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The Early Years of the Rolling Stones in London

“We’ll piss anywhere, man,” thus spoke Mick Jagger to an attendant at Francis Road Service Station at 176 Romford Road in March 1965. They’d been caught short while returning from a gig at the local ABC Theatre and had used a wall of the garage for the purpose, only to be confronted by a staff member who then called the police. It was to be front page news and only helped to embellish the band’s carefully cultivated bad boy image. ‘Would You Let Your Daughter Marry a Rolling Stone?’ was a famous media question from the time. By this stage, the band were an international act, and although their club days were well behind them, they still played many local halls around the UK.

The Stones are very much identified as a London band, but only two of the original five were born in the capital, and even then they just scraped in. Bill Wyman (originally Perks) hails from Penge in the extreme South East, while Charlie Watts, like Keith Moon, grew up in Wembley. Mick and Keith are from Dartford in Kent, while Brian Jones was born and is buried in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. There was also a sixth Stone in the early days, but more of him later. 

The Rolling Stones in 1962

The group began to coalesce during 1962 and though it’s hard to imagine in retrospect, Mick, Keith and Brian shared a flat at 102 Edith Grove for over a year from mid-1962, apparently making the Young Ones’ residence look like a classy pad. They were first introduced to the older and more stable Wyman at the Weatherby Arms in King’s Road, and he joined  the band in December. John Lydon was to meet the other Pistols for the first time in a King’s Road pub. Charlie was already fairly professional by this time and had been playing with the seminal band Blues Incorporated, fronted by Alexis Korner, before he became the last piece of the jigsaw in January 1963. Alexis was a pivotal figure in the development of the British music scene of the 60s and he hosted the Ealing Jazz Club under the ABC Tea Rooms, opposite Ealing Broadway tube station. It was his custom to invite young hopefuls onto the stage, and it was here, on 17th March 1962, that Keith Richard first witnessed Brian Jones playing Elmore James style guitar. Not long afterwards, fledglings Mick Jagger and Eric Burdon ended up duetting on ‘I Ain’t Got You’. Alexis was very much a father figure to the younger musicians and his flat in Moscow Road was a regular drop-in centre for many of them, including Jones, who, strange though it may sound, was a carpet salesman at the nearby Whiteley’s store. 

Jagger and Richards had known each other at primary school but drifted out of touch until they met again by chance on a train to Sidcup in early 1962, when they discovered their mutual love of rhythm and blues. Jagger was at that time a student at the London School of Economics, but soon left when he apparently got up in the middle of a lecture and shouted “Eureka!” A colleague of mine was a mate of Jagger’s at LSE, but when he bumped into him in a Soho cafe a year or so later, Jagger ignored him. 

Jones put an advert in Jazz News, inviting musicians to audition for his new band at the Bricklayers’ Arms in Broadwick Street, and among those who turned up were Jagger, Richards and a keyboard player called Ian Stewart, who was to become the sixth Stone. Jones thought of the name and they got their first gig at the original Marquee Club under the Academy Cinema in Oxford Street on 12th July 1962. This was just a short set filling in the interval for Long John Baldry, but it was a start. Jones was living at 18 Powis Square at the time, and in a handwritten letter from this time in which he lists the band’s line-up. he puts himself first and Jagger last.

The Rolling Stones at the Marquee Club in 1963

Spending lots of time together in the Edith Grove flat helped to forge the strong guitar interplay between Richards and Jones, so that by late 1962 they were playing regularly around west London, at the Red Lion in Sutton, the Ealing Jazz Club, Eel Pie Island and elsewhere. By early 1963, they were beginning to pack in the crowds on Saturday nights at the Crawdaddy Club at the Station Hotel by the river in Richmond. Jagger lived in Richmond for many years when he was with Jerry Hall. The Beatles, who were already well on their way by this time, came to see them there. A young Andrew Loog Oldham, together with seasoned showbiz manager Eric Easton, checked them out on 28th April, and soon had them snapped up in a managerial deal. Decca had famously missed out on the Beatles and didn’t want to make a similar mistake again.

They quickly signed to Decca Records and on May 10th they recorded their first single, the Chuck Berry song ‘Come On’, at Olympic Studios at 117 Church Road, Barnes. It wasn’t up to scratch, so they soon re-recorded it at Decca’s own studios just next to West Hampstead tube station. It was released on 7th June and became a minor hit. Their second release was a version of The Beatles’ ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ – this came about after Andrew Oldham took a breather from an unproductive rehearsal in the basement of 10 Great Newport Street, a club called Studio 51, and bumped into John Lennon and Paul McCartney who happened to be getting out of a taxi in Charing Cross Road after attending an award ceremony. He’d worked for the Beatles and mentioned that the Stones needed a song or two for their album, so he invited Lennon and McCartney to the club where they finished off writing ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ as the Stones looked on, and it became their next single. Their first album was recorded at the tiny Regent Sound in Denmark Street, Soho, better known as Tin Pan Alley. ‘Not Fade Away’, featuring Gene Pitney on piano and Phil Spector hitting an empty Cognac bottle with a coin, was also made there. ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ became their first Top 10 hit, and from there on in the Stones were no longer a local London phenomenon and nothing was ever the same again.

The Edith Grove flat had dissolved in September 1963 with Jones moving to live with his girlfriend and her family in Windsor, while Jagger and Richards moved into a flat with Oldham for a while at 33 Mapesbury Road. Jones had begung to become alienated from the others after seeing himself ousted as the group’s leader. This rift was gradually widening throughout the 60s, the final nail in the coffin being when Richards “stole” Jones’s’ girlfriend Anita Pallenberg in 1967.

Until the arrival of Oldham, Jones had been the leader of the group, but Oldham soon began pushing Jagger as the sexual focus and main man. At this stage, the Jagger-Richards song-writing partnership had yet to blossom, but they’d been impressed by seeing Lennon and McCartney knock off a hit song so quickly. Oldham also played an important role in getting them to write together. The story goes that he locked them in their flat and wouldn’t let them out till they’d written something. Keyboard player Ian Stewart had been an integral part of the band, but Oldham wanted him out of the picture because, it is alleged, he wasn’t considered to be good-looking, and six Stones came across as too many in the photos. Surprisingly, Stewart opted to stay on as roadie while contributing to both recordings and live work after he was demoted. He even played onstage with them when I saw them live in 1973.

There are countless books about the Stones and the 60s, but some of my favourites are “The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones” by Stanley Booth (Vintage), “Alexis Korner” by Harry Shapiro (Bloomsbury), “Stoned”, the first volume of Andrew Loog Oldham’s autobiography (Secker and Warburg), and “The Mammoth Book of the Rolling Stones”, edited by Sean Egan (Robinson).

Ian Mole is a teacher of English to overseas students and a walking tour guide in London, specializing in music-related tours.


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