KEITH RICHARDS AND CHARLIE WATTS – SHINE A LIGHT.
When the idea to film the Stones live on stage was first mentioned to guitarist Keith Richards he wasn’t keen. “I said, ‘forget about it.’ I mean, how many have we done?”
But when he discovered that it was Martin Scorsese who would be calling the shots, Keith instantly had a change of heart. “When they said it was Martin Scorsese of course the whole thing changed because this man makes movies.
“Once Martin was involved with it I just wanted Martin to do whatever it is he does. I wanted to stay out of the way and give him what he wanted, which was a Stones show.”
Filmed over two nights at the Beacon Theatre in New York in the autumn of 2006 on the Stones’ Bigger Bang Tour, Scorsese’s film, Shine A Light, captures the greatest rock ‘n roll band in the world at the very peak of their powers.
Scorsese used 18 cameras and some of the very best cameramen and cinematographers in the business to film Richards, Mick Jagger, Charlie Watts and Ron Wood in full flow.
“But I don’t think I was really aware in any of those shows that we were actually shooting a movie,” says Richards. “Martin’s very, very unobtrusive but at the same time he was everywhere and I guess that’s one of the reasons why when I saw it, I realised what an incredible piece of work it is. Some of the camera work is just amazing and the editing is incredible. Martin’s done the most fantastic job.”
Scorsese intersperses footage of the build up to the concert with light hearted banter between the director and Jagger about what, exactly, the Stones would include on their set list, VIP guest Bill Clinton arriving with member of his family to celebrate his 60th birthday and archive material of interviews with the band. But mostly it’s all about the Stones doing what they do best – the adrenalin fuelled live performance of a band with a 40-year history.
Scorsese’s incredible CV reflects his love of music. Alongside the feature films that have rightly been acclaimed as contemporary classics – Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The Departed – he has chronicled some of the greatest acts and events in popular music.
He worked as an editor on Woodstock, directed the vivid tribute to The Band’s last ever concert, The Last Waltz, and more recently won rave reviews for No Direction Home: Bob Dylan. He is also planning documentaries on both George Harrison and Bob Marley.
But first comes Shine A Light, Scorsese’s tribute to the Stones. “When we first spoke to Martin he was like ‘I just want to shoot the show.’ And then as we developed it he said ‘I do need other stuff and he decided to go to the archives.”
Charlie Watts, the band’s drummer, admits that he’s not entirely happy with cameras recording every moment of his performance. “Charlie gave up the idea of being Cary Grant many, many years ago,” cracks Richards.
But Watts admits that once he was on stage the excitement of a show took over and he too, didn’t find Scorsese’s crew intrusive. “No, I didn’t notice the cameras,” says the drummer.
Watts attributes the band’s longevity to spending plenty of time apart when they aren’t actually touring. “Staying out of each others’ way most of the time,” he deadpans. “That’s the secret.”
Richards says that it comes down to the fact that they all just love doing what they do. “After this many years what would I do without them? And we love what we do. Simple as that, really. I’d do it in a wheelchair.”
Richards, and a not quite so talkative Watts, were interviewed at the Berlin Film Festival where Shine A Light was the opening film.
Q: What has working with Martin Scorsese meant to you emotionally?
KR: Emotionally? I’m still working on that. When they first said they wanted to shoot another movie of the Stones on stage I said ‘forget about it’. How many have we done? But then they said ‘by Martin Scorsese’ and of course the whole thing changed because this man makes movies. Once Martin was involved with it I just wanted Martin to do what ever it is he does. I wanted to stay out of the way and give him what he wanted, which was a Stones show. And as close as possible without being aware that you’re shooting a movie. I don’t think I was really aware in any of those shows that we were actually shooting a movie. Martin’s very, very unobtrusive but at the same time he was everywhere. And I guess that’s one of the reasons why when I saw it, I realised what an incredible piece of work it is. Some of the camera work is just amazing and the editing is incredible. Martin’s done the most fantastic job
Q: Was there at any discussion about Martin going backstage and filming you guys as you prepare for the show?
KR: Yeah we talked about that and when we first spoke to Martin he was like, ‘I just want to shoot the show.’ And then as we developed it he said ‘I do need other stuff’ and he decided to go to the archives. I mean you really do not want to see Charlie and me trying to get ourselves together for a show (laughs). It’s quite boring.
CW: You ain’t! It’s quite interesting in his room. My room’s boring.
Q: Charlie, you’ve said before that you hate watching yourself on screen. Why is that?
CW: I’ve never liked it.
KR: Except when he’s shaving.
CW: No its not something that I pass the time of day doing.
KR: Charlie gave up the idea of being Cary Grant many, many years ago (laughs).
Q: But how was it during the shooting. Were you camera shy?
CW: No, I didn’t notice the cameras.
