Source : Mail On Sunday Live Magazine
‘It was all very secret so I set up the Supergrass Police’: Mick Jagger’s new supergroup with Joss Stone and Dave Stewart
Live tells the inside story of how five of the greatest talents in music came together – across four continents, on board a luxury superyacht and in utmost secrecy – to record an album that is set to redefine the term ‘supergroup’
SuperHeavy is a collaboration between Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, Damian Marley (son of reggae legend Bob Marley) and Indian-born Oscar-winning soundtrack writer AR Rahman
‘Boats are very private places. Fake names in recording sessions – keep it simple… you know’ – ‘Mr Gibson 3.3’, aka Mick Jagger
‘If you want to keep things private you can. Fake names in recording sessions,’ said Jagger
Under the blinding glare of the Los Angeles sun, on the same dusty Paramount New York street lot where The Godfather was filmed, a jumbled crew of cameramen, anxious assistants, exhausted runners and jaded punk extras all stare as a great boom of sound blares from a hastily constructed, battered voodoo shop frontage – pitched completely at odds against the iconic Forties brownstones.
There’s a momentary, familiar high-pitched wail. Then the battered doors crash open and Mick Jagger, in a tight neon-pink suit and Panama hat, struts into the sunlight, his feet in cerise Nikes kicking up dirt as he leaps through a series of perfectly co-ordinated vocal and physical twists, effortlessly spinning a pair of female dancers as he sings the opening lines of Miracle Worker.
Nobody moves, spellbound by what they’re watching. Even the jaw on the most scary-looking punk has dropped open. Joss Stone, sitting just feet away on a pavement, is completely fixated. Then Jagger stops, walks over to a monitor, frowning as he scrutinises the reel with ex-Eurythmics musician Dave Stewart.
Eventually, Jagger nods to Stewart and says in his ultