Roger Daltrey review, Teenage Cancer Trust: The Who star bows out from charity with powerhouse performance SuperNayr

In recent years, Roger Daltrey has become a “divisive figure”. Yes, he’s been bullish and belligerent in his misguided support of Brexit, but he’s impossible not to love. Not least because, over 24 years, he’s been the ringleader, curator and driving force behind the annual Albert Hall Teenage Cancer Trust shows, performing more than any other act – both solo and with The Who – and helping to raise £32 million for specialised NHS units to care for young sufferers.

Tonight, before standing down from this selfless role for good, Daltry performs one final Ovation show, joined by a selection of artists he’s cajoled into playing over the years. “This ovation is for all the unsung heroes, all the people that have been there unconditionally,” he says, taking to a “bloody death trap” of a stage as he introduces the night. Besides the rank of teenage sufferers and survivors who make several moving appearances, though, most of the accolades shower down upon the main man himself. For all four hours of the show, the evening’s stars reminisce about Daltrey’s influence and gruff magnanimity while, in pre-filmed messages, Paul McCartney plays him a four-second song called “Thank You Roger” and Steve Coogan declares him “a good bloke” – and The Who “The Kinks for welders”.

The night starts strong. “We’re the warm-up act,” announces Paul Weller, settling in with his stool-bound band for an opening half-hour of pastoral folk balladry, country blues and – no doubt to the befuddlement of anyone who last saw him in ’77 – bouts of bongo and jazz flute. It’s a graceful, if surprisingly rootsy showing for an artist in the midst of one of the most brilliantly experimental late-career runs this side of Bowie, and as “Wild Wood” creeps from the undergrowth to hushed reverence, the tone is immaculately judged.

Apologising to Pete Townshend for “stealing all his tunes for my first album”, Weller invites Daltrey back on for a cover of The Who’s “So Sad About Us” that they haven’t had time to rehearse: “That’s what makes it fun!” Daltrey beams. A similarly crisp and brisk “That’s Entertainment” has you pitying whoever has to follow it, particularly when it turns out to be Stereophonics’ king of beige advert rock, Kelly Jones. Arriving solo and typically tortured, Jones reaches for the heartstrings but manages only the occasional pluck; “You’re My Star” touchingly relives his own family’s brush with cancer. Otherwise, his between-song stories about shopping for his wedding suit with Weller and being given a lift to the first TCT gig in Noel Gallagher’s Rolls Royce are far more interesting than dreary, oversold fare like “Maybe Tomorrow”.

On the topic of stripped-back soul-baring, Jones could learn a thing or two from Eddie Vedder. Though the Pearl Jam guitarist takes to his stool with the demeanour (and pork pie hat) of an unassuming folkie, there’s an in-built dynamism to the songs (both his and Pearl Jam’s) that he flays to country punk bones tonight. He even drops a sly bit of “Pinball Wizard” into “Far Behind” and just about gets away with it.

Vedder also proves himself a master pace-shifter. It’s a poignant moment when he introduces The Frames’ Glen Hasard on a cover of Jerry Hannan’s oppressive “Society”, likewise when he invites his daughter Olivia to provide harmonic counterpoint to his granite mine-shaft of a voice on “My Father’s Daughter”. After which, he ends his set thrashing at his acoustic guitar throughout “Porch” and slamming it onto his stool as if it’s all used up. Now, we are truly among titans.

Sometimes two at once. “When I saw you up there, I thought, ‘Who is this golden god?’” says Robert Plant, catching Daltrey as he heads offstage from compere duties to tell him what an inspiration the early Who were to him as a still-sprouting 16-year-old. It’s classic rock’s equivalent of the two-Spidermans meme. Plant’s set with his new band Saving Grace, however, casts him as more demon than deity.

Saving Grace play ominous, arcane folk songs and covers steeped in an elemental Southern swampland mythology. The sort of songs for which a banjo player is given his own centre-stage podium and the key lyrical takeaway might be: “Keep your hand on that plough, hold on.” As Plant weaves gorgeous lovelorn harmonies with co-singer Suzi Dian, “As I Roved Out” is attacked with slasher flick guitar riffs, and Low’s “Everybody’s Song” becomes possessed by ancient Eastern drama. Meanwhile, staccato brimstone blues infiltrate Led Zeppelin’s “Friends”. Some say they saw the devil on dobro.

Paul Weller (left) and Roger Daltrey (centre), on stage during ‘Ovation’ a celebration of 24 Years of gigs for the Teenage Cancer Trust, at the Royal Albert Hall, London

(Ian West/PA Wire)

“How do you top that?” Daltrey exclaims as he launches into his own final set, declaring “I just wanna have fun tonight”. And, despite batting away requests for “Substitute” (“that’s the other band”), he takes a loose and freeform approach, covering Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door” in the style of a Nashville Who, playing “Squeeze Box” bluegrass style – and bellowing his way through Taj Mahal’s “Freedom Ride”.

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Daltrey’s powerhouse vocals steal the show, whether he’s turning his Leo Sayer-penned debut solo single “Giving It All Away” into a shiver-inducing anthem, embodying Celtic folk’s most heroic balladeer on “Without Your Love”, or starting tornadoes in Texas with a final, guest-accompanied rendition of “Baba O’Riley”.

“I’ve completed the job I set out to do,” he says as curfew descends and his role with the Teenage Cancer Trust shifts from PR to protectionism: “If the NHS goes down, I wanna make sure this charity doesn’t go down with it.” And cementing his standing among rock’s saintliest old sods? That, too, is job done.



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