Nobody likes being sent to Coventry, do they? Unless you are among 30,000+ in the humid evening of the first Saturday in June, flocking to the home of the city’s newly promoted football team, The Sky Blues.
While England are making a meal of beating Nigeria 2-1 in a friendly at Wembley ahead of the World Cup in Russia in a week or so, this lot are not here to see 22 men chasing a ball around the grass.
They are here to catch the world’s number one rock and roll band in action on their “No Filter” world tour. The Rolling Stones are still at it after 50 years of gigs around the planet, and the release of a zillion albums and singles, and shed loads of record sales and success.
This tour celebrates their 50th anniversary. An amazing milestone and an amazing band. Still got it despite the fact all four of them were eligible for a bus pass and a state pension more than a decade ago! Charlie was celebrating his 77th birthday on the very day of this gig. Ex-Faces guitarist Ronnie Wood’s 71st birthday was the day before. Jagger and Richards are both 74. No stair lift mentioned on their contract rider just yet!
If I need to list the stats and facts and figures here, and their discography and awards etc. then 1. You best go mow the grass and 2. Where have you been for five decades? If so, then maybe you are in The Beatles’ camp and your parents would rather you follow the mop tops than the bad boys of rock roll back in the day.
Me? Yes, just about old enough to remember hearing both bands music and seeing both bands on our rented black and white TV back in the late 60s and into the 70s, but my allegiances are and always were, for both of them.
Tonight, it’s not about John, Paul, George and Ringo though. It is all about Mick, Keith, Ronnie and Charlie. A right Royal visit. The warm up act is the city’s own The Specials, who do a lovely job and deliver all their biggest songs, and look like they are having a ball on what would almost certainly be the biggest gig they had done on home turf in the 41 years since they first formed in 1977.
Before their song “A Message To You Rudy”, Lynval Goulding telling the crowd it was a dream come true for him and the band, to be performing in their home city before the Kings of rock and roll. Mick Jagger later calling them “Coventry’s favourite sons”.
Talking of which; Mick and the chaps stroll on to the huge stage with four giant LED video screens behind them, and a long T-shape cat walk “ego ramp” jutting out into the gold circle, which he makes use of a few times during the set. There is no taped introduction. No fanfare. Just four old geezers out for an evening stroll on a balmy summer’s night to check out the locals!
The extended band and backing singers are already set up, Keith and Ronnie strap on their axes, Mick has got his wireless mike in hand, Charlie is snug behind his Gretsch drum kit, and away we go.
Can they still kick ass. Can they remember the set? Will they perform in wheelchairs or with sparkling ‘Zimmer’ frames? Will there be oxygen and nurses on standby at the side of the stage? Is the tour sponsored by Sanatogen or Viagra? None of the above, but the answer to the question of can they still do their thing? Hell yeah. And some. A case of just going through the motions for the boost to their bank balances by a few million quid each? Hell, no.
So. They kick off with a song they wrote and recorded 50 years ago. “Street Fighting Man”. Co-incidentally, the first Stones single I bought. Then an extended revamped version of “It’s Only Rock and Roll (But I Like It)”.
PA sounds crystal clear. Sight lines around the ground are good and everyone could see the huge video screens showing the band’s every move on stage, wherever they were seated or standing. Mick getting in a few outfit changes during the night.
“Tumbling Dice” then “Paint It Black”. After “Paint It Black”, Mick Jagger verbally reminisced about previous visits by his band to the city. He said the first was back in the 1960s, to the Matrix Ballroom “now a car showroom” he tells the crowd. Some of whom would have been there maybe. “Then the Locarno, now a library”.
But it has been a staggering 47 years since they were last sent to Coventry. For two shows on one day, inc a matinee, at the long since demolished 2000 capacity Coventry Theatre in Hales Street on 6th March 1971.
The 2,000-capacity venue, which was originally called the New Hippodrome when it opened in 1937, later became the Coventry Apollo and then a Mecca bingo hall. It was demolished in 2002. I covered many shows there between 1978 and mid 80s, and my Dad’s cousin was the stage door keeper. But still insisted on checking my credentials every time I went there! The Stones did a dozen songs back then for each show, and they gave the fans a bumper 20 tonight.
