I loved their pop songs with Brian Jones but for me when he died it seemed as if the creation of structured songs died with him. There have still been many glorious moments of course, but the ramshackle thing never really floated my boat. Having said that, I’m full of admiration for the whole machine and how the wheels have kept turning for so many years. The world is without doubt a better place because of their existence.
Tape was running constantly and part of my job was to log everything they played. We could end up using up to 16 reels of tape a night, and this would often lead to amusing situations. I’d confer with Chris as to how to name pieces, but it wasn’t 100% foolproof when someone asked me to “play that bit, you know, that good bit that we did”.
At the time Mick and Keith weren’t getting on at all which created a lack of focus and cooperation. But their way of working is ingrained in my head for ever. The band were set up in a semi circle with Mick facing them, a bit like a conductor. Ronnie on the left, then Charlie, then Bill, and finally Keith. A PA was set up primarily for Mick and the kick drum. There were several large booths behind the band, used for family members, refreshments, and one for Jim Barber, guitar tech extraordinaire, with a guitar collection that was simply incredible.
Mick and Keith would alternate days to present their ideas. They’d be simple sketches and Mick would, through the PA, endeavour to suggest a structure for the band to work with, for example, let’s go round riff A for a while, then a signal for riff B, back to riff A, etc. While this road map was being presented, Ronnie, the new guy of only 8 or so years, would appear to be listening keenly to the instructions, Charlie would be straightening his jacket, Bill would be utterly puzzled, and Keith would be completely ignoring Mick, intermittently playing load chords and talking and laughing with assorted people. Road map issued, Mick would find a tempo by dancing until he was happy. He’d then start a count, one, two, one two thr……. at which point Keith would start playing the chosen riff really loud, ignoring the tempo and in no way connected to Mick’s count in. Charlie would nonchalantly start to play pretty much immediately, Ronnie would jump in, playing something he hoped would impress enough to preserve his place in the band, and Bill would look at Chris in the control room, completely puzzled. Chris would give him the thumbs up and he’d start. I’ve often wondered if this is why some of their songs start this way – Start Me Up, Brown Sugar, etc. Quite honestly it doesn’t matter whether it’s true, but the thought makes me smile and it’s an amusing example of band dynamics.
We all stayed in the same hotel and my wages didn’t even cover the hotel bill, which in effect meant I was paying for the privilege of working with them, something Mick pointed out to me when I finally plucked up the courage to ask for a wage rise. He simply said no, anyone would work for what they were paying me. So come the Christmas break I jumped ship, apart from helping Chris set up again in the New Year for a couple of days.
There are many more tales to be told about my time in Paris, but nothing appropriate for this post. In spite of all the drama I will always be indebted to Chris for inviting me along for the ride and am in awe of his ability to have delivered the leaking ship safely to shore.
An interesting postscript: after I’d been working with Trevor for a while and we’d settled in to a comfortable working relationship, he received a call from Mick’s people asking if he’d like to produce an album for him. I told him about my Rolling Stones sponsorship deal and so when negations began he told Mick that I was part of the package and that my daily rate was extremely high. We never did the album. Maybe Trev didn’t fancy doing it anyway but whatever the reason I was pretty touched and appreciated the gesture.
I’m forever watching YouTube clips of them backstage, with their grandkids, rehearsing etc. It’s so fascinating that people can have these lives. They seem to have normal families yet are a super wealthy semi stateless monarchy, living on a different planet to everyone else.
I raise a metaphorical glass to The Rolling Stones, the pinnacle of the Rock and Roll Circus, a long gone era…………