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When The Who brawled on stage in front of their fans

British rock icons The Who weren’t exactly known for being the most peaceful band in the world. Their raucous sound was matched by unruly behaviour both on the stage and off it. The Who’s career gave us some of the most notorious stories in the whole of rock, and many of these came via the way of the band’s late rhythmic mastermind, Keith Moon.

At points, there would also be a lot of tension in the band due to ego excess and all the other usual suspects. On May 20th, 1966, these feelings culminated in an on-stage fight at the Ricky-Tick club in Windsor, England. It threatened to destroy the band before they became the icons we know today.

That night, The Who were hosting Beach Boys member Bruce Johnston whilst in the middle of a lengthy UK tour. Keith Moon was a huge fan of Johnston’s and even took him on the TV show Ready Steady Go! to secure him an interview. Bassist John Entwistle joined them, and the trio ended up getting day drunk.

When Moon and Entwistle showed up late for the show in Windsor, Townshend and Daltrey had started the set without them. Fed up with waiting for the pair of drunkards, they enlisted bassist Colin Strandring and drummer Geoff Brown from the opening act, The Jimmy Brown Sound.

Drunk and angry, Entwistle and Moon took over halfway through the set. Moon, in a narcotic and alcohol-induced haze, shouted at Townshend for letting someone use his kit, and the guitarist responded sharply with a remark about Moon not caring enough to show up for the job.

Regardless, the show carried on, but the tensions were rising. Whilst playing the finale ‘My Generation’, Moon’s cymbal crashed into Townshend’s leg, and the guitarist reacted angrily by trying to smash his guitar into a speaker, but he missed, hitting Moon on the head.

How The Who drummer Keith Moon almost blew his own head off

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“I wasn’t hurt, just annoyed and upset,” Townshend recalled in the biography Who Are You: The Life of Pete Townshend. “Keith and John had been over two hours late. Then I swung out with my guitar not really meaning to hit Keith. I lost my grip on the instrument and it just caught him on the head”.

A fight ensued. The curtain came down, with the club announcer alleged to have quipped: “Don’t worry, it’s all part of the show”. Meanwhile, Johnston had been watching events unfold in bewilderment: “I don’t know what sparked it off,” he remembered. “I just remember watching from the side of the stage, and all of a sudden they got in the biggest fight I’ve ever seen. Guitars are swinging; everybody’s just in a frenzy”.

Quickly, the fight ended. Moon had the worst of it with a black eye, multiple cuts and an ankle injury. “Guys were bleeding,” Johnston remarked. “The concert was one of the best things I’d ever seen, (but) I was thinking that maybe ‘God Only Knows’ was more fun to do”.

Huge news, the story of the fight made the front cover of NME. During that issue, Moon announced that he and Entwistle were departing from the band. As we all know, the departures would never take place. Entwistle played with the band the day after the announcement. 

Moon and Townshend were yet to patch things up, though. Only really having music in common, it was a struggle to salvage their relationship. Moon’s mood would last for a while. The Who played a run of shows with replacement drummers, but after a week, on May 28th, he was back in the fold.

Moon struggled with the internal conflict that characterised The Who, but he always remained their drummer. Without him, they wouldn’t have been the same band. At this point in 1966, they still had many classic albums ahead of them, so we can be thankful that he decided to stick it out.

Watch Keith Moon’s final TV interview below.