Coming back with a bigger bang
A Stones anniversary tour is on the cards -- if they can just stop fighting, writes Joe O'Shea
Fifty years on from first getting together and these days almost as old as the ancient blues-men who first inspired them -- The Rolling Stones could be about to go out on tour once again.
Now all knocking on the door of 70 and with the jibes about "The Strolling Bones" almost as old as their classic albums, Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charley could have, maybe should have, called it a day years ago.
But with their 50th anniversary coming up (they formed in April 1962) and the latest Super-Deluxe album re-issue, the 1978 classic Some Girls, arriving this week, momentum is growing for a year-long celebration of one of the greatest legacies in 20th Century music.
And if recent history is anything to go by, a 50th anniversary world tour with related music and merchandising sales would be a multi-billion-dollar epic.
Keith Richards has already hinted at a reunion and tour, confirming that three of the four Stones are planning to get together shortly to "play a little together, because we haven't played for three or four years".
The only obstacle to a possible tour would appear to be the size of Mick Jagger's, er, package. And, for once, that doesn't refer to the famously business-minded frontman's cut of the receipts.
Jagger is said to be still fuming about Keith Richards' uncomplimentary observations on his "todger" in last year's Life, his laugh-out-loud, hugely irreverent autobiography.
After saying that Mick was often "unbearable", Richards went on to claim that his long-time partner-in-crime was in possession of "a tiny todger . . . he's got an enormous pair of balls -- but it doesn't quite fill the gap".
Having swapped insults, recriminations and women through the 1960s and 1970s and still maintaining a bolshy kind of brotherhood with "Keef", Mick might have been expected to let that one pass.
But the gleeful (and predictable) "Mick Can't Give No Satisfaction" headlines must have gotten to Jagger; relations between himself and Richards have since been frosty at best (journalists who interview Jagger now get a stern warning from his PR people not to bring up the "todger issue").
Not that Mick's obvious displeasure has stopped Keith from playing the mischievous, dishevelled jester (a persona that Johnny Depp famous borrowed for Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise).
Just last weekend, Richards compared working with Jagger to "working with Maria Callas", a reference to the famously difficult diva who took opera as close to rock 'n' roll as it would ever get in the 1960s and 1970s.
"The diva is right and we've got to try and put music together without annoying the diva," said Richards of his notoriously fractious relationship with Jagger.
"If the diva gets too annoyed, then I get pissed off. Do you think when we get together we're all like happy families? Forget about it. We've been fighting cats and dogs all our career.
"We're like brothers in that sometimes we love each other and sometimes we hate each other and sometimes we don't even care. I've been playing guitar, watching that bum dance in front of me for years," Richards told the Observer newspaper.
Fifty years on, the oldest Stone, drummer Charley Watts, is rocking up to his 70th birthday and Keith and Ronnie Wood are well past their booze 'n' drugs guzzling heydays (even if Wood is still prone to falling off the wagon occasionally).
And they hardly need the money that a tour would bring.
Together, they have sold more than 200 million albums and released eight number one singles. 2005's A Bigger Bang tour became the highest-grossing tour of all time with more than $500m in tickets sales alone (since bettered by U2's 360Â° tour of 2009-11).
And at one '05 concert, on Copacabana beach, 1.5 million people turned up to watch them live.
Dave Fanning, who has interviewed most of the Stones at one stage or another, believes it's not about the money and laughs at Stones fans who carp about yet another tour "ruining their legacy".
"Thirty years ago, we were all laughing at these guys, they came to Slane and people were making jokes about Geriatric Rock coming to Slane," says the radio and TV presenter.
"They were showing their age then, they were supposed to be well past their best. But they're still going, and there is no point in getting worked up about it or worrying about them ruining their legacy or any of that stuff.
"That legacy is set in concrete, those albums that they recorded and all of those black and white photos of them in their pomp in the '60s, they are not going anywhere.
"The fact that they are touring well into their 60s, well that's a bit of a joke, it's a bit of a sham, but why not? They are musicians, it's what they do.
"At this stage it can hardly be about the money, there's no way they need it. I think they want to get up there, get that acclamation from the crowd, run through the songs. And in a way, the Rolling Stones have become their own tribute band".
Fanning points out that the bluesmen who would have inspired the young Mick and Keith in the first place, listening into American Armed Forces Radio or to vinyl brought back from the US, had no problems with going into late old age.
"You look at the guys they looked up to when they were kids, bluesmen in their 70s who actually looked and sounded better sitting on a stool, then you could say that it makes a kind of sense.
'And Jagger's smart, he runs around for the first song and everybody says, 'Wow -- he's 30 years older than me and he's got so much energy' and then he takes it dead easy until the very last song.
"Keith Richards always slouched over the guitar -- OK, these days he's practically horizontal to the floor -- but that look works for him and, again, it goes back to the old blues guys who inspired them."
There has been an explosion in nostalgia rock and pop over the past decade, with major acts from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s going back out on the road.
The Rolling Stones could even claim to have continued to record new material in recent years, going one better than a slew of acts from Beachboy Brian Wilson to Indie heroes The Pixies, who tour entire classic albums.
Fanning believes it could be down to people simply wanting to hear the music that inspired and sound-tracked their youth.
"I went to see Kraftwerk in the Olympia in Dublin and, yes, the crowd were mostly guys in their 40s, probably taking a break from their IT jobs or working in labs or whatever, and they were just there to enjoy the music they know," says Fanning.
Nostalgia is big and it is also lucrative. The Rolling Stones could probably do three nights in the 02 in Dublin or a one-off in Croke Park next summer without having to worry too much about ticket sales.
And in the current economy, with the music industry feeling it worst than most, 60-something rockers, singing songs about chasing girls and doing deals with the devil still represent a guaranteed banker.