A Week with The Rolling Stones

A Week with The Rolling Stones
                       or
You can’t always get what you want… sleep-wise
 
       Part One – The run up
 
                 “Black hearted to the bone
                               Older than The Rolling Stones”
                      
                                                           (I’M SO BAD (BABY I DON’T CARE) )

 

I stopped reading stuff about Lemmy, a long time ago.

There were two reasons for it, really: firstly, I figured that after all the years of leaving no stone unturned between us, anything I didn’t already – I probably don’t want to know! And, secondly – having done all my sums, I worked out there’s somewhere in the region of an 87.6% chance that at some point, in any given article, I was going to happen upon some form of ignorance or inaccuracy that would really pan-fry my pot noodle, as it were.

In the past, the way I coped with journalistic inaccuracy was exactly the same as when I heard one of Piers Morgan’s opinions… I simply shut myself in the linen cupboard, buried my face into a pile of 820 gram Waffle Weave Bath Sheets with Egyptian Combed Cotton inlay, Blended Micro-fibre with a looped Cashmere pique border edging… and spent a couple of hours primal screaming into the fluffiness until the anger and frustration left me.

It’s different these days, what, with my dodgy back, gammy knee, those things that just appear out of nowhere and before you even know what it is, it’s swelling up as if you’ve done something wrong in the 10 minutes since it plotted up, uninvited.

And don’t even get me started on all the shit you’ve had since birth and then, boom, ‘it’ just drops off for no reason and suddenly, that thing you always had but didn’t know why – now, it’s just fucking gone!

I tell you, the whole aging thing’s a fucking nightmare!

Which means the cupboards are out of bounds. One face pushing into a towel too quick… and that’s probably Goodnight Irene to one, if not both, hips and… So, you’ll be here for ever more to the replacements.

Anyway…

So, I steer well clear of the reading, you understand – until the other day, when I came across a few boxes of crap I was obviously hoarding for – who knows? Anyway, in one of my boxes were some bits and bobs relating to Motörhead, including a feature I must have kept for a reason. And while looking for that reason, I unknowingly browsed the text and, sure enough, I read something and my brain set off for the cupboard without a word to my head. – and it was all due to a casually dropped slanderous allegation that ‘Lem was excited about something.’

How dare they! Excited? That’s rock royalty they’re toying with there.

It’s a plain fact that never in a field of humans, was so little excitement displayed by a single individual in front of so many people so few times as it was by Lemmy Kilmister!!! And, that’s just a fact!

Don’t get me wrong – It’s not like Lem would wake up, crawl out of bed, flick the TV on and start his day off with the early evening news and a quick reminder to himself that under no circumstances would there be any excitement experienced…that’s just how it was.

And he told me why, once.

*                                                     *                                                 *

We were at a gig – not sure who, not sure where – but I am sure I liked it, because I turned to him and said something along the lines of how great the band sounded and didn’t he agree?

Well, a ‘yes’ would have been fine – fine for most people – but that really wasn’t Lem. He took me by the elbow, walked us to somewhere a little quieter and, looking me square in the good eye, said, (and I para-phrase), “When you’ve stood a few feet away from a man who is redefining the limits of both the electric guitar and its music right there in front of you – and, by the way, those limits he’s redefining… they’re the same ones you watched him define last night – well, that kind of spoils you for everyone else.”

And it did…

Jimi Hendrix saw to it that, from him on, Lem would be able to count the amount of times he got excited about anything on the working fingers of Django Reinhardt’s left hand.

And, I’m not just talking about music either – I mean life in general.

Although, there was that one time. In fact, let me tell you about Sunday February 23rd 1986…

 

A Week with The Rolling Stones
                       or
I see a red door and I want to take a nap
 

Part 2 – I fucking hate surprises?
 

                                           “4th day – 5th day marathon
                                         We’re moving like a parallelogram”

                                                                         (MOTORHEAD)

“I, fucking hate surprises!”

There’s, no question that those are the four words you really want to hear when you’ve just told someone you have one for them.

But, how do you respond? Especially when it’s a sentiment with which you can fully sympathize.

Well, first and foremost, it’s important not to bow to the pressure and reveal everything. I’ve made that mistake before and far from boosting my popularity – it merely served to reduce a major chunk of the enormous respect in which I had previously been held.

This is a finely balanced eco-system in which we live – and if we all start pandering to Lemmy’s random whims, who knows how it would affect our finely balanced lives?

For starters, it would bring to an end the game of ever-increasing-circles-of-utter-bollocks-filled conversational ping-pong, in which I seem to find myself permanently trapped for hours on end. Hang on… what do I have to do to… oh, never mind.

So, how did we get here, this time?

*                                                     *                                                 *

With the benefit of hindsight, what the hell was I thinking?

There I was, speeding through the streets of London, rushing to get back home – traffic light colours meaningless, pavements merely an extension of the road, with people on them – all because I had some exciting news for Lemmy and Würzel – that I couldn’t wait to share with them. This was going to be something they would definitely not forget in a hurry.

And, then, I lost my mind…

I decided to take a perfectly simple scenario – one that involved “ooo”s and “aaah”s and maybe even a gift or two – and, for no good reason transform it into a chorus of moans and whines, by telling them I couldn’t tell them because I wanted it to be a surprise! Frankly, people have been sectioned for less!

*                                                     *                                              *

“Now, I’m not going to tell you where, because it’s a surprise – or why, because that’s a surprise, too – but on Sunday, we’re going somewhere… to see something… and, let’s just say – it’ll be great and it will blow your fucking minds!”

I hate blowing my own horn (did it once – 1976 – long story – don’t want to talk about it!) but as speeches go (look – it was my first time – I didn’t know what I was doing – I don’t want to talk about it, all right?) I thought it was a pretty good one. (listen, something didn’t feel right, OK? Like when you sleep with your 1st cousin… I don’t want to talk about it).

Actually, it was good enough, for Würzel, to sign up there and then. Whether he knew what he’d agreed to, even in its current form, I would doubt. Content wasn’t a priority for Würz – he just loved the ride.

The other one was slightly more of a problem.

Lemmy, the yang to Würzel’s yin, was having none of it. Never one for planning, he was also never one to attend an anything without having all the facts (control freak – OCD sufferer – nosey parker… take your choice) But surprises – perhaps he had a bad experience – maybe with a clown, I couldn’t possibly say – so when he said “I fucking hate surprises” he meant it.

“Since when?” I asked feigning interest

“Since I stopped being 8!” It would have been a good comeback had I not known for a fact it was still going on when he was 10.

“so quite recently then?” A cheap shot, I grant you but, nevertheless one that caught him off-guard. This next one would be big…

“Look, just tell me what it is.” Or not…

“No, I want it to be a surprise.”

“Just tell what we’re doing”

“I want it to be a surprise.”

This repetition section dragged on for a while – our ‘phoney war’, if you will – but Lem was a black belt in tautology, the ancient art of delivering the same question in several different ways – using a variety of tones of shout. It didn’t help – I was, now, getting bored with the whole affair. The only thing that kept me going was that with every fresh attempt to “tell me, now”, he appeared to be to be getting ever nearer some kind of breakdown..

One thing I’ll say about me, is that just because I don’t believe in something, I’ll stand so firm on the matter, you’ll think that I did. Lem taught me that himself. What he didn’t know, is that for a tenner, I’ll fold like an Origami swan and admit defeat.

But where the fuck was he going to find ten pounds on a Friday afternoon, with the bank just up the road and still open? He was in Motörhead, for Christ’s sake!

*                                                 *                                                   *

Anyway – this is dull now, because it was and it went on for hours. I was almost ready to spill the beans just to spare my sanity – my only course of action, I decided, was to sneak out of the house and Lemmy’s life, for 36 hours.

I told Würzel, who agreed to help distract old eagle eyes, downstairs, but before all that, he suggested I stay, because said he had the perfect hide out – under his bed!

