Roger Daltrey ends his charity series with low blows and poor shows
Cameron Sinclair-Harris
10:47 29th March 2023

Dear reader. How have you been? It’s been about six days since we were last in touch, and six days since I went to see Underworld open the series of benefit gigs at the Royal Albert Hall for Teenage Cancer Trust.

A patron of the charity happens to be one Roger Daltrey; professional mic-swinger, trout farmer, frontman of The Who and acclaimed star of the 1980 film ‘McVicar’. Every year, he is responsible for booking the lineups and organising these events that have been running for 21 years now. And so tonight, with the absence of Pete Townshend, he plays a solo show to round off the week of shows, with a stacked support bill to open proceedings. Going back to when I saw Underworld, I described it as being as close to perfection as any show could get, it felt like stepping into a corner of heaven. Tonight couldn’t be more of an opposite if it tried. 

Before we get into matters at hand, let’s discuss the openers. First up are Far From Saints, who are playing their debut show tonight! Well, technically it’s their second show, they did a warm-up at Oslo last night, but we’ll let it slide, it’s good for promo. Far From Saints are the new side project from Stereophonics frontman Kelly Jones, who has collaborated with Patty Lynn and Dwight Baker of The Wind + The Wave on a set of Americana indie via Welsh lad rock; not that many people here know this, as they enter onto the stage to little rapture. Once the lights turn on, and people recognise Kelly, the penny suddenly drops and a look of “OH!” emerges on the faces of the crowd. He mentions that this project has been in the works since 2017, recording their album in 2019 and the entire project being put on halt because of COVID. It feels like quite a build up for what is essentially a transgressively mediocre experience. There are some lovely vocal harmonies, but it really helps if you’re already a fan of Kelly’s milquetoast songwriting before listening to Far From Saints, because aside from the dual vocals, there’s nothing here that distinguishes their sound from his main project. There’s a faux-pas towards the end of the set when Patty inadvertently calls Kelly and his bandmate Richard Jones (no relation) as “English”, and the quickfire response of “Welsh! Not that there’s anything wrong with the English, but y’know” is genuinely quite funny. But Far From Saints don’t have much sustenance to their sound, at least not in this short set. 

Next up is legendary singer/songwriter Joan Armatrading; as she comes on stage, a huge applause breaks out, including about 4 people in the floor seats standing up. She wittily makes a note of this small standing ovation, and plows on with her set. Or at the very least, she tries to, but is hampered by technical difficulties, including an unreliable guitar. “Come on Joanie!” shouts one of the audience. “I’m trying to “come on Joanie!”, but I can’t!” she replies, calmly and coolly, before eventually the sound returns and the set gets going. It’s rather sobering to see things going wrong, even on such a prestigious stage to such a big name, it reminds you that sometimes the excitement of live entertainment lies in its ability to go wrong. All in all, it’s a short set that really should have been given more time. Armatrading introduces her band at the start, but it feels like we’ve barely spent enough time with them by the end. She gives us a choice of songs to finish on, with the crowd unanimously choosing ‘Drop the Pilot’. It’s a great shame this set wasn’t longer, that Armatrading wasn’t given the length she deserved, but it was a good set, all the same. 

During the interval, I take stock of the atmosphere in the room. It feels so different to the carefree, joyous sense of rebellion of the Underworld crowd, here everything feels much more regimented and conservative. I take a look at the crowd members and it's hard not to think that it’s just the same middle-aged bloke called Gary cloned 4,000 times. Still, in order to prep ourselves for 60s nostalgia, we get a bit of 90s nostalgia in the form of Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft, playing a stripped back acoustic set. And when I say stripped back, I mean it. Ashcroft plays only 5 songs, all of them pretty much his greatest hits. ‘Sonnet’, ‘Lucky Man’, ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’, ‘C’mon People’ and ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ to round things off. I am in no means a fan of The Verve or Ashcroft, so for a casual listener like myself, it could not have been more perfect. Ashcroft’s voice, whilst having naturally aged, still sounds just as good as it did back then. He is the proto-Gallagher, coming on with swagger and presence, clearly very chilly as he is wrapped up in two coats. Towards the end, he affirms the message of the charity saying he “cannot wait for the songwriters who will be here next, who will sing about what they’re going through. I believe in active change, and this charity are doing it”. Well said, Richard. 

