As the crow flies, it isn’t too far from the bedsit squalor of Edith Grove, SW10, to the leafy Cheyne Walk of Chelsea, SW3. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards accomplished the journey in a little over five years.
In the early Sixties, London proved to be a magnet for R&B-crazy teenagers. And the moving force behind the Rolling Stones gravitated towards the capital.
While celebrated in Dartford and Cheltenham, the hometowns of Mick Jagger and Brian Jones, it is the clubs, shops, recording studios and palatial mansions of the London postal districts that are inextricably linked to the band.
When the Stones began, Harold Macmillan was prime minister, there were but two TV channels and the pubs were closed between 3pm and 5.30pm. Music on the radio was controlled by the BBC Light Programme, which received the pleading letters from the band’s founder, Brian Jones.
It was he who coerced LSE student Jagger and his pal Keith Richards into a group. Bonded by a love for R&B music, Jones, Jagger and Richards shared a flat together, at the legendarily squalid 102 Edith Grove. A row between Jagger and Richards during the run-up to the Stones’ 2016 Exhibitionism display erupted over whether the fire at Edith Grove had two or three bars. Richards remembers the flat as “truly disgusting… the substances growing out of the crockery, the greasy, cold pans piled in junked pyramids of foulness that no one could bear to touch”. Apartments there now sell for in excess of £1 million.
Pianist Ian Stewart – the “sixth Stone”, later dismissed by manager Andrew Oldham – supported the fledgling group with his luncheon vouchers from ICI. Jagger’s LSE grant helped, as did the money the Stones got back from returning empty beer bottles to the local off licences.
Once Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts were locked in as a rhythm section in January 1963, the Stones played the capital’s circuit of clubs catering for their specialised brand of music – Wardour Street’s Flamingo, Great Newport Street’s Studio 51, the original Marquee on Oxford Street.
For many though, the Rolling Stones really came alive when they began their residency at the Crawdaddy Club, Station Hotel, Richmond, TW9. It was here that they were spotted by Oldham and seen by the Beatles. Indeed, after Decca Records rejected the Liverpool quartet’s services, George Harrison pointed Dick Rowe, the Decca A&R executive, in the direction of the Crawdaddy to see a “good band”.
Jones’s hold on the band slipped when it became apparent that for the Stones to have a career they had to be more than a covers band. The axis shifted at Mapesbury Road, NW2, at the flat Jagger and Richards shared with Oldham. Legend has him locking the duo in the kitchen and refusing to let them out until they had written an original song. The first efforts were not encouraging – anyone remember George Bean’s Will You Be My Lover Tonight? But within a year, the Jagger and Richards juggernaut had hit its stride – Satisfaction, Get Off My Cloud and 19th Nervous Breakdown were all born.
While the Beatles had Abbey Road, the Stones’ favourite studio was Olympic, Church Road, SW13. It was here in leafy Barnes that they cemented their greatness, notably with the Sixties LPs Beggars Banquet and Let It Bleed. The building began life as a theatre in 1906 before being converted into recording studios (where Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin also recorded). Today, it is a cinema and restaurant complex.
With their stature cemented, the Stones began spending: in 1968, Richards purchased an 18th-century property at 3 Cheyne Walk, SW3; Jagger soon followed, buying number 48. Here were the parties of legend.
It often seemed during the late Sixties that the Rolling Stones spent more time in court than they did in the recording studio. It was at his Chelsea property that Jagger and girlfriend Marianne Faithfull were busted in 1969. They appeared, as had Jones for an earlier arrest, at Great Marlborough Street Magistrates Court, W1F. It was a location that would have also been familiar to Oscar Wilde and Christine Keeler. Today it is the luxurious Courthouse hotel (courthouse-hotel.com).
By the Seventies, tax exile beckoned and the Stones decamped to France. Richards kept Redlands in West Sussex, but spent most of his time at the family home in Connecticut. Jagger retained his Richmond Hill property, but is believed to call his Loire Valley chateau home.
For the past four years, Music Heritage London has run regular tours of the Stones’ London – along the King’s Road, passing the boutiques where they shopped, out to Richmond via Olympic Studios and Edith Grove. Visitors from Norway, USA, Brazil and China travel in the sort of old-fashioned double-decker bus that the group would have travelled on for those early gigs.
Unlike the Beatles and their reimagining of Liverpool in song, the Stones rarely celebrated “sleepy London town” on record. In 1965, Play With Fire spoke of a pub in St John’s Wood and a good-time girl who “gets her kicks in Stepney not in Knightsbridge any more”.
Famously, Jagger attended the 1968 anti-Vietnam protest, resulting in Street Fighting Man. The Chelsea drugstore is mentioned on You Can’t Always Get What You Want, the final song on Let It Bleed. That building is now a McDonald’s.
In December, MHL hosted a 50th anniversary event at Kensington’s Gore hotel, where Beggars Banquet was launched. Music legends including the Quarrymen’s Rod Davis, the Who’s Kenney Jones, the Kinks’ Mick Avory and Steve Hackett of Genesis have taken the bus tour.
No sign of Jagger or Richards yet though…
Patrick Humphries is the author of Rolling Stones 69 (Omnibus Press)
Details of bus tours of the Rolling Stones’ London can be found at 60sbus.london (from £95)