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Friday, 9 April, 1999, 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK
The Stones roll on
Spontaneous fervour has given way to a seasoned professionalism
After four decades at the top, the Rolling Stones still haven't lost their passion for touring. One of rock's most enduring bands spoke to BBC Radio 2's Paul Jones about life on the road.

From their early stage days in west London's back rooms and bars the Stones have rolled onto bigger and better things.

The Rolling Stones, who first hit the stage in the 1962 as a blues band struggling to make it in a jazz-dominated world, now fill the biggest arenas with their big budget shows.

But as frontman Mick Jagger explains, the experience of playing such a huge crowd doesn't get any easier.

"It's pretty intense. There are the odd moments when you think, 'what am I doing up here? This is really tricky,' but it's just what you do, it's your life and I've been doing it for a long time so it's not an alien environment to me. But it is quite strange."

Bandmate Ron Wood uses another tactic to combat his stage fright.

"If I haven't got my glasses on I can only see the first couple of rows. I'm waving at these imaginary people."

Uphill struggle

Mick Jagger
Playing stadiums is a whole new ball game
But the Stones weren't always such a big pull. As Keith Richards remembers, when the band set out it was an uphill struggle.

"English theatres were too much, they'd have two speakers, you know about two little ten inch things, and one of them would never work.

"We got used to working even when we can't hear each other, all I had to do is look at Charlie Watts' left hand coming down and I know where to play, even if I can't hear what's going on."

In these early days, in the likes of the Station Hotel in the sleepy London suburb of Richmond, the band were repeatedly mobbed by screaming fans.

As Jagger remembers, their live gigs would often turn into riots.

"That was a really bad period for us in a lot of ways. It got laughs being pulled out of clubs in Newcastle and being sort of attacked by 12 year olds, but it wasn't very good for our creativity, because we only used to play four numbers and that would be the end of the show."

This small-time mania gave way to international adulation by the end of the 60s, as the Stones became the biggest concert draw in the world.

But fame came at a price. Original member Brian Jones left the band in May 1969, and drowned in suspicious circumstances on 2 July.

As a tribute to Jones, a free concert was held in London's Hyde Park, where hundreds of butterflies were released from the stage and Jagger caused a stir by wearing a dress and reading poetry by Shelley.

Crucial 1969 tour

But it was the band's American tour in the autumn of 1969, which Mick Jagger remembers as crucial to the Stones' development as a live act.

"The '69 tour was the first one that we had had proper sound equipment and so on. So that was a whole different thing. And also the audience had stopped being screaming teenage girls.

"It came back to where it more or less started, with people actually listening."

Moving on to bigger and better things, the group were filling stadiums by the beginning of the 1980s.

This presented them with a new set of challenges, not least choosing from 36 years-worth of songs for their sets and keeping the show fresh.

Now, at the end of the 1990s, they have their own Website - and thousands of online fans to help them.

Jagger says: "The people that go and vote on the Internet are real die-hard fans. But they're die-hard fans on the Internet, so it's completely different.

"They've got strange tastes and certain things that they like. But they have an open mind about what they want - they don't just want to hear the old songs again, they want to hear something different."

From Stadium to Stadium - The Rolling Stones on the Road will be broadcast on BBC Radio 2 at 1900 BST on Saturday.

The programme will be followed at 2000 by a recording of a Rolling Stones concert at the TWA Dome in St Louis, USA.

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