Till the next time we say good bye with the Stones at Twickenham!

02 Jul 2018

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!