The Rolling Stones celebrated their 50th anniversary in style last night by reuniting for the launch of a new photo exhibition celebrating the band's career.
Last seen in public together at the Shine A Light premiere in 2008, their appearance at London's Somerset House – 50 years to the day after their first gig at London's Marquee Club on July 12th, 1962 – is expected to be just the first in a series of events over the coming months to mark the band's Golden Jubilee.
On the red carpet, drummer Charlie Watts confirmed to Rolling Stone that the band had been practicing again, although he said it had "not yet" made any concrete plans for their live return.
"We've been playing, not rehearsing," he said with a smile.
"We had a good play in New York a few weeks ago," added guitarist Ronnie Wood. "We did 50 songs in five days. It was brilliant."
Meanwhile, frontman Mick Jagger said he was pleased the band had made it through 50 years together.
"It feels really good," he said, "if a little long . . . in the tooth! It's quite surprising. It does seem a long time, but I'm really happy about it."
Later, inside the exhibition, which showcases intimate pictures from throughout the band's career, Jagger reminisced about that first show at the now defunct Marquee, which the band had "reconstructed" for a photo shoot the previous day.
"I remember it because of the trouble we had finding a rhythm section," he laughed. Dick Taylor played bass that night, with the drummer either Tony Chapman or Mick Avory, depending on whose version of history you believe. The lineup was completed by Keith Richards and Brian Jones on guitar and Ian Stewart on piano. Former bass player Bill Wyman did not come on board until later that year, with Watts joining in 1963.
Jagger also noted that the band – then billed as the Rollin' Stones – only got that first gig because Alexis Korner's band Blues Incorporated, with whom Jagger had been singing, had been called up by the BBC to do a radio session. Jagger said his disappointment at not participating in the session (after the BBC said they would only pay for six musicians rather than seven) was tempered by having his new band fill Korner's usual Marquee residency slot.
Fifty years on, the band caused rather more of a buzz as they again spent the night together in central London. Despite heavy rain, dozens of fans lined the Victoria Embankment by the side of the River Thames to catch a glimpse of the band as they arrived for the exhibition.
The Stones turned up 20 minutes later than planned in a silver people carrier and immediately posed for photos. Smiling broadly, Jagger and Richards kept Wood between them as the band linked arms for the massed ranks of paparazzi. Jagger, wearing an electric blue suit, enthusiastically took direction from the photographers, telling his bandmates to shuffle to the left for a better angle.
Photos over, the band spent only the briefest of moments on the red carpet but, once inside the exhibition, all four members took the time to look at the photos and chat with party guests, who included former Stones Wyman and Mick Taylor, Simply Red's Mick Hucknall, lyricist Sir Tim Rice, crime writer Ian Rankin and Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera.
For much of the evening, Jagger and Richards held court in separate areas of the party. Richards, wearing trademark hat and shades, looked at the photos with his son Marlon, chatted with Live Aid promoter Harvey Goldsmith and at one point doffed his hat to some passing fans who spotted him through an open window. Meanwhile, Jagger chatted with his glamorous daughters Lizzie and Georgia May near an open door on the other side of the exhibition.
But despite two years of apparent feuding since a row over Richards' autobiography Life, the pair seemed as happy and relaxed in each other's company as they did in many of the vintage photos on display. At one point, Richards whispered in Jagger's ear, seemingly sharing a private joke that made both of them laugh.
Indeed, togetherness seemed to be the order of the day, with Mick also spotted embracing former bass player Wyman and chatting at length with Wood. Whether this harmony will lead to either new recordings or another tour remains to be seen, although Jagger has hinted about at least one gig this year and Stones insiders expect further discussions to be held while the band are all together in London.
Watts, however, maintained that the reunion was really just business as usual.
"We've never been apart really," he said. "It's just they live in another part of the world – well, he [Wood] doesn't, but the other two do."
The exhibition runs at Somerset House until August 27th. It coincides with the release of a photographic book, Rolling Stones 50.
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