On 22nd December 1963, an early version of the Who, then known as the Detours, supported the Rolling Stones at St Mary’s Hall in Hotham Road, Putney (now an apartment block called Hotham Hall). Pete Townshend developed his windmilling guitar thrash after seeing Keith Richards making a similar motion at this gig. I wonder who would play support if they were on the same bill these days?
Keith Moon liked to assume an upper class voice and kid people that he’d been a pupil of the very posh Harrow School. In fact, he was a lower middle class boy who was born in Central Middlesex Hospital in Acton Lane and spent his childhood at 224 Tokyngton Avenue, Wembley. He attended Alperton Secondary School, though he did briefly attend evening classes at a college in Harrow. Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle were both born at Hammersmith Hospital in Du Cane Road, White City while Pete was born at Chiswick Cottage Hospital in Netherton Road.
Pete grew up in Ealing Common, living at 22 Whitehall Gardens till he was 12, and then at 20 Woodgrange Avenue. Like Freddie Mercury, he attended Ealing College of Art and Technology from 1961 to 1964, and he shared an upstairs flat with Richard Barnes at 35 Sunnyside Gardens, Ealing for some of this period. Richard is credited with renaming the band the Who, after many other names, such as the Hair, had been rejected. Pete, Roger and John all attended Acton County Grammar School (now Acton High School) in Gunnersbury Lane.
Daltrey formed the band in summer 1961 and was the original lead guitarist before Pete joined later and assumed that role. After gigging together for a few years as the Detours, they found themselves playing with a sit-in drummer one night at the Oldfield Hotel in Greenford (long since demolished). Keith Moon apparently emerged from the audience, demanding a go on the kit, and the world of drumming was never the same again. Surprisingly, he wasn’t very good at keeping time, and unlike in most bands, he didn’t play in conjunction with bass player John, but used the drums rather as a solo instrument reacting to Pete’s wild guitar style.
After a few name changes, they’d settled on the Who by late 1964 and they played mainly around West London. Their spiritual home was the Goldhawk Social Club (now the Shepherd’s Bush Club) at 205 Goldhawk Road, which is commemorated by a blue plaque. If you continue along this road, you’ll soon get to Sulgrave House (formerly Sulgrave Social Club) at no. 287, where the Detours played their debut gig in early 1962. Roger’s childhood home wasn’t far away at 15 Percy Road.
On 24th November 1964, the Who began a Tuesday residency at The Marquee Club at 90 Wardour Street in Soho, which lasted for 5 months and did a great deal to spread their popularity. The black and white publicity poster for these gigs depicting Pete and his guitar with the slogan ‘The Who Maximum R&B’ has become an icon of rock.
From 30th June to November 1964, they had a residency at the Railway Hotel, which once stood just next to Harrow and Wealdstone Station, and this was the scene of the band first trashing their equipment, but more by accident than design. Apparently the ceiling above the stage was very low and Pete managed to smash his guitar through it, thus discovering an even more dramatic way to climax their show. I saw them do this myself in 1966, though before the last song Pete swapped his guitar for a cheaper, much-repaired one. Their future managers Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp first saw them perform there, and recordings of one of their gigs there are featured on the DVD “Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who”. The Railway Hotel is long gone, but on the site there now stand two apartment blocks named Daltrey House and Moon House.
The archetypal British music programme of the 60s was “Ready Steady Go!”, and the initial shows were broadcast from the studios at 1 Kingsway on the corner of Aldwych. The Who made their national TV debut there on 29th January 1965, playing what was to be their first hit single, ‘I Can’t Explain’ – a Townshend composition very much in the style of recent big hits by the Kinks with whom they shared American producer Shel Talmy. For the broadcast, they imported 100 “faces”, i.e. top-grade mod fans from West London. Soon the show was being broadcast with bands playing live from Rediffusion Studios near Wembley Stadium. They made 10 appearances on the show in 1965 alone, and by the end of the year had arrived big time.
The band recorded almost all of their work in London. The classic ‘My Generation’ was made at Pye Studios, 17 Great Cumberland Place, Marble Arch in October 1965, while their most famous album ‘Tommy’ was recorded at IBC Studios, 35 Portland Place, close to BBC Broadcasting House, from October 1968 to April 1969. A lot of ‘Who’s Next’ was produced at Olympic Studios, 117 Church Road, Barnes.
In 1973, the band built their own studio, Ramport, in a disused church hall in Battersea. This is where they recorded ‘Quadrophenia’ and subsequent albums, despite Keith indulging in a spot of arson on one occasion and Roger nutting noted producer Glyn Johns on another.
The Who were in the thick of the Swinging 60s and they were welcome at all the famous celebrity nightclubs, such as the Ad Lib, above the Prince Charles Cinema just off Leicester Square, and the Scotch of St James at 13 Masons Yard in St James’s, whose clientele included the Beatles and the Stones.
“Dear Boy: The Life of Keith Moon” by Tony Fletcher (published by Omnibus Press)
“Who I Am” by Pete Townshend (Harper Collins)
“Who Are You: The Life of Pete Townshend” by Mark Wilkerson (Omnibus Press)
Ian Mole is a teacher of English to overseas students and a walking tour guide in London, specializing in music-related tours.