Former Melody Maker journalist Chris Welch remembers a fun night with Keith Moon, Ronnie Lane and Vivian Stanshall.
Keith Moon gained a terrifying reputation for wrecking hotels during his American touring days with The Who. He’d set off cherry bombs in toilets, throw TV sets out of windows and drive cars into swimming pools. But when he actually bought his OWN hotel he was always on his best behaviour. At least he was the night when I was among his guests at The Crown & Cushion in Chipping Norton, in the Cotswolds.
‘Keith’s bought a pub, come on down and have a drink!’ was the intriguing message from the drummer’s press officer one summer’s day in 1970. In truth the idea of spending an evening with Mr. Moon often filled folks with dread. There was a strong risk of being de-bagged, flour bombed and thrown into a fountain.
But arriving at the scene of his latest madcap adventure, Keith was not only on his best behaviour, he was taking the task in hand very seriously. He had invested in the purchase of the 15th century coaching inn with business partners Ron and Yvonne Mears and planned a sensible career away from The Who.
Arriving with photographer Barrie Wentzell, the lounge was almost deserted. But there was Keith behind the bar, beaming and resplendent in a huge bow tie. ‘What will you have dear boy? By the way, have you seen this? It’s the latest gadget, a microwave oven’. I was fascinated by this technological marvel but distracted by the unexpected arrival of old friends, Ronnie Lane of Small Faces and Faces fame and Vivian Stanshall formerly of the Bonzo Dog Band.
Barrie’s photograph of us all clustered around the bar, casually smoking our Benson & Hedges and delighting in Keith’s company perfectly captures the spirit of a more carefree era. When I saw this picture for the first time in over 40 years it was rendered all the more poignant by the realisation that I was the only surviving member of this happy scene.
It also reminded me of the prank that Moon had played, as the bar filled up with customers. A white haired man with a military moustache and clipped accent to match barked loudly at Keith
‘The service here is outrageous. I demand to speak to the landlord.’ Keith popped his Marty Feldman eyes and replied haughtily, ‘I AM the landlord.’ Exit dissatisfied customer grumbling loudly.
I hastily scribbled down this exchange in my notebook not realising it was all set up for my benefit by Moon, in cahoots with Lane and Stanshall, who cheered loudly on cue. Sadly, I never saw them all quite so cheery again.
Ill health and hard times would take a terrible toll. Keith passed away in London in September 1978 from an overdose of tablets taken to combat alcoholism. Stanshall died tragically in a fire at his North London flat in March 1995 and Ronnie Lane passed away in America in June 1997 as a result of multiple sclerosis.
As we Picture This, we can savour a moment in time, when these wonderful, remarkable people were at their happiest. Cheers Keith.
Footnote: Journalist and author Chris Welch joined Melody Maker in 1964 and during 16 years with the weekly music paper interviewed dozens of stars including The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Dusty Springfield and David Bowie.
During the 80s he wrote for Kerrang! and in 1989 became editor of Metal Hammer and Rock World. Then in 1995 he joined Repertoire Records as an editorial consultant.
During his career, Chris has written more than 30 books on music. He was awarded a Gold Badge for his services to the music industry by BASCA in October 2012.