The Who’s Keith Moon and the tragic death of his driver
- Credit: Jim Summaria/Wikimedia Commons
The Who’s Keith Moon will forever be remembered as one of rock’s all-time great drummers, but his short life was filled with tragedy, most notably the accidental death of his chauffeur Neil Boland outside a Hatfield pub.
By early 1970, The Who had hit the big time.
Forming in 1964, Moon, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and John Entwistle rejected the cocky strutting of the Rolling Stones and the romance of The Beatles, instead leaning on their feelings of alienation and isolation.
The group of bitter outsiders led the charge for a new era of rock and roll, with a string of top 10 hits and breaking the US market with I Can See for Miles putting them at the forefront of music.
1969 would take them to the next level, as rock opera Tommy and a legendary performance at Woodstock would catapult The Who to becoming a world-class rock band.
From Moon’s frantic drumming to Daltrey’s instantly recognisable voice and Townshend’s guitar-smashing antics, they were different, exciting.
The quartet had also carefully cultivated their sound and image, playing rhythm-and-blues while wearing sharp suits, pointy boots, and Union Jacks to appeal to the fashion-obsessed mod subculture.
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It worked too, as the band secured a fanatical, devoted following. But the mod image would play a part in changing the course of Moon’s life forever.
Since the mid-1960s, there had been panic about the youth of Britain as the mods clashed with the motorcycle-riding, leather-jacket wearing rockers, culminating in violence as the groups fought in Brighton and Hastings in May 1964.
There were also the skinheads, a subculture motivated by social alienation and working-class solidarity, with their name derived from the shaven heads they usually adopted.
On January 4, 1970, Moon, his wife Kim Kerrigan and a group of friends visited the Red Lion in Hatfield as a favour for his neighbour, whose son owned the pub.
With them was Neil Boland, a close friend of The Who drummer as well as his driver and bodyguard.
Moon, Boland and their party were dressed well as mods normally were, standing out and drawing the attention of a nearby skinhead crowd who started to attack them in the car park.
The group clambered into the Bentley they had arrived in as they attempted to flee to safety, but the drunk, angry skinheads prevented them from leaving as they started pelting the car with coins.
In an attempt to diffuse the situation, Boland got out of the car, but a drunk Moon climbed behind the wheel as he tried to drive the others to safety.
In the commotion, the drummer hit his driver, who went under the wheels of the car and was killed.
Moon pleaded guilty to drink driving, driving without a licence and driving without insurance, but the judge threw out the charges, saying of the rock star’s actions: “You had no choice but to act the way you did and no moral culpability is attached to you.”
Not everyone agreed though, with Rolling Stone magazine publishing an article titled ‘Keith Moon Gets Off Easy’.
Despite this, there has been some doubt as to whether Moon was even driving the car, with Boland's daughter believing Kim Kerrigan was actually behind the wheel because of an email she received from a man who claimed to have been part of the skinhead gang that night.
The drummer lived a destructive lifestyle before the incident, infamous for destroying hotel room and blowing up toilets, often fuelled by drink and drugs, but he appeared to spiral afterwards as his personal life fell apart.
According to 70s groupie Pamela Des Barres, Moon was haunted by Boland’s death, telling a newspaper: “One night when we were in bed he broke down and started to cry, calling himself a murderer. He would wake up screaming.”
In 1973, convinced that no one could control his erratic behaviour, Kerrigan left Moon, taking their daughter Amanda with her. She divorced him in 1975, with many believing the star never recovered from the loss of his family.
The drink and drug problem that would cost Moon his life also got out of hand. During the 1973 Quadrophenia tour, at The Who's debut US show in California, he ingested a cocktail of tranquillisers and brandy, passing out multiple times on stage.
In mid-1978, he would rent a flat from Harry Nilsson as he looked to get sober.
Four years earlier, Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas died in the very same flat, and while Nilsson believed it to be cursed, Townshend assured him: “Lightning wouldn't strike the same place twice.”
It would though, as on September 6, Moon was found dead having overdosed on Heminevrin, a drug he had been prescribed to alleviate his alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
It was a tragic end to a troubled life, and one that seemed to turn in a dark direction after the events outside Hatfield’s Red Lion. Whatever happened that night, Moon was haunted by it for the rest of his life.
Nevertheless, Keith Moon is still rightfully remembered as one of rock’s all-time great drummers, and his legacy lives on through The Who’s music today.