This interview was originally published on February 28, 2018
Back in 2018, The Rolling Stones announced a raft of UK live dates for 2018. We were lucky enough to catch up with long-standing drummer Charlie Watts, who has now sadly died at the age of 80. Here’s our last audience with a true rock’n’roll legend.
How will this tour be bigger than the others?
“I’ve got no idea. I never knew about the others when they got bigger and better. It’s usually how you set them up – the stage and that. The problem is, we’re not doing enough shows to go as berserk as we used to. It’s still a good thing to do though. Maybe people are fed up with the big stage, I don’t know.”
Is this the last Rolling Stones tour?
“I’ve got absolutely no idea. I’m looking forward to Sunday 8th July, which is the last show. That’s as far as I can think ahead with The Rolling Stones. They said we’d finish in 1965 but…”
Have you ever thought about retiring?
“No. I’ve thought that the band might stop a lot of times. I used to think that at the end of every tour. I’d had enough of it – that was it. But no, not really. I hope [when it ends] that everyone says, ‘that’ll be it’. I’d hate for it to be a bloody big argument. That would be a real sad moment. But to say this is the last show wouldn’t be a particularly sad moment, not to me anyway. I’ll just carry on as I was yesterday or today.”
Would that be the end of the band?
“I think if Mick or Keith retired then it would be. But they could get another drummer, another guitar player. If Daryl didn’t want to do it anymore we’d have a nightmare finding another bass player but Mick and Keith would or could carry on. If Mick said ‘I’m retiring’ I don’t know how we’d do a show without him, or Keith.”
Would you play Glastonbury again?
“Well, yeah! I think we would. It was a great day. Mind you we were very lucky with the weather. We did Glastonbury and two Hyde Parks and it was glorious.”
Are the Stones working on a new album?
“When we did the blues album ‘Blue and Lonesome’, that was in the middle of the second lot of sessions for the album. We’ve done another lot since then. So we’ve done three or four sets of sessions. But I don’t write the songs so I don’t have the final say. Once we’ve played them I’m not interested really [laughs]. But Mick has to live with them and put his voice on them. Keith will sit for hours listening. I don’t know where we are with them to be honest. Every time we go in to the studio I think, ‘well that was the one’. But it’s whether they’re happy with it and I don’t know if they are yet.”
What are the new songs sounding like?
“I’ve got no idea. I could say they sound very much like Stax [Records], and when they come out they sound like Motown.”
What is Mick and Keith’s relationship like now?
“Very good. They were like brothers when they argued. That’s why they argue. They’re fine. We did this type of tour in the middle of last year. The problem with time now is it’s all become very short. I mean the ‘Blue and Lonesome’ album feels like a while ago but it’s actually a year ago now. It’s quite difficult.”
Have you ever come close to quitting?
“Yeah, all the time. I used to leave at the end of every tour. We’d do six months work in America and I’d say, ‘that’s it, I’m going home’. Two weeks later, you’re fidgeting and your wife says: ‘Why don’t you go back to work? You’re a nightmare.'”
You once punched Mick Jagger for calling you ‘his drummer’…
“I was drunk. It was in Amsterdam, because there was a canal nearby.”
Did he ever do it again?
“I don’t think so. I actually said you’re my singer. But I was drunk, actually.”
You’ve been married for 54 years – that’s rare for a rockstar. What’s your secret?
“Because I’m not really a rockstar. I don’t have all the trappings of that. Having said that, I do have four vintage cars and can’t drive the bloody things. I’ve never been interested in doing interviews or being seen. I love it and I do interviews because I want people to come and see the band. The Rolling Stones exist because people come to the shows. There’s nothing worse than playing in a club with three people sitting in the front – one’s your girlfriend and the other’s your mate – and that’s the audience. If you wanna play Old Trafford you’ve got to fill the place up.
“For 20 years I never did an interview, you know? I did one with Ray Connolly and I didn’t like the quote. I did say it, it wasn’t Ray’s fault. But I thought ‘that’s it!’ and I never did an interview. Then Mick got fed up with having to do all of them and I was roped in.”
Do you ever get sick of talking about The Rolling Stones?
“I don’t really talk about them much. They don’t really enter my life to be honest. If Mick rings up it’s not The Rolling Stones. Obviously there’s a bit of me that thinks it’s work. But he usually rings to ask my opinion on a design or something. He gets very annoyed with me because I don’t have a mobile. So he can’t get an instant reply – he’s a real speed freak. It has to go via the postman, then I have to ring him and hope he’s in. He gets a bit pissed off nowadays with that. Years ago, that’s how we used to design the stage. But now it’s a bit quicker. It’s easier to do it when we’re altogether. But other than that, they don’t really enter my life to be honest.”
Next year, it’ll be 50 years since Brian Jones died – would he be proud of what you’ve achieved?
“I think so. He would have loved to be a part of it. I don’t think he would have coped with it though. He didn’t cope with it for the last year of his life. Brian initially was the one who everybody spoke to, ‘cos none of us wanted to talk to anyone. Mick was very much in the background at that early time. Brian very much pushed this band to be a band. He pushed us to get work. All the clubs we used to play in London were because Brian was on the phone annoying owners, asking ‘can you squeeze us in?’
“We usually played in between jazz bands because most of the clubs in London were run by jazz musicians or their managers. Alexis Korner conned Bill Pemberton into having the worst night for Jazz – which was Thursday night – as a tryout for his R&B band, which I was in. Then it became the biggest night of the week. Before that it was Sundays at the Marquee Club with Johnny Dankworth’s Orchestra – a bloody marvellous band. Dudley Moore was the piano player. it was a fantastic band. Great bloke, Johnny Dankworth.”