Saturday 6 August 2016

Not Fade Away – The Rolling Stones in Soho.

“The streets of Soho were reserved for characters, cappuccino action, nerve, real verve and chat, most of it about music. The streets reeked of chutzpah and skiffle was dead – long live pop.” Andrew Loog Oldham, Stoned.

Although legend has it that Keith Richards and Mick Jagger hooked up on a station platform in Dartford, the Rolling Stones as we know them were born above a pub in Soho. 

The Bricklayers Arms in Edward Street (since renamed Broadwick Street) was where Brian Jones held auditions to form a rhythm and blues group in 1962. Some of the hopefuls replied to his ad in Jazz News, while others - including Mick and Keith - came from Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated sessions at the Marquee in Oxford Street. 

The Rollin’ Stones played their first gig at the Marquee in July ’62, and rehearsed different line-ups until Brian, Mick and Keith were joined by Bill Wyman on bass and Ian Stewart on piano. Drummer Charlie Watts climbed aboard last in January 1963. Another regular gig for the Stones in this period was at Studio 51 in Great Newport Street, where Ken Colyer ran his jazz nights.

De Hems.
Meanwhile, down the road apiece, journalists from the music papers in Denmark Street and Shaftesbury Avenue did their quaffing in De Hems bar in Macclesfield Street. It was here, in April ’63, that New Record Mirror editor Peter Jones tipped off pop publicist Andrew Loog Oldham about a certain group playing sensational R&B at the Crawdaddy club in Richmond. Over a vodka & tonic, the suave Mr Jones told Oldham that his paper was running a big piece on the Rollin’ Stones in the forthcoming issue, predicting they will “soon be the leading performers of R&B in the country” – incredible for a group that didn’t yet have a record out.

Those heady early days are captured in the photographs of Terry O’Neill and Gered Mankowitz in the book Breaking Stones, 1963-1965, A Band on the Brink of Superstardom.  O’Neill, who was then Fleet Street’s youngest photographer, walked the Rolling Stones around Soho carrying their brand new bags. They look every inch the travelling troubadours on their way to a recording session in Regent Sound studio (where the group cut their debut album and 1964 single Not Fade Away). 

Breaking Stones, 1963-1965, A Band on the Brink of Superstardom 
The black-coated Stones lined up in front of Tin Pan Alley’s red and yellow Members’ Club is a quintessential snapshot of Soho in the early 60s, with the band already exuding locked-out cool. 

O’Neill’s half of the book is a reportage-style account showing the life of a typical pop group – where the boys had to thank their lucky stars for plates of egg and chips in the BBC canteen, and the makeshift dressing rooms where Keith ran his shaver from a light fitting, while Mick wears a hair net with a fag on the go. The fateful New Record Mirror article, written by Norman Jopling and titled Genuine R&B, is also reprinted inside.

The second half of Breaking Stones features the work of Gered Mankowitz, the son of writer Wolf Mankowitz (author of Expresso Bongo, based on the 2i’s coffee bar scene in Old Compton Street). Gered’s portraits have a strong sense of creative direction and image building – from the band looking through a cage in Ormond Yard (they were dubbed ‘animals’ by the Daily Mirror) to the cover of 1965 album Out Of Our Heads. By the closing frames of the book, when Gered joins the band on their ’65 US tour, the Rolling Stones can no longer walk the streets unmolested. 

The 2i's Coffee Bar. Now Poppie's Fish 'n' Chips.

Their view of the world is from the back of limousines, with cops struggling to control thousands of screaming teenagers causing pandemonium everywhere they go. One heart-stopping moment shows Keith out cold on stage, electrocuted by a microphone stand. We see the band taking control of their own destiny as Mick and Keith become songwriters. The irony is that, by writing their own hits, the Beatles and the Stones started a trend that took the shine off Tin Pan Alley’s song merchants and hastened the end of an era. But, when midnight comes around, the streets of Soho will always echo with the sound of pointy-booted footsteps. Claudia Elliott.

Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist who has written for BBC's Sounds of the 60s, The Blues magazine and Classic Rock.

Twitter: @Claudia_Elliott

Blogger for BBC Radio 2 Sounds Of The 60s

Terry O’Neill’s photograph of the Stones walking in Soho can be seen at Exhibitionism, a retrospective show of the band’s history. Other Soho-related pieces include guitars and amps bought from Ivor Arbiter’s Sound City shops and gear from John Stephen boutique in Carnaby Street. Exhibitionism runs until 4 September at the Saatchi Gallery.

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