Uncut Editor's Diary
Getting ready to see the Stones. . .
I’m off to see the second of the Stones’ 50th anniversary shows at the O2 on Thursday, and pretty excited about it. This morning, rummaging through some back issues of Uncut, I came across something I’d written about going to see them at Wembley Stadium in 1982, when they were touring in celebration of their 20th anniversary, amid much speculation that surely this would be their last go-around, retirement their next stop, which is very much what people have thought every time since then that they’ve toured. And yet here they are, 30 years further down the line, and no hint yet that we have seen the last of them.
Anyway, here’s the piece I came across earlier today. Have a good week.
London: May, 1982
I wake up like Anne Frank, in a panic, someone hammering at the front door. Who is it? Some black-shirted bully in jackboots? No. Worse than that, it’s legendary rock photographer Tom Sheehan, clearly not in one of his better moods. He’s standing there when I open the door, fuming – steam rising from his hair-piece, fire shooting out of his ass, that sort of thing. Turns out he’s been bashing on the door for about 20 minutes, a taxi waiting in the street behind him, its meter ticking, the driver reading a paper and contemplating early retirement from the fare he’s cheerfully running up.
“Jump to it, Welsh, for fuck’s sake,” Sheehan is telling me now. I stare at him in some amazement, wondering what he’s doing here this early on a Saturday morning. To tell you the simple truth, when his infernal battering startles me from dreamless unconsciousness, I wake up wondering where I am, who I’m with and what calamitous behaviour may have brought me to this current bewilderment. It takes me longer than it probably should to realise I’m in my own bed. Anyway, I’m lying there, the bedroom rotating, pitching, and generally moving in ways that are making me bilious when it strikes me that the percussive hurricane of slaps, kicks and knuckle-bruising wallops that have stirred me from my stupor means there’s a door that needs answering.
At which point, attempting to spring gazelle-like from the bed, I merely roll off it and onto the floor in a crumpled heap. I get somewhat unsteadily to what I vaguely believe are my feet, giddy, dehydrated, with a hangover as big as Cardiff. Which is when I become fully aware of the state I’m in: not to put too fine a point on it, I’m absolutely wrecked.
And now, on top of this self-inflicted mayhem, here’s Sheehan to contend with. The furious lensman walks in, starts marching about the place like Patton organising his troops, barking orders, telling me we have – what? – like, five minutes, before we have to roll, get on the road to Wembley. Why? Because we are supposed to be covering The Rolling Stones at the Stadium for what used to be Melody Maker. It starts coming back to me, now. I slump in a chair, not sure I can move.
“Get those on and let’s get gone,” he says, throwing my trousers at me. And then we’re off.
Some time later, we’re stuck in traffic somewhere in north London, heading towards Wembley, but not at any great speed. Sheehan’s mood is by now murderous.
“Welsh,” he says, tugging at the zip of his jacket. “This is a total fucking nightmare.”
Poor old Sheehan. He’s been buggered about all week by the Stones office, who have seemed curiously reluctant to hand over his photo-pass for today’s show. The final insult comes when he finds out they’ve sent his pass to the NME. “I bet David-fucking-Bailey doesn’t have to put up with this nonsense,” he simmers on hearing this.
The great man’s also sulking because he’s spent the last week traipsing around Scotland covering the first dates on the Stones’ current tour, and hasn’t enjoyed himself at all. Which is what he’s telling this girl from one of the Fleet Street papers we’ve run into at the bar of the Crest Hotel in Wembley a couple of hours later.
“We’re talking absolute herberts,” Sheehan says, laying it on with a trowel. “Worst band in the world. The old prancin’ prat whips off his shirt, everybody starts screamin’ their bloody heads off, the songs all sound the same and they play for hours.”
The girl from Fleet St thinks this afternoon’s line-up is a tad curious: an odd mix of Black Uhuru’s militant reggae, the J Geils Band’s blathering hard rock and the vintage schtick of the Stones themselves, for whom this tour is believed to be something of a last hurrah – it being quite inconceivable 20 years ago that they would still in fact be with us today.
Sheehan agrees that the bill sounds like a joke in rather poor taste, but manfully attempts to explain the thinking behind it.
