Postnet Kgale View, Private Bag 351, Suite 287
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Gaborone International Commerce Park
Plot 104, Moores Rowland, Unit 21
In the myriad of legendary stories, Keith Richards, lead guitarist of the iconic rock and roll band the Rolling Stones fell of a tree while goofing about on holiday in Fiji. A portion of the world that listens to the sort of music played by the group held its collective breath in anxiety, and fear. His injuries were deemed serious and in some reports he was in a coma and doctors were battling to save his life. Like all rock and roll stories, the condition of Keith was embellished with every telling. But Keith the craggy, hard living and devil may care axe man lived to tell the tale. Keith they said was not the dying type. Having consumed every type of booze, illicit drug and even mistakenly snorting the ashes of his own father after cremation thinking they were his stash of cocaine , the man was the devil reincarnated and was going nowhere. A fortnight ago, the Stones returned to where it all begun all those years ago in 1962; their hometown of London and played a blistering set to a crowd of 55 000 roaring fans at Twickenham Stadium, the cathedral of English rugby. Unless you are forty five and above, you will not know this band, nor appreciate the creative output that has gripped audiences in thrall for over fifty years now. As we queued up at the gates due to open 4pm, a cursory observation of the crowd riding high on the adrenaline of anticipation revealed the demography that constitutes disciples of the group. The vast majority are middle aged and elderly people. One imagines them as sprightly , hedonistic, testosterone driven kids at the full bloom of youth when the Stones hit the London music scene with a new sound combining deep south American blues originated by descendants of slaves and the new pop played by establishment bands like The Beatles who sang silly boy meets girl, fall in love songs acceptable to the conservative society of that milieu. The Stones were rebels.
They adapted black music from faraway American south which dripped with the blood of the slave whip and in melancholic tones and talking guitar gave expression to the condition of the black soul. Today it will be called cultural appropriation but back then it was incredible innovation. A bunch of white kids led by a boy from a public school speaking in a posh accent playing blues music blended with pop was unheard of. That was the sound of the Rolling Stones and ever since its genesis it remains the trademark beat that contrived to make them the most formidable ensemble in the history of music. As we lined up for memorabilia I heard a mélange of foreign languages that were not English but had come from all over the world to worship at the alter. This was the No Filter Tour which commenced last year and for which many have this sinking feeling it could just be the last before they say goodbye. The combined age of the quartet who make up the Rolling Stones is an astonishing 294 years. They have taken every drug known to man, slept with the best girls over the years and kept hit after hit churning out to an ageing, dying but still adorable audience. In culinary parlance the Stones are an acquired taste. They worm their way into your consciousness, marinate there for time and then either drift away or remain forever and hum in your mind every day. That to me is what happened when many moons ago in Ncojane village, a fellow participant called Fawcus Thabiso one day fired up his little cassette player and played a haunting sort of music the likes of which I had never heard before. I was something of a music man because in our household my mother was a collector of all the big music of the 70s and 80s era. That collection introduced me to reading because back then they had vinyl music albums which on the front had pictures of the group and at the back the text credits. I loved reading the credits of who played which instrument and associated tidbits of information. But we never had the Stones in our home collection. Ours was mainly soul, blues and music from South Africa. For the duration of my tour at national service I grew into this band and then one day I had a tiff with a Peace Corp volunteer who had snatched my chick. It was decided the issue should be discussed man to man and over drinks I started reading his collection of American music magazines and was captivated by edition with a cover picture of four guys called Rolling Stones and the headline announced they would be rolling into Prague, the then Czechoslovakia. That was then.
This is now and in between the years as my somewhat eclectic musical tastes matured the Stones became one of my favourite groups on the list of things to see before a man calls it a day. Over the years I have read about and listened to the Stones and always I dreamt of the day I would see them before one of the quartet kicks the bucket. You see in the chronicle of this band the day one of them dies, then its curtains. It would amount to a wrap. June 17th in London was the day one of my many dream, some of whom I will die before realizing came to life. As we were marshalled into the gigantic arena I saw haunting images painted on the faces of the middle aged and elderly in the audience. It was dawning on some of them that they were possibly seeing the Stones for the last time before they die. Many had brought along grand children attired in band souvenir shirts. But there was a fair share of our likes, fans of the band who heard it through introduction and word of mouth. A whole generational shift was occurring before my very eyes as James Bad, the newest UK rock sensation warmed up for the big gig. Mind you this was a Tuesday but in civilized cities, every day can is a work day and a weekend. As I surveyed the crowd I saw all manner of people who had come because No Filter was the last concert in London, and this being the second in their hometown, they had come to bid them farewell. A Stones show is not easily described by those of us who utilize borrowed English. There are things we want to describe but for which we lack the language in which to do. Suffice to say this is a huge production. The size of the stage, the scale of the backdrop, the quality and loudness of sound is nothing my music soaked life ever encountered. As the logo made off Mick Jagger’s lips shifted colours in the backdrop the countdown began and an almighty roar erupted from the standing crowd in golden circle, and as the opening riff of Street Fighting Man blasted across Twickenham the show was underway. Pulsating, heart stopping, breath taking stuff, the Stones were on top form and in succession pumped all the hits. It was energy sapping stuff and when Paint It Black played as track three the elderly folk realizing this was the last time and they were saying goodbye and would be dead by the time the Stones come back were in tears and hugging their partners, children and grandchildren.
