Snapshots: Getting blood from a Rolling Stone

By  Ian & Lauren Wright

Mick Jagger wipes away the blood from his forehead after getting hit above the right eye by a filed-down coin during a 1965 show.  (Ian Wright)
Mick Jagger wipes away the blood from his forehead after getting hit above the right eye by a filed-down coin during a 1965 show. (Ian Wright)
With rhythm and blues steadily gaining popularity in England, fans frequented London’s Ronnie Scott’s Club in Soho, The Marquee Club in Upper Martin’s Lane and the Crawdaddy Club at the Station Hotel in Richmond.

Aspiring musicians used these clubs to meet other like-minded people with their own instruments and equipment.

In 1963, five young lads who shared an affinity for R&B and the desire to form a band met at the Crawdaddy Club. Brian Hopkins-Jones, from the upper middle-class town of Cheltenham Spa, was studying to become an architect and could play bar-slide guitar to a very high standard. Charlie Watts, a Regent Street graphic designer, was a prolific jazz drummer, playing regularly with top groups in the London scene. Michael Jagger, studying under a government grant at the prestigious London School of Economics, had a most distinctive singing voice, but his instrumental skills were limited to the tambourine and maracas.

When Jagger first saw Brian Jones playing the slide guitar, his jaw dropped. “Man, that cat can play.” Ten years before, Keith Richards sang in the choir at Westminster Abbey for the Queen’s Coronation. Now he was studying at an art school and was a fine guitarist affecting the chords of Chuck Berry, Chet Atkins and Muddy Waters. At 28 years old, Bill Wyman, the old man of the group, married with a son, had already done two years “national service” in the RAF and owned a guitar with two huge amps.

With a devout dedication to true-blue American music from the South and taking their name from a 1940s Muddy Waters hit, “Rollin’ Stone Blues,” the five lads formed The Rolling Stones. Brian Hopkins-Jones dropped the posh-sounding hyphenated name, and his contract stipulated he would receive an extra £5 per week as the band’s leader. Michael Jagger shortened his name to Mick, replacing his upmarket grammar-school speaking voice with an invented Cockney dialect credited to falling from gymnastics apparatus and biting off the end of his tongue. Though he had limited vocal range and an affected singing style that sounded like black vocalists of the American South, the girls all screamed when Jagger tossed his long hair and took out his maracas. He was the obvious choice for the band’s frontman.

My initial encounter with The Rolling Stones came in England in September 1964, at the Globe Theatre in Stockton during their first nationwide tour. They were riding high on their first Top 15 hit penned and gifted by Lennon and McCartney, “I Wanna Be Your Man.” Backstage everyone was nervous and fidgety. The boys were filled with angst about the performance, while I was unsure how to set up the shot. They gave a fantastic performance with a true R&B repertoire.

Back at the paper, I developed my pictures and the naivety was clear on both sides of the camera. Brian Jones is clearly the leader, sitting up front with Jagger relegated to the back. Bill Wyman, sitting on the dressing room sink, was far more concerned with a pack of peanuts, while drummer Charlie Watts looked the only one interested in being photographed.

The national press described them as “Scruffy, hooligans. Unkempt and unclean ruffians.” One headline screamed, “WOULD YOU LET YOUR DAUGHTER MARRY A ROLLING STONE?” In my experience, they were nothing like any of the aforementioned descriptions. These five young men were not what the press would have you believe. All were very intelligent, working or studying with top-level projects. Mick even spoke perfect French. Not only could Jagger chew gum and walk, he could chew gum and sing at the same time! They wore Eaton collared shirts, ties, conservative trousers, polished boots and socks. Today, it’s hard to recognize the baby-faced lad in the front right as Keith Richard.

A year later, in October, 1965, the Rolling Stones were back at the Globe Theatre in Stockton as fully-fledged pop stars with an incredible hit written by Jagger and Richards. “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” was #1 in the United States and the U.K., though banned for a time in Europe because of the suggestive lyrics. One of our writers, Philip Norman, and I went to interview them and found they had acquired a gloss of confidence with just a bit of world-weariness. Though they all had flu, everyone was affable and forthcoming except for Brian, who stayed somewhat aloof. An extremely likeable, confident and well-mannered fellow, Jagger said, “Hey I almost became a journalist, like you two. I promised my father I’d give up music and become an economic journalist if the band didn’t make it in six months time.”

Later, Jagger and I were chatting about our passion for cricket, which we both played avidly. In a completely relaxed moment, I took a picture of him sitting on the stairs having a Pepsi. One of the crew came past shouting, “Hey, Mick, where’s that fifty a week you promised me? I’ve just had to part with twenty of my own money. It’s times like this when the job gets weary.”  Ever the economist, Mick said, “I’ll give you thirty.” Mick had no cash, so Philip and I each stumped up 15 quid, which was a lot of money in those days. Mick promised to repay us, but even though I’ve seen him countless times since, he’s never paid up. That 30 quid must be worth about 500 pounds today, but it’s a great story to dine out on. Mick also talked about plans to marry his girlfriend, Chrissy Shrimpton, flying in the face of press rumors accusing him of being a debauched sexpot. Our conversation abruptly ended when the stage director shouted, “Show time lads.”

