If you start the Rolling Stones up, they’ll never stop.
When frontman Mick Jagger’s heart surgery and recovery postponed the start of the band’s No Filter tour in North America from April to June, the British rock veterans stayed in work mode after playing overseas in Europe.
“We had cut some tracks in L.A. in February,” said Keith Richards, 75, down the line from tour rehearsals in London before they arrive Saturday, June 29, at Burl’s Creek in Oro-Medonte, Ont., for their only Canadian date.
“We did a bit of that to fill in the time and keep the chops in,” said Richards with a chuckle in a Canadian newspaper exclusive with the Toronto Sun.
“Cause now the tour’s on, we’ll probably not think about it again until the fall I guess is when we’ll get back into it. You never can tell how long it’s going to take. It’d be nice to have it out by the end of the year, but I ain’t making any promises.”
Fans have certainly been waiting a long time to hear new music.
When the Stones’ new album is released it will be their first studio album of original music since 2005’s A Bigger Bang .
Richards said “the sound is very hard to put into words, just that it’s sounding very good. The boys are in great shape actually. We’re surprising ourselves. That’s the point.”
What isn’t surprising is that the Stones — rounded out by Jagger, 75; drummer Charlie Watts, 78; and guitarist Ronnie Wood, 72 — decided to include one Canadian date on their latest No Filter jaunt of American stadiums.
Richards said it was for obvious reasons after using Toronto, about 90 minutes south of Burl’s Creek, as a base for rehearsals and surprise club shows previously over the last few decades.
“We always love Canada and Toronto’s sort of been a second home for us for many years,” said Richards.
“And hey, there’s loads of people up there,” he added with a chuckle. “We come to you.”
Richards said there’s always the possibility of playing more Canadian shows once the new album is released.
“There’s always plans in the works. I don’t have much to do with that end. I mean it’s possible that we add extra shows, but I really don’t know. My mind is pretty much fixed on (practising) Satisfaction , Ruby Tuesday (laughs). I can’t remember everything.”
Richards did say playing in stadiums, or in our case a large field, wasn’t that different from playing in arenas or even clubs.
“Once we’re on stage, very little,” he said. “I mean obviously, the thing is, outdoors, God (affects) the band (laughs). So you have to contend with weather and stuff. But otherwise, once you’re on stage, at least as far as I’m concerned, there it is. Arena or outdoors or whatever, you’re kind concentrating on what you’re doing and the surroundings are sort of a second consideration.”
Richards was also unaware, but pleased, that the El Mocambo — the site of the Stones infamous show in 1977 — was being renovated and reopening.
“Oh, wow, that’s interesting,” he said. “I’ll drop by and see it when I’m there.”
But when I told him that new ElMo owner Michael Wekerle had hoped the Stones would reopen it, Richards said with a laugh: “I don’t know. I’ll take it to the boys, see what they say.”
There’s no chance of that happening this time since the El Mocambo isn’t expected to reopen at least until the fall.
Of his favourite Toronto shows, it was hard for Richards to nail down just one over the years: “We’ve had some great shows in Toronto and I remember a club one where it must have been 120 degrees (maybe Aug, 16, 2002, at The Palais Royale? see sidebar). I don’t know how anybody, including the audience survived, but that one always stuck in my mind.”
Richards says there was never any consideration of rehearsing in Toronto this time for the tour, which opens its North American leg in Chicago at Soldier Field on June 21 for the first of two dates. The second one is June 25 in the Windy City.
“I think it had to be London for various reasons,” he said. “Most of the boys are based here and I think it was necessary for Mick to recuperate here.”
But Richards says Jagger has been in good health since his surgery.
“He went through it very easily,” Richards said in an earlier article published in the Toronto Sun on June 8 .
“He’s in great shape — rocking. As I say, it seemed to be no problem at all really. It was just, ‘Oh, Mick will be better.’ We’ll just wait around because there was no doubt that we’d soon pick it up. It just had to be done. So we did it.”
Richards himself told Rolling Stone at the end of 2018 that he had cut back on his drinking for over a year other than the occasional wine and beer: “I pulled the plug on it. I got fed up with it. But I don’t notice any difference really – except for I don’t drink. I wasn’t feeling [right]. I’ve done it. I didn’t want that anymore.”
But when told recreational cannabis was now legal in Canada by me, Richards scoffed: “Oh, yes, I know. I can get that anywhere, anyway! (laughs).”
Five T.O. Stones shows of note:
March 4-5, 1977, El Mocambo: The most storied one of them all as the Stones came to record some tunes for a live LP at the Spadina club and ended up with the prime minister’s wife Margaret Trudeau in attendance and Richards busted for heroin possession at the Westin Harbour Castle. Jagger would tell me later in 2004: “Oh, my God. It was an instant Toronto, fun-filled, packed night!”
Palais Royale, Aug. 16, 2002 : It was star-studded — Sharon Stone, Dennis Quaid, Kate Hudson, James Spader and Liv Tyler were in the crowd — and brutally hot, but still tons of fun at the century-old lakefront dance hall as the Stones delivered another memorable surprise show after rehearsing in T.O. “We’ve been here for four weeks but it sounds like four days,” Jagger told us in top self-deprecating form.
Licks Tour, July 30, 2003, Downsview Park: T.O. took a licking and kept on kicking. With the city’s tourism suffering due to a SARS outbreak, the Stones took part in a massive benefit in front of hundreds of thousands with Jagger saying from the stage: “You’ve always made us feel welcome in Toronto.”
A Bigger Bang Tour, Aug. 10, 2005, Phoenix Concert Theatre: Another toasty show, the Stones literally warmed up before their stadium tour. “You’re all our guinea pigs,” joked Richards before declaring: “It’s good to be back. I can’t think of a better place to rehearse.”
50 & Counting Tour: May 25, 2013, Scotiabank Arena (then the Air Canada Centre) : Since the caught-smoking-crack Rob Ford was still Toronto’s Mayor, Jagger began the night with a pun: “We’re not going to do any jokes tonight about the mayor… It’s much too easy a target. It’s a big cheap shot. We’re going to CRACK on with the show.”
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