What a kind and generous offer, I thought, as I charged out of the door!

*                                                 *                                           *

When I charged back in, at around 7pm on Sunday night, shouting about how we had to “chop, chop” as we were running late – miracle of miracles, no one fought back and within minutes, we were on the move.

There were no more questions – in fact Lemmy was remarkably quiet. Perhaps sulking from my disappearance, although he did find a moment for the issue of a simple threat…

“This had better be worth it, or else…”

… he was so adorable when he was all gangsta.

As we all sat quietly, him included, pondering, what an “or else” might look like in his hands, we hit Oxford Street – which, at first glance, seemed to be hosting a rather dignified riot of some kind (rioting was all the rage back then – although rarely dignified) and a large police presence was coping with an ever-growing crowd.

Suddenly, all thoughts of digging my own grave on Putney Heath because it hadn’t been worth it were gone – replaced by piqued interest. Perhaps the surprise element was even starting to grow on him – although he never mentioned it!

*                                                      *                                             *

The first out-of-the-ordinary event happened the moment we got out of the car and it gave me the chance to get in on some of the ‘surprise’ action that was going around.

Walking back into the chaos, Lem was spotted by a Motörhead fan, who appeared from the melee to greet his idol. He talked so excitedly, about being at this gig and that gig that I was beginning to think he was never going to apologize for being a policeman.

Instead, he rattled off the standard police-issue line about, when they get home, they can’t wait to tear their uniform off – he told us he put on his jeans and Overkill tour t shirt, poured himself a large Jack and put the Bomber album on (Lem, being Lem told him that was the wrong album and everything – except Ironfist – was better) on the turntable, turned the amp up to 12-ty, and set about pissing off the neighbours. Oh, the tips we could have given him if he’d just asked!

This chat was lovely n’all, and if you were going to be nicked for something, you could not have found a nicer guy to do it, but there didn’t seem to be much else in it for us… until he offered to escort us through the chaos, to the 100 Club.

Well, it seemed like the least we could do for the guy, especially as he was a fan, so we graciously accepted!!

It was then Lemmy turned to me and said, “well, it’s either The Beatles or The Stones and it ain’t the Beatles.” And, you know, for all his faults… when that man was right, he definitely, usually, wasn’t wrong.

*                                                     *                                             *

As we approached, I caught the eye of the Stones’ head of security JC, and the other ruthless men mountains on his team – including “Big Joe” Seabrook – God rest him – and they fell about laughing. Of course, I’d have organized a police escort and they cleared the way allowing for our party to make their seamless entrance – Würzel, to whom Lemmy had failed to attach to his lead – immediately took off and charged down the stairs like an excited child.

Within seconds, we became aware of some sort of brouhaha, which we knew had to be something to do with our puppy – and sure enough, as the crowd parted, there was Würz, standing over his first victim of the night – Bill Wyman!

We’d been there for less than a minute and already a Stone was down.

Another 15 minutes of this and we’d be home by Catchphrase, at this rate!

Never was the lyric “if you start me up I’ll never stop” going to mean more than night…

Lemmy Wurzel Rolling Stones
Photo by Robert John

A Week with The Rolling Stones
                       or
Let’s spend a whole bunch of nights together
 

   Part Three – Wurzel’s finest hour

             “If you want to feel good –
                         if you want to feel alright
                                If you wanna shake your stuff …
                                           get some rock ‘n’ roll tonight”

                                                                             (DANCE)

The Rolling Stones are a big deal – the biggest, in fact.

Kings, Queens, Presidents, Popes, film stars, serial killers – all have believed they were a pretty big deal – until the day they went toe to toe with the Stones. This is a band that takes great pride in the kafuffle they cause when their travelling circus hits town.

But, this particular night had nothing to do with that…

On December 12th 1985, the world of this seemingly unstoppable behemoth, stopped turning – when Ian Stewart – the second member of the Rollin’ Stones – the man who lost his job because his face didn’t fit – but, instead of drowning in a sea of self pity, was that much of a man, he simply accepted a change in his job title from that of band member to driver, road manager, piano player, friend, critic, father-figure and the man on whom they could always rely – died of a heart attack. He was just 47 years old.

