andrewcferguson

writer, performer, musician, wine drinker

Tag Archives: rolling stones

Everybody must get Stones: Keith Richards and me

One of my favourite fellow bloggers, Yeahanotherblogger, recently posted about his experiences as a youngster with the Rolling Stones. In Stoned Again and Again, Neil (shock news: yeahanotherblogger’s a nom de plume) gives an amusing account of his lifelong ‘obsession’ (he seems far too well-balanced to be really obsessive) with Mick, Keef and those other cats. Whilst not uncritical of their present lack of output, he clearly retains an affection for them – and the depth of knowledge to link to a couple of lesser known tracks from the Stones’ first imperial period, in the mid-to-late Sixties, the latter of which, Dandelion, I’d never heard..

And it all got me thinking. As the music press goes radge bongo for their first album in years and years (of which more later) what do I think of them myself? Do they still hold any relevance today? Should I be steering Daughter and Heiress towards them (as if she’ll listen, and/or as if she’ll not have made her mind up via Youtube already) as an ineluctable part of her rock n’ roll heritage?

Some context here. I was 5 in 1967, so Pinky and Perky were more my musical bag, man. Later on, I did become aware of the Stones at a relatively young age via the magic of my older brother and sister’s record collection. I still remember being especially impressed at the cover of Sticky Fingers (1971) with its picture of a pair of well-filled jeans, and an actual zip! Come to think of it, I think Toe Blister’s still got that album – might even be worth something now.

By the time I had got through my Pinky and Perky phase, the Stones were mainly absent from such crucial sources of music we had in the UK like ‘Top of the Pops.’ Actually, in the mid to late Seventies, ToTP was pretty much the only source of new music on the TV in the UK: but by then, the Stones were rich and famous enough to be tax exiles, and didn’t deign to appear on the show. Come to think of it, given the number of TOTP presenters who’ve since had their collars felt by the constabulary for alleged – and in some cases – proven misdemeanours of the morally turpitudinous type, that was a pretty smart move.

So the Stones were gone from the current music scene, and viewed by some as part of the old guard that had to be swept away by the cleansing wave of snot that was Punk, circa 76/77. Not that it was obvious from your average disco DJ’s set of the time: as a bit of relief from Rose Royce, Gloria Gaynor, and the like, a few ‘classic’ Stones numbers were generally thrown into the set: but then, Paint It Black, Ruby Tuesday, Brown Sugar are the like are pretty damn danceable, after all. I was always intrigued by the opening bars of ‘Black,’ especially: that sitar!

So the Stones were great to party on to. But in terms of still being relevant? I remember hearing ‘Start Me Up,’ the single off ‘Tattoo You’ in 1981, by which time I was a 19-year-old serious-minded student of Rock (that wasn’t my actual degree, but it might as well have been – see earlier post on my ill-judged attempts to become the next Bruce Dylansteen). I was pretty underwhelmed. Still am, in fact – I always felt that was the beginning of the end for the fabled Jagger-Richards songwriting partnership.

Then, a long period passed – in fact, most of the Eighties and Nineties – when, for me at least, the Stones were more about the myth than the music. Specifically, the Glimmer Twins legend. It was almost as if the two of them had realised the game was up with a clever tune and a lyric and decided to construct a whole new mythology instead. Mick became cast as the stereotypical Lead Singer: vain, self-obsessed, good with the media; Keith, on the other hand, was the cool one, the moody Guitarist with the tortured-artist addictions and the piratical dress sense.

Other parts of the Stones’ actual history were grist to the mill of the myth: tragic, mysterious early death of founder member; bad acid and stabbing at Altamont as the band played on with ‘Sympathy for the Devil,’ drugs busts, Redlands, Marianne Faithfull and that Mars Bar. The Establishment was trying to take them down, man. Even exile in France wasn’t so much as prudent tax avoidance as sticking it to the Man.

