FMQB Retro-Active: Ken Sharp Enthuses On The Who's Still-Thriving Music Career, As Well As Their Charitable Efforts
May 26, 2016


With media prognosticators ranting that rock music is no longer a force, The Who’s appearance at a SRO Staples Center in Los Angeles proved the nay-sayers to be wildly off base and nullified that assumption… loudly. As Pete Townshend wrote: “Rock is dead they say, long live rock.” At a make-up show for last year’s L.A. tour stop, which was postponed as a result of Roger Daltrey’s bout with meningitis, The Who (which now includes surviving members Townshend and Daltrey plus a terrific band including long-time members Zack Starkey on drums, Pino Palladino on bass and Simon Townshend) leveled the Staples Center with a Greatest Hits + set canvassing the band’s entire career. Opening with a thunderous “Who Are You,” which featured striking footage of mods culled from the 1979 film, Quadrophenia, the group delivered a confident set filled with swagger and passion. Grandfather rock? Hardly. Kinetic renditions of “I Can See For Miles,” introduced by Pete as the band’s biggest hit in the States, “The Kids Are Alright” and “Pictures of Lily” laid blazing testament to the group’s rep as groundbreaking power pop practitioners. In fact, Townshend coined the term “Power Pop” back in 1967.

One of the highlights of the two-hour-plus show, a performance witnessed by Zack Starkey’s dad Ringo Starr, was the group’s rendering of the Who’s Next jewel, “Bargain,” a song Townshend described as his favorite number from that seminal album. For this reviewer, “Bargain” was where it all clicked, Daltrey’s voice hit his groove and Townshend attacked the music with fury and precision, windmills and slashing power chords. The slight “Squeeze Box” worked surprisingly well in a live setting, augmented with additional instrumentation, notably banjo; the huge projection screen behind the band was a stirring visual treat with an amusing series of animated vignettes showcasing drawings of the band members purloined from the cover of the Who By Numbers album. “Join Together,” a song that has rarely featured in previous Who set lists, was another standout, its powerful rallying cry drew band and audience together into a communal state of bliss. A four song survey of the group’s 1973 double-LP Quadrophenia -- “5:15,” the dynamic instrumental “The Rock,” “I’m One” and “Love, Reign O’er Me” -- spotlighted the lyrical and musical sophistication of Townshend’s writing. Early ‘80s FM radio perennial “Eminence Front” from 1982’s It’s Hard album, one of several Townshend lead vocal vehicles of the night, lent him the freedom to demonstrate his supple guitar playing skills, peeling off jazz inflected six-string lines of beauty and power. Winding toward the finish with a transcedent mini-Tommy set -- “Amazing Journey,” “Sparks,” “The Acid Queen,” “Pinball Wizard, and “See Me, Feel Me” -- left the audience in a state of mass delirium, which was somehow further intensified by the slam dunk delivery of two final Who classics, “Baba O'Riley” and a show stopping “Won't Get Fooled Again.” There was no encore and frankly no need for one. It was the perfect finish. The Who came, delivered, and left it all on the stage, proving that rock is still vibrant, relevant and alive. Somewhere Keith Moon is smiling.

Set list:

Who Are You
The Seeker
The Kids Are Alright
I Can See for Miles
My Generation
Pictures of Lily
Squeeze Box
Behind Blue Eyes
Join Together
You Better You Bet
I'm One
The Rock
Love, Reign O'er Me
Eminence Front
Amazing Journey
The Acid Queen
Pinball Wizard
See Me, Feel Me
Baba O'Riley
Won't Get Fooled Again

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT… In 1965, The Who released the single “The Kids are Alright,” a catchy ode championing the power of teens. Now, more than fifty years later, the band’s lead singer Roger Daltrey is still taking care of the kids. Together, Daltrey and fellow Who partner Pete Townshend have created Teen Cancer America, an outreach of the U.K. Teen Cancer Trust, which is dedicated to constructing specialized medical units designed specifically to suit the physical and emotional needs of teenagers afflicted with the disease. Retro-Active’s Ken Sharp met with Daltrey, who shared the background about this important and groundbreaking program.

Teenagers have been so important in your career with The Who, and here you are giving back. Why Teen Cancer America?

Roger Daltrey: Basically, I wouldn’t have the privileged life I’ve had without the support of teenagers. When you think about the music business as we know it, it’s built on the backs of teenagers. So I just feel at this time in my life where I’ve got time on my hands, more than I’ve had for years and years, this is something I can do to give something back and hopefully something I can get done in my lifetime. Even if I’ve only got 10 years left I can see that once it’s out there it will be there forever.

How did you get involved with Teen Cancer America?

I got involved in it from the beginning. The whole idea for the Teen Cancer Trust in England was started by my doctor and his wife who recognized this age group just didn’t exist in the medical profession, which is kind of weird. Didn’t James Dean and Elvis show us that there was something in between? (laughs) They watched this situation in our National Heath Service where teens stricken with cancer were stuck next to a geriatric dying of cancer. This was a terrible situation. So they decided to provide these spaces where every teen who gets cancer in our country would be cared for in a place that is teenage friendly, a place designed by teenagers, where they could behave like teenagers. They can cook for themselves. They can have MTV all night. They can get all their treatment. Their parents are cared for and given support, which is hugely important. By putting them together their whole well being changed, I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I can give you an example. We actually have to build these in England and it’s very expensive. We were gonna build this one in Cardiff, in Wales. Because of the way the hospital was built, we had to design it to build on stilts. The costs of this one unit was three a half million pounds, which is about six million dollars. The head nurse of adolescent medicine in the hospital, wrote a letter complaining, “This amount of money should never have been spent, this is insane to spend this much money!” Anyway, we built it and this same nurse took teenagers all around the hospital, some with children, and some with old farts like me and within a week she wrote us a letter and said, “I’ve seen miracles. I’ve seen a boy who’s not gotten out of bed for two months and now has been through every inch of this unit. He’s a different boy, completely changed.” The letter just says it all because she just couldn’t see it. But when she worked on it, she said “To come to work now, I’m doing the same job I have done but it’s a joy being here now because the teens are so much happier. They’re all together and they support each other. They talk each other through the illness.” It’s just wonderful. So for the last ten years I’ve been trying to get it over here and I just got lucky. I did a charity event for autism and another program L.A. called “Canine Connection” where they put young teenagers who’ve gone astray, one step out of jail, and they give them a dog and it’s healing. All of a sudden they get something to love in their life and that changes them as well. So we did this show and I happened to meet David Feinberg who runs the UCLA Hospital and I told him about what we were doing. Because he’s an eminent child psychologist, he totally got it.  He said, “I’m gonna make sure we do that” and that was two, three years ago. And here we are. We’ve done the fundraiser to raise the money to put it in and it will hopefully be up and running by June or July.

Is it similar to what’s set up in England with the amenities for the teens?

Yes. UCLA set a team over to England two years in a row and they studied everything we do. David Feinberg sent a team over initially to figure out whether it was worth doing. You can’t do this without the help of everybody being committed and saying” we’re on board on this” because this will make everybody’s life easier. It’s just a bit of organization within the hospital, that’s all it is. So he sent a team over and they said, “We’ve got to have it, it’s the gold standard.” And from then on its run its course. Like I said, it will be finished in July and it’s the first one. It’ll be called the Daltrey/Townshend unit. They wanted to call it that, we certainly didn’t insist on it. (laughs) I’m very honored that they’ve done that. We’re in the process of putting the team together for the Teen Cancer America foundation organization in place. But while that’s happening UCAL are acting as our broker. If you go onto their web site, you can go into Teen Cancer America and they’ve got an escrow account and they’re holding onto the money. If you want to put contribute some money you can do so. And I encourage everyone to help. If money comes through Teen Cancer America it will then go to the hospitals around America where we’ll build these units.

How would you encourage people to get involved?

I’d encourage people to get involved with fundraisers as well as awareness because teens suffer from the worst cases of late diagnosis because they’re so active. They get a bump and think, “Oh, I cut my leg playing football” and it’ll be aching for a week. Then after two weeks they might go and see a doctor who could see, “Well, you’ve got a bruise playing football” and leave it at that. Then they’ll go back in another month after it still hasn’t healed and they’ve got something really serious. So awareness and more education is crucial. And we provide that: we go around to schools teaching teens. Don’t be frightened to check your balls and your breasts, you’ve gotta do it. It really is important. It’s such a closed up society and people get embarrassed to talk about it but you need to do it. You must save your life.

Tell us about “Who Cares.”

The first thing we created was the “Double O” charity and we did all kinds of different things. Then Pete (Townshend) took that over after Keith (Moon) died but we all still did things for it, but he kind of ran that. “Who Cares” is just the name we put on all of our charitable work. We’ve performed at so many charity events so it seems right to have a name for what we do. Who cares just says it all. You can only do it if you believe in it. That’s how I am.

Lastly, what are your hopes for the future of Teen Cancer America?

I just hope I can inspire people to understand how needed this is by looking after this age group, because they are gonna be your future leaders and they will create a better world. You look after them when they’re being kicked, it will change things. Make no bones about it, the idea for this cancer charity is once we get these units in, all of them will have access. It’s not gonna be exclusive to the ones who have money and the others won’t get in. There’s not gonna be any of that stuff. I can’t change the world but I can build a brick and that brick might go on to build a very big city.

For more info on how to get involved:

Retro-Active is written by Ken Sharp, who can be reached directly at or 818-986-9715. © 2016. All rights reserved.

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