KR: You’ve got to realise that we’ve been doing this show for years and we also have video cameras around all the time for the big screen at the back for our usual gig, so we’re quite use to the cameramen being in your face. But what amazed me is that with Marty’s cameramen I couldn’t spot them and he had like 15 or 16 camera’s going. And in a way what Marty’s got going there is as good a band as what we’ve got going. It’s unobtrusive. I had no idea and I didn’t want to think about it because otherwise you wouldn’t get a Rolling Stones show if I was thinking ‘oh my god I’m shooting a movie!’ It was beautifully smooth and he’s got a team as good as ours.
Q: Keith are you comfortable watching yourself on screen?
KR: By now yeah. I got used to it. I liked me when I was younger.
Q: When you see the old stuff, what do you think and feel?
KR: Its kind of strange and you go back. You know, Mick with that cute little smile. It’s a strange thing in a way because it’s like your history and the strange thing is that we’ve grown up with everything being recorded. I mean our whole life basically is either on film or on tape and you kind of get use to it.
Q: When you’re not working do you talk to each other a lot?
KR: Not a lot really, probably once a year.
CW: A few faxes.
KR: Yeah a few faxes, notes here and there. If you’re stuck on the road for two and a half years together you’ve said just about everything you’ve got to say to each another
CW: We’ve never been like that. Even when we were really young.
KR: No. He hates phones. I hate phones. I have nothing to do with them. I don’t even have a mobile phone.
Q: So do you write emails?
CW: Emails? No. Are they legal?
KR: No faxes are as far as I get then you can do drawings you can express yourself, it’s like getting a letter. I never need to be in touch with people that immediately. And gossip I really despise.
Q: How do you spend your time when you’re not working?
KR: I tell you what I do when I’m not working with The Stones, kick back baby. Go get a tan, lie on the beach. Wait for the tour to wear off.
CW: Read. We all do but he does read a lot, tons.
KR: I’ve read every book ever written. I’m running out - somebody write one.
CW: We all do.
Q: What was the last one?
A: I’m writing one now. I’m trying to put together an autobiography along with James Fox and its coming along, because you have to drag things out of your memory that some of it you don’t even want to remember and others you’ve totally forgotten. So you end up trying to put your life together again. And since I didn’t keep a diary it’s a bit difficult.
Q: Is it a painful process?
KR: It’s a little bit like life really, some of it’s a little bit painful and some of its go yeah, I forgot about that that was great. But it’s reviewing yourself and that’s not my habit. I can’t even remember yesterday.
Q: In the film what was interesting was the archive bit about the drugs.
KR: The drugs? Oh yeah they were great.
Q: What is your attitude now towards drugs?
KR: Drugs now? I’m on medication. Drugs wonderful things, I don’t see anything ….its a very dodgy subject. I smoke my head off. I smoke weed all the damn time, there you’ve got it. But that’s my benign weed. That’s all I take, that’s all I do. But I do smoke and I’ve got some really good hash (laughs).
Q: What do you think about this worldwide smoking ban?
KR: It’s a bit of a drag because you’ve got to freeze your balls off to light a cigarette, you’ve got to go outside.
CW: I think its terrible and I don’t smoke.
KR: He doesn’t smoke but its draconian, social, politically correct bullshit. That’s what it is. They’ll get over it. It’s like prohibition; they tried to stop booze once. Ha look what happened. It ruined America.
Q: Where do you see you are with the band now?
KR: Give us a gig and we’ll play it. It’s what we do and it’s as natural as that. If I was a plumber I’d come around and fix your toilet.
Q: Do you think age has mellowed you as a band? Have the dynamics changed?
KR: You grow up you know. I mean whether you like it or not there’s another day. This is the same cat (indicates Charlie), the same bloke I’ve known for 40 odd years, the same cat. It’s just our job to do what we do and we love it and thank God loads of other people love it. But otherwise as people I mean Charlie’s Charlie. I’ve not known him to be any different to right here right now. He’s got a new suit but apart from that, Charlie is the same. I’ve always just thought we try to be ourselves no matter what it is the world has thrown at you, regardless of if you asked for it.
Q: What about the other two?
KR: Mick’s another thing, you’d better ask him about that.
Q: What’s the difference between crowds? You play to a huge audience somewhere like Rio and then had a small audience in New York.
KR: We started off playing clubs, in fact it took us a while to get out of them but small rooms have a different ambience to outdoors and especially when there’s two million people you can’t quite see the end of. But at the same time when you’re on stage we’re basically, as we say, in our office. It doesn’t matter how big it is whether it’s in the open air or in a small room, basically to us we’re just going to go up there and do what we do. There are some great things about small rooms, in that it’s a controlled environment and outdoors you never know - God joins the band with wind and rain. But apart from that when we’re up there it’s just like a little cocoon. I just stick with my man here (Charlie) and we make this row together. If I get bored I spit at him.
CW: He does, so it’s good for him not to get bored.
KR: I haven’t done it lately (laughs)