One was the son of a composer, the other was a movie star’s brother. Together Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp discovered, filmed, inspired and pushed The Who to ever greater heights. Alastair McKay considers their mercurial careers and a new documentary on rock’s odd couple, Lambert & Stamp. Somewhere in the ghostly margins of Lambert and Stamp, there is a brilliant film about a 1960s rock’n’roll band. The film is stylish and jagged, taking its manners from Jean Luc Godard and la nouvelle vague, but it captures the fashions of a select corner of swinging London. It is a strange kind of film, almost as bizarre as the band it documents. That group, now known as The Who, but then operating as the High Numbers, were a combustible art project, too ugly to be famous, and too full of contradictions to survive.
The guitarist, Pete Townshend, was at art school, and the other three had jobs. The singer, Roger Daltrey, was a factory worker who was in the habit of settling arguments with his fists. Some of those arguments were with the drummer, Keith Moon, who was nobody’s idea of a conventional musician. The bass player, John Entwistle, worked in the tax office.
That film was never completed, more’s the pity, though James D Cooper’s documentary does include tantalising fragments of it, along with interviews from a French documentary about The Who and the accompanying mod movement, offering a reminder of a time when rock’n’roll was still writing its own mythology. In the case of The Who, as Townshend observes, that meant exploring the genre’s built-in obsolescence. At the start of the group’s career, he notes, everyone believed that pop music was going through phases, none of which would last long.
“So I had the idea that it would deliberately blow itself up.” A traditional rock documentary might explore that thought, and show how The Who channeled Townshend’s destructive urges over decades, despite his feeling that he would be doing something else – something more valuable – within a couple of years. More here: Lambert & Stamp: The men who made The Who