He only recalled his experience after talking to his mother as he wrote his autobiography, Who I Am.
And the guitarist admits he prefers playing without Who bassist John Entwistle, who died in 2002.
Townshend was sent to live with his grandmother when he was four years old, and remained with her until he was six. He describes the woman as “very Victorian, dominating, bullying and screwy with no moral basis.”
The memories returned in discussions with his mother. Townshend tells Rolling Stone: “She filled me in on those two years and I started to see why so much of my writing is so dark, why so much of my cold presence on the stage appeared to be angry, rage.
“What I discovered in the book is all of this stuff made me into who I am. It was great because it had tempered me and done something in the way I process everything I see around me. The audience loved what I did because they too each had their own shit.
“I wanted to be angry – but it was exactly the opposite.”
Townshend says he allows Who bandmate Roger Daltrey to take charge of the band’s stage shows these days, and he’s left the singer to create the production for their upcoming Quadrophenia tour.
But despite having lost Entwistle a decade ago, and drummer Keith Moon in 1978, the guitarist admits: “We feel the ghosts.”
He continues: “The second phase of the Who, in a sense, was really when we started to tour again around 2001. We were still able to evoke the sound, particularly with Zak Starkey
“Now it’s much more difficult – John’s sound was very rich and organic. When John died there was a hole in the sound on stage and I was able to grow into that and find space. I have to say, as a guitar player, I prefer working without John.
“But as a member of the Who creating the incredible powerful, driving, visceral sound, he’s gone. I can’t really do that.”
Townshend recently revealed the police officer who led the investigation into his 2003 sex offence investigation wrote him a letter saying: “We knew you weren’t a paedophile.”
-Classic Rock Magazine