, you’ll understand one day.” And he was the same age as me, and he was always very kind to me, and we were mates, but he got it – and I didn’t.

Then what happened was suddenly at art school and in the first year, there were two girls that I can only describe as quantum nymphomaniacs. They shagged everybody. And there were occasions I would go round to my mate Tom Wright’s flat, and listen to some records with one of them, and he’d say, “Can you see ‘Sue’ home?” And I’d say, “Oh yeah yeah.” We’d be walking along the road and she’d say, “I only went to see Tom so I could have a fuck.” I’d go, “Oh really, you must be very disappointed.”’ And she’d say, “Yes, because I really wanted to have… a fuck.” “Oh, Ok, yes, you’re home here now. In you go.” The next day Tom would come up to me and say, “She fucking spelt it out for you Pete.”

And then you lost your virginity, and, according to Who I Am, while doing so accidentally stood in a bucket of wallpaper paste…

[Laughing] Yes. Yes. But when it happened it happened, and from then on I was equipped. It happened when it was meant to happen – when I was eighteen. Very late for some but fine for me.

You mentioned that a lot of people at art school thought you were gay, and that you were slightly disappointed that Kit Lambert didn’t fancy you.

I was quite happy with that, being thought of as gay. I was disappointed Kit didn’t fancy me, but only because I wanted his absolute approval. Kit didn’t like pretty boys, if I was a pretty boy in any sense of the word. He liked street urchins, so the boys he brought home shared a flat with him, in the morning over the scrambled eggs, I would try to chat with them to make them feel at ease. But they were rent boys really.

Kit was your mentor, but he also seems to have had a profound effect on Keith Moon as well…

He tried to. The posh stuff Keith got from Kit – finding out which champagne he should order, which was the best. So you’d be in a nightclub with Keith and he’d suddenly start shouting for “Dom Perignon, 1926!” He got that from Kit. Kit encouraged him, Apparently Keith would rock up to the Track Records office on Old Compton Street and say, “Give me £5000 and put it down to Townshend”, and they would do it. So a couple of weeks later, I’d see this thing that said, “£5000 – Pete.” And I’d say, “What the fuck’s this?”

Do you think Kit and Chris Stamp’s nurturing of you sometimes alienated Roger and John.

Kit nurtured me as a songwriter and thinker. That’s what he did. Chris gave some edge to that by coaching me to be strong and deliver my ideas powerfully and confidently. What they both did, coming from a film background [Lambert and Stamp had been director’s assistants] was to accentuate the importance of the creative team – that you have to be part of a team but there can only be one director. But that this role also shifts, sometimes it’s one person, sometimes it’s another. However, the way they coached Roger was by pushing him out. I don’t think they did it that consciously, but it was hard to watch. John was regarded as the most conventionally good looking in the band, so he was just encouraged to stand there and be cool.

At the same time, modern bands and their managers could learn what not to do from what happened with Kit and Chris in The Who.

When I started this fucking book, it could have been used as a manual. But in the last five or six years everything has changed so radically in the rock business and record industry. It is pointless. You couldn’t read my book and learn anything. All bets are off. But it was like the Wild West in the sixties and seventies. It was a frontier.

Is it true that Malcolm McLaren went to see Chris Stamp for advice on managing the Sex Pistols?

There’s a story that Chris told me. He was there the evening I met the Pistols for the first time. We were walking back from the Speakeasy where I had got into a few fights, and Chris said, “Do you want to know my part in the Sex Pistols story?” And he told me: “There was this guy Malcolm McLaren and he used to show up at Track Records and said, Can I talk to somebody? I said, I’m Chris Stamp. He said, Are you one of the Who’s managers? I wanna form a band that will be bigger than The Beatles.”’ Apparently Chris said, “OK, I reckon The Who could have done it, but they haven’t done it.” Malcolm said, “No they haven’t done it, but, yes, they coulda done it. I am not here to tell you what you did wrong. What I want to know is how you found them. What you did that made The Who.” So Chris said, “Well, we went out to this club and found the four ugliest guys we could find – they were idiots, they were cunts and they couldn’t play – and then we added our panache and gave them a decent name, dressed them up nicely, and that was it.” And Chris says that when he heard that McLaren went “‘Gotcha!” And that’s kind of what he did. That’s not necessarily the way that Steve [Jones] in the Pistols or John Lydon sees it but I don’t think they would argue with it. Chris Thomas who produced Never Mind The Bollocks and my solo albums said Malcolm said [of the Sex Pistols], “I want this to be bigger than the Beatles.” That was his pitch.

