Ian Stewart is fully grown; completely formed. He's the real-world stalking horse for the Rolling Stones.
The week before the Stones came to Long View was the second week of August, during which time we were blessed with clear weather, hot skies, and a scorching sun. Good working conditions if you like the heat. If you don't like the heat, but still wanted to work long hours in the loft of the barn preparing the way for the Rolling Stones, then you risked prostration through exhaustion, which actually occurred in the case of several particularly dedicated employees. People were working around the clock. But the loft of the barn was looking good. Better than we ever anticipated. We didn't just do a Sound Stage in the north end; we did matching stages at either end of the loft, separated by a sunken, plush living room and kitchen/bedroom complex, anchored beneath a towering, red brick chimney. There were thousands of square feet of wooden surfaces and massive chestnut beams glistening with rubbed linseed oil. Pipe-rack mounted theatrical spotlights sent shafts of colored light over throws of a hundred feet or more. This was an immense, outrageous space we had created. The air conditioners worked well; and they were quiet. The kitchen bar held a stock of several hundred dollars' worth of imported beers, cognacs, and vodkas. Jack Daniels bourbon was provided by the case. Satellite serving bars had been installed on the main stage, each equipped with on-location mini-refrigerators, ice-makers, mirrored surfaces, a stock of cigarettes, rolling papers, razor blades, and other such paraphernalia. I had lost track of the cost factor at least a week earlier. Let's say that we were way over budget — thrillingly beyond our budget — and let it go at that.
Toward the end of the second week of August — I think it was the Saturday before the Monday the gig was to begin, I drove into Worcester to pick up Ian Stewart, who we were told would be the first one to arrive, and a few days before any band members did.
lan Stewart was coming to check the place out one last time — to make absolutely sure we did what we said we were going to do, and that the facility was fully ready for the world's most demanding and precocious rock 'n' roll band. "All lights green and go," he might telephone back to Alan Dunn and Mick Jagger. "They did what they said. The place is perfect. All points of detail in place. No problem with accommodations for Bill and Astrid. Let's go."
Or, Ian Stewart could telephone back that we'd fallen short of our expectations; that the stage had a bounce in it maybe, or that they'd counted bedrooms wrong somehow, and that it simply wasn't going to work for individuals who otherwise lived in their own private villas, waited on hand and foot. That was a possible outcome, too.
That's why Stu was coming up on the Saturday before the Monday; to decide one last time on behalf of the Rolling Stones whether or not this gig was actually going to occur. That's why I designated myself as the one to go in to pick him up.
Stu had booked himself a seat from New York City on the regularly scheduled airline, which flies crowded, inelegant, propeller-driven airplanes. Stu didn't care. He's totally unaffected by the usual tokens of status. He was the last one out of the airplane, ambling down the steps with only his air ticket in his hand, looking relaxed, fully in control of his circumstances, and, well — a touch bored. I had the feeling, looking at him, that nothing at this airport, or at any other airport, for that matter, was going to fundamentally change Ian Stewart's outlook on the world. Ian Stewart is fully grown; completely formed. He's the real-world stalking horse for the Rolling Stones.
"Turn that bloody thing off, will you?"
I snapped off the cassette player with a pre-prepared motion of my right hand, having just offered up the obligatory "cassette at high volume." We were on Route 122 heading back to Long View Farm — Stu's gear in the trunk, Stu in the front seat, speaking in soft, measured tones befitting a man in his middle years.
"We've got enough of that coming our way as it is, mate. Let's not get started any earlier than we have to. What time of day is it, anyway?"
"About four o'clock, Stu. Supper will be in the early evening sometime — whenever it would suit you."
"No," Stu said, "it's not for that I'm asking. I'm just wondering how many hours of sleep I'm going to get tonight. And tomorrow night. Last bits of sleep I'm going to get for a long time. Got to reckon with that."
"We're aware that you guys work late nights, Stu," I said.
"You haven't seen anything. You'll see how weird it gets, once they get here. You'll see. Creeps around the clock, gradually. They'll start playing an hour or two later each day, until they're getting up about 10 PM, and playing during the early morning hours. It usually stops there. That's the schedule they'll keep to."
"Shouldn't be any problem," I said offhandedly.
"Hardest on Mick, it is. He's got things to do during the day, too. Don't know how he manages. Don't know how I manage. Good Lord, here we go again. Never thought we'd do it again, after the last tour. But look at us. Here we are. The band isn't really that important in England any more, you know.
"But look at us! Blimey! Here we go again. Makes a grown man shiver, or is that a line out of 'Tattoo You'? No, 'makes a grown man cry'. That's it.
"Don't mind me. Just getting used to the idea of doing it all. Touring again, I mean. Few days' more peace we'll have, at least."
"What do you mean by that, Stu?" I asked.
"Don't expect we'll see any band members until the beginning of the week. Mick first, probably. Charlie'll be with him. Keith's still in Rome. Just got there, so you can count him out for a few more days, at least. Woody, too. He's still in California. Only one I'm not sure of is Bill Wyman and Astrid. Businesslike fellow, Wyman is, particularly if he thinks Mick is coming early. Then he might, too. Have to find out about that for you. Coming from the south of France, the two of them."
"Astrid's his girlfriend?"
"Wife, you'd say. Swedish girl. Went to work au pair for Bill and his first wife years ago in London. Bill divorced his wife. Astrid stayed. Been that way ever since. You'll have your chuckles with Astrid, I can assure you. She'll have you changing the color of the barn before she's done. Likes to get a bit of attention, she does. Mark that, what I just told you. You'll want to pay some attention to her from the very start, or she'll bring the roof down."
"That's our strong suit, Stu." I said this just as the car was crunching its way up the long gravel drive. "Welcome to Long View, Stu. We're here."
"Kathleen anywhere around?"
"You bet, Stu. There she is, right now." Kathleen was smoothing her skirt in the doorway to the barn. There was a child in her arms, and two dogs pawed and jumped about at her feet.
"Hi, Stu, " she shouted, ignoring me.
"Hi, Kathleen," Stu shouted back. Stu jumped out of the Cadillac and a moment later was at Kathy's side. They apparently remembered each other from Stu's first visit, when I was still in Rome.
I had a happy feeling then. It was that Stu would stick, so to speak, and that he'd flash the green light to his rock 'n' roll cronies waiting by their telephones in New York City. Further, I had the feeling that we'd now made it to first base. The Stones would in fact arrive at Long View, sometime early this next week. It was now a question of how long they'd stay.
All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.