From a relatively quiet, relaxed backstage camaraderie, the boys walked onto the stage before legions of worshipping girls whose screams mingled with ugly shouts from a group of rowdy yobs, called Teddy boys (the equivalent of greasers in America). Obsessed with questioning Jagger’s sexual preference, the Teds hid themselves in the middle rows yelling, “Get back to London you bloody poufs.”

Those cowardly louts came to pop concerts specifically to cause trouble. If they didn’t get into a punch-up before, during or after the show, they felt they hadn’t got their money’s worth. Typically, the Teds worked as apprentices at the local shipyards by day. At night, they combed their hair into a pompadour with a duck’s ass at the back. After donning black drain-pipe trousers, they lay in the bath to get them soaking wet, then dried the trousers to a second skin, standing before a coal fire.  Their knee-length dark red, blue or green frock coats had velvet collars with razor blades sewn inside the lapels.

These distinctive outfits were accessorised with Slim Jim ties, white socks and “Beetle Crushers,” three-inch crepe-soled shoes with vicious steel toecaps. Armed with flick knives, knuckle-dusters and motorbike chains, the Teds were looking for a fight; it didn’t matter who the victim. They could empty a pub quicker than the local constabulary showing up after closing time.   

Anybody seeing a group of Teddy Boys immediately ran like hell, praying they wouldn’t get hit in the back of the head by one of the Ted’s treacherous coin missiles. With edges filed down to razor sharpness, those coins were terrifying. Even theatre bouncers avoided confrontations with the dreaded Teds. During the Rolling Stones’ performance, an adoring audience pelted the stage with their usual tokens of affection — teddy bears, cushions, Kiora bottles, and autograph books — while the Teds threw somewhat more dangerous messages. I stood in the orchestra pit, trying to take pictures with cumbersome equipment while dodging these gifts that were landing on or around me. A six-inch spanner whizzed past my head with a terrifying concussion of air and pinged off one of the metal footlight covers.

Seconds later, a high-heeled shoe whirled like a boomerang past my left ear on an upward trajectory, heading straight for Jagger’s head. Mick ducked, narrowly avoiding being hit smack in the face by the shoe. But one of those filed-down coins hit him above the right eye. Immediately blood flowed down his face, onto his shirt and trousers. Jagger pulled out a crisply folded linen handkerchief, held it over his eye and carried on his performance. 

After their set, the cut above Mick’s eye received three stitches from one of the St. John’s ambulance nurses who were usually backstage to revive fainting fans and treat minor injuries.

I phoned the office to tell the Chief Sub Editor about the coin incident and could have predicted his response. “Did you get a picture of Jagger bleeding?”

Back at the paper, I found a note pinned to the darkroom door. “Phone the editor (Harold Evans) as soon as you get in.” Harry came down to the darkroom asking, “Can you pull it up and make it bigger so we can see more blood? Can you make it darker?” As soon as the first edition came off the press, I hurried to catch up with the Stones at the Scotch Corner Hotel a few miles outside of Darlington.

As with The Beatles, the boys were in the bar having a lager. Even though they were suffering from flu, shattered after two performances and were dealing with Mick’s throbbing eye, they seemed glad to see me and were amazed at how quickly the paper was printed. I was thrilled to show my photograph of bleeding Mick made front page with a terrific headline, “Blood From A Stone.” I didn’t know it at the time, but some 40 years later, I realize that brilliant piece of journalism from Sir Harold Evans was the best headline for one of my photographs in my entire career. 

The Stones thanked me for the photographs and copies of the newspaper, and then excused themselves and went up to their rooms. The next morning one of their roadies called to say the boys had been chucked out of the hotel and wanted me to do a story for them.

My immediate thought was a noisy party, girls in the room, or loud music. In those days, drugs never entered into my mind. I arranged to meet the boys at a greasy spoon transport café on the A1 road where, after their horrible night, they didn’t look out of place with the real roadies.

Over breakfast the story unfolded. After they left me in the bar at the Scotch Corner Hotel, they went up to their rooms to order room service. While the night porter was setting up the cart in the room occupied by Jagger and Richards, Mick was talking on the phone to Paul McCartney. Mick asked the porter to borrow his pencil and proceeded to write his number on the wall adjacent to the nightstand. The porter reported the incident to the hotel’s night manager, and the group was summarily asked to leave. Keith tried to compromise by asking for a rubber eraser, but the manager asked them to finish their meal, pay up and get out. At 2 a.m., they found a bed-and-breakfast in Richmond where the sleepy proprietors had no idea who they were welcoming at that ungodly hour.

I reminded them they could afford to buy the Scotch Corner hotel and sack the pompous manager. With a full English breakfast and gallons of tea under their belts, they were ready to see the humorous side of the whole episode.

As they were leaving, I shook Mick’s hand. “Well at least you don’t have to worry about keeping that promise to your dad. You lads are Top of the Pops now.” Mick said, “Yeah but I still feel guilty for accepting that grant and not graduating.”

Two days later the spanner, high-heeled shoe and sharpened coin seemed inconsequential when a fan was stopped at the door trying to carry a double-barrelled shotgun into the theatre where the Rolling Stones were performing in Liverpool.

You can view Ian Wright’s archives of 1960s pop stars photographs at: http://tinyurl.com/Swinging60s

Or contact Ian directly at
ian.wright.photographer@gmail.com

© Ian Wright and Lauren Wright

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