By Olivia Kemp
I have seen the Rolling Stones live in concert. Their energy was frenetic; their set was mesmerising. The concert ignited with ‘Start Me Up’ and burned through seventeen Stones classics before closing with a two-song encore of ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’. As Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood sprinted across the stage, Charlie Watts remained anchored by his drums.
His heavy backbeat propelled the band; positioned at the centre of the stage, he commanded the concert with powerful musicianship. His presence was vital; he was visibly, and audibly the nucleus, and they revolved around him. This two-hour set in the Principality Stadium, Cardiff was an act of exceptional endurance, and Watts managed every second of liquid groove. It was the best night of my life to date. It would be one of Watts’ last performances with the Rolling Stones.
The world was astounded on 24th August when Watts’ death was announced. The Rolling Stones are not designed to die. With libertine lifestyles and controversial swagger, these indefatigable icons of music have appeared seemingly immortal. They have outlasted everyone; they are an indisputable force in the world of music. The Rolling Stones were built to last forever, and not to perish. Yet now the world mourns the passing of Watts – the drummer who provided the heartbeat of the Rolling Stones for over half a century. His delicate touch and stabilising presence have defined him as one of the greatest musicians of all time.
Watts was always distinctly at odds with the traditional Rock ‘n’ Roll style of his bandmates. He remained faithful to Shirley Shepherd – his wife since 1964 – for 57 years and had a personal credo of gentility and composure. Watts was not flamboyant; his elegant bespoke suits set him apart from the rakish style of Jagger and Richards. He mostly eschewed the Rock ’n’ Roll lifestyle and retained the bemused mien of a man who was infrequently tempted by the many excesses that plagued the band. Watts was a gentleman, a man dedicated to his music, and a pillar of strength.
The Rolling Stones are set to celebrate their 60th anniversary in 2022; their history and influence are still yet to be eclipsed. Thanks to the contributions of Watts, the Rolling Stones have remained culturally relevant for nearly 60 years and have proved to be much more than their music overall. Their longevity, consistency and remarkable talent as a unit has aptly earned them the title of the ‘World’s Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band’. Their music is timeless and transcends generations. They will remain relevant because their greatness is timeless. Watts was one of their prime architects; the sell-out tours, even 60 years on, are testament to his fine musicianship.
In 1979 Keith masterfully noted:
‘Everybody thinks Mick and Keith are the Rolling Stones. If Charlie wasn’t doing what he’s doing on drums, that wouldn’t be true at all. You’d find out that Charlie Watts is the Stones’.
This is a fine epitaph for Watts. He was the glue that held the Rolling Stones together. I previously stated that I was fortunate enough to experience this majestic talent first-hand; I must further affirm that ‘Mr Charlie Watts’ drew the most thunderous ovation at the end of this concert. Those inside, and outside of the band realise his significance and the mark that he has left on the world.
So, is it possible for the Rolling Stones to continue without Charlie Watts?
Objectively, they already have. Earlier this year Watts gave his blessing for a versatile replacement drummer to commence the No Filter US tour. Steve Jordan will certainly be an acceptable pretender, but he will not sound like Watts. There is nobody quite like Watts; whilst it is difficult to think of the Rolling Stones without him, it seems that there shall be a world without his presence. He is the irreplaceable heartbeat of Rock ‘n’ Roll and his beat has changed the world forever.
A stone has stopped rolling, but the groove must continue – as he would have wished.
Image: Olivia Kemp