I then naturally decide to go to the toilet, believing this to be a short little changeover between acts. Drunken Fred Perry lads are still singing ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ around me, and I’m not quite sure how to feel. When I get back, I am greeted by an act who I had no clue was on the bill. Full disclosure, at the time I assumed it was one of the young people who Teenage Cancer Trust support, being given a platform to play their music, putting Ashcroft’s earlier words into action. Turns out that the mysterious chanteuse on stage was none other than Lola Lennox; daughter of Annie, singer/songwriter and professional model. Not that she needs the leg-up, she already has a Wikipedia page and is drowning in nepotism. I mishear one of her songs which is called ‘All Roads Lead to Rome’ as ‘All Roads Lead to Frome’ and I spend most of it laughing to myself at my mondegreen, because the song itself is really bad. 

And then, the man himself. Again, full disclosure, any criticism of what transpires next is not aimed at the work that Daltrey has done for Teenage Cancer Trust. The past 21 years of work he’s put into organising these gigs to support this charity is nothing short of admirable, and deserves all the praise it gets. The following half-hour of music, however, doesn’t. It’s bad. It’s really bad. I say this as somebody who was obsessed with The Who as a teenager, learning the guitar after watching their 1970 Isle of Wight performance on repeat, and thinking Daltrey was just one of the coolest frontmen to ever walk the Earth.

What I see on stage tonight is a Butlins-level, ramshackle, embarrassing performance. Also, please note earlier that I said “half-hour”. This is the big headline show, the finale of the Teenage Cancer Trust season, and Daltrey’s only given himself half an hour to perform a show that shows off his impressive discography. He keeps complaining on stage that he’s got so little time, and I want to scream on the stage “YOU LITERALLY BOOK THESE GIGS, GIVE YOURSELF MORE TIME”. The set is split between Who classics such as ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘Substitute’ (featuring Kelly Jones), and some incredibly beige offerings from his solo discography. I guess he’s entitled to play them, seeing as this isn’t a Who show, but the energy from both the band and the crowd is brought to a screeching halt. And the versions of The Who hits feel so lacking in energy and spark, it feels like they’re being played by a tribute band who have only had two rehearsals before the show. The violin player replicating the synth intro of ‘Baba O’Riley’ is incredibly cool, as is the solo at the end, but that’s about it. 

"As a trans person who found solace in my early questioning days through the angst and identity crises in their music, it’s such a shame..."

I mean, if it was just an underwhelming set, I’d stop right there, but Daltrey has a few things on his mind that he can’t help but say. “In today’s world, I’ve considered all the pronouns” he spouts, and I’m already sinking into my chair. “I have come to the conclusion that I am all fucking Roger! Let’s get over it! Get a life!”. I am sunk. My chair has swallowed me whole and I am now at one with the ground. I’m not surprised that Daltrey has swung to punching down on trans people for a cheap giggle; he famously loves Brexit and called the Me Too movement “salacious crap” in an interview, so this latest round of awfulness doesn’t shock me in the slightest. Still hurts though. As a trans person who found solace in my early questioning days through the angst and identity crises in their music, it’s such a shame. Also, the irony of Daltrey making a joke about pronouns and his band The Who literally being named after a pronoun shouldn’t be lost on him. The rest of the set follows suit. He says he and his band have been around the world on a “rock and roll cruise ship”, which again doesn’t surprise me, this is probably where he’s picked up his banter from. He goes on to make a joke about his Uber driver, miming the size of her breasts, saying “I really should have got her number”. Ugggggghhhhhh. Am I at a gig or am I at a Roy Chubby Brown show? Around me, grown men are chanting “go on Roger!”, at one point a “we are the mods! We are the mods!” chant breaks out completely without any shred of irony, and I burst out into laughter. Tonight doesn’t feel real. Yet, just like last time, the simulation breaks and I emerge outside. 

I closed my Underworld review by saying I’d just seen an alternative manifesto of what the future could be. Tonight, I saw a vision of what the future really looks like. A make-believe, nostalgia fuelled pleasure machine. Not a teenage wasteland, just a wasteland now. If you want a vision of the future, imagine Roger Daltrey swinging his microphone at a human face - forever. Still, all the proceeds from tonight went to a good cause, that will directly help the lives of young people with cancer for the better. So, what good have any of these words done? Why should I complain? I don’t have the answers, and I don’t think I ever will. 

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Photo: Naomi Dryden-Smith