2 months later and no less distraught, The Rolling Stones – joined by friends – such as Clapton and Beck, Simon Kirke, Jack Bruce and Pete Townsend – are paid tribute in the only way they knew how.

They were stepping back on a stage, for the first time in 4 years – and playing through their individual pain, at a secret memorial event for Stu’s family and friends – and, perhaps those most entitled of all – themselves.

*                                                     *                                                 *

It was always going to be a special night – a night, which may have been many things – a celebration, a catharsis, a thank you – call it what you want… but a gig, it was not.

I’ve read things that others have written and said about what happened on stage at the 100 Club, that night but it’s something about which I don’t feel comfortable. Opinions on how this solo sounded, on whether he did this well or whether this version of that song was better than that gig on the ’75 tour – on how this was a great show or not… with the greatest of respect – fuck you all. How dare you abuse the privilege of being there and sharing in their grief by missing the point.

Therefore, when Lemmy came to write about that night in his book White Line Fever, he knew what was right and wrong to document, when it came to rock n’ roll, because he was a class act, who got it instinctively (quite why he chose to move the night to 1988, we’ll never know. I did tell him it was ’86 but perhaps… oh, what the hell – we’ll live!).

Anyway – as things wound down at the 100 Club, although the band was clearly very emotional, Keith was kind enough to grab me and invite us back to the intimate soiree he was throwing back at his suite at the Savoy.

If only he’d known what he was doing….

*                                                       *                                             *

For Keith Richards, the hotel room is a social hub.

This is a place where his friends – and everyone staying 2 floors above and below, can listen to music, drink, shoot the shit, shoot the wall (special occasions only!) – in other words, hang and when we arrived, things were already underway.

Once again, let me reiterate my rules. This was a private do, attended by a handful of friends, whose privacy I have no intention of compromising.

What I will discuss, however, was the performance of Würzel, to whom the night would belong. Never has the faux pas, been delivered at such lightning speed, with such pinpoint accuracy and with such regularity.

He was Clouseau, Frank Spencer and Dumb and Dumber rolled into one – and, that night, he took the act of putting your foot in it and scaled Everest-like heights of social ineptitude.

And, everybody loved him for it.

Lemmy describes it to perfection in the book – allow me to paraphrase:

“We were talking with Simon when Kirsty MacColl came by with her new husband Steve Lillywhite (producer of the new Stones album). Kirsty was a great old friend of mine… and I gave her a hug. Wurzel turned to Steve and said, “Who’s that old boiler Lemmy’s got a hold of?”… “Er, that’s my wife, actually!”

A good, solid start…

“About half an hour later he was standing at the bar next to Ronnie Wood, when Jo Howard… stunning… walked past and everything was moving – you know what I mean? And Würzel (turned to Ron) and leered “I’d like to fuck her, wouldn’t you?” Ronnie(without skipping a beat) replied “I do actually, she’s my wife!”

The boy was on a roll… and by no means done.

I can’t say some of the other things – because I just can’t – but there was the moment Würz was giving me an in-depth run down on the pros and cons of Mick Jagger.

I could, I suppose, have said something, but with Mick standing right behind him, listening in – I was brought up to believe that it’s wrong to interrupt someone when they’re speaking.

So, as he was winding down, the voice from over Würz’s shoulder asked, “Ever met him?”

“No,” he said turning to face his inquisitor, “have you?… ooo (shoulder slump)… oh.”

I’ve seen many people, particularly women, get lost for words in Jagger’s presence. Würzel, in that moment, showed his feminine side admirably!

*                                            *                                       *

Allow me to tangent away from Wurzel’s ‘pas, just briefly – and focus on something that Lemmy wrote about in the book, upon which I would like to expand and give you the full story of what really happened with regard to the Eric Clapton incident – because it led to one of the most touching moments I have experienced in my life.