Both set lists contain a fair few of the same songs from 1971 and 2018. Back then, they opened with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and closed with “Brown Sugar” and “Street Fighting Man”. In 1971, they arrived an hour late for their show. Tonight, bang on time. Those who waited outside the stage door to catch a glimpse of the band on arrival for both shows that day, spotted Mick’s then girlfriend Bianca, later to become his wife, who had been in the ‘papers with rumours that she may be pregnant.
Keith was carrying his pet pooch ‘Boogie’, a King Charles Spaniel puppy as he arrived. The gear on stage was a tad different back in those days, than the set up for tonight’s rock and roll circus. Back then, 2000 seats. The Ricoh stadium is a 32,609 seater stadium, and home to Wasps rugby union and Coventry City FC. Japanese company Ricoh paid £10m for the naming rights for 10 years. It hosted its first football game in 2005 and was officially opened in 2007.
The first concert held at the arena was with Bryan Adams in September 2005. The bar in the Eon Lounge, overlooking the pitch, was named ‘The Bryan Adams Bar’ after the Canadian rocker. I wonder if they’ll name any part of the ground after The Rolling Stones now? Chair lift perhaps? Almost 40,000 people saw Oasis play a concert at the stadium in 2009. Bruce Springsteen played there in 2013 and Rihanna staged a concert at the venue in 2016.
For this show, some of the 25 trucks needed for the equipment for the gig, rolled into town a few days before. The pitch was covered to protect it from the thousands of pairs of feet which would descend on it, and it took three days to build the stage. The same stage that was used for their first gig of the UK leg of the tour, at London Stadium, former London Olympics stadium and now home of West Ham F.C.
The sound gear and lighting for their Cov’ show was loaded in the day before. Around 1300 staff on duty for the event, and ready to greet the fans who flooded in when the gates opened at 4pm. VIP and corporate guests already getting into the swing of things in the various private suites much earlier in the day. An estimated 70,000 pints of beer and 5,000 burgers would have been consumed by the fans on the day.
So, the boys are back in town and they crack on in style, and go back to their roots with a Jimmy Reed blues cover “Ride ‘Em On Down” before the Bob Dylan epic, “Like A Rolling Stone”, which Mick says has been requested. Probably by a Mr Robert Zimmerman of the USA, for the performance royalty!
They perform “Dead Flowers” from their 1971 album “Sticky Fingers”, the title of which was taken by former Stones member Bill Wyman to name his London restaurant after; before the brilliant “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and then one of their biggest songs, the 1969 hit, “Hony Tonk Women”, after which Mick introduces the band and pays tribute to Coventry City’s promotion to League One next season.
His voice mainly in tact, and most of the songs still in the original key, but it gets a rest for the next two songs, when Keith steps up to the microphone with an acoustic guitar strapped to his chest, to sing lead on “You Got The Silver” and then “Happy”.
Got to pay tribute to the band’s long time bassist Darryl Jones, nicknamed “The Munch”, who is the baby of the band at 56-years-old, and replaced Bill Wyman when he quit in 1993. He is a great player and part of the backbone of this sound today. Keith spends time grinning at him and the occasional wander over near him for a few licks. Ohh, err missus!
The opening chords of “Sympathy for the Devil” gets a roar of approval, as does “Miss You”. A really great song in my opinion. So is “Start Me Up”, which follows “Midnight Rambler”. Time for a brace of absolute classics, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “Brown Sugar”, and they head off stage at just gone 10.05pm while the crowd scream for more. Gotta say, Ronnie and Keith really are a dream team pairing as guitarists. There, I’ve said it.
The obligatory encore, which they thoroughly deserve by the way, kicks off with “Gimme Shelter” and they end the set where they well and truly got their ya ya’s out, with the inevitable and the intimable “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, the title of which is an utter oxymoron tonight.
For the fans – and the band, by the look of the grins on their boat races as they left the stage, to head off for a glass or two of the fizzy stuff to toast Charlie and Ronnie’s birthday, maybe. Here’s to another 50 years guys – and no one would be that surprised if they actually achieved that feat! OAP’s rule…
All photos: Jason Sheldon * (Great job Jase!)
Words: Simon Redley