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Diamonds on a roll

Mick Jagger has got the Rolling Stones’s Hackney Diamonds party rolling before its release this week

Mathures Paul Published 15.10.23, 04:59 AM
Rolling Stones members Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood in a light mood

Rolling Stones members Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood in a light mood Picture: Mark Seliger

You expect Rolling Stones to get a concert going with Start Me Up from their 1981 album, Tattoo You. But in the world of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood (so long, Charlie Watts), you can’t always get what you want because the Stones are rolling with ease and have new bangers to share from their album Hackney Diamonds, which releases on October 20.

The album title is a hat tip to a London borough that became the address of the creative class decades ago. It is also the place where bohemia and capitalism continue to fight for a piece of the turf, much like the balance the coolest group in rock industry continues to strike. Hackney Diamonds — an old East End slang for ‘broken glass’ — is the Stones at their unrepentant, unabashed and unruffled best. It’s an effort where the agreeable-disagreeable songwriting partnership of Jagger and Richards goes back to their uncomplicated early years.

The album sleeve of Hackney Diamonds

The album sleeve of Hackney Diamonds

“I don’t quite know how it works. But I didn’t really know where we were with it. And then we recorded a lot of stuff, but we didn’t have a deadline. And I don’t think we were that mad about what we recorded, though there were some really good things, but there were some things that we weren’t crazy about. So I said to Keith: ‘Well let’s do it another way. Let’s have a deadline. Are you up for doing a deadline? Are you up for getting a new producer?’ And Keith sort of, he agreed with all this straight away…. When I said: ‘Let’s go to Jamaica and just hang out and just jam a bit and so on,’ he was very keen on that because just the idea of doing that, of being very loose and so on, and getting this album back on track,” Jagger told Zane Lowe on Apple Music 1, which has become the hangout for the who’s who of the music world.

The groove thing

The Stones don’t tour as much as they once did, yet they remain big moneymakers, hitting the road almost every year for the past decade. They continue to lead a life as if the 1960s and ’70s are always here to stay (minus the drugs, of course). Mick Jagger, 80, has a six-year-old son with his girlfriend, Melanie Hamrick, and despite a successful heart procedure in 2019, he can turn it up to 11 on stage with his moves. Ronnie Wood, 76, recently took his seven-year-old twins to celebrate his son’s 40th birthday, besides, of course, gulping down Wolfie’s with his forever-pal Rod Stewart. Keith Richards has almost embraced a life of near-sobriety, sticking to a drink occasionally because he’s “not going to heaven any time soon”.

The person missing from the party is Charlie Watts, one of the greatest drummers of all time. He left for the sky in 2021, yet his presence can be felt on two songs on the album — Mess It Up and Live by the Sword. “We don’t have Charlie, so that’s a huge difference in doing these sessions that we talked about. Though I play with Steve (Jordan) a lot… he’s very enthusiastic, so that’s always good…. I’m not just only interested in melody, lyrics, but I’m interested in grooves. What groove should this song be in? You want it to be the perfect groove for this band. I used to work with Charlie on the grooves, so it’s like experimenting. I would just hang a bit late at night when everyone had gone home, just pick up a guitar and say, ‘Okay, so tomorrow we’re going to do this one. You remember this one?’” Jagger told Lowe on Apple Music 1.

Live by the Sword will make you forget that we are in the 21st century because of how Watts revitalises the track. Mess It Up is an attempt to connect with the under-30 crowd: You share my photos with all your friends/You put them out there, it don’t make no sense, Jagger sings. He then says that his lover stole his ‘codes’, all in a rocking way. This is the band’s first album of original material in 18 years and they have gone out of the way to keep the longest-running rock ’n’ roll enterprise shipshape.

The celebration of rock ’n’ roll comes at a time when we are having a rush of obituaries involving musicians from the 1960s and ’70s. These men/boys are making music since 1962 and a lot of credit goes to Jagger, who knows a thing or two about business and economics. He is a London School of Economics dropout who is constantly adding more shine to one of rock’s biggest brands/bands.

On the album, they have involved Paul McCartney and Lady Gaga. Paul is on the bass guitar on Bite My Head Off. “We kind of often text each other and stuff. The thing was that Andy (Andrew Watt, producer) had said to me: ‘I didn’t really tell you completely the truth because I had this week booked with Paul McCartney right in the middle.’ And he said: ‘Why don’t we invite Paul for one of the days and get him to play?’ I said: ‘Well, yeah, that’s a great idea’,” Jagger said.

As for involving Gaga on Sweet Sounds of Heaven, Jagger told Apple Music 1: “She’s a really great singer and I’d never heard her sing quite that style before. We did it live in the room and that was a great experience, her just coming in the room and her just opening up and seeing her bits and feeling her way and then getting more confident.”

This is not the final Stones album because Jagger recently said that they have got “almost three-quarters through the next one”. But on Tell Me Straight Richards has something for us to ponder on. He sings lead in the introspective piece: I need an answer/How long can this last?

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