Photo of Tony Haslam, crouched next to Roger Daltrey, by M. Anthony Byers.
“I was a rust repairer and full-time survivor”. A typically irreverent line used by Keith Moon to describe his career path during the Who’s disorderly appearance on Russell Harty’s chat show in 1973. It was also a line often used by Tony Haslam, one of the band’s longest serving road crew. Unfortunately Tony has fought that last battle, passing away from a cancer-related illness on Wednesday, 2 March 2011.
Hailing, like many of the Who’s original crew from the West London suburbs, Haslam started out as a dancer on the stage in musical theatre in Manchester and Liverpool in the mid ‘60s before returning to London and playing drums in a group that featured singer Andrew Jakeman (later to become better known as Jake Riviera, future manager of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe).
Tony started working for the Who on 21 June, 1968 when helping Bob Pridden and fellow roadie, John “Bumper” East set up the gear at Durham University where the group shared a stage alongside Status Quo, the Nashville Teens and Ray McVay and ‘His Band of the Day.’
As that line-up indicates the Who’s fortunes were in temporary stasis but by the time Haslam became a permanent member of the crew later that year the band had commenced recording Tommy and the process of their rejuvenation began.
Tony was present throughout the sessions at IBC Studios – at Pete’s request he played on the early run-throughs of ‘I’m Free’ while Keith got the hang of the tricky timing. In fact, Moon used Haslam’s own Premier kit for the album’s recording. Playing live was necessary to cover studio costs and Haslam recalled loading Moon’s gargantuan Premier ‘Pictures of Lily’ drum kit out of the family garage into the crammed van bound for the next gig or events like the Rolling Stones’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus where he can be seen among the knees-up during the rousing ‘Salt Of The Earth’ finale.
On stage, Tony’s position was stage right – standing next to John’s mighty bass armoury – and he was often involved in some of the band’s most notorious onstage incidents – particularly the invasion of the Royal Albert Hall by marauding Teddy Boys who disrupted the Who’s performance by demanding co-headliner Chuck Berry’s return (Tony’s mace gun sent ‘em scattering) and when, without warning, a plain-clothes cop ran on stage at New York’s Fillmore East, Tony instinctively grabbed the intruder from behind while Roger and Pete both had a go – landing them in hot water with the NYPD.
Haslam also drummed with Daltrey protégé’s Bent Frame, who recorded some (mainly) unreleased songs for Track Records in 1969. Their roadie Roger Searle (a childhood friend of Tony’s) would later join Haslam to man the desk in the Who’s lighting department.
By the early ‘70s the band’s pioneering use of audio and visual technology lead Haslam to be installed as their chief Lighting Designer – see his credit at the end of the BBC TV Second House special covering the 1974 Charlton concert. During the Who’s increasingly long periods off the road, Haslam and other crew members were well regarded enough in the business to be hired by other bands such as Led Zeppelin, Humble Pie and ELP – although Tony’s tenure with the latter ended abruptly after an incident involving Greg Lake’s onstage carpet and a Stanley knife!
With the amount of excess around in the Seventies, Tony’s drinking became a problem until finding the courage to dry out after his marriage in early 1976. Tony was always on hand to offer help and encouragement to Keith (and later Pete) with their difficulties in this area.
After leaving the Who’s employ in 1980, Tony and wife Linda relocated to Cornwall, where his family had moved. Haslam worked for the National Trust in coastal path restoration and work on trust lands, where he was placed in charge of a team of young offenders undertaking community service.
Tony’s first scrape with mortality occurred when he suffered a brain haemorrhage in the late‘90s of which doctors said he had only a thin chance of surviving. As a testimony to his dogged determination he miraculously pulled through and it was during his extended period of recovery that I first met him.
Being an inveterate hoarder Tony had set-lists, schedules and all sorts of paraphernalia from his years with the Who and so he was an invaluable research source when Matt Kent and I were working on our book, Anyway Anyhow Anywhere. Beyond this, Tony’s enthusiasm for the project and his sheer charm lead to a genuine friendship.
I will fondly remember my visits where he and Linda were gracious hosts. Tony became my unofficial, unpaid tour guide around the Cornish coasts – a joke, a smoke (purely for medicinal purposes, understand!) and an anecdote never far away.
His health took a turn for the worse last year and unfortunately he was not to recover. Tony Haslam was a bubbly, kind-hearted soul and someone whose fond affection for the Who – and those heady times – was evident to all who knew him. I’ll miss you, mate. God bless ya.
Andy Neill