By 1971, they were already legendary for their original sound and out-of-control antics onstage and off. So when The Who decided to throw a shindig for the launch of their latest album on July 15, rock n’ roll photographer Alec Byrne was looking forward to the revelry.
‘I had been around The Who many many times. I had been to parties, to gigs, to clubs, on the road with them so I’d seen how wild they would get,’ he told DailyMail.com. ‘Wow, I thought, this is going to be quite some bash. So, you get there and of course the wine and everything is flowing and I’m expecting all hell to break loose with (Keith) Moon, who’s a totally unpredictable character.’
Known as Moon the Loon, the band’s drummer had totaled TVs and trashed hotel rooms, pulled pranks that ranged from blowing up his own drums to dressing up in costume as a clergyman, and abused amphetamines and alcohol. Moon hosted the celebration at his new home in Chertsey, about an hour from London. With four pyramids at each corner and one center, Byrne said the futuristic structure looked ‘like someone’s James Bond lair.’
But there was no sign of the delirious debauchery Byrne was expecting – at least not while he was there. ‘I found out later, I should have stayed at the party. George Harrison showed up. There was an elaborate fireworks display with “Long Live The Who” or something illuminated in the sky. The police apparently were called. The neighbors complained.’
But Byrne did get the photograph he wanted of the four members – Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Moon and John Entwistle – seated together at table. Now, on the 50th anniversary of that party, which was to mark the release of their album Who’s Next which includes the iconic song Baba O’Riley, never-before-seen images are being released.
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The influential and innovative group that would become The Who got its start in the early 1960s when lead singer Roger Daltrey and bassist John Entwistle played together and then formed their own band. The pair had attended school together in West London. Guitarist Pete Townshend, who would be the band’s main songwriter, joined and then Keith Moon became the group’s drummer in 1964. The Who released their debut album, My Generation, in 1965 in the United Kingdom. It was available in the US the next year. Above, Entwistle, Moon, Townshend and Daltrey at the launch party for their fifth album called Who’s Next on July 15, 1971 at the drummer’s house outside of London
By 1971, The Who were already legendary for their original sound and out-of-control antics onstage – Townshend smashed guitars and Moon destroyed his drums – and off, which included the trashing of hotel rooms. In one account, Moon roped Townshend into trying to move a waterbed, which was a novel concept in the 1960s, out of their room and down the stairs of a Copenhagen hotel. It burst and water poured forth, according to Rolling Stone. Above, the band jokes around at the party
Rock n’ roll photographer Alec Byrne was looking forward to the celebration after he got the invite. ‘I had been around The Who many many times. I had been to parties, to gigs, to clubs, on the road with them so I’d seen how wild they would get,’ he told DailyMail.com. ‘Wow, I thought, this is going to be quite some bash. So, you get there and of course the wine and everything is flowing and I’m expecting all hell to break loose with Moon, who’s a totally unpredictable character.’ Above, Entwistle, the band’s bassist who was nicknamed the Ox and Thunderfingers ‘because his digits became a blur across the four-string fretboard,’ according to TheWho.com. He died from a heart attack on June 27, 2002 at the age of 57
‘I have to say, there was nobody doing massive amounts of drugs that you could see, nobody was falling down drunk, there was no punch-ups, there was no one chasing women around. So it was not quite up to the expectation. Great party, but not quite as wild as we thought it would be,’ Byrne told DailyMail.com. While Byrne was there, he said it was more like a family event. However, the photographer was focused on getting a picture of the four of them at a table, which easier said than done. Above, The Who at the party
‘Back in the ’60s, I was a Mod. I had all the clothes, bought all the records, had the scooter,’ Byrne recalled, referencing a lifestyle that sprang up in London in the late 1950s focused on ‘modernist’ music and fashion.
‘The gods of the movement back in those days were The Who.’
Lead singer Roger Daltrey started a band called The Detours, which would later become The Who in 1964. The next year, the band released their debut album, My Generation, in the United Kingdom and its title track made waves. With its stutter and lines like, ‘Yeah, I hope I die before I get old,’ the song struck a nerve during a decade of turmoil and social movements.
Along with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the band was part of the British invasion that swept the United States during this time.
In London, Byrne and others lined up on Tuesday nights to see the band play ‘at this grimy little club just off Wardour Street called the Marquee.’
