Saturday 20 January 2018

Can't get no septuagenarian satisfaction

Have some sympathy for the old devils, as the Stones hit the road again with the tantalising possibility of another album

Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones performs during the band's first concert of the 'No Filter' European tour, at the Stadtpark in Hamburg, Germany
Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones performs during the band's first concert of the 'No Filter' European tour, at the Stadtpark in Hamburg, Germany
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

The most bizarre tale in Nick Kent's smack-soaked 2010 memoir Apathy For The Devil isn't about Led Zeppelin's tremendously tubby manager Peter Grant collapsing on to a couch at an Elvis Presley after-show beano and accidentally sitting on The King's father, Vernon.

Nor is about the filmmaker Kenneth Anger announcing: "I just have to crook this finger and Jimmy Page will automatically be turned into a toad." Or even, when in a Cleveland hotel, Sweet's thick-as-a-brick singer Brian Connolly mistook jazz god Count Basie for a porter.

The most bizarre story in Apathy For The Devil, perhaps predictably, concerns the book's author Nick, in London in 1974, taking heroin and cocaine ("the real breakfast of champions") non-stop for 48 hours with the legendarily dissolute Rolling Stone Keith Richards. This was until the latter stopped moving. And Nick thought Richards had overdosed, ie was dead.

Until he woke up.

Decidedly not dead.

If you want to be cruel, you could say that in a sense the septuagenarian Rolling Stones are in a similar state - caught, between life and death, and have been for quite some time. Be that as it may, The Rolling Stones are back on the road, having kicked off their European tour in Hamburg last weekend at the Festwiese Stadtpark in front of 80,000 fans.

From the clips I watched, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood still share a near telepathic musical connection.

It was fantastic to see 70-year-old Ronnie back where he belongs after triumphing over lung cancer. "It's like a gift that can't be bought," he said of being onstage with the Stones. "It's an amazing feeling."

Almost as amazing was that the Stones played Dancing With Mr D (the opening track from the album Goats Head Soup) for the first time since 1973, as well as airings of everything from Happy to Midnight Rambler to Brown Sugar, Sympathy For The Devil and It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It).

Charlie Watts, now 76, still keeps the beat quite like no one else. The 74-year-old Skepta collaborator Mick Jagger and his younger cohort 73-year-old Mr Richards still perform like they long for redemption on the older, bluesier numbers.

The two skinny divas from Dartford will have heard it a million times down through the years that the Stones are a gauche parody of themselves (they will not need to be reminded that Exile on Main Street was hammered by the critics upon its release in 1972 and is now considered one of the greatest albums ever made).

Clearly, they continue to laugh all the way to the bank at these criticisms.

And besides, as Richards said himself in 2015: "The idea of retiring is like killing yourself. It's almost like harakiri. I intend to live to 100 and go down in history."

In Hamburg, they also played Ride 'Em On Down, the Jimmy Reed cover from their last album, 2016's covers collection Blue & Lonesome.

The album's co-producer Don Was said that the blues is, for the Stones, the "fountain-head of everything they do". (The aforesaid Ride 'Em On Down was, in fact, on the set-list for the Rolling Stones's very first gig: July 12, 1962 at London's Marquee.)

Sometimes you get the impression that Jagger, Richards, Watts and Wood are at their happiest in their old age onstage and in the studio doing what the old blues men like Willie Dixon, Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo and Muddy Waters did when they first inspired them in the early 1960s.

There is tantalising talk the Stones are working on a follow-up to Blue & Lonesome.

Being a septuagenarian, of course, is something of a bonus when playing old blues numbers. Either way, a little sympathy for the old devils, please.

Sunday Independent

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