Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert travel by train to Manchester with the Who in 1966. Credit: Colin Jones / TopFoto / The Image Works

Opening this Friday at two local theaters, the 2014 documentary Lambert & Stamp looks at the pair of aspiring filmmakers who, in 1964, adopted a fiery but directionless R&B band in North London and molded it into the guitar-­smashing pop-art sensation we know as the Who. Kit Lambert, son of classical composer and conductor Constant Lambert, encouraged the band’s creative ambition, eventually taking over as the Who’s record producer and prodding guitarist Pete Townshend to create the career-­transforming rock opera Tommy. Chris Stamp, younger brother of actor Terence Stamp, steered Townshend, singer Roger Daltrey, bassist John Entwistle, and drummer Keith Moon through a chaotic period when they were often at one another’s throats and their inclination to destroy guitars, drums, and hotel rooms far exceeded their ability to pay for the damage.

For years the Who’s story has been defined onscreen by Jeff Stein’s raucously funny The Kids Are Alright (1979), which was completed while all the original members were still alive and is less a history of the Who than a part of its legend. Lambert & Stamp is something else entirely, an engrossing business story that approaches the band as a showbiz concern; it recognizes the two managers as full creative partners and probes their relationships with the fractious musicians. What better way to appraise the Who as the two surviving members, Townshend and Daltrey, depart Chicago after Wednesday’s show at Allstate Arena and prepare to roll through town one last time, at the United Center in October? Veteran cinematographer James D. Cooper, making his debut as a producer and director with Lambert & Stamp, took time recently to cross swords with a rabid and opinionated Who fan.

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J.R. Jones: What exactly led you to this project?

James D. Cooper: I met Chris Stamp around the time that he began trying to get [a bio­pic] made on Keith Moon. I was a young cinematographer that had had some success with cinema verite features, and we connected over an unorthodox view on filmmaking that we shared. He had a lot of discussions with me about how he saw that film being made and shot, and a friendship ensued from there. But it wasn’t until ten or 15 years later that my partner Loretta Harms and I brought the idea for Lambert & Stamp to him.

It was a lot easier to figure out from the film Kit Lambert’s contribution to the band, because he was the son of a conductor and was involved in the songwriting. It was a little harder to figure out what Stamp brought to the equation.

From the onset they were two very different people. Chris Stamp was the tough, streetwise East End mod, kind of a hustler, a raconteur, and I think he filled these young guys with a tremendous sense of confidence and bravado. He had a very hard street sensibility that they identified with. Meanwhile, Kit Lambert was able to provide them with an intellectual cover. Kit was exposed to a lot in the artistic world of West London through his family: his godmother was [ballerina] Margot Fonteyn, and you mention he was the son of classical composer Constant Lambert. He brought a certain conceptual point of view, and he was really great at knowing his way around London society and running up credit to finance the Who. But Chris Stamp was the one that had more follow-through: “OK, that’s great, that’s a great concept. What are we gonna do on Tuesday to put this in effect?”

What do you make of the suggestion that they paid more attention to Pete Townshend, and spirited him away to their flat to live apart from the band, on purpose, to create friction in the band? Do you think that’s a fair assessment?

Well, Pete makes no secret of the fact that he was treated very differently from the rest of the guys in the Who. When [Lambert and Stamp] came into this, they were aspiring film directors. And when they looked at these four very complicated, very difficult guys, they saw four different characters. There was a degree of developing those characters, probably with a degree of conflict—not necessarily antagonistically, but to get the best out of somebody. There was also, with Pete, a degree of pragmatism. Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp said to the Who, “Look, if we want to do things on bigger and bigger levels, you’re going to have to write your own songs.” Pete Townshend said, “Well, I’ve written one song.” And I believe it was Chris Stamp who said, “Well, that will do. If you’ve written one song, then let’s start with you as the writer.”

Also, because Chris Stamp [knew] what was immediate to the street and to the Who audience, he brought a lot of creative things himself. It was Chris Stamp who suggested that Roger Daltrey do the stuttering on “My Generation.” He was aware of the effect of amphetamines on the young kids in the audience—they would stutter when they took too much amphetamine.

Somebody in the movie asserted that Lambert “mentored” Keith Moon. What was that relationship like?

I don’t know that he mentored Keith Moon as much as he allowed Keith Moon to be Keith Moon, and encouraged him to be Keith Moon. A more conventional manager would have told Moon, “Hey, you’ve got to settle down and play the drums! You can’t be how you are.” Kit and Chris probably noticed, like, “No, no, no—be how you are, but be more of how you are.”

Kit brought to these guys a certain flavor from his world; he would teach Moon about fine wine. Chris Stamp had the older brother who was becoming a successful actor. So they were able to give the Who an entree into [the] London elite of filmmaking and film stars, and that kind of thing wasn’t happening as much for rock groups.

If Keith Moon and John Entwistle were alive today, what sort of perspective do you think they would have brought to the film that was different from Townshend and Daltrey’s?

That’s hard to say, because I think it was hard to tell what John Entwistle was thinking at any point. We know that if Keith Moon were still alive, the papers may have never gone through to instigate the formal removal of Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert. So we might have a very different story.

Pete Townshend and Kit Lambert in 1967
Pete Townshend and Kit Lambert in 1967Credit: Tom Wright / Sony Pictures Classics

Shel Talmy, who produced those early singles [“I Can’t Explain,” “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere,” “My Generation”], wasn’t even named in the movie. The Who had a big falling out with him, which ended that business relationship. Yet those records after they left him, like A Quick One [1966] and The Who Sell Out [1967], are legendary for how badly engineered they are. Do you think that’s the managers’ fault, or was that just because the band was so incredibly loud that they couldn’t record them properly?

I don’t know. Whether they’re engineered badly or not, they certainly have their own unique sound. From the point of view of Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert, they never really intended the Who to be a musical act the way other bands were. When they recorded the Who, they were probably more interested in the essence of the songs—there was probably more attention paid to the chemistry between [the band members] than how far on- or off-mike they were.

Roger Daltrey said at one point that onstage they were a completely different band. That was the real band, and the real band was never captured on record.

I think that’s what they tried to do subsequently with Live at Leeds. The Tommy thing had gone on for so long—Live at Leeds was an attempt to capture the band at its raw essence.

There wasn’t too much about The Who Sell Out in the movie. What role did the managers play in the conceptualizing of that record?

At the time, rock ‘n’ roll wasn’t easily played on the BBC. Certain bands wouldn’t be played; I don’t think the Who was getting a lot of airplay. Chris Stamp knew that there were these things offshore called pirate radio, and you could get rock ‘n’ roll broadcasts from these ships that were outside the domain of being told what they could and couldn’t play. They would play jingles and stuff like that, and—this I guess answers the earlier question about what Chris Stamp brought—their idea was to make an album that sounded like one of the broadcasts from the pirate radio ships.

The film reveals how Townshend broke with Lambert over the screenplay Lambert had written for a movie of Tommy. Do you know what Townshend objected to in Lambert’s vision for the movie?

I don’t think it was that per se. Whether the concern was founded or not, there was a feeling by Pete that if Lambert and Stamp went off and made this movie, it would end the management relationship. . . . Kit, for whatever reason, thought he was entitled to [make the movie], and Pete, for whatever reason, didn’t want that. What he states in the film is that he had a fear of losing them. Any reason beyond what’s in the film would be hard to identify. It’s between Pete and Kit, and one of them’s not here anymore.

There’s a really interesting point in the movie that the Who were different because they took their cues from the audience. You could argue that that’s their Achilles’ heel now, because now all the audience wants to hear is “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

From the point of view of Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, because they came into the industry sideways, they recognized that there was an audience in England at the time that wasn’t being spoken to or represented or identified with in the greater world of pop. They saw that this was a different type of audience than was listening to the Beatles or the Stones, a group of people—initially, maybe, in the mod culture—that wasn’t being reflected. And they recognized a synthesis or a synergy between the band and its audience. Lambert and Stamp realized that the Who could harness the power of the audience by mirroring its rebelliousness. I think you’re talking about playing songs for the people in the audience, the songs they want to hear, so it’s maybe a different concept.

The only other manager from that whole British Invasion period that’s ever been treated as a serious creative figure is Brian Epstein. There are some parallels, because he was also somebody with a sense of showmanship, who might have been a good creative mentor but financially didn’t know what he was doing.

Something that Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey both mentioned [is that] at that stage the business was still in its infancy. Nobody really knew what they were doing. There weren’t yet any independent record labels. When you started to have bands like the Who and the Stones, for the people that were getting them out into the public, there was a lot of making it up as you went or bluffing your way through it. The bands were new, so the marketing was new, like how you got gigs—I mean, probably everything was new. It’s like any industry that’s new—you have the early people doing it, there’s a certain amount of winging it, and if you didn’t know exactly what you were doing, you tried to turn that into an artistic advantage.  v