The reader gets a real sense in the book if you feeling a bit adrift in the early 1980s, but also how much you liked a lot of the new music around at this time.

I liked it. I liked the fashion thing as well. I was open to the synergy. I remember going to New York and seeing Adam And The Ants live – and they had two drummers! It was sad to see Adam struggling to get past what he did then. It was so exciting and so colourful and his make-up was extraordinary, and everyone in the audience was dressed as pirates. Stuff with Duran and Echo And The Bunnymen – there were some god music in there, occasionally extraordinary stuff like Teardrop Explodes, who were mind-blowing. But, yes, The Who were struggling at that time. I am at a critical point personally, because I was past thirty but I was still trying to dress the part – and getting away it just about [laughing].

But at the same time you were a musical hero to new songwriters such as Paul Weller.

The trouble with Weller was, because he was a huge fan of mine and had great respect for me, he would sit in a club somewhere with me and say, “Don’t look back, Pete, don’t look back.” And I would think, Actually, the whole mod thing was about looking back. But I also felt that I had a duty as a writer to serve our audience who were also ageing with us and experiencing the same difficulties.

Was that the thinking behind The Who By Numbers?

When we did The Who By Numbers, it was just pre-punk, the songs are about being older, feeling lost, losing your way, about changing fashions, being sentimental and looking at the sunrise. What’s that got to do with being a young man? You don’t start looking at the sunrise until you’re dying. But Roger picked those songs from my demos.

Roger’s an actor. I don’t think Roger Daltrey realised that – and I certainly didn’t until he started doing Tommy the movie. I don’t think he realised that what he was doing all the time with my work was interpreting, acting – and I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t be an actor and he could. And he has become incredibly good at it – a being the mouthpiece. Now he could take any of my songs and sing them. I hear that on his solo tour he’s been closing with that ukulele song, Blue Red And Gray [from The Who By Numbers], a very soft, sentimental song about family life and me living at the bottom of the hill and Ronnie Wood living at the top of the hill in the house that I now live in.

Talking of Ronnie Wood, critics are already having a field day with your description of Mick Jagger’s “long, plump penis” and how he’s the only man “I’ve ever seriously wanted to fuck”. Any word from Mick himself?

It’s just fun. We are good friends. Mick hasn’t come back to me, and he wouldn’t bother. We talk about much more serious things than that. I very much doubt that he had a five-second anxiety about what Keith [Richards] said about his dick either [in Richard’s autobiography, Life] – a man who has shagged some of the most beautiful women in the world isn’t going to worry about that. ‘Oh, wasn’t I big enough, dear?” I better ask the next 10,000 women.’

You also describe a couple of bi-sexual experiences.

I just thought it was the truth. So I might as well put it out there. But the trouble is when you tell these stories, people go ‘Oh, it’s just the thin edge of the wedge, where there’s smoke there’s fire…’ A lot of my mod friends from the Goldhawk [club, Shepherd’s Bush], younger than me, tried being gay, and they tried it out because it was fashionable and trendy thing to do. But also because in that little circle, we thought Rod Stewart was gay because he performed with Long John Baldry who was openly gay; we thought Marc Bolan was gay because Marc had said ‘I was a rent boy at The Scene club [in Soho], which was a radical thing to say.’ We thought David Bowie was gay because he hung out with Amanda Lear who was a transsexual. We thought all the cool people were gay. But, most importantly, because Kit Lambert was gay we thought Chris Stamp was gay and he was fucking gorgeous, handsome better looking than Terence, and a mod.