This was around the time 16-year-old Byrne became interested in photography. He had gotten a position as a dispatch writer on Fleet Street, where most major newspapers were then located. ‘The job was to race around London to meet up with photographers, grab their film, race it back to Fleet Street where it would be processed and then delivered to the newspapers,’ he said.
In the late 1950s, an emphasis on ‘modernist’ music and fashion led to what was known as the Mod movement in London. In the ’60s, Byrne was a Mod with the clothes, records and a scooter, and he called The Who ‘the gods of the movement.’ In the middle of that decade, there was a frenzy over bands like The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and The Who in the United States, which is known as the British invasion. In 1969, The Who released a rock opera album called Tommy, which was a commercial sensation and hailed by many critics. The July 1971 party was for the band’s fifth album called Who’s Next, which includes the song Baba O’Riley. Above, Daltrey at the party. The singer, now 77, still performs
The teenager didn’t know anything about photography, but he spent time with its practitioners in the darkroom and became fascinated. ‘When I did my first print in the dish in the darkroom – that was it. It was total obsession.’
Byrne started bringing his camera with him to concerts and clubs. ‘It was relatively easy back then to get in but try to get onstage or close to the stage or get backstage was a whole different scene.’
Magazines like New Musical Express and others were publishing his photographs while he continued to work on Fleet Street. New Musical Express eventually hired him fulltime.
‘In the early days when I was shooting these bands, you had to almost like pinch yourself when you sitting in the bus with them, in the van with them, you’re traveling to gigs and stuff like that. You know, I was such a young kid,’ Byrne told DailyMail.com.
‘So just the fact you’re there included with the boys was something.’
At the right place at the right time, Byrne photographed legends like The Beatles, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix – to name a few.
By the time Byrne received the invitation to The Who’s party for July 15, 1971, he was a well-established photographer in the music scene who had known the band for years.
After My Generation, The Who released two more albums. Their innovative fourth album, Tommy, which was a rock opera, came out in 1969. It was a commercial sensation and highly acclaimed by many critics. After touring, the band started working on their fifth album.
The album Tommy, Byrne explained, ‘was a significant benchmark that they had to beat.’
The July party was a celebration for the upcoming release of their album, Who’s Next, and Byrne said the memory of hearing the band play Baba O’Riley for the first time is indelible. (The song has the recognizable line ‘teenage wasteland.’)
‘This is the opening track on this album, Who’s Next, which is their only album that reached number one in the UK charts. To be standing in front of the band beside this six-foot speaker and they unload Baba O’Riley was something that I will never forget.’
Known as Moon the Loon, the band’s drummer had totaled TVs and trashed hotel rooms, pulled pranks that ranged from blowing up his own drums to dressing up in costume as a clergyman, and abused amphetamines and alcohol. The band’s first appearance on American TV was The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1967. Moon packed his drums with ‘considerably more flash powder than he’d ever used before,’ according to Rolling Stone. ‘The resulting explosion nearly blew the Who themselves off the stage, briefly blinded the TV cameras, and caused actress Bette Davis – who was booked as a guest on the same program – to faint dead away in the wings,’ according to the article. Moon, above, in front of his new home in Chertsey
Above, Townshend with his then-wife Karen Astley and their two daughters, Aminta, left, and Emma, right. The couple met at Ealing Art College during the 1960s and were married in May 1968. They also have a son, Joseph, and were together until 1994 when they separated. They divorced in 2009. Townshend later married his longtime partner Rachel Fuller. The prolific songwriter, now 76, has been open about being sexually abused and problems with alcohol, according to Rolling Stone. Sober for over two decades, he told the magazine in 2019: ‘What I know is that when I drank, I won’t say I was happy, but I certainly was unaware of the darkness that I was carrying’
The bash was also to double as a housewarming for Moon’s new home in Chertsey, which Byrne said he bought for 65,000 pounds from Peter Collinson, the director of 1969’s The Italian Job. ‘The house is set in five acres of land so it’s well away from any other neighbors and wooded area. Beautiful location. This was as ultramodern as you could get. I’d never seen anything like it ever – even in like magazines.’
