The Who not resting on legacy during Moving On! tour
Last year, The Who singer Roger Daltrey joined up with a number of pops and local orchestras to put a new musical spin on the Who’s legendary rock opera “Tommy.”
This year, The Who itself is seemingly taking a page from that playbook with a tour in which the current version of the British band will perform Who material with orchestras.
In a statement about the tour, The Who guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend promised that this tour won’t be a nostalgia trip. “Roger christened this tour Moving On! I love it. It is what both of us want to do. Move on, with new music, classic Who music, all performed in new and exciting ways. Taking risks, nothing to lose.”
The tour makes a stop in Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena May 30.
Making new music
Townshend and Daltrey don’t appear to be simply living off of The Who’s legacy as one of rock’s greatest and most influential bands these days. Townshend has been at work on a new The Who studio album, which will be the group’s first release since 2006’s “The Endless Wire.” No release date has been set, but the plan is for the album to be released before the year is out.
As for Daltrey, he’s picked up the pace in recent years on his musical activities outside of the band.
In 2014, Daltrey recorded “Going Back Home” with ex-Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson, who was then dying from pancreatic cancer. A mutual love of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, old-school R&B and the idea of making music to get Johnson’s mind off his diagnosis led to the release of the album, which became a surprise hit in the United Kingdom.
A surgeon listening in on an interview Johnson was doing to promote the project invited him to come in, on the off-chance he was misdiagnosed. When the diagnosis led to surgery and a cancer-free life, Daltrey was delighted about the turn of events. Surprised by the record’s sales numbers, the record company approached The Who frontman about a Daltrey-Johnson sequel.
Declining to do so because he felt a follow-up wouldn’t equal the impact of “Going Back Home,” Daltrey agreed to do a similar solo version of “Going Back Home.” It evolved into “As Long As I Have You,” the rocker’s 10th and most recent solo album, which was released last year.
Reuniting with his producer from the Johnson project, Dave Eringa, Daltrey chose to revisit the vibe and spirit of his pre-High Numbers/Who days with Townshend, when their band was playing soul music to small crowds in church halls. The result is a mix of heartfelt and melancholy originals and a mix of rich covers from artists ranging from Stevie Wonder, Manassas and Garnet Mimms to Joe Tex and Nick Cave.
The materials he chose to cover all have their own connection with Daltrey and not something he takes lightly.
“First of all, I have to be able to relate to the song. The words have to be part of my journey. For instance, in the Stephen Stills song, Stephen gave me permission to change the words to make it my song. So I don’t sing the words that he originally wrote to it, and I always try inhabit the song as a part of me,” Daltrey explained. “The Garnet Mimms [opening lyric] ‘Born in darkness…’— I was born in a bloody air raid. That’s really it. I’m a huge Nick Cave fan, but he sings it quite darkly, that song. I can hear something else in it that’s so touching and I wanted to see if I could achieve it.”
The original songs stand on their own, none more so than “Always Heading Home,” a song Daltrey co-wrote with novelist Nigel Hinton that closes the album and addresses aging, memories and dreams amid the slightest hint of strings and piano, adding up to quite an impactful coda.
“ ‘Always Heading Home’ is something that I wrote a long time ago. It’s a spiritual song that I didn’t think would ever find a home,” he said. “Since I thought this might be the last record I may ever make, I decided I was going to put ‘Always Heading Home’ on it.”
After starting preliminary work on “As Long As I Have You,” Daltrey hit the road with The Who in 2017 for its “Beginning of the Long Goodbye Tour.”
Encouragement and support
Coming off that stretch of dates, the vocalist was hit with a bout of meningitis. And while his recovery involved a loss of hearing, he revisited his work on “As Long As I Have You” and was discouraged by what he’d recorded up to that point. It was Townshend who provided encouragement and musical support that allowed the project to come to fruition.
“When I went back to listen to what I’d done prior to (the tour), I thought it was rubbish. Then Pete was suddenly given my tapes through management and he loved it,” he said. “He called me up and said, ‘You ought to finish it, Roger, and I’ll play guitar on it.’ And that was it for me. I’ve always respected his musical talent and if he says it’s good, then it’s all right.”