Sunday, August 7, 2011

And the driver was...

And the driver was...Ian Stewart, as he had been doing right from the starting days of the band. Bill Wyman, early 1963: While gigs were more plentiful, money was not. Another significant problem was the lack of transport. We wanted to play more, which meant getting bookings out of London around the country, but how were we going to get there? We struck lucky when Stu was given some shares in ICI, under a scheme to encourage workers to become shareholders.

Good old Stu promptly sold them and used the profits to buy a Volkswagen van to carry us and all of our equipment to gigs. After Andrew Oldham entered the stage Ian had accepted the role of road manager as an alternative to full band membership. So, in addition to maintaining keyboard duties in the studio (let's not forget that!), Stu not only found himself driving the group around to gigs, but also loading and unloading gear, replacing guitar strings and setting up Charlie Watts' drums.

And what a driver Stu was. Bill Wyman's Stone Alone contains a lot of little anecdotes about Stu driving the band around. In his own autobiography Ron Wood, at that time guitarist with west London based band the Birds, sums it all up: In the early days of the Stones, their now sadly departed keyboard player Ian Stewart would drive them everywhere in a minivan. They'd be booked somewhere up north one night, then down south on the next, then back up north on the night after that.

Stu was a killer driver and would never stop, no matter what the others wanted. So Mick, Keith, Brian and Charlie would pile into the rear of the van, while Bill had everyone conned into believing that he had some sort of condition which flared up if he sat in the back and could only be cured if he was up front with Stu. The others would all be rolling around in the rear while Bill was comfortable and Stu careered along, criss-crossing England. If anyone wanted to pee, they had to do it in a bottle. That was their apprenticeship.

Adapted from the following sources:
Bill Wyman, Rolling With The Stones, Dorling Kindersley Limited 2002.
Ron Wood, Ronnie Wood, Macmillan, 2007.

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