That night, there were only about 25 people in the room, meaning there was nowhere to hide – and when Clapton arrived, I saw Lem do something I had never imagined possible – he became visibly shy. It sounds impossible, I know but it’s true, I swear.

Even before The Yardbirds – Lemmy idolized Clapton.

Already fully aware that God wasn’t God, he could find no fault in the rumour that pointed to it being Clapton. He did, however, assure me that he never took to painting it around town – an assurance he could not give me, in the case of Jimi Hendrix, a few years later.

Anyway, I nudged him and told him to go over and say hello – at which point, I watched him turn into a schoolboy right in front of me. Stopping just short of stamping his foot – he whined that he would but he had to wait for the right time – shy-person-code for never.

Knowing that Eric has the ability to be just as shy and reserved – if fate wasn’t given a little bit of a helping hand – this, frankly, was never going to happen. And, as luck would have it, I knew of just such a hand – I kept it at the end of my arm.

Picking a moment when Lem was otherwise engaged, I walked over and said to Eric that – I’d be really grateful – if he had a minute, for me to introduce him to Lemmy?

Clapton, seemed genuinely not unhappy at the prospect, so, within a few short steps, I tapped Lem on the shoulder and said, “Lemmy, this is Eric.” At which he spun around, trying and failing to play it cool – and there they stood, face to face.

So, walking away to leave them to it – I did what any friend would have done. I leaned in and whispered, “this is it – the moment you’ve waited for all your life – so, make it count!”

Aren’t friends great?

*                                                         *                                           *

Dream achievement done, it was back to my day job – Würzel watch. Now, where was he?

With a trail of disaster in his wake – wherever there was chaos, he was bound to be at the business end of it – and there was really nothing left for him to do but burn the place down… which was unfortunate because Keith had taken delivery of a hotplate trolley filled with steak sandwiches – and Würzel was staring at them, lovingly.

Keith looked at Würz, Würz only had eyes for the food…

“Want some, Würzel?” (I can’t tell you how the fact that Keith knew his name blew his mind).

With Keith, it works like this – drinks there – food there – etc, etc – help yourself. But, as Würzel stepped forward preparing to do just that – Keith stopped him in his tracks. “Allow me – I’ve been admiring your work all night, so it might be safer…”

He handed over a plate full of food, a napkin and noticeably no cutlery. That man doesn’t miss a trick.

Mid-munch, Würzel leaned over and began to ask the question I’d been fearing for a while. “Si, when Lem’s done, would you introduce me to Clapton? I’d really like to…” I raised my hand…

“Let me stop you there, Würz. You know I love you but there will be no more talking to anybody, looking at things or touching stuff… do you understand? And should an impulsive thought start to form in your mind, then you must let me know straight away, so we can dispose of it.”

He nodded sheepishly – but how do you say no to something as cute as that?

Of course, in the end, I relented and just before we left, at a time that ensured our arrival in the main reception, would confirm to their other guests that the Savoy was still attracting only the very highest standard of patron!

As for Eric Clapton, I didn’t oversee their brief exchange, but there were no “Guitar legend injured in chat.” headlines, the next day, so I guess it went OK.

*                                                 *                                       *

But it was as we left Keith’s and walked down the Savoy’s impressive art deco corridors, that I’m not too proud to say, I was moved to tears.

Lemmy, still high on his Clapton encounter, pulled me to one side.

“Thanks for everything tonight, Si, it was an amazing night.”

I was grateful, but it was nothing, I was just glad he had fun.

“No, you don’t know what meeting Clapton meant to me. That’s the first time since I was a kid that I felt like a fan again – and I never expected to feel like that ever again – it was great. Thank you.”

He walked off – I didn’t move. My legs forgot how to work. I hadn’t been expecting to hear anything like that and, it caused water to come pouring out of my eyes. It’s about to do it again, as I think about it. So, I think I’d better sign off now.

_________           *           ___________

LEM 2