What to my eye separated the Rolling Stones from the other bands of their day in London, for instance the Yardbirds or even the Beatles, was their onstage moves, due in no small part to Mick’s gyrations which have to date achieved legendary status as moves in their own right. Maybe it’s not Fred Astaire, but it’s surely encouragement for us all to dance and move as that’s a great freedom for our bodies, trapped as they are within our own inhibitions and inability to move to the rhythm.
As the Stones started out way back as an outfit to dance to, I thought it might be appropriate, given the recent interest in TV dance shows, to look at Mick’s connection with the art of hoofing and what makes him move. I remember the scene years back down at the so-called Crawdaddy Club in Richmond. The leading mods would have their own fan clubs and show off the various new moves every Sunday night, when the band would perform there. Even if you could see the heads of the band on that tiny stage, the main action was out on the floor, and the job of the Rolling Stones was to provide the music for the dancers.
Things changed in the years since; at one concert at Wembley I was seated in the old “royal box” when the band came on and, attempting to breathe some life into my own involvement, I stood up and began to dance. “Sit down!” was the cry from behind from some well-heeled punter, and I thought about it for a second, and then continued. It’s supposed to be a rock show, not a Shakespeare play, I thought.
I managed to have a few words with the older, busy brother after a long day at the office (I mean rehearsal rooms), in Paris. Naturally, I went back to basics and asked about where the dancing all began.
“Mum tried to teach me, and we waltzed around the living room to the strains of Victor Sylvester,” he remembers fondly. “He would be on the old Light Programme, giving instructions, and then we would trot around the room attempting the steps, with me trying not to tread on Mum’s toes.”
“What were you like?” I asked. “Hopeless,” he remembers. “It wasn’t really my thing. I found it too tricky. Then on Thursday night I would go on my bike to the youth club in Crayford, where they had square-dancing Scottish reels and a caller, you know, take-your-partner thing, and that was more fun. I think I also heard the polka and foxtrot and the quickstep – all the dances Mum and Dad would do when they went out to the local gatherings.”
I might add that our mother was a keen dancer, and Dad not too slack, either. Back then, being able to do the quick-quick-slow was a necessity for a chap unless you wanted to end up a wallflower. It was the one chance you had to meet and hold a girl.
Mick recalls the school dance, however, with some horror. “It was cringingly embarrassing. You would ask the girls from the local grammar school for the next dance, and that was hard enough as they sat there, and they might say, ‘I am already booked for it, I am afraid,’ whereupon you would blush heavily and move on. Luckily it was only an annual event. The square dancing at the youth club was more fun.”
Suddenly the whole pre-war culture was ripped apart by what came next – the Jive and the Twist and all the following dance crazes. “The Jive wasn’t allowed in most ballrooms,” Mick recalls. “They banned it, although it had been around since the war. It was seen as far too vulgar, but undoubtedly more fun, and then you could do it to the likes of Little Richard.”
Skipping over the Charleston (which I remember our mum teaching me) and the Black Bottom, Mick mentions the first big craze, the Cha Cha Cha. “It was huge back then, and Latin music was very popular. Who can forget Edmundo Ross, one of mum’s favorites? Then came the game changer, the Twist, which was the first dance you did on your own. It was a solo effort and the forerunner of today’s dancing.
“Then there was the Bunny Hop, where you waggled your elbows and jumped. I recall Eric Clapton and his friends doing that one! And who can forget the Monkey, the Chicken or the Hand Jive? What influenced me more was going to that ska/bluebeat club off Saville Row in Central London, because there, the West Indians moved in an altogether different way and I incorporated some of that into what I was beginning to do on stage with the band.
“Then we travelled to the USA and caught James Brown at the Apollo Theatre in New York, and that was a huge influence. It wasn’t just the moves he made – it was the energy he put into it that was amazing. It didn’t seem to be a routine, as such. Everyone had moves. The guy who was most influential to me in many ways was Little Richard, but it was moving more than dancing, gesticulation and interpretation. Dancing is in it, but the big thing is dancing and drums are the total connection, and it’s very ancient and primitive, in the best sense of the word. The sound of the drums and stamping of your feet is hundreds of thousands of years old. Drums and dancing, the interpretation of the rhythm, has to be the earliest and most primeval expression of the human spirit – you the dancer and the drummer. James Brown was totally in that. He and the drummer were in total sync. That was obvious when you saw them. In its most expressive you see it in African dancing, Indian dance. I have to be together with Charlie Watts, and he is aware of that. If he’s not doing what my feet are, it doesn’t work. Obviously other instruments come into it. Performing is all to do with interpreting the song and the beat which is propelling you.”
Rehearsing in Paris, Mick says he’s been having fun going to a dance studio there three times a week or so, working out for an hour at a time, which keeps him pretty fit. “You can’t have enough rehearsals,” he says. “It’s like a football team.”
This brings me to a final question on the video by Maroon 5, “Moves like Jagger.” “It’s good, isn’t it?” he says. “Sure, I was very flattered by it, and it’s nice to see the connections between generations, because I used that in my time, too.”