Stones in Europe: A Hearty Welcome After Two Long Years

Band plays its first British dates in two years at Wembley Pool

Rolling Stones Mick Jagger Mick Taylor
David Redfern/Redferns
The Rolling Stones perform on stage at Wembley Empire Pool, London, September 1973.
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"This is just another tour. And Wembley is just another show."

Charlie Watts in London, the night before.

London — Deprived of its foremost rock & roll attraction in the flesh for more than two years, Britain welcomed the Rolling Stones back with an enthusiasm normally reserved for royalty or a World Cup football hero. Four shows at Wembley Pool sold out the morning tickets went on sale. Atlantic Records received hundreds of requests each day for press tickets. THE ROLLING STONES ARE BACK, headlined an evening newspaper. Another paper hit the streets with a special Stones edition.

Yet, the overall omens weren't that good. "Angie," the Stones's new single, drew a few nasty reviews, one pop music paper calling it "a dire mistake!" Efforts to schedule gigs at Welsh castles were thwarted twice by local authorities, and only during the week of the Wembley dates were four less spectacular Welsh venues announced. And although three Communist officials were in the audience at Vienna's glassy-modern Stadthalle September 1st for the first stop on the 20-city tour, permission to go behind the Iron Curtain was not forthcoming. "If they did let the show in," said Chuck Francour of Kracker, the Stone's opening act, "it would only be as an example of Western decadence."

A disappointingly dull party the night before the Wembley opener contributed to the mood of uncertainty. The event was staged at Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill and traditional home of the Duke of Marlborough. Some guests hyped themselves into expecting a big bash, but it didn't materialize.

"The point of this party is to move around and meet people," said Mick Jagger. But it was left to the guests to do the circulating. The Stones seemed detached. Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts played with their children, Jagger chatted with Billy Preston and posed with Bianca, and Mick Taylor stood on the far side of the Blenheim Gardens watching the Jaggers getting photographed.

Unlike her husband, who looked wasted in heavy make-up and eyeliner, Bianca was animated, fork-feeding Mick goulash and posing for gawkers in her see-through blouse. When she got food on the tip of her walking stick, she licked it off. Of Tatum O'Neal, Bianca said: "She is a lovely, lovely girl. I like her and she likes me. I had her dress up the same so we could have some fun." The two posed for a magazine photographer.

Very little attention was given Goat Head's Soup. "It's not my favorite album," said Bill Wyman. "Beggar's Banquet is mine. But then everybody has different tastes."

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Everybody has different standards, too, and BBC programmers at the party were shocked when DJ Anne Nightingale told Jagger that she had played "Star Star" on the air. "We're having a contest to see which DJ plays it the most," said Mick. "There was a terrible row over that song. Ahmet [Ertegun] didn't want it on. We said, 'No song, no album, we'll take it somewhere else.' To get the song on the album we had to change the printed title." Mick Taylor said later, "It's not 'Star Star,' it's 'Starfucker.' There was no change in the song. That's the important thing."

Although three European dates preceded the party, the members of Kracker still hadn't met all the Stones, and the party did nothing to change the situation. The band had been selected to open the bill because they were the first American group to sign with the Rolling Stones' label. "Our producer [Jimmy Miller] is their producer," said bassist Carlos Garcia, "and he figured being their friends he'd offer us to them first."

Vocalist Carl Driggs, one of Kracker's three Cuban emigrants, added, "This is the first tour we've ever been on. The Stones — we freaked!"

"The whole past year has been a trip," said Chuck Francour. His incredulity was understandable. In early 1972 Kracker was a trio playing Chicago clubs; in late 1973 they were a quintet opening for the Rolling Stones in Europe.

During the first few numbers at Wembley, it appeared the Stones might succumb to the mood of disinterest that permeated the party. Jagger hit a few wrong notes on "Tumbling Dice," and the interchange between him and Keith Richards on "Happy" was sloppy. Worse still, Mick's gymnastics seemed unnatural and a self-parody. The audience was not moved. "Did one of those guys tell you to sit down?" Jagger inquired finally, alluding to the security guards. "Well, don't let them bother you!"

The band started "Midnight Rambler," smoke billowed from the stage, and Jagger humped the floor. At this point the audience went irrevocably gazonkers. When Mick kicked balloons into the crowd, adults grabbed them as if they needed the air inside to breathe. When he threw buckets of water, the crowd lunged at sprinkles.

Only four of the 15 numbers performed were from Goat Head's Soup, the rest being familiar favorites. The Stone most deserving acclaim was Mick Taylor, whose guitar playing was so outstanding that even critics for the national newspapers singled him out for praise.

Minor incidents occurred each night. On Friday and Saturday ticketless crowds outside forced open the arena's locked doors. They were driven back by security guards. Sunday night one of the commissionaires yanked a dancing man to his seat by his hair, drawing an onstage reprimand ("Sergeants, we don't need you!") from Jagger. The commissionaires retreated to the back of the hall, where one of them later charged that "he called us 'pigs.' "

After the show an unidentified man hurled an unopened Coca-Cola bottle at Jagger, who shrugged off the incident. He was preoccupied with talking with Ron Wood, Tetsu Yamauchi, David Bowie and Donovan, who mingled on the stage when the audience had left.

The Stones apparently won't play the US this year. "Maybe spring or summer," said Bill Wyman. Asked about the rumor the Stones might tour with the Who, Wyman said, "I haven't heard about it, but I wouldn't mind it. I like the Who. They're maniacs. Of course, they probably feel the same way about us."

This is a story from the October 11, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone.

From The Archives Issue 145: October 11, 1973