wed 19/09/2018

Keith Richards: A Culture Show Special, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Keith Richards: A Culture Show Special, BBC Two

Keith Richards: A Culture Show Special, BBC Two

Keef does the best Keef impersonation

'His mother once mortified her son by suggesting that deep down Keith was a shy boy'

“I was a very good soprano.” Of all the sentences you’d not expect to hear tumbling from the mouth of Keith Richards, that one is up there with "Tap water for me, please, and I do hope this vegan restaurant is non-smoking." He has the addled larynx of a Fag Ash Lil who, when not mopping and dusting, perches on a barstool glugging gin and puffing on Bensons. But once upon a time little Richards did once sing for the Queen. Got a free bus ride up to the London and all, he recalled with a wide-eyed cackle. When his voice broke and he was relieved of his cassock, he was most put out. “We sang our hearts out for the school and then it’s the boot. Oh. Welcome to life.”

Life is the title of the Human Riff’s newly published memoir. It fair ripples with facts which, contrary to all known neurological precedents, he does remember after all. For those who prefer their Keef neat, rather than filtered through a co-author and cleansed by print, this hour-long audience with the still beating heart of The Stones offered an impressionistic fun-run through the key years. The conversation was wisely terminated around about 1970. So no Exile on Main Street, but also no "Start Me Up" and no tour through the stadium tours in which The Stones do enormo-gigs with Messrs Jagger and Richards performing in two different postal districts.

His interrogator, weirdly, was Andrew Graham-Dixon, off duty from weeping at Vermeer and bigging up Vasari to pay homage to another Old Master. He carefully teased out of his subject a back story of intriguing depth and also clarity. Richards painted an image of himself as a mother’s boy over whose childhood the war cast a long shadow. “You didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “It was just the way things were.” His mother Doris – next to a sullen boy we saw a photograph of a cheerful woman with a big-boned face – introduced him to Sarah Vaughan. “She’d say, ‘Ooh did you hear that blue note?’”

The stories didn’t tumble out quite as colourfully as all the clips. Richards is temperamentally not a raconteur, so the narrative duties were handed over to talking heads, principally his co-author James Fox, a scholarly presence who talked of the young Stones's Edith Grove digs like an archaeologist sifting through volcanic ash in Pompeii. “They slept where they fell.” Richards’s role, much as in his day job, was to fill in with flavoursome, charismatic licks. So Fox told us how the demo recording of "Satisfaction" was rush-released before The Stones had finished it. “It was the sketch,” Richards added. “It’s like a Leonardo cartoon.”

The Stones perform "Satisfaction" on television:


Richards is of course like a cartoon too. He does the best Keith Richards impersonation out there. It’s not just the jug-handle ears, pushed comically outwards by his raffish Panama. Nor the oddly posh voice which, interestingly, was no closer to Dartford in a clip of a bereaved Richards after Brian Jones’s death in 1969. No, it was the whole manner. Doris once mortified her son by suggesting that deep down Keith was a shy boy. He may have objected, but there it all is in the body language: the shuffling shoulders, swivelling eyes and wobbling head all suggest a man horribly ill at ease with attention, and still getting used to his own limbs. Perhaps that choirboy sob story is true: that when his voice broke something in Richards never bought in to the new bodily dispensation. No wonder fame didn’t sit as well with him as with his Glimmer Twin. Hence the drugs. “I’d have been happy to make all these records anonymously,” he said.

The loveliest treat, for those of us who have not followed his every utterance these 50 years, was a beautiful gnomic turn of phrase. On composition: “Silence is your canvas.” On becoming competent bluesmen: “We grew into it and the music grew into us.” There was even a moving tribute to Jagger. “I love the man,” the old softie pleaded. “He can be a pain sometimes. But then no doubt I can.” Not on this evidence.

Keith Richards riffs in 1973:

Richards’s role, much as in his day job, was to fill in with flavoursome, charismatic licks

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