I met them on different days and in different places. The two seldom meet or speak: Townshend did play a solo spot in Daltrey's American show last year, but he refused to play alongside Daltrey and the Who's bass player, John Entwistle - or even be photographed with them.
Our conversations provided a number of insights into the past and future of the Who, but the most genuinely shocking concerned neither Daltrey nor Townshend but their long-dead drummer, Keith Moon. Moon the Loon, Moon the hotel room wrecker, Moon the binger . . .
'For a long time,' says Townshend at his Eel Pie Studios in Twickenham, 'we just accepted the commercial view of Keith as a decadent rock star, but in fact he was mentally ill.'
'Yes, and when he had difficulties with his physical health towards the end, we didn't know how to fix him. Keith's behaviour in 1975 / 1976 was very, very psychotic. In the making of Who Are You we realised Keith had lost the ability to play. We took him to AA and we had important figures from AA come in to see him. All the pundits said he wasn't a drug addict or an alcoholic, though a couple of them said to me, 'You are.' They thought he was a schizophrenic or something.
'So the band was over and then suddenly he died. But we didn't grieve. We waved the rock baton like a band of Spinal Tappers. (They toured and made records until 1982.) This new album in a way is a kind of grieving at last for Keith no longer being there.'
The new album is, in fact, a first-class compilation, and like the fascinating new video, contains previously unknown material and the often ignored humour songs from the mid-Sixties.
Daltrey is ambivalent about albums. 'We never produced on record the energy and chemistry we produced on the stage,' says Daltrey. Which is partly why he wants to get the band back on the road. But, on meeting him in the boardroom at Polydor Records, it strikes me that it may also be because he still looks the part - still slim, wiry, the long, girly, curly hair just as it was 20 years ago. 'The Who are never played on the radio,' he says, with justification. 'There are virtually no covers of Townshend songs, which are very difficult to play and sing, and if we don't play live the music dies.'
Townshend, back at Eel Pie: 'The music hasn't died but the ability of the band to tour has.
'When I didn't want to I sat down and tried to write songs for them and I did it for too long.
'I think Roger feels I'm blocking his every move. I've told him if he wants to have a career I'll write for him, but he wants me to come alongside him and relive the past.'
As it happens, it is one of Daltrey's regrets that Townshend hadn't allowed him a share in the writing in the past.
'You see Pete writing all this stuff and you think 'I can write songs, too.' I get frustrated that we didn't try to collaborate at the end when Pete was going through a dry period. I wrote a lot of lyrics on my last album which I played Pete, and he said 'Great'. We might have written better stuff than Pete wrote on his own.'
Townshend: 'I should think he is frustrated. It is frustrating not being able to write songs.'
Daltrey is further frustrated by the highly successful Broadway stage version of Tommy which Townshend is bringing to the West End next year. Says Daltrey: 'I used to see Pete a bit till he got into this Tommy musical. He is harder to see than the Pope these days. I've got differences of opinion with him over Tommy. I don't like what he has done with it, it's not rock 'n' roll any more. It's a bit like selling the family silver. They have adapted Tommy for Broadway and not Broadway for Tommy.'
I ask Townshend if he sees Tommy as his or the Who's. 'I don't want to talk about that,' he says, quietly but firmly.
He will talk, however, about the Who on stage and does so in the new video. 'In 'Sister Disco',' recalls Townshend of their live version of a Who hit, 'there's always a moment when Roger comes over to me and makes some soppy smile, supposed to communicate some Everly Brothers relationship which wasn't really there and in which I'm supposed to collude.'
'I don't know why Pete says things like that,' Daltrey says when I mention it to him. 'I think because Pete wrote this incredible music a lot of the press became sycophantic to him and let him get away with saying things like that.'
That's not all Daltrey feels Townshend is getting away with. 'The personal difference with the musical of Tommy doesn't come between us as friends, if there is a friendship there. But I've always thought it's a cop out for Pete. Rock 'n' roll deals with teenage angst, but it never deals with middle-aged angst. And he has copped out. I've always thought he was one of the writers who would nail that.'
In our interview, Townshend is rather more ruminative about their on-and-off-stage friendship: 'We did have good times, but I think we envy the relationship of the leaders of Status Quo who obviously love one another's company, and it leads to a matiness that the audience responds to. What the audience responds to with the Who is a negative, the fact that we hated one another.'
So why not give it another try? Townshend may have kept apologising during the 1989 reunion that they were not what they once were, but the tour did prove that the Who could still do it as well as anybody. His answer is not entirely convincing. 'The problem really is no drummer. Without Keith there's always this sensation of part of the magic machine not being there.'
Dead set against rejoining the band himself, he is happy, not to say eager, for the Who to tour: he is trying to persuade Daltrey to use the band's name on the solo shows he is doing with Entwistle. Why? Because he's being doing his homework:
'Rock 'n' roll has never been significant to everybody. There are five billion people on the planet and rock has an incredibly small global market. One of the myths of rock 'n' roll is that it's absolutely universal. The lifestyle and fashion ethos has some significance, but football has always been hundreds of times bigger.
'But India has 300 million middle-class people and China will have a rock-buying market soon. And if something called the Who doesn't tour then those people won't know about the back catalogue. The Who's name needs to be refreshed.'
Daltrey refuses to use the band's name without Townshend, despite the fact that he's reorchestrated Who material, put together an orchestra of 80 musicians and is to continue his tour of America before bringing the show to Britain next year. Entwistle (of whom Daltrey says 'It's sad. He's quite lonely. People are too scared to ask John Entwistle to do session work') will play alongside him, as will Pete Townshend's younger brother, Simon.
Daltrey may have the last laugh. 'I might just call the band Daltrey, Entwistle and Townshend.'
See Albums, opposite, for details
AND NEVER THE TWAIN SHALL MEET. . .
Daltrey: I got frustrated that we didn't try to collaborate on songs at the end.
Townshend: I should think he is frustrated. It is frustrating not being able to write songs.
On re-forming and touring
Daltrey: The Who are never played on radio. If we don't play live, the music dies.
Townshend: The music hasn't died but the ability of the band to tour has.
On the 1989 reunion tour
Daltrey: The last tour was amazing.
Townshend: It was OK. I quite enjoyed it, but I did it purely for the money.
Daltrey: I don't know whether we were friends. It's a strange relationship. Our best work and performances were always when we weren't getting on.
Townshend: I don't think Roger knows how to be a chum and I don't think I do either. But I do think we're honest with one another these days. It demonstrates that we care about each other very much.
On Each Other
Daltrey: Rock 'n' roll has never dealt with middle- aged angst. I thought Pete was one of the writers who would nail that, but he has copped out.
Townshend: He wants me to come alongside him and relive the past.Reuse content