“See, they drag in the old reggae chaps for a bit of credibility because the Stones think it’s still 1975, and they get someone like J Geils because they’ve just had a hit, but they’re not really very good and they won’t show anyone up. Simple, really.”
It’s time for us to quit the hotel for the Stadium, where things are about to kick off.
“If there isn’t a bar in there somewhere,” Sheehan says menacingly as we climb towards the fabled Twin Towers, “someone’s going to get a nervous coshing.”
We can hear the distant rumble of Black Uhuru. Sheehan shivers in the stiff breeze blowing around us. “I think we’re talking windswept dreadlocks ’ere, Welsh,” he says as we make our way to our seats in the Royal Enclosure. Not long after this, we’re at the bar, Black Uhuru’s bass-heavy din playing havoc with our headaches even at this distance. Things get worse with the appearance of the J Geils Band, who are noisy, American and rubbish.
“It’s riiiiilly good tah be back in Lunnun Town,” Geils Band vocalist Peter Woolf yells at the good-natured Bank Holiday crowd. “I’d rilllly like tah thank The Rowwwlllen Stones for invitin’ us here . . .”
“Crawling little toady,” Sheehan says, obviously in need of another drink or two. Which means that very shortly we are back in the Royal Enclosure restaurant and Sheehan is unloading his camera bags and taking a seat at a table from which he looks like he will not easily be budged.
“Get ’em in Welsh,” he tells me.
I walk cheerfully to the bar.
“Four pints, couple of tequilas and a large brandy while I’m waiting, please.”
What the barman tells me then sends a chill through my soul. “Bar’s closed,” he says.
“Bar’s what?” I say back, obviously having misheard him.
“That’s what I said.”
I’m shocked, no other word for it.“C-l-o-s-e-d,” I say again. “In what way exactly?”
“Closed,” he says, “as in not open.”
“There’s got to be a mistake,” Sheehan says when I break the appalling news to him. He’s on his feet now, marching towards the bar, which he starts rapping.
“Mein host,” Sheehan calls to the barman. He’s trying to sound jovial, but there’s a tightening in his throat he can’t quite disguise: it’s the sound of rising panic.
The bartender saunters over. Sheehan tries to be tactful.“Look,” he says, “there’s a couple of living legends ‘ere and apparently we can’t get a drink. What’s the fucking story?”
“We’re closed,” the barkeep tells him. “End of fucking story.”
With this, the shutters come down with a terrifying clang, no arguing with them.
“This is the worst day of my fucking life,” Sheehan says, disconsolate. “Fact.”
We sit for a while, sick as seaside donkeys.
The lensman’s mood is about to plummet off the radar when there’s a bit of a kerfuffle at the doors to the Royal Enclosure and in sweeps Sting and his entourage. A small army of attendants now swarm around Sting and his party, whisk them to a large table, whip out a crisp white tablecloth, spread it on the table. And what’s this? Looks like a couple of ice buckets. Looks also like bottles of champagne in the ice buckets. Sheehan’s eyes light up.“We’re not dead yet, Welsh,” he says. “Give your old mate a wave.”
Sting and I are still speaking in those days, so I do as Sheehan tells me.
Sting, to my surprise, waves back. More than this: he gets up, walks over to where I’m sitting with Sheehan. He’s wearing something expensive made out of leather.
“How are you?” he asks.
“Thirsty,” says Sheehan before I can answer.
Sting looks confused.
“They’ve closed the bar,” Sheehan explains, “and we can’t get a drink.”
There’s an uncomfortable lull in the conversation, which Sheehan now fills.
“See you’ve got some champagne, though,” he says to Sting, who’s starting to look flustered.
“Yes,” he says. “Yes, we do.”
Then the penny drops, hitting the bottom with an enormous clang.
“I’d . . . I’d send some over,” says Sting. “But you don’t appear to have any glasses.”
And with this, he walks off, back to his table.
“Glasses?” Sheehan shouts at his retreating back, angrier than I’ve ever seen him. “Bugger the fuckin’ glasses, Stig, me old mate. Just leave us the bottle.”
Which is about when we have to go in to see the Stones. What are they like? Fucking blinding. Exactly as billed on the tickets: the greatest rock’n’roll group in the world.