60s Today contributor Ian Mole recalls the experience of seeing the Rolling Stones live in the early 70s.
The first time I saw the Stones on TV was on “Thank Your Lucky Stars” in 1963. Presenter Brian Matthew added these words to his intro: “…and the one in the middle (Mick of course) hasn’t had his hair cut for 18 months!”
I was always a fan of theirs, but the only time I ever saw them play live was after I thought they’d reached their peak, which was with the ‘Let It Bleed’ album of late 1969. I never got into ‘Sticky Fingers’ or ‘Exile on Main Street’ too much. I finally caught them at the Odeon Theatre in New Street, Birmingham during their seven week European tour in 1973.
There were two performances that day and I was at the first one, which started at 5pm. You’d probably pay a king’s ransom to see the Stones these days, but that concert cost me £1.65, and it was a good seat, too, in the centre of the circle. On the back of the ticket we were warned that no photography was allowed inside the hall. The venue was a big cinema, about 2,500 seats, but I doubt if the Stones played such comparatively small venues for much longer after that. I happened to be in the area visiting a college friend and attended the gig with him and a couple of his mates.
The Stones line-up at that time included Mick Taylor, and among the backing musicians were Bobby Keys on sax as part of a three-piece brass section and Billy Preston on keyboards and backing vocals. Bobby would leave the tour early soon afterwards to, as he said, save his life, as he’d been very indulgent – you may recall the tale of the bath full of Dom Perignon… It’s funny how your memory plays tricks on you, but in my mind’s eye, I can see Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart playing keyboards at that gig on a slightly lower level to the main stage, but on checking through details on the internet, there’s no trace of them. I’d been a bit indulgent myself before the gig, so maybe I imagined them.
As well as accompanying the Stones, Billy Preston was also the support act. Billy was still only 27 then, but he’d already been a professional musician for years, having met the Beatles in Hamburg in 1962 when he was part of Little Richard’s band and also contributing to tracks on ‘Let It Be’. At the Birmingham show he was accompanied by two other guys and they did his big solo hit ‘That’s the Way God Planned It’, as well as his very funky instrumental ‘Outa-Space’ from the year before. That was the first time I’d seen someone play one of those small keyboards that are hung from a strap around your neck. Billy and his band went down well, but then there was a long break of an hour before the Stones came onstage.
They played some songs from their latest album ‘Goats Head Soup’ that had been released about three weeks earlier, featuring‘Angie’ and ‘Star Star’, alias ‘Starfucker’. A year or so later my Dad was dancing to ‘Star Star’ at a family party, no doubt blissfully unaware of its lyrical content. They also did ‘Gimme Shelter’, ‘Honky Tonk Women’ and the theatrical ‘Midnight Rambler’, but none of the earlier hits like ‘Satisfaction’. The thing that sticks in my mind was Mick playing rhythm guitar on several songs, which just struck me as odd. Another thing that I recall is that my nose started bleeding midway through for some inexplicable reason.
The audience really livened up towards the end and I came away with ‘Midnight Rambler’ pounding through my mind. I didn’t have much money in those days, so I had to limit my merchandise purchases to a few transfers of their famous lips logo. I’d be reluctant to go to a gig in a large venue these days so I’m glad I had the chance to see the Stones in a smallish place where you could see them clearly without the aid of big screens.
Ian Mole is a teacher of English to overseas students and a walking tour guide in London, specializing in music-related tours.