Page last updated at 10:21 GMT, Saturday, 21 March 2009

Roger Daltrey's concert conundrum

By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Roger Daltrey at the Isle Of Wight Festival, 1969
Daltrey was a sheet metal worker before The Who hit the big time

Four weeks ago, Roger Daltrey had a small problem.

He had booked the Royal Albert Hall for his annual week of Teenage Cancer Trust fundraising concerts.

But, despite a contact book that spans four decades of rock history, there was a shortage of acts for the Wednesday night show.

"I didn't have anybody," admits The Who frontman. "I was struggling."

The other five nights had attracted the likes of Kasabian, Stereophonics and Antony & The Johnsons, so Daltrey pressed ahead with an appearance on Simon Mayo's Five Live show to promote the gigs.

"He suggested putting it out to his listeners, and they started phoning in," Daltrey recalls.

As luck would have it, a member of folk rock band Fairport Convention was listening, and called up to offer his services - much to Daltrey's surprise.

"I had already put out feelers for Fairport Convention, but I got misinformation back, so I didn't follow it up," he says.

"Fortunately, they picked up the gauntlet."

Other folk acts, including Eliza Carthy and Seth Lakeman, followed suit, and next Wednesday's concert now boasts one of the strongest line-ups of the week-long mini festival.

Eliza Carthy
Eliza Carthy is just one of the acts playing at the week-long fundraiser

Are the concerts always so touch-and-go?

No, it's just how it crumbles. It's an incredibly difficult thing to find headline acts for six days of a given week who have the ability to fill the Albert Hall and who are available.

Most of the rock business this year is working abroad in America and Australia - so after nine years we were bound to hit a year where it was difficult.

Do you ever have trouble convincing people to take part?

I've only had a couple of dubious excuses - but that'll all be in the book!

You do get a bit of trouble with managers and agents sometimes. If you've got a band that's just coming off the road, it's not difficult to stick another show on the end of the tour, is it? It's showbusiness tradition to be there for these kind of events.

People don't necessarily consider teenagers to be victims of cancer.

They don't, that's true. But cancer is the number one killer of teenagers. They get the most aggressive and rarest cancers of all.

And it's not much to ask that they have a place where they can have their treatment in surroundings that are, at least, teenage friendly.

Cover for The Who Sell Out
I got pneumonia! The beans had just come out of the freezer!
Roger Daltrey on the photoshoot for The Who Sell Out

Daltrey usually comperes or plays at the Cancer Trust gigs, but work commitments mean he'll be out of the UK this year.

When we speak, he is in Los Angeles, from where he will head to New Zealand for a string of gigs with the Counting Crows.

The stop-over is essential for his performance, he says. "If I don't break the journey up, I arrive in New Zealand and the voice doesn't catch up for eight days."

But the 65-year-old is fit, tanned and full of energy - in better shape than many of the singers who lived through rock's most hedonistic era.

In concert, he attacks the microphone with all the menacing energy of Liam Gallagher's dad, while bandmate Pete Townshend windmills through hits like Substitute, Baba O'Reilly and I Can See For Miles.

Did you ever think you'd be playing those hits in 2009?

I didn't ever think about it! But the truth is, I'm not playing the same Substitute I played in 1966. A good song changes with age.

But what ultimately matters is, are we still playing with the same intention that we did when we started? And The Who have never cheated that. I think that's the reason we're still successful.

The band has never officially broken up - what do you think of all the big rock reunions that have cropped up in the last couple of years?

I've always believed in the power of the band. Those people all had success because they found chemistry in what they did together.

At the same time, I think it would be very hard for Led Zeppelin to come back. I know they've been offered fantastic money to tour but they've just been away too long.

They have this iconic status and they will be judged on whether they're up to it every night, and I think particularly Robert [Plant] would suffer. As a singer myself, I know that that weighs on the mind. So I think he made the right decision not to do it.

Roger Daltrey
Daltrey was made a CBE in the 2004 New Year Honours.

You've just re-released your third album, The Who Sell Out - which attacked the commercialisation of rock. What do you think of people like Iggy Pop making car insurance adverts?

Who cares? Everybody's trying to feed their kids and earn a living. That advert will be gone in two years and people will forget about it. He's still Iggy Pop, he does great performances and he's still a great artist.

So you no longer adhere to the ethos of that album?

Well, when you're young you feel that way and as you get older you realise it's all about commerciality. Even if you're the most avant garde band out there, to be noticed you have to be in some way commercial… Where's the line?

Have you ever been tempted to recreate the album sleeve, where you're sitting in a bath full of baked beans?

No, and I never will! I got pneumonia! The beans had just come out of the freezer.

Why on earth were they frozen?

I don't know - it's just the way they arrived, these two huge army-sized tins. So to solve the problem, someone stuck an electric fire up my arse at the back of the tub.

The back of me was cooking, and the front of me was freezing, and so I got pneumonia.

The Teenage Cancer Trust gigs take place from 24 - 29 March in London.

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