School ended on my 15th birthday. I was sent to the youth employment officer, who got me a job as an electrician’s mate on a building site, but I never saw a wire, I just bled pipes. I thought, fuck that, this is plumbing. By 16, I was working in a sheet metalwork factory in South Acton. Calling it a factory is a bit much, it was more like an asbestos shed with 20 blokes turning out early computer cabinets, which were as big as tanks. They were some of my happiest days. Some guys were just out of Malaya and Korea, two wars we often forget about. The singing, laughter and camaraderie was so much fun, even though it was hard graft.
Those teenage years were full of angst, full of energy, full of testosterone and full of paranoia. I was bullied at school so my flight or fight switch was always on – if I ever felt threatened, I learnt to get the first blow in. Perhaps I was quite an aggressive bugger, but I don’t think I was a bully.
My imagined future was nothing other than becoming a rock singer. It was already my drive and my vision. I was 11 when I saw Elvis, but it was Lonnie Donegan that really hit me. One reason I got slung out of school is that I didn’t want to know about anything other than music. And every night I was out playing with the band. We were just starting to get paying jobs in social clubs.
My generation missed National Service by one year, thank goodness. I don’t know where my life would have gone, but I would have been OK. I didn’t mind a bit of discipline – I’d been in the Boys’ Brigade. In those days we were all being trained up for the next war. I learnt the bugle and formation marches but they also taught us how democracy worked. I became the company singer. Because I am little, the sergeant used to sit me on his shoulders and get me to sing.
We were a generation of builders who grew up with nothing. Everything had been destroyed by war. When you have nothing, if you want something you fucking build it. I made my first electric guitar, a copy of a Fender, and we were building a band. John [Entwistle] joined – we were different characters but got on and he was a genius bass player. Pete [Townshend] joined, and, fuck me, he was a different class altogether. He had the ability, through his writing and intellect, to write songs of a different calibre to anyone else. I happily gave up the guitar, it was completely incompatible with being a sheet metal worker. My hands were cut to shreds after unloading 10 tonnes of steel. So that was the gang. And when [Keith] Moon joined, it was the key to the starter. Vroom. Off it went, like a jet engine. Even then, our energy was different to any other band.
I don’t want to be that star on a pedestal. I lock myself away in the country and I’m a bit of a recluse
Even with all the anger, angst and paranoia, there was always a deep respect and that is why The Who stayed together. You can have all that stuff, but when you get home, there was a deep caring for each other. It is family. Don’t fucking get in the middle of it – you wouldn’t last two seconds!