What could be a better way to kick off the open-air concert season than going to a stadium gig the week summer 2018 starts?
Today is a home match as we have residence tickets for the Rolling Stones and their No Filter tour – the tickets are from an allowance granted to the people living in Twickenham and these contingents are sometimes so popular a lottery has to decide who gets them, even though they still do not come cheap (I had been lucky when applying for Rihanna tickets to take a friend as a wedding present but only got Lady Gaga tickets in the afternoon of the concert from Gumtree).
The Rolling Stones’ career spans more than half a century and an immense back catalogue. Admittedly I have not even tried listening through all their albums. However, for research on what links the Rolling Stones to Twickenham head to the local Eel Pie Island Museum which opened earlier this year: You learn about the band’s blues beginnings in the early 1960s when a tiny island in the arcadian Thames – not yet connected via a footbridge – was the place to listen to live music in London’s west and a whole underground scene evolved. A hotel on Eel Pie Island staged live music when beat music just took off and a venue only to be reached by boat must have seemed irresistibly remote from parents, teachers and other authorities. The local legends are hence numerous, especially as the actual Eel Pie Island Hotel burnt down in 1971. Not only the Stones but among many others also David Bowie, John Lee Hooker, Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart played here.
40 years after their last gig on Eel Pie Island the Rolling Stones were the first band ever to play in Twickenham Stadium in 2003 and now, fifteen years ago, they are back: 55,000 visitors, sold out, again.
It is a beautiful evening, the stadium controls are uncomplicated (only tiny bags allowed) but getting a beer before taking our seats is a struggle – the guys selling beers from containers carried on their backs are being followed by lines of people only to claim they are sold out and even the food stalls are reducing their menus already. One burger stall has run out of food but still has beer. Behind us in the queue is a couple in their late sixties who are already thinking of stocking up and selling it to the people running behind the guys with the empty container. To get rich. Rock ‘n Roll.
We climb up the stairs to our seats and are surprised that they are not at the very end on the very top as expected from residence tickets; instead we are in the middle tier – excellent! James Bay (born in 1990) is already on stage as a support act and we watch the fans getting in position. The audience is generally younger than we expected but the area for wheel chairs and Zimmer frames seems bigger than at other stadium events. Lovely. Next to us is a guy in his late teens, his mum next to him. And he does his physics and maths homework – what would Keith Richard say to that? I feel as if something dies inside me: Can we establish that home work at rock concerts is just not on?
On what is usually a rugby pitch people form long queues for drinks and souvenirs, at least on the end away from the stage; the crowd tightens closer and closer around the wave breakers nearby the stage and when the Rolling Stones finally start everyone loves it, stands up if not already standing and dances. Forgotten are thoughts about going only as it’s the last chance to see some rolling bones because that guy on stage has invented the moves like Jagger and lives to his iconic image – this man has still the agility of a teenage lizard. No dad dancing, no way. In your face, ageism!
The energy sparks indeed – one gentleman in a crazy-coloured suit plays the air guitar facing the stage and has, like a busker, a bag positioned in front of him. People turn around, take pictures of and selfies with him and dance along. What’s not to love!
We can sing along most of the songs and they are all great classics: Paint it Black, Sympathy for the Devil, Black Sugar and finally Satisfaction. This is how every summer should start!
I can say this because I was not one of those 50,000+ people stranded that night after South West Trains decided to shut down the train station completely once the gig had finished – what a waste of what could have been a wonderful evening for so many. On a school night as well. I hope someone is deeply ashamed.
The Rolling Stones tour has finished by now.
The Eel Pie Island Museum is located in 1-3 Richmond Road, Twickenham TW1 3AB.