Clean-living Keith Richards and schoolmaster Jagger. How to rebel when you’re a Rolling Stone

by Jeremy Miles

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones

You wait 40 odd years for The Rolling Stones to play Glastonbury and by the time it actually happens you’ve been beaten into a stupor by the relentless news coverage they have attracted. Or to be more accurate the avalanche of largely lightweight and meaningless tittle-tattle being force-fed to the media.Oh the joys of having a multi-million pound empire and the finest PR department money can buy.

By the time those four elderly gentlemen set foot on the festival’s famed Pyramid stage tomorrow night everyone will know everything they never knew they didn’t need to know about the self-styled greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world. Today Keith Richards has been telling Radio 1′s Newsbeat that being a Rolling Stone is good for your health. Taking good-natured exception to a suggestion that the band are simply too old to be Glastonbury headliners, the 69-year-old guitarist insisted: ”It’s good for your health to play rock’n’roll in a clean-living band like The Rolling Stones. You should try it. It’s better than church.” As soundbites go that’s about as good as it gets.

Meanwhile tomorrow morning Radio 4′s Today programme will treat us to a pre-recorded interview with Mick Jagger by John Humphrys and reveal that  the singer, who will be 70 next month,once considered becoming a schoolteacher just like his father and grandfather before him. Do I care? No! I haven’t even tried to read or listen to this stuff. It’s just there. The result of a relentless publicity machine constantly feeding the insatiable demands of the media.

The only really important thing about the Stones at Glastonbury is how well they perform. From what I’ve heard (and seen) it will be one of THE great performances of their long and illustrious career. The BBC have pledged to  broadcast an hour of their two hour plus festival set tomorrow night. The band will also play two shows at London’s Hyde Park on July 6th and 13th. But any suggestion that they will treat Glastonbury as a kind of dress rehearsal for the London gigs is way off  the mark. The Stones have limbered up with a series of fine concerts in the USA. All three UK concerts are being considered highlights of their ongoing 50th anniversary celebrations.

I’ve seen the Rolling Stones a few times. The first occasion was 47 long years ago when, with Brian Jones still around, they headlined a bill that also included The Yardbirds (with both Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck)  and Ike and Tina Turner. It was a hugely exciting night even though I couldn’t hear the music, just screaming fans and a distorted wall of electronic noise blasted through dismally inadequate speakers.  Jagger commanded the stage though in a manner that I had never seen before. He may have already been a rock idol but it was on that tour that a star was born. The late sixties and early seventies were incredibly tough for the Stones – drugs busts, jail sentences, Jones’ mysterious death, the debacle of the Altamont free festival and Keith Richards’ growing addictions cast a decidedly sinister shadow but the music got better and better.

Surviving all that life could throw at them and, for a while, a decidedly precarious financial situation, the band battled on to a weird kind of self-perpetuating success in mega-stadiums. Those gigs could be horrible but the fans still adored them.  Inevitably perhaps, through the 1980s and 90s, the entire Rolling Stones circus gradually started to become  a parody of itself. Bass player Bill Wyman bailed out to play good honest blues and R&B and for a while the remaining band members seemed to morph into grotesque caricatures of themselves. Jagger and Richards both embarked on solo projects  in a bid to free themselves from the monster they had unwittingly created, drummer Charlie Watts increasingly distanced himself from the band, finding solace in  playing jazz and guitarist Ronnie Wood escaped into a haze of  drugs and alcohol.

Somehow though the band survived. A kind of reality kicked in and for the past few years the Stones have been firmly back on planet earth. Ronnie’s clean and sober and even Keith, though he still relishes his wild man reputation, is seemingly a demon-free zone. Best of all the band are now playing as well if not better than ever. They even have Mick Taylor back to solo during Midnight Rambler. It doesn’t get much better than that.