I can’t say I was happy at 16, but I can’t say I was unhappy. I felt confused, I felt lost, I was trying to find a gang. And the band [The Detours] wasn’t providing that gang for me. The drummer at that time was an older guy [Doug Sandom]. In his interviews he describes me as a bit of a cunt. I didn’t set out to be one, I was mostly just inept at social graces with other men and certainly with women.
At 16 I had never kissed a girl, I had never been out with a girl, I’d never even had the courage to hold hands with a girl. I was unformed and didn’t fit in with my friends because they were all bigger and more grown up. I didn’t grow to my full height until I was 18. But the thing that changed for me was starting Ealing Art College and seeing the most beautiful-looking girl looking across a crowded room at me. I’d moved from a boys’ school where I felt I had to be funny to survive to realising I had attributes that I didn’t know I had.
My mother was very scathing about my nose and anybody who was in any sense peculiar looking. She would only let me have friends who were good looking. She wouldn’t let an ugly boy into the house. She was a bit of a fascist. So I intuitively, instinctively knew what a good-looking man was, which helped me later.
I thought my future would be as an artist. I didn’t know how to put what I was learning into practice yet, but I thought I was going to be a kinetic sculptor. I had the auto-destructive artist Gustav Metzger as a tutor. David Bowie and Brian Eno did courses at different colleges, but with the same architect. I was doing a course about cybernetics, the relationship between man and machine, the coming of computers. This was in 1961. So they were an incredibly far-sighted bunch.
I didn’t stay living at home for long. A guy called Richard Barnes came into the course in 1962 and we became friends. We took over this apartment that was owned by two American boys in the photography school who were busted and deported for using marijuana. So we not only got their stash of marijuana, we also got their amazing record collection. They had albums by Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith, the jazz organist whose guitar player Kenny Burrell was very influential on me, Booker T and the MGs. They were both very glamorous and attracted a lot of women, so we moved in, took over their flat and in a sense inherited some of the women.
I was writing songs but I was more interested in using my art school training to create an image for the band. I thought we could use this bunch of roughnecks – Roger [Daltrey], Keith Moon, John Entwistle and me and model them like designers at a fashion show. The Stones were around and we supported them a lot, but they seemed to borrow very directly from American R&B bands. The Beatles were there, but they were not a model for the London bands. I remember saying The Who are a band who are chopping away at their own legs. I thought I would be back at college by 1965. And then we got a hit record.