In Who I Am you talk about sometimes feeling “a few steps behind” some of your contemporaries. You’re unusual among rock musicians in that you admit that.

It might surprise people. But the only guy I know that doesn’t have any shade of self-doubt is Sting, and is therefore very difficult for us to deal with because of that. We all find him difficult – because he is so immensely talented and writes this beautiful stuff. But there is something about this man who is so self-assured he can leave The Police…. Others – Paul Simon, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Ray Davies – and these are people I know pretty well, some better than others – they would have no difficulty with agreeing when I said there were times when I felt out of step, and very lost. They might not admit that in public, but I can, because I have nothing to lose. The truth will set you free.

But those days when I felt out of step and threatened by various other vogues – what happened every time was I would come out of that phase and do another Who gig, and it was exactly the same. We were still popular. Nothing had changed!

In a way I realised that what’s actually happening is the Who gig is like the Saturday football match. I’m on the pitch kicking the ball around, doing fine, but afterwards I am going to nightclubs and there are people there who look a bit cooler than me. What you want to do if you really want to bring yourself down is you pick the most fashionable nightclub in town, and go there and try to fit in. And I did that all the time to myself. And I still don’t know why. I never liked pubs. I didn’t like nightclubs. I had to stop because of the drugs and alcohol. A couple of my mates, ex-footballers, who run nightclubs tell me that they just have to walk around all night and pretend.

Discussing your arrest, you reiterate that the reason you used your credit card to access child pornography in 1999 was not for sexual gratification but “to run a story on my website illustrating that online banks, browser companies, and big-time pornographers were all complicit in taking money for indecent imagery of children.”

I deliberately chose a website that I thought was a ‘sting’, where child porn was being advertised but not necessarily delivered. When I was filmed at the police station [for the BBC documentary Police Protecting Children], I was in shock and making it up as I went along. At one point [the police] said to me, “Describe what you saw [on the site]”. I said, “I suppose, children in a state of undress… I dunno.” I didn’t see anything. But it was mea culpa because I admitted on the day the story came out in the Daily Mail [claiming that a rock star was on the list of names sent to the child porn investigation team Operation Ore] to having used my credit card. What I wish I had done is written about this in my essay A Different Bomb [about internet child pornography] which I’d published on my website in 2002. I should have explained it then. Now it turns out that [the investigative journalist] Duncan Campbell examined the hard drive of the website I visited, but couldn’t even find my details. He wrote about it in a computer magazine [PC Pro]. That was a revelation. It was amazing to hear that.

Do you think the police thought you were a paedophile?

I got a letter this weekend from a guy at Twickenham police station who was the head of the campaign. He wrote to say “at no point did we think you were guilty… and that the press hysteria actually undermined our operation to the extent that we lost track of people who we believe were active predators that we could have stopped”. But he mainly wrote to reassure me: we believe you and we still do. But he did also say, “but not everybody does”.

How do you feel about the doubters?

People will always look at me and say, “paedophile”, “innocent”, “guilty”, “must be a paedophile ‘cos he’s got a big nose”. But I know the word ‘paedophile’ will be in there somewhere. I can’t change the past. I describe what I suffer from as ‘White Knight Syndrome’ – this idea that I can help, but in an area that is irredeemably fucked up. Also NPSCC had this campaign called Stop It Now which was addressed at men using the internet for porn. Yes, easy enough to say [laughing]. But I think what they were trying to do was alert men to the possibility that you weren’t going to get what you thought you were going to get, and you could end up breaking the ;aw and hurting children if you go on doing what you’re doing. But in the end I didn’t go there with that campaign. I still support Rescue which is a women’s aid charity, and another which helps the children of domestic violence have holidays and so on. But my main thrust is with NAPAC. It’s a helpline with adults that might have suffered. You wont get me on the phone but you will get someone that will listen and help It’s about removing the stigma. I still support NAPAC [National Association for People Abused in Childhood]. They have a helpline, and I still believe that what I’m doing comes from a good place. It’s all about trying to remove the stigma of abuse. I would have liked to have written more about this in the book. But there are a few bumps in the book, because of the editing. I would have liked to have included this guy’s letter in the book.

