The Rock’s Backpages Flashback: The Rollin’ Stones Rock Richmond in 1963!

Barney Hoskyns

With "the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world" turning 50 this week, we take you back to one of the earliest pieces ever written about the band known then as "the Rollin' Stones." Norman Jopling's rave report was published in Britain's Record Mirror on May 11, 1963 ——Barney Hoskyns, Editorial Director, Rock's Backpages

As the Trad scene gradually subsides, promoters of all kinds of teen-beat entertainment heave a long sigh of relief that they have found something to take its place. It's Rhythm and Blues, of course — the number of R&B clubs that have sprung up is nothing short of fantastic.

One of the best-known — and one of the most successful to date — is at the Station Hotel, Kew Road, in Richmond, just on the outskirts of London. There, on Sunday evenings, the hip kids throw themselves about to the new "jungle music" like they never did in the more stinted days of trad.

And the combo they writhe and twist to is called the Rollin' Stones. Maybe you've never heard of them — if you live far away from London the odds are you haven't.

But by gad you will! The Rollin' Stones are probably destined to be the biggest group in the R&B scene if it continues to flourish. And by the looks of the Station Hotel, Richmond, flourish is merely an understatement considering that three months ago only fifty people turned up to see the group. Now club promoter, bearded Giorgio Gomelsky, has to close the doors at an early hour — over four hundred R&B fans crowd the hall.

And the fans who do come quickly lose all their inhibitions and proceed to contort themselves to the truly exciting music of the boys — who put heart and soul into their performances.

The fact is that, unlike all the other R&B groups worthy of the name, the Rollin' Stones have a definite visual appeal. They aren't the Jazzmen who were doing Trad eighteen months back and who have converted their act to keep up with the times. They are genuine R&B fanatics themselves, and they sing and play in a way that one would expect more from a colored U.S. R&B team than a bunch of wild, exciting white boys who have the fans screaming — and listening — to them.

Line-up of the group is Mick Jagger, lead vocal and harmonica and student at the London School of Economics. The fierce backing is supplied by Brian Jones, guitar and harmonica, and also spokesman and leader of the group. He's an architect, while Keith Richards, guitar, is an art student. The other three members of the group are Bill Wyman, bass guitar, Ian Stewart, piano and maracas, and drummer Charles Watts.

Record-wise, everything is in the air, but a disc will be forthcoming. It will probably be the group's own adaptation of the Chuck Berry number 'Come On' (featured on Chuck's new Pye LP). The number goes down extremely well in the club session on Sundays — other Chuck Berry numbers that are in the group's repertoire are 'Down The Road Apiece' and 'Bye Bye Johnny' — which is one of the highlights of the act.

Even though the boys haven't dead-certain plans for a disc, they do have dead-certain plans for a film. For club promoter Giorgio is best known as a film producer and has made several imaginative films dealing with the music scene. But for the Rollin' Stones film, there are some truly great shots of the team in action, singing and performing 'Pretty Thing,' the Bo Diddley number. The film itself lasts for twenty minutes and will be distributed with a main feature film.

The group are actually mad about Bo Diddley, although pianist Ian Stuart is the odd man out. Diddley numbers they perform are 'Crawdad,' 'Nursery Rhyme,' 'Road Runner,' 'Mona' and, of course, 'Bo Diddley.'

They can get the sound that Bo gets too — no mean achievement. The group themselves are all red-hot when it comes to U.S. beat discs. They know their R&B numbers inside out and have a repertoire of about eighty songs, most of them are the numbers which every R&B fan in the country knows and loves.

The boys are confident that, if they make a disc, it should do well. They are also confident about their own playing, although on Sundays at the end of the session they are dead-beat. That's because on Sunday afternoons they also play the R&B session at the Ken Colyer club.

But despite fact that their R&B has a superficial resemblance to rock'n'roll, fans of the hit parade music would not find any familiar material performed by the Rollin' Stones. And the boys do not use original material. "After all," they say, "can you imagine a British-composed R&B number — it just wouldn't make it."

One group that thinks a lot of the Rollin' Stones are The Beatles. When they came down to London the other week, they were knocked out by the group's singing. They stayed all the evening at the Station Hotel listening to the group pound away. And now they spread the word around so much in Liverpool that bookings for the group have been flooding in —including several the famed Cavern.

All this can't be bad for the R&B group who have achieved the American sound better than any other group over here. And the group that in all likelihood will soon be the leading R&B performers in the country...

© Norman Jopling, 1963

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