The structure with five pyramids had a striking interior as well and Byrne noted there weren’t many personal items, like pictures of Moon and his then wife, Kim Kerrigan, and their daughter, Amanda.
‘One of the funny things that happened at the party is that Keith recognized me and he said, “There he is” and that is in reference to one of my biggest screw-ups,’ the photographer said.
Byrne managed to maneuver his way into the studio with The Who and while the band was recording, he was taking pictures.
He said: ‘The next thing I know the sound engineer says, “Hold it, stop.”‘
Noticing some feedback, the engineer first asked Entwistle, the bassist, to check his guitar. They were rolling for another take when the noise once again appeared. This time, he asked Moon check his microphone.
‘As Keith was checking the microphone, I’m popping off shots. That’s when I hear over the intercom, “There it is, that’s the sound.”‘
Byrne was using standard equipment of the day that had flash gun, which gave an audible signal when it recharged. ‘I had no idea that was being picked up by the microphones in the studio. I felt about that big,’ he recalled, showing the small space between his fingers.
At the party, which he said felt more like a family event while he was there, Byrne was focused on getting the photograph he wanted. ‘This was kind of proving harder than what I thought might be. So I ended up doing some pictures of them by the trees, near the house, on the lawn, and stuff like that but I really was trying to get a picture of the four them seated at a table sharing a drink, which to me captured the moment of the party. Easy to say,’ he said.
‘I would have two of them sitting there and then I would go off and try to get Roger… and now Keith is gone.’
But he was eventually able to wrangle the members together in one place and Byrne said those images of the band at the table are his favorites ‘out of the dozens of times I photographed The Who.’
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Who’s Next launch party, the Rock Photography Museum will be offering a special 6×6 inch print of Alec Byrne’s photo of The Who sitting at the round table.
Above, Moon’s house where the album launch party took place on July 15, 1971. Apparently, after Byrne left the police were called and the photographer said that was a regular occurrence. ‘Three hundred yards from his doorstep is this pub called the Golden Groove,’ he explained. ‘And it became famous for Keith hosting the locals… When the pub would close, he’d bring them back to the house.’ Neighbors complained, the cops were called, and Moon’s wife, Kim Kerrigan, or other family members handled the police. Moon started dating Kerrigan in 1965 and they soon married. They had a daughter together, Amanda. The couple divorced in 1975. In September 1978, Moon died of an overdose of a drug he was taking to help with his withdrawal from alcohol
After milling around outside the property at the party, Byrne decided to look inside. ‘The one thing that is striking when you walk in immediately is the main room, which has got this high pyramid shape, sunken floor, which makes it look even taller, surrounded by walls of glass and you’re just looking out to the woods, basically,’ he recalled of the interior seen above. ‘What I thought was unusual was it was a housewarming and there was nothing really personal in the house that I could kind of see – there was no personal photos, there were some books and stuff like that’
While Townshend, above, was the band’s main songwriter, Entwistle and Daltrey also pitched in lyrics. The guitarist and singer also has written articles and essays. The Who have sold 100 million records worldwide and have influenced several different genres of music with their groundbreaking sound. Some critics consider Who’s Next to be the band’s best album
At the party, Byrne was focused on getting the photograph he wanted. ‘This was kind of proving harder than what I thought might be. So I ended up doing some pictures of them by the trees, near the house, on the lawn, and stuff like that but I really was trying to get a picture of the four them seated at a table sharing a drink, which to me captured the moment of the party. Easy to say,’ he said. ‘I would have two of them sitting there and then I would go off and try to get Roger… and now Keith is gone.’ But Byrne did eventually get what he envisioned and that photograph, which is seen above, is well-known
Alec Byrne, above, in front of his picture of The Who taken at that July 1971 party. Byrne, who now lives in Los Angeles, went from a teen listening to The Who at a Soho club in London to photographing them. ‘They used to do a gig at this grimy little club just off Wardour Street called the Marquee. And every Tuesday, we’d go along there, line up in the rain and we’d watch The Who. Little did I realize a few years forward, I’ve now be invited to the Marquee for their 10th anniversary and its hosted by Keith Moon, one of my heroes back in the day,’ he recalled. ‘That to me was like a bit of a surreal moment: To go in such a short period of time from kid lining up to sitting down having a drink when one of your idols. That was really a thrill’