In about 1974 while I was still Production Manager at the Roundhouse Theatre in London, we hosted the first concert in what was billed to be the last Rolling Stones Tour – Hmmm… The last?
Well not quite, but that is how it was set up at the time.
We were well used to staging rock concerts back then, as every Sunday we put on a huge concert, taking all the seats out so that about 2500 people could be packed into the theatre. We had had just about every group that was around at the time, ranging from Dr John, the Doors, and anyone else you could think of who was active on the rock scene at the time. So the idea of the Stones performing there was nothing special to us.
That is what we thought, but we were wrong!
Generally with rock shows we did all the construction work, set the lights and looked after the sound and so on, but this was not how the Stones’ organisation (I use that word advisedly) went about things.
They insisted on bringing their own touring crew of roadies, lighting guys, sound guys and so on, a huge team of American technicians of one sort or another, relegating our highly experienced technicians to the role of bystanders, and gophers for their own guys.
None of my guys minded this too much as we were simply happy to stand back, get paid for doing nothing much and simply observing how this huge American crew went about setting up their concert.
The concert was to take place on Sunday evening, so the Stones’ people turned up shortly after the theatre show that was currently running at the Roundhouse finished and the audience left, and we set about taking down all the scenery and so on from that show, and removing all the seats while the Stones’ people started to bring in their huge amount of equipment, stage decorations and that famous tongue logo.
This was the first time they had used that logo I think, and it was in the form of a huge panel that was to be hung above the stage, just below all the lights.
So, once we had dealt with our side of the work, we settled back to watch and admire the huge crew of American roadies at work. They were amazing to watch, deadly serious, hardly a smile among them as they went about what they clearly saw to be an almost religious duty, speaking in a sort of high powered “astronaut speak”. Saying things such as, “please pass me that implement for driving nails” when they meant, “give me that hammer”. All very strange to us.
Anyhow, in spite of their seriousness, and strange way of talking, they were perfectly capable of doing their work, and no real problems arose in the set up. So by about mid-afternoon on Sunday everything was ready.
All the lights worked, the huge net full of balloons above the auditorium was in place and filled with hundreds of balloons, each printed with that ubiquitous tongue logo, sound checks done and all was ready for the hordes of fans to be let in.
While all the work was going on inside the theatre, all hell was breaking out on the streets outside the theatre, vast crowds of people, ticket touts and loads and loads of police there to control it all. Occasionally I wandered out to watch this circus as well… Fascinating to see.
At some point in the afternoon the Stones themselves arrived for a final sound check and to have a look around to see if all was to their liking, which apparently it all was, so they leapt back into their limos (in the car park at the back of the theatre where the public could not go), and went back to their hotel.
In passing, I was surprised at how small Mick Jagger is. Somehow I had assumed that he was a reasonably tall bloke, but actually he is quite a short guy, and very thin too. Seemed pleasant enough though.
So, in due time the public started to come in, which – thank God – was not my business. I really felt sorry for the Front of House people, it was chaotic! About 3000 people, no seats and all rushing to be near the front (back then we did not have those huge TV screens above the stage to allow people far from the stage to see what was happening).
As the place was filling up, I was back-stage coordinating things with my opposite number from the Stones’ organisation making sure that all was ready for the band to go on stage and the concert to begin. But it turned out there was a small problem, well actually a big one. I bumped into Mick Jagger who was obviously very worried, and sort of flapping his hands around and looking desperate. He told me that Keith Richards was outside in the car park, and was refusing to get out of his limo unless someone would give him some Speed, which amazingly enough, no one in the whole of the Stones’ organisation was able to produce for him.
Happily, Speed was something we always had on hand (When every three or four weeks you have to work for up to 120 hours at a stretch changing shows, Speed is something you absolutely have to have). So I was able to help out here.
That saved the day, Richards swallowed his Speed and deigned to get out of his limo and wander into the theatre and get ready to do his part in the show.
Once I was sure that all was well, I decided to go up to our lighting booth, which was way up high above the auditorium, as from there I would get a very good view of the show, and be relaxed and happy enough as well. I had this happy prospect, as my lighting guy had made what had to be the biggest joint ever made. This monster was about 4 feet long and suitably fat, and he had fixed it up above the window of the lighting booth, with the intention of us smoking it during the concert.
Not to be, sadly, since as soon as all the audience was in place, all the cops who had been outside controlling the public came inside as they (reasonably enough) wanted to see the concert as well. And before we knew what was happening, about 5 or 6 young cops had appeared in our lighting booth, and all of them were studiously ignoring that enormous joint as they obviously wanted to see the concert, and not to have to get all official and arrest us.
So that was that….
Anyhow, this, the first of the last Stones’ tour all went off well, no problems, the band did their work well, all effects worked, and at the right moment, all those balloons fell out of the net onto the happy crowd below, and all the audience left…
And we set in to clear all the Stones’ gear, and reset our theatre for the show on Monday evening – seats back, lights back, scenery back, and sorting out the dressing rooms. This last was always a problem after rock concerts, as the bands always left a number of extremely young and unhappy (they had been left behind after all) groupies for us to clear out of the dressing rooms, and in this the Stones’ were no exception.
After about an hour of all of this, I wandered outside to our car park to make sure that everything was OK there, locked up and so on, only to find the Keith Richards limo still there, with Richards running like a mad thing around and around it and his driver leaning patiently against the mudguard.
He told me that it was always like this, Richards always took too much Speed, and simply couldn’t sit still unless he did the equivalent of a 2 mile run around his car…. Odd guy.
So that was the first of the last concerts that the Stones’ performed… that was 1974, we are now in 2017 and they are still going strong… the geriatric Rolling Stones. Great group.
Some time I will tell you about the famous Stones concert in Hyde park, which I also worked on, the one where the Hells Angles killed someone.