Twenty years ago, London was a different city in nearly every way. I could hail a black cab on Haverstock Hill, in Hampstead, not all that far from the tiny garret without central heat or a lavatory on Primrose Gardens where I lived, and have it take me all the way through Hyde Park, past Chelsea, and then out beyond World's End for less than a pound – and still have enough change left over at the end to tip the driver.
The trip itself took almost no time at all. Traffic was always light in the city back then, for one very simple reason: Virtually no one in London owned a car. At least no one that I knew, despite the fact that they cost so little used (at the going rate of $2.20 to the pound back then, an old blue Bedford van could be had for around 120 bucks).
Even had I wanted to drive on the wrong side of the road, I could never have afforded anything quite that grand. As the associate editor of the London bureau of Rolling Stone, located up the stairs at 28 Newman Street, in the West End, I earned the princely sum of fifteen pounds a week. Five quid a week went for rent. I spent as much again for food. The rest I banked in order to have something set aside for a rainy day. It rained every single day while I lived in London. Every single bloody day.
On a daily basis, there were only four of us in the tiny two-room office on Newman Street, each one as much a friend and a family member to the other as a fellow worker. Andrew Bailey was the editor. On ads, Brian Cookman of Bronx Cheer, a pub band that was either ten years ahead or ten years behind the times. On phones, Fiona Bower, who had been raised to be a lady but could, when the occasion demanded, curse like a stevedore on the docks in Woolwich.
Chris Hodenfield was there playing the part of the boy reporter as only Jimmy Olsen had ever done before. Ray Coleman dropped in only when the mood struck him and he could find a spare moment to take care of all those things that no one else could do.
Late indeed though it may have been for flower power in the U.S. of A. – what with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and then Jim Morrison dying off in fairly rapid succession and the National Guard shooting white middle-class kids on the campus at Kent State for no good reason other than they just happened to be there protesting the war – in London to some degree the hippie thing still held sway. By 1971, the operative concept over there had become that of "the underground," reflecting what was going on in America but in a very English way.
It was before any American show ever became a regular favorite on English telly. There was no MTV. Telephone connections to the United States were so bad as to make airmail the most effective means of communication. Yet on a regular basis, rock & roll bands kept departing from Heathrow in order to seek their fame and fortune on tour in the U.S.A. Like some kind of weird lend-lease program in reverse.
No band ever had done this with more success than the Rolling Stones. Having caught the buzz about the coming tour, Andrew Bailey arranged for us to have lunch with Jo Bergman, then nominally in charge of the Stones' London office, located at 46A Maddox Street, in the West End.
At lunch that day, we all drank a good deal of very good wine. Boldly, I told Jo, a lady who pioneered the concept of big hair on both sides of the Atlantic, that all I wanted to do on this particular tour was "just kind of hang out, man, and see what happens." God only knows why she bought it. It was a far more innocent time in the world and in the business as well. In London, credentials were easier to come by, tending to be entirely personal rather than professional. That I wanted to try to do something a little different was good enough for Jo. Giggling as no one else ever could, she said yes, and I began an association with the Stones that over the next two years took me from London to Los Angeles and through North America with them on their 1972 tour.
For me, the English tour began as I walked behind Charlie Watts down a platform at King's Cross Station, in north-central London, in order to board the train to the first show. Charlie's father, then still alive, worked for British Rail. He either just happened to be on duty in the station that day or had come especially to see Charlie off. I know he was in uniform. I may be wrong, but I believe he was also carrying some sort of brakeman's lantern in his hand. Casually, as only the British ever could, father and son said hello and then goodbye, wishing each other the best as Charlie stepped on the train. The train pulled out. We were off.
All the way to Newcastle, I sat in a first-class compartment with people who belonged on the tour. People who had real jobs and crushing responsibilities. None of them had the faintest idea who I was. No one even bothered to ask. I was there? There had to be a reason. Soon enough, my specific function would be revealed. If not, well then, that was all right, too.
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