What I witnessed was a transition between ages but all in ode to a band whose line up had remained consistent and just refused to die. As their fans die of old age and pay the sins of youth the Stones keep rolling on. The lead singer Mick Jagger is the life and soul that hold everything together. He works the crowd and transforms the show into an interactive experience. At times possessed like a crazy man, with his boyish figure, he sprints across the L shaped stage to whip up an audience already in a state of delirium. I used to think it was Mick and Keith who represented the character of the band. I had never seen Ronnie Woods. Oh Ronnie, mischievous, joyous and absolutely stark raving mad was the star of the show on this beautiful summer evening. To show they still dirty old men, on track six they launch into a song I never heard before and it’s called Bitch. The old women who were parading in mini skirts back when the Stones started now wear a bashful look as they take in the lyrics of the song; something of an interlude for the classic blues soul track You Cant Always Get What You Want. Here it’s the band at their most wistful and old Charlie Watts on drums looks even more solemn. Charlie keeps time on his basic drum set and he resembles a funeral undertaker. He is a man who can even contest for the position of Pope with his character of silent dignity. I doubt Charlie has ever waded into drugs and women. He comes across as a cider and one woman man but he is really tight on the sticks. Methinks nice old Charlie will just drop dead one day and that will be the end of the band because he keeps an ominous watch over the raucous lot that is Mick, Keith and Ronnie. But the Stones in truth are not a four man outfit. No way can they produce this sound on two guitars and a drummer who looks like a ghost. There is a whole supporting cast that gives beef to the sound. Back when they played small gigs in dinghy clubs they could manage as a small group but for big arena concerts they need a heavy, dense sound and hence seven other musicians playing different on stage. Long time collaborators they are part of the family and on bass is Darryl Jones now sporting a little belly and trimmed dreadlocks. He is given his moments to shine on some tracks with Mick edging him on.
The Stones could be their own tribute band because the set list comprises tracks from the sixties and seventies but the crowd still laps them up. Even we of the new generation of fans are here for those songs and don’t want any new stuff. They might look old, wiry, battered geezers but it is apparent they keep a training regime and are on a strict diet because at some point they decided, chaps we need a lifestyle change or else we will die and the songs will end. No more fags on stage and a band member darting to the side for a quick swig of strong whisky. They are a picture of discipline which is why they are able to play over two hours non stop and with barely any pause besides banter. The songs at Twickenham sound exactly the way they are on recordings which on drunken Saturday nights i fire up and dream of faraway lands following the Stones on tour. Essentially they are a blues rock band which is why they have a heavy brass section of two saxophonists who come to the fore. On lead sax is Tim Reis accompanied by Karl Denson and his appearance jolts us into the sad reality the latter has replaced our great horn man Bobby Keys who passed on some four years ago and whose wailing sax was an integral sound of the group. Of course on piano is our music director Chuck Leavell who as always keeps things in place alongside delivering an accomplished performance. The hits keep coming, the pyrotechnics and visual imagery the giant back drop screens keeps changing and getting more dramatic as Sympathy For The Devil comes on. By now the crowd is as animated as ever. This is not danceable music if you not white, but watchable and listening stuff as we admire the master performances on stage. They tear through Brown Sugar and Honky Tonk Woman before slowing it down with a few Keith Richards numbers only meant to stroke his ego as band co-leader because he is no Mick Jagger and is best suited for guitar and recollections of how he snorted his dad’s ashes. But then they rev it up with Paint It Black, a song I first heard in the war movie Full Metal Jacket and back then I didn’t know it was a Stones composition. As it plays I am taken back to the movie and the soldier Joker surviving the Viet Cong sniper and realizing how lovely it is to be alive after a combat situation. This is a band of brothers and everyone is given a solo opportunity to enjoy the spotlight with a couple of solos but two hours later after non stop rocking and rolling the Stones thank us and bid us good night. We refuse to go and keep on chanting for more and they return for I Can’ t Get No Satisfaction. The middle aged and the elderly are in silent requiem as they count down the days to their end and wonder how long the Stones will last.
The new generation fans also wonder but want the Stones to go on forever. My highlight from the evening is a rendition of Gimme Shelter which I have always enjoyed on recordings as a duet between my lady Lisa Fischer and Mick. Tonight Lisa is not on stage but there is a new girl called Sasha Allen alongside Bernard Fowler on backing vocals and oh lord the new girl kills it with Mr Jagger. I no longer miss my lady Lisa. This girl Sasha is a class act and more than fits the bill. It hits me that the Rolling Stones are an English rock band from London but their repertoire is heavily laden with blues and soul which is why songs like Gimme Shelter, harking back to the civil rights movement of the sixties can only be sung by black women because only they are capable of conveying the raw emotions of how America treated its black slaves. How the Stones managed out of Dartord in London to put together a compendium of an American blues and soul songbook remains a marvel of our times. This English band is more American than anything I have ever heard. Having kicked off at 20:30 by 22:45 the show is over after 23 classic songs and Mick, in peak form and enjoying himself thanks us for coming on pilgrimage. The show will go on from here and it appears the Stones will keep playing forever. The Stones are an entire industry and the tour programme shows that behind the eleven on stage is incredible supporting personnel of 375 people and it’s only those who are credited excluding security guards. Despite not playing one of my favourite tracks Till The Next Time We Say Goodbye I exit the arena contented and fulfilled. It’ s one off the bucket list!