Ian Snowball - A Tribute To Keith Moon (There Is No Substitute) book review

Collection of tributes to rock’s most iconic drummer reveal the man behind the myth.

Keith Moon photograph

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The spirit of this remarkable collection of disarmingly touching tributes to the late Who drummer is most accurately captured in the final aside from Jack Bruce’s contribution: “But everyone knows all the stories.” And indeed we do. Even vaguely interested parties are more than familiar with ye olde Roller In The Pool story, many rock fans’ earliest memories involve their mother gently intoning the tale of the hotel toilets blown up with cherry bombs, and who among us didn’t fall out of their cot laughing the first time they heard the one about the birthday cake and the broken tooth?

Refreshingly, with A Tribute To Keith Moon Ian Snowball has eschewed the all-too-familiar route-one approach of concentrating on Moon’s excesses (which, when regarded from adulthood and in light of subsequent events, are more tragic than admirable) to shine new light on the man behind the myth, who also happened to be one of the finest, most intuitive, inspiring and unorthodox drummers in rock history.

Rick Buckler recalls an inspirational figure “always on ten, pushing for eleven”, Carl Palmer “a lovely guy, a great man and an absolute gentleman”, in a touching introduction Pete Townshend speaks of “someone whom I admired, whom I enjoyed being with, whose small foibles all seemed attractive and engaging to me”.

There’s a lot of love in here, and a heap of respect. Both The Kinks’ Mick Avory and The Yardbirds’ Jim McCarty acknowledge that while they (along with Charlie Watts and Ginger Baker) became rock drummers after a jazz apprenticeship, Moon was the first pure rock drummer. A flamboyant freestyle innovator and pioneer, he provided a template for a generation of drummers, a slew of whom queue up here to give thanks and gush praise.

Illustrated beautifully with heroic shots of its subject, this heartfelt tribute makes a fair fist of finally redressing the balance of Keith Moon’s legacy. He shouldn’t be remembered simply for the vicariously amusing side effects of his debilitating addiction to alcohol, a disease that stole his heath, destroyed his young family and that he ultimately died trying to remedy. He should be remembered as rock’s most iconic drummer, an instinctive, impulsive talent who never bowed to the disciplines of a time-dictating hi-hat, but just hit everything in sight. A man his late, ex-wife described as being “too big for this world”.

Ian Fortnam

Classic Rock’s Reviews Editor for the last 20 years, Ian stapled his first fanzine in 1977. Since misspending his youth by way of ‘research’ his work has also appeared in such publications as Metal Hammer, Prog, NME, Uncut, Kerrang!, VOX, The Face, The Guardian, Total Guitar, Guitarist, Electronic Sound, Record Collector and across the internet. Permanently buried under mountains of recorded media, ears ringing from a lifetime of gigs, he enjoys nothing more than recreationally throttling a guitar and following a baptism of punk fire has played in bands for 45 years, releasing recordings via Esoteric Antenna and Cleopatra Records.