What’s next?

We are touring Quadrophenia, and Roger and I agreed to diverge a bit. He wanted more control of his band, and he wanted to do Who music, but do it his way. He enjoyed touring with his band, but what he enjoyed most was being able to control the sound and being the only one on the stage that the audience looked at, and not be distracted by me up there as well making comments. He had an affirmation, I think, close to an epiphany. Roger has changed. He is a different man. So much happier. So much more fulfilled. So much more confident. So much more a musician. It’s been a wonder to watch. I persuaded him to do the Superbowl. He said, “Nah, I don’t wanna do the Superbowl.” I said, “Come on, there’ll be eight million people”, so I persuaded him to do the Superbowl. And at the Superbowl I said to him, “Listen, this is my master plan – let’s do Quadrophenia at the Royal Albert Hall the following March, and we can tour it, if you like it and I like it.” And he said, “What d’ya wanna do that for?” I said, “It would be good for my ears. It’s quiet. It’s a piece.” And he said, “I will do it if you give me complete creative control.’ And I said, yes. And so we did it [in March 2010], and people rushed back after and said “Amazing! Social document! Quadrophenia…!’ and rushed back to Roger and said, “Wasn’t it amazing!” And he said, “Nah, didn’t like it.” But you had complete creative control Roger [sounding exasperated]!

The mistake we made is that [the Royal Albert Hall show] was in the week that Roger organises these ten days of concerts for Teenage Cancer Trust, and he’s all over the fucking place trying to get Florence And The Machine and the Stereophonics, and talking to kids in clinics and meeting the health secretary. He didn’t control it. He just did it. He said the problem was he couldn’t find himself in [the piece] anymore. There was a key moment where we decided that the godfather was going to be Eddie Vedder, the Who’s best friend. So Eddie comes over, an adorable guy, and he’s the godfather to Roger’s ‘Jimmy’. Of course, it should have been the other way round. But Roger found it impossible to process.

A couple of years pass, I write this fucking book, and this summer I persuaded Roger to do the Olympics in the same way I persuaded him to do the Superbowl. At one point neither of us wanted to do it – “Oh there’ll be a traffic jam!” – but slowly and surely we both started to get the intuition that it was going to be alright. And he said, “Can I have complete artistic control?” I said, “Yeah, as long as it doesn’t turn out like Quadrophenia.” And we did it and I think what we did was great. So immediately after, we start talking about can we nail down a Quadrophenia tour and he said, “Yes, if you give me complete creative control.” We are about to rehearse at the end of October. I have no idea what he is going to do. But I sense that even if what we do doesn’t work out brilliantly well, what’s wonderful is in a sense Roger has started a new life. We shall see.

What have you learned about yourself from writing the book?

What I am looking for with this book and with the next stage in my life is true creative freedom.

Could that lead to another Who album?

I don’t feel that I would have any problem rising to the challenge of doing something for The Who brand. Endless Wire helped me do that because what I did was writing a couple of what I thought were typical Who songs and the rest were just songs.

This summer and last year and the year before, I’ve been working on songs for this dramatic son et lumre scenario, Floss. It’s a very very ambitious project but I have been thinking it might be something I could do on the Internet – or maybe not. But I was very encouraged to see Roger Waters taking out The Wall. In a sense it’s like a big Cirque du Soleil meets The Wall in the open air, starting in the afternoon and carrying on until the stage is in complete darkness, because the final scene is a rock star on a stage.

Would it be a Who piece?

It could come out under the Who brand. I have written it in two parts. Roger could narrate the first part. But I did fly The Boy Who Heard Music book past Roger before we talked about it. And after a couple of weeks, I said, ‘You haven’t responded to my book – what do you think? He said ‘I flicked through it.’ I said, ‘Will you read it?’ This was in 2005. He said ‘I’ll read it tonight.’ So I called the next day and said, ‘Have you read it?’ He said, ‘Yup, but Pete it’s the same old shit isn’t it…’ [The Who’s PR gestures that our time is up] And on that note…

© Mark Blake, 2012