Charlie Watts – Can You Hear Me Knocking?

The sudden announcement today of the death of Charlie Watts, drummer of the Rolling Stones, really hurt, in a very surprising way. But it shouldn’t have. Quite simply I can never remember a time without Charlie or his band.

As a kid I was a Beatles fanatic. I still think they stand alone. But the Stones were different. When I was about 13 or 14 (in the mid-70s) I discovered two shops on the Albertbridge Road – Graham’s and the Record & Tape Centre, that sold old 1960s singles. Those shops led me to my musical education. That’s when I discovered Van Morrison was from our own dear East Belfast as I picked up all the Them singles. But really it was through plundering all the early Stones singles, Eps and (on birthdays and special days) albums that I learned about soul music, rhythm & blues and even country music.

From the Stones cover versions I learned about Marvin Gaye (“Hitch Hike”), Solomon Burke (“Cry To Me”), Wilson Pickett (“Pain in my Heart), Otis Redding (“That’s how strong my love is”), Rufus Thomas (“Walking the Dog”) and of course Chuck Berry (“Carol”) and Arthur Alexander (“You Better Move on”). Those artists still turn up without fail day after day on my Daily Mixes proposed by Spotify.

That wasn’t all. In 1975 I heard about Dr Feelgood who were touted as an early Stones pastiche band. I’d obviously never seen the early Stones so 15-year-old me trotted off to see the Feelgoods for my very first ever grown-up concert (my mum and granny taking me to see Val Doonican in the ABC a decade or so earlier doesn’t count!). I wasn’t disappointed.

A few months later I read an interview with Keith Richard in the Record Mirror. He was asked his views on the up-and-coming British R&B “punk rock” act being favourably likened to the early Stones – Eddie & the Hot Rods. I’d never heard of them but Keith’s dismissive response (“death to Eddie & the Hot Rods”) didn’t put me off and I was down to Graham’s then on to Caroline Music to find whatever I could about them. They weren’t punk (or ultimately even that good in the long run) but their appearance on TOTP playing “Get Out Of Denver” was and remains one of my 6 life changing TOTP moments. Thanks Keith.

The Stones were my first festival too. I wasn’t into festivals or the long-haired, self-indulgent behemoths that populated their stages. But there was no way I was missing the Stones at Slane in 1982. Good job too. From the minute the first notes of “Under My Thumb” struck I was transfixed and all I could keep repeating without interruption was “Fecking Hell that’s Keith/Charlie/Bill Wyman”. They were pretty sloppy that night to be honest, but nothing could have annoyed me. I was never going to see the Beatles, but this was the Stones. The next best thing. At least.

I saw them on two later occasions at the old Wembley Stadium. They were less sloppy by then and their song selection was wider. I loved it every time. I kept buying every new Stones album but drifted away from them a bit as each new album struck me as a bunch of sessions men trying to sound like what they thought the Rolling Stones sounded like. But I still read book after book about them until there was nothing more to be written about them.

Then 2 things made me realise I hadn’t left them behind at all. Firstly Spotify posted me my list of most listened to artists of the past decade. The Stones were top. It never crossed my mind they would be. Then for both 2019 and 2020 they came out as my most listened to artist. Clearly the bond hadn’t weakened as I thought. Although the fact  my Twitter profile photo has me wearing a Stones t-shirt should have been a clue

Then my 25-year-old elder son – who has always been very curious musically – started to explore them and as he’s done with other bands or singers over the years, started sending me Stones tracks he thought I might like. The two of us sat in the house on Easter Monday this year and spent all day watching Stones concert videos together. As recently as yesterday he tested to ask me about their infamous concert at Altamont. And I have really loved re engaging with this greatest, most important of bands in this really personal manner.

So it hurt to get the news alert that we lost Charlie. There will never again be bands as important as the Beatles or Stones. There can’t be. Everyone else is still copying them.

Photo: Poiseon Bild & Text (press photo by a photographer of the consulting company Poiseon AG in St. Gallen, Switzerland)), CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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