Artist recalls the day Keith Moon proposed

RELAXED Anne in her Southsea studio
RELAXED Anne in her Southsea studio
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Anne Brenchley Damarell loves nothing better than the serenity of quiet Cornish beaches when she visits with her husband Dave and their dog Sonny.

The peace of a deserted coastline inspires her so much that the artist has produced dozens of oil paintings of the wild scenes.

But as she chats contentedly in her Southsea studio about her life and work, she also reveals a rather more hectic past.

For things might have been very different for Anne – had she accepted a surprise marriage proposal when she was just 16.

It was the 1960s and the teenager was discovering life in Watford – at that time a hotbed for the emerging Mod culture. Into her world came a talented band heading for stardom and among them a young lad called Keith Moon.

The hellraising drummer of The Who was a shy 17-year-old at this point and it was early days for the group. While Anne’s big sister Patricia dated frontman, Roger Daltrey, Keith became quite taken with the younger girl and even proposed to her.

‘We were kind of going out and he just said one day “let’s get married”. My attitude was “you must be mad, of course not,” laughs Anne, now 63.

‘I was studying and wanted to go to college. I remember Patricia saying “I think he really means it, I think he just wants to be loved.”

‘Well he married a girl a couple of years later when he was only 19. So I guess he really did want to get married.’

The girls had got to know the band when they played at the club where Patricia was a cloakroom attendant and for a while they were a part of The Who’s social scene.

But the band were heading for the stratosphere and Keith to a headline-making life of mind-blowing performances, trashed hotels rooms, exploding drum kits and alcohol abuse.

‘Keith was a really nice guy, they all were,’ recalls Anne, sitting on the studio floor surrounded by the tranquil coastal scenes. ‘When I met him he was a shy little guy who was really well-spoken, neat and tidy.

‘But it all happened so quickly. Over a period of about six to eight months, he went from a shy guy to a noisy guy – not in a destructive way then, he was a fun sort, always breaking his sticks and flinging them at the kids.’

The sisters would go to London’s Marquee Club, where the band had a residency, and drink with them before the sell-out gigs. But life was changing for the lads.

‘Things were moving so fast for them and I just couldn’t keep up. They were always working and travelling. That’s the thing you never read about in the papers and I think people don’t realise. Those guys worked really hard. You just hear about people going crazy and smashing things up but think of all the rehearsals. They were fantastic live and they worked hard to get it right.’

Anne was conscientious with her own studies and career. The talented young woman graduated from London’s prestigious Saint Martins College of Art & Design with a degree in graphic design and illustration and began working for a record company.

In 1970 she was commissioned to design the cover for the album of a new musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. The soundtrack for the first big stage success for Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice showed a photograph of the sun and lettering designed by Anne.

Looking at the album cover in her studio, she says: ‘We had to do it without even hearing the soundtrack and I went for a very soft, hippy style. I didn’t see the musical until about 10 years ago and I’m not sure it really fitted.’

But she put a lot of work into it, visiting the London Library and basing her design on centuries-old manuscripts written by monks.

And someone must have been pleased with it. The cover also made it on to the CD and is in households all over Europe. Unfortunately, there were no ownership rights for artists in those days. ‘I received £75 which was probably about three weeks wages for a secretary in those days. I might go and see that Andrew Lloyd Webber and tell him he owes me,’ laughs Anne.

In the mid-1970s when the film of The Who’s rock opera album Tommy was being filmed in Portsmouth, Anne was living in Chichester.

‘People said go over there and see them. But I was far too grown-up and sophisticated by then to do something like that,’ she laughs.

She was in the car with Dave on the A3 when she heard about Keith’s death on the radio in 1978. The drummer died of an overdose of pills used to combat alcoholism.

‘What happened to Keith was so sad. He was this quiet guy I think who just ended up loving the response. I always think there must have been these expectations of him when he entered a room. It must have been like playing a part.’

Anne went on to work at ITV in Southampton for a couple of years, designing graphics for the weather reports and the films being screened.

‘It was hard work, chaotic a lot of the time,’ she says. ‘I was given a few designs a day and there were no computers, it was all crayon and ink and then it would just be placed in front of the camera.’

She left to have her son Sam and has since dabbled in the art world. But she hadn’t picked up a paintbrush for years before she decided to have a go at some coastal landscapes.

Now she has a collection and a date for her first exhibition. Anne’s work will be on display at Oxmarket Centre of Arts in Chichester from Monday.

‘What inspired me was going to Cornwall more and more. We go about four times a year and I love it in the winter, when the weather is nice but it’s really quiet,’ she says.

In some of her paintings she has brought out myriad colours in cliff faces.

‘The more you look, the more interesting they are,’ she says. ‘All those colours are there.

‘The more we go down there the more we find. There are so many little coves, you go down a lane and end up thinking “Wow, look at that”.’

It was Dave who became a champion of his wife’s work and approached the galleries in Cornwall that display and sell her paintings.

Anne just hopes people like her work and dreams that one day she and Dave will be able to move to Cornwall for a quiet life by the sea.