- 12 Oct 23
Our man Stuart Clark was among the invitees as The Rolling Stones announced the release of their first album of original songs since 2005 with a shindig in the Hackney Empire. Here’s how it all went down...
The Rolling Stones have chosen to announce the impending arrival of their Hackney Diamonds album to the world in the Hackney Empire, a fabled London East End music hall which has previously had its boards trodden by everyone from Charlie Chaplin and Julie Andrews to Bill Hicks and Lily Savage.
The sense of anticipation is apparent the moment you set foot on Mare Street with two hundred ladies and gentlemen of the press impatiently queueing to get in to the theatre and a scrum of diehard fans hoping to blag one of the precious Stones lips logo wristbands that guarantee admission.
Our host for this global livestream event is Jimmy Fallon, which seems a bit random until a Stones staffer explains that Mick and him are close friends who hang out whenever they’re both in the Hamptons.
This explains why Jimmy later gets away with doing his spot-on Jagger impersonation and Mick’s faux “I’m going to knock yer’ block off, Fallon!” response.
As the King of American Late Night TV reminds us, this is the first album of original Stones material in eighteen very long years and their twenty-fourth in a career dating back to prehistoric times, AKA 1962.
Being somewhat follically challenged, my first thought when Jimmy ushers Mick, Keith and Ronnie onto the stage is, “Bastards, they’ve still got all their hair!”
My second is that I’m in the presence of the world’s greatest recording and touring band. In case Bono is reading this, I’ll add “and who all have British passports.”
Sitting themselves down in front of a giant shattering lips backdrop, the chaps look far better than three rock ‘n’ roll lifers with a combined age of 235 have a right to.
Fallon, a mere child of 48, starts by enquiring about the title and is told by Keith that, “We were flinging ideas around and went from Hit And Run to Smash And Grab and somehow between that came up with Hackney Diamonds, which is a variation of them both. Also, it’s a London band, you know?”
We’re none really the wiser until Mick explains that Hackney Diamonds is local parlance for the bits of broken bottles, shop windows and car windscreens that littered the borough’s streets until it became somewhat gentrified. ‘Somewhat’ being the operative word where ‘ackney’s concerned.
The talk then turns to the making of the record with the conversation going thusly…
Ronnie: “We did it pretty quick, actually. There were lots of ideas floating about. We gathered them all together before Christmas last year, and made a go of it, didn’t we?”
Mick: “After maybe being a bit lazy, we suddenly said, ‘Let’s make a record and put a deadline on it.’ So, Keith and I and Ronnie had a chat and said, ‘Okay, we’ll make this record at Christmas and finish it by Valentine’s Day.’ We went into the studio in December, cut twenty-three tracks very quickly, finished them off in January and mixed them in February.”
Keith: “We started it in Jamaica with ‘Angry’. Mick had it ready to go but it’s where we put the track together, along with many others. It was the first one to stick out…”
Mick: “Yeah, Keith and I and Steve (Jordan) and Matt (Clifford) went to Jamaica just to mess about in the studio. We started kicking ideas around, then went to New York where Ronnie joined us and, after that, got a producer called Andy Watt who kicked us up the arse. Then we went to Los Angeles and cut the tracks.”
With only twelve of those twenty-three tunes ending up on Hackney Diamonds, don’t be surprised if we’re waiting less than eighteen years for the follow-up.
When Jimmy suggests that, “It must be different not having Charlie Watts in the studio”, Keith nods and says, “Ever since Charlie’s gone, it’s different. He’s number four, he’s missing… (gesticulates towards the ceiling) he’s up there. Of course, he’s missed incredibly but, thankfully, we have Steve Jordan who was Charlie’s recommendation if anything should happen to him. He picked Steve way, way back. He’s a friend of ours so it was a natural progression. It would have been a lot harder without Charlie’s blessing.”
The good news is that two of Hackney Diamonds’ tracks, ‘Live By The Sword’ and ‘Mess It Up’, were recorded in 2019 when Charlie was still very much alive and dangerous.
“We also asked Bill (Wyman) to come into the studio and he did ‘Live By The Sword’, so the original Rolling Stones rhythm section is on one track,” a clearly delighted Mick adds.
Unlike some of his contemporaries, the singer can remember all the way back to 1964 and the press conference for the Stones’ self-titled debut album.
“We were in a pub in Denmark Street and two journalists turned up – one from the NME and one from Melody Maker,” he cackles. “We bought them a pint of beer, said, ‘Have a listen’ and went out. The reviews were mixed but it sold quite well.”
When Keith suggests that Jagger has never been to church in his life, Mick takes Umbridge and says, “You’re completely wrong, I did go to church… once!” “What’s it like,” asks Keith, to which Mick replies: “It’s a big building normally with arches.”
Boom, and indeed, boom!
While their Morecambe & Wise routine is going on, a colleague points out what they reckon is Euphoria star Sydney Sweeney sat in front of the stage. I’m pretty certain it isn’t but later eat a giant portion of humble pie when it turns out that she’s the all American girl in the Stones’ ‘Angry’ video.
Record company heads then explode when Ronnie lets slip that Hackney Diamonds’ penultimate everything including the kitchen-sink track, ‘Sweet Sounds of Heaven’, features guest appearances from both Stevie Wonder on keys and a singing Lady Gaga.
“He really wasn’t supposed to say that,” one of them sighs as their next big press reveal goes up in smoke.
The last time I shared oxygen with the Stones' new boy, as Ronnie will always be known, was way back in 2001 when he kindly invited me to the Vicar Street aftershow party him and Slash were throwing in Lillie’s Bordello.
It was one of those crazy rock 'n' roll nights populated by the likes of Julia Roberts, Ronan Keating and Van Morrison who Ronnie joined on stage in August at Birmingham’s Pairc Festival.
“I keep my chops together between gigs,” he tells us today before adding mischievously: “You’ve got to keep your fingers moving when you get to our age. Keep everything moving. Van’s got a new skiffle album that’s brilliant, which is where I came in the door.”
Before that I’d chatted to Ronnie over a bottle or three of Chateau Pape Clement about his art in the Shelbourne where we were joined by snooker legend Jimmy White and a professional poker player who couldn’t tell me his name because he wasn’t supposed to be in the country.
It was exactly the sort of roguish company that you’d expect Mr Wood to be keeping.
Back in the Empire, the last word goes to Mick who reflects that, “I don’t want to be big-headed but we wouldn’t be putting this record out unless we liked it. Before we went in we all said, ‘We’ll go and make a record that we really love ourselves.’ Other people may like it, other people may not but we’re pleased with it.”
Q+A over, ‘Angry’ video premiered and Hackney Diamonds goodie bags grabbed, we retire to the next-door Ship bar where Messrs Jagger and Fallon had the previous night grabbed a pint together.
One of the first people we run into is former Hot Press staffer Neil McCormick who’s now music man for The Telegraph.
He reminds me of the yarn-filled interview he did with Keith in 1988 when he was plugging his Talk Is Cheap solo album, and which is now available for your hotpress.com reading pleasure along with loads of other classic Stones content.
Neil’s been regularly checking in on the band for nearly forty years and reckons that the mood in the camp is as bullish as he’s ever known it.
Everything we’ve witnessed today in Hackney suggests he’s right.
Read Pat Carty's extended review of Hackney Diamonds (out on October 20) here.
Hackney Diamonds is out October 20. Pre-order the album on vinyl and CD here. Get 10% off your first order at therecordhub.com