Friday, 27 August 2021

Charlie Watts 1941-2021

To begin with I took him for granted. The Rolling Stones made great records - that is their records got better and better - from Come On to I Wanna Be Your Man to Not Fade Away to It's All Over Now - better and better. I knew they had a drummer, you couldn’t miss him, the one sitting down at the back, sulky expression, hair not quite so à la mode as the others - but it took time to realise just how good he was. I was just getting started with music, I was nine years old when their first record came out.

Pop groups were a new thing. There wasn’t anything much to measure anything against. They always had a drummer - The Beatles had Ringo Starr, The Kinks had Mick Avory, the Who had Keith Moon, The Small Faces had Kenny Jones, The Yardbirds had Jim McCarty… they were all good but I didn’t know that yet.


Get Off My Cloud, Paint It Black, Have You Seen Your Mother?, Satisfaction


As the sixties progressed I was enamoured along with hundreds of others with the hyperactivity and dazzling dexterity of countless busy drummers. The Who and The Jimi Hendrix Experience exploded, Cream simultaneously impressed and bored the shit out of me, Bands skittered and skidded around, and frequently flew off the track, but through it all the Rolling Stones sat four square on the road, a big and powerful motor car rolling steadily through the night.


I’m really not sure that i should continue with the car metaphor, but if i did then Charlie Watts would have to be the engine. Or possibly the driver.

Let’s lose the car metaphor.


Records by the Rolling Stones were fundamentally more propulsive than records by other groups. Perhaps Creedence Clearwater Revival came close, and later Canvey island’s very own Dr Feelgood, but no other band possessed a drummer of such elegance, grace, sophistication and outright drive.

“Charlie’s good tonight,” Mick famously remarked on Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!. The Stones were not always good but I don’t think they were ever let down by the drummer. I don’t know, but I can imagine that Charlie was good every night.


In his wonderful book, Life, Keith Richards recalled following the cables and locating Charlie ensconced behind his kit in a far-flung cellar under the chateau where they were recording Exile On Main Street. Charlie Watts, suit and tie, the day’s newspaper spread across the kit, kettle coming to the boil on a Primus stove by his side. On time and ready to keep time. No need for a conversation, Charlie would, I imagine, know exactly what to do and what not to do.


When the Rolling Stones celebrated an unprecedented twenty-five years Charlie summed it up as twenty years of waiting and five years of playing.

I often think of Charlie Watts making a drawing of the bed in his hotel room before he got into it to go to sleep.


In 1966 or ’67 he moved to Lewes in East Sussex, where I was currently suffering through school. Mick and Keith had been incarcerated in jail in Lewes pending sentencing following the 1967 drug bust. From the school playing fields you could just see the jail up there on the hill. I remember looking up at the prison in awe and disbelief. They were only there for two days but I think the local youth felt a special connection to the Stones, especially with the drummer living amongst us.


Charlie Watts house was a charming cottage on the end of Southover High Street. The cottage fronted the road and the front door opened directly onto the pavement. There was a bus stop just along the road. As a teenager I caught the bus a couple of stops along from his house and took a seat on the top deck with the express intention of looking down into the windows of his house.

Years later I became friends with Ian Dury. Ian was friends with Charlie’s wife, Shirley. They’d attended the Royal College Of Art together. Ian told me he used to visit them in Lewes. He talked about the bus stop, and how the bus would slow down outside the living room window and all these teenage boys would be looking down at them from the top deck. I shamefully admitted to having once been one of them, which Ian found highly amusing.


I wasn’t going to put that bit in but I was…you know, a fan. I still am, I love them. Occasionally I loathe them, I get exasperated by them, and then I fall in love with them all over again… because although they don’t know it, and it probably wouldn’t make a drop of difference to them if they did, they’re family - they’ve been in my life since I was a nine year old and they’re family.

I don’t know how you grieve for someone you’ve never met, and if it’s even appropriate. Charlie’s gone. The Stones will probably carry on until there are no Stones left. And then it’ll be the end of an era. I’m glad to have been around for it. Thank you Charlie - sorry about the bus stop thing. 


Wednesday, 4 August 2021

NYS Inspection - Good To Go

The truck needed an inspection. I took it along to the usual place where they were nice and a Hispanic American man used to take care of things. He isn’t there anymore. The whole cast of characters appears to have slowly changed along with the vibe. They have a reception now where once they had a grubby corner of the workshop. The reception is manned by a vicious-looking woman who has spent the pandemic wearing a mask under her bulbous nose. I think her sister, another bulbous under the nose mask women, works as the reception desk manner at the Family Health Clinic in Catskill where she has a Make America Great Again sticker cleverly concealed where you almost just can’t see it on the side of her filing cabinet.
There was a line of cars waiting to drive in for oil changes and to have tyres or bits of exhaust systems replaced. For New York State Inspections you used to have to leave the vehicle with them and come back later to get the good or bad news. I couldn’t get around them so I joined the line of cars and as the line wasn’t moving I got out of the truck and headed for the office where I told the the vicious woman I’d come for an inspection. She told me I had to join the line and there would be a three quarter hour wait. I asked if I could leave the truck with them. She looked at me as though I was crazy and said no.
When I got back to the truck a bossy young man with a clipboard was yelling at Amy (who had come in her car to give me a ride home). He was telling her I couldn’t leave a vehicle unattended. Nothing had moved while I was away so I don’t know what he was getting upset about. I told him I’d come for the inspection and that I usually just left it with them.
’Not anymore buddy. We can’t risk having people park their vehicles here. You’ll just have to wait. It’ll be about an hour.’
We left.
I looked for another inspection place. There was Mavis where they’re very nice, very professional, and when you come in for an oil change there’s always something they need to show you, and you leave three hours later in a daze having paid seven hundred dollars for something that it later transpires didn’t need doing after all. There was one other place, tucked away between a gas station and the freight line. i gave them a call.
The voice that answered didn’t seem to know what was what but somehow we established that they did New York State Inspections and the voice told me to come in at eight o’clock on Monday morning and tell them I’d called on Friday afternoon. No details were requested.
Monday morning rolled around and I rolled out of bed into my clothes and into the truck and drove it around to the garage. It was an old freight depot. It looked like a bit of a dump, but unless they’re part of a corporate chain with enough melamine and plastic to disguise the crappiness, these places often do. I walked into a large entrance hall - greasy wood, pegboard, grimy linoleum, with a counter to one side. There was no one there. I waited. A man burst through a door clutching some papers, walked purposefully across the entrance hall and disappeared through another door completely ignoring me. I waited a while longer and another man appeared from some gloomy recess. He busied himself behind the counter stapling papers together and consulting a screen. Gnarly, unshaven, thick lenses in silver aviator frames. A sign pinned to the tongue and groove behind him said Blessed Be The Name Of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
‘Wadda you want?’
I told him I’d come to get my truck inspected.
‘Keys?’
He walked outside with an angry ape-like walk and scampered around the truck, looking at it. I asked permission to come back later. When I returned after an hour or so the truck was parked in exactly the same place as before sporting a new inspection certificate - good for a whole year.
It took a while to pay because the card reader was on the same line as the phone and calls kept coming in.
He sighed, almost apologetic - ‘I have to get this.’
I’m good at joining in these situations - ‘I bet it never stops’ I said.
He laughed a frothy, unmasked laugh as though I’d said something hilarious.
‘You got that right boy!’