Along the way, certain inconvenient truths were buried, particularly around Brian Jones’s part in the early years. It was interesting to read, last year, Keef’s autobiography, Life, and more or less straight afterwards  Paul Trynka’s biography of Jones. The latter gives a possibly slightly overstated version of Jones’s significance, but it does show how it was his band originally, how Mick and Keef marginalised him, and eventually left him with no place at all. Jones was far from blameless in all of this – he doesn’t seem to have been a particularly nice person, and he clearly ‘had issues’ – but it’s the way he’s been written out of the band’s history that’s striking.

Back to the Sage of Dartford though. Don’t get me wrong: respect is due from any guitar player for how, following Jones’s departure, Keef was largely responsible for refining the Stones’ sound around a riffing, country-blues vibe that played to the band’s strengths, along the way collaborating with Mick Taylor and then Ronnie Wood in a way that stepped away from the lead/rhythm guitarist paradigm and, instead, paved the way for a more egalitarian twin-guitar approach. And don’t be put off by my comments about his autobiography: it is highly entertaining, especially about the drugs busts, and well written. There’s even a section on tunings which will help you to work out how to play his stuff more accurately.

Look, I see myself as a guitarist rather than a lead singer, so like why wouldn’t I want to be a bit more Keith Richards? Indeed, I often feel the answer to many of my life’s dilemmas might well be, ‘what would Keith Richards do?’ And ‘Gimme Shelter,’ which very definitely has Keef’s fingerprints all over it, is my favourite Stones song ever.

It’s just, well, I dunno. He kind of takes the credit away from everyone else, somehow?

So, in his bio, he claims the only reason they recruited Bill Wyman was he had a big old bass amp. That famous meeting of Jagger and him on the railway platform at Dartford? He only got talking to the cat because of his record collection. In a recent interview with Uncut to push the new album, ‘Blue and Lonesome,’ he uses the same reason for hooking up with Brian Jones: ‘Brian was the first person I knew that had a Robert Johnson record … Very rare. That’s when I captured him. “I’ll take you, and the record!”‘

See what I mean? Even Mick Jagger’s apparent upturn in harmonica playing on the new album, according to the same interview, is down to him, via Ronnie Wood: as the interview puts it, ‘the two men worked discreetly, good-naturedly stoking Jagger’s enthusiasm for the harmonica.’ You can’t – or at least I can’t – help feeling a tad sorry for Brenda, as Keef calls him: forever guilty of acts of lead singerism, dependent on his guitarists to jolt him into harp-playing reanimation, the eternally uncool straight man.

Will I be buying ‘Blue and Lonesome?’ Nah. Partly because that pure, unadulterated blues isn’t really my thing, but also because, well, if I want to listen to the blues, there’s an excellent local band called Lights Out By Nine I could go and see in a small venue. I’d rather give them the money, same way I’d rather go see my good friend Norman Lamont recently (and contribute to Edinburgh Foodbanks in the process) perform his ‘Ballad of Bob Dylan’ live than go and see the non-Nobel Prize Ceremony attending old curmudgeon himself when he reaches Glasgow on 7th May (plus I’m working that night, come to think of it).

Still, Keith. We’ll always have Gimme Shelter…and to be fair, even the story of its recording is the stuff of legend.

Image result for keith richards

 

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The Surrealist Year Ahead

 2014

JANUARY

The rock world is shocked by the news that the Rolling Stones have been using prosthetically enhanced lookalikes on stage for years. Jim Henson is credited with giving the session musicians such convincing makeovers that the only original band member to remain on the tours, Charlie Watts, was completely fooled.

‘I’ve been playing with muppets for years,’ an ashen-faced Watts tells reporters, adding, ‘I thought they sounded a bit better than usual recently.’

The real Keith Richards, currently floating in a tank of methadone in a private clinic on the Dutch Antilles, is unavailable for comment.

FEBRUARY

December 2013’s heart-warming story of the couple who had to deliver their baby at Sainsbury’s petrol station at Cameron Toll, subsequently giving their son the middle name Cameron, inspires a rush of copycat births at other retail outlets, in a desperate bid for media coverage. Campbell Starbucks Straiton Sweeney is one picked up by the headline writers for the alliteration, but everyone agrees Louis Vuitton Multrees McLatchie’s parents should have known better.

Mrs Jane O’Rourke is reported as having been thinking about the novels of Alexander McCall Smith, rather than the birth location, when naming her daughter Precious. However, the manager of Poundstretcher’s in Gorgie Road tells the Evening News he was still ‘proud tae lend a hand.’

MARCH

A new dance craze known as gwerking hits the world of celebrity. Soon global figures as influential as Katie Price and Kim Kardashian are spotted wearing v-neck Pringle pullovers and National Health specs, flailing their arms around in a spasmodic manner to Seventies disco hits such as Chic’s 1978 hit Le Freak.

Men of a certain age remain unimpressed. ‘This is just dad dancing dressed up as being something new and cool,’ storms Ronald O’Donald, 49, of Peckham. ‘We’ve been doing it for years.’

However, no one in celebrity land listens to those kinds of people. Miley Cyrus creates a Twitterstorm bitch-fight by saying she’s ‘too young to gwerk.’ ‘I can see it would work for people like Kim,’ she tells !Celeb!!Biz!Online! ‘Maybe when I’ve fully pushed the envelope of the twerk, I’ll be ready to gwerk.’

APRIL

An alien race from near Alpha Centauri finally make contact with the world’s media via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr.

‘We’ve been waiting for you guys to develop something compatible with our systems for aeons,’ the spokesperson, Zog the Archaic (1,003) says. ‘Well done you for getting there in the end. Lol.’

Before  – inevitably – posting a selfie, he adds: ‘We tried visiting you direct, but there was something wrong with the satnav and we kept ending up in a car park near Bathgate. Even we’re not perfect, obvs.’

In a related development, Clackmannanshire Council respond to a Freedom of Information request, admitting that the strange silver disc-like object on the roof of their headquarters in Alloa is in fact a form of router to boost the Alpha Centaurians’ wi-fi signal.

‘We thought it was the least we could do, after that unfortunate misunderstanding in Skinflats,’ a spokesperson says.

@zogthearchaic soon has more Twitter followers than Cheryl Cole. But then who doesn’t these days.

MAY

Fed up with stand up comedians making fun of the lyrics for her 1996 hit Ironic as not being examples of irony (blackfly in chardonnay, a traffic jam when already late, yada yada) Alanis Morrisette issues a remix, where the line ‘isn’t it ironic’ is replaced by ‘isn’t it a bit shite.’ Although she keeps the original song title. Which critics agree is a bit ironic.

JUNE

A news report of an escaped baboon in a Morningside tea shop turns out to be based on a typo in a Tweet about an escaped balloon, slightly dislodging a cake stand at a children’s party.

However, in one of an increasing number of examples of life imitating the internet, a female baboon called Dorothy does escape a few days later from Edinburgh Zoo, making it as far as Corstorphine, where she holds down a job as a waitress in a cafe for several weeks before being recaptured.

‘I did find her a little difficult to understand, but I thought she was maybe just a bit foreign,’ the short-sighted owner, Calista McFlockhart (63) explains. ‘She was very popular with the regulars, although I noticed the scones were disappearing a whole lot faster than usual on her shift.’

Dorothy soon acquires her own Twitter account, @dorothyscone.

JULY

A last ditch attempt by the Scottish Government to make the Commonwealth Games more inclusive sees the rules changed to ensure at least one local competitor is given a place on the starting line up of each sport.

In the 100 metres final, Davey MacSwedger, 37, of Castlemilk, beats Usain Bolt by a clear 7 tenths of a second, and becomes the only gold medal winner in the Games’ history to mount the podium still clutching two packets of meat and a box of disposable razors.

Constables Shaun McDaid, 43, and Malky Malcolmson, 22, come a creditable 7th and 8th despite not being formal competitors. In interviews, MacSwegan thanks them for providing him with his ‘motivation.’

‘I’d also like tae thank Aldi fur providing the trainin facilities,’ he adds. ‘And fur no pressin charges.’

AUGUST

A new crop circle controversy breaks out in East Lothian, where fields of barley sprout what appear, at first sight, to be landing strips for alien craft, the distances between each marker on the strip being 3.14159259 metres, prompting feverish speculation amongst mathematicians as to why aliens would measure things in units of Pi.

After a week two conceptual artists claim responsibility, explaining that the ‘installation’ is meant to represent a giant ruler, being a comment on the unavailability of space for conceptual art in Edinburgh during the Festival. ‘The work plays with sensibilities on space in every sense of the word,’ simpers Jason Twistleton-Smythe, 27, of Chipping Norton.

In an unrelated incident, Damien Hirst  recovers from gunshot wounds in Cumberland Infirmary after an altercation over the use of drystane dyke materials to build his latest artwork on a hillside near Carlisle. The work, a shark made of slate entitled Set in Stone, is believed to be an ironic reference to Hirst’s most famous work, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a 14-foot tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde.

On being charged with the shooting, local farmer George Tomkins (69) comments, ‘It were worrying my sheep.’

SEPTEMBER

The independence referendum is stopped in its tracks by a writ from Donald Trump, who successfully argues that the vote might interrupt his constitutional right to ‘screw as much money out of the little guy as I conceivably can.’ Trump becomes an unlikely hero with the Scots who, scunnered with the whole Yes or No debate, vote to have Trump’s hairpiece declared a Listed Building under the relevant legislation.

The Scottish Government retaliates by making wind turbines compulsory on the pin flags of all golf courses constructed in the last three years.

OCTOBER

Following the inconclusive result in the independence referendum, David Cameron announces the most fundamental shake up of the UK Constitution in a thousand years.

The country will be divided into a house system, similar to that used at most public schools. England will be divided into ‘Southerners’ and ‘Northers’ (beyond Watford Gap) with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each being given their own house. Houses will elect their own Head Boy and Girl, and compete in a series of sports such as lacrosse and cricket to win points.

These will then affect how much money goes to new regional assemblies, known as ‘Common Rooms,’ to spend in the respective regions.

Everyone that matters agrees it’s worth a jolly good go, although there is some predictable whining from Dragon, Saltire and Ulster Paisley Houses.

NOVEMBER

A new phone tapping scandal comes to light. Journalists trying to hack into the private phones of Met Office experts mistakenly gain access to a coach party of pensioners from Swansea driving past the building.

The pensioners’ anxious speculations about the weather, fuelled by earlier tabloid predictions of ninety days of snow and too much prescription medication, set off a feedback loop of inaccurate media predictions which then, in turn, create even wilder speculations on the coach the next day, to be picked up by headline writers the day after. Pieces like ‘Christmas Killer Wave for Cardiff,’ ‘Tsunami to hit Sheffield,’ ‘Snowfall to Flatten Forfar,’ and ‘Avalanche Threat to Aberdeen,’ become commonplace.

Veteran newscaster Michael Fish is wheeled out to confirm that the whole thing is untrue and that a new ice age is not, in fact, due to spread south as far as Macclesfield by next Tuesday lunchtime.

Nobody believes him.

DECEMBER

Scientists announce a research breakthrough: a chemical found only in Brussels sprouts is the cure ‘for almost everything.’ However, clinically significant doses involve daily ingestion of at least 8 ounces of the gas-producing cultivar of Brassica oleracea. R & D departments of major companies go into overdirve trying to refine a more acceptable alternative than eating industrial quantities of the stuff.

In the meantime, as the western world belches and farts its way through Nigella Lawson’s new bestseller A Kilo Of Sprouts A Day Keeps The Ex-Husband At Bay, the Chinese come up with way of extracting the chemical into a single pill to be taken once a day, and keep it to themselves.

As methane levels reach dangerous new highs, however, they relent, and trade the secret process. In return for Scotland, Peru, the Balearic Islands, and the New York Mets baseball team. And the secret recipe for Coke.

Then 2015 dawns, and things get a whole lot weirder.

 

With thanks and love to Heather and Keith Ferguson for their suggestions