Christopher Sandford

Chris Sandford is the author of The Rolling Stones Fifty Years, published by Simon and Schuster.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 9 May 2012
  • min read
The book, published to tie in with the band's fiftieth anniversary this year, tells the human drama behind the Rolling Stones story, collated from interviews with family members, fans and contemporaries of the band.

Sandford has been a writer for 30 years and has written biographies of both Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.

How did the book come about?
I try to keep a radar out at all times for anniversaries and things of that nature that you can hang a project on. This year, as it turns out, is quite prolific with The Beatles, The Stones and Queen all with landmarks. I suggested the book a few years ago and there was the usual to-ing and fro-ing and eventually Simon and Schuster went for it. So I guess it was my initial idea and they rashly accepted.

Why is it that The Stones had such an impact that you are writing a book about them fifty years later?
Well, they haven't given me personally a code to live by and I don't think Jagger would ever claim to set out to do that. To me they were basically about taking the blues, wringing out most of the misery and the grief and making it good-time music and they have been peerless at it until this recent hiatus.

Do you think The Rolling Stones were pioneers of the huge live events we see today?
I do, you look at U2's shows and you can see the genesis from The Stones. I remember seeing The Stones in 1976 at Earl's Court and from that tour 36 or so years ago, was where the spectacle started. I remember they came onto this hydraulic stage and Jagger was on a trapeze, and that's when I think they began to go for the design and the spectacle, that night was almost a circus. Not coincidentally I think that's when the recorded side of things started to show signs of them running out of their initial inspiration. It's hard to work out whether their focus shifted deliberately but there might be a load of people in the audience who don't buy the CDs but they go to the show.

Do you think the Rolling Stones can do these fantastic live shows because they have such a strong back-catalogue?
Coming here this morning, there was a guy busking at Oxford Circus, doing Satisfaction. it's a timelesssong and apparently can be transferred from the enormodome to a tube station without any apparent loss - the busker sounded quite good actually!

I have an eleven year old kid and he gets Satisfaction. He doesn't know a thing about the world it talks about or the advertising references - he just likes the beat. I do remember five or six years ago when they were in China for the Bigger Bang tour and the Chinese government, less their people become culturally polluted, made them drop four songs. I know Brown Sugar was one, Let's Spend The Night Together and a couple of others, I recall Mick saying 'Luckily we've got 387 other ones'. Now if you'd said you'd have to drop four of your big songs to most of their contemporaries, they'd be hard-pushed to put on a show.

They had an amazingly fecund period from 1965 to about 1975 and what I found incredible from speaking to many people who were in the studio with them during those years, it seems there appeared to be very little artistic debate about where they were going with a song between Mick and Keith. They would never sit down and say: 'You do this and I'll do that', it was all done on a sort of grunt and a nod. They did have this kind of telepathy - no one else could understand their language but them. And from that came those great songs. Tom Keylock worked for them for a long time, he was almost the sixth Rolling Stone. Tom told me that they came into Olympic Studios in Barnes one night with a Bob Dylan-like folk tune. Mick strummed it for a bit and Keith didn't say a word, he just went over to the corner of the studio with his guitar. Charlie started doing something and within an hour of arriving with this folk song they were doing Sympathy For The Devil to a samba beat and no-one ever said 'let's try samba', it just evolved from grunts and nods and noodling on the guitar. That's genius in a way.

Do you think that the Stones were the first sort of 'band brand'?
Again, on the way here I saw at least one Rolling Stones tongue logo on a t-shirt. They've never been shy of marketing themselves and flogging stuff. Don't forget though in the Summer of 1963,  after they had already got a recording contract with Decca, Mick and Keith did a jingle for Rice Krispies which was quite popular in it's time, I think it went 'Rice Krispies go pop, pop, pop'. So when people say 45 years later they sold the rights to Satisfaction to Snickers or Start Me Up to Microsoft I see a linear development there, I'm not thinking 'they sold out'. They always had an eye on it.

In March of 1958 when Mick Jagger was 14 going on 15, he and his neighbour Dick Taylor - who went on to be in The Pretty Things - went to see Buddy Holly on his one tour to the UK. Dick said that he remembered Jagger sat there in his seat with narrowed eyes, apparently not that overwhelmed by it but just absorbing it. Towards the end, significantly, Holly did Not Fade Away which The Stones dusted off themselves and Dick said it was like a switch had been flicked and Mick suddenly jumped out of his seat and went from this almost anthropological interest to being caught up in the emotion of it. I think that's a snapshot of Mick Jagger in there somewhere, he's got that calculating side: 'where's the market? Which way is the wind blowing? What are people listening to?' and also allowing himself to be abandoned to the spontaneity of the moment.

What do you think happens next for The Rolling Stones?
I think they'll probably do something within the next six months but let me stress I'm completely speculating there. I would be surprised if they go out on a whimper although there has been an unstoppable flow of merchandise and reissues. I think that the days of the enormo coast-to-coast worldwide tour are over but five nights at Wembley? Five nights at Madison Square Garden? Yeah, I hope they do. They are taking what seems to me to be a slightly impressionistic approach to their fiftieth year. As far as I know 12 July 2012 is the exact fiftieth, the day they first performed at the old Marquee, but they are seeing it as stretching into 2013. I would be quite confident that by this time next year there will be a show or shows, I don't know where or when but they'll be spectacular with about 20 people on stage supporting them. I hope we see them again. The Rolling Stones Fifty Years - published by Simon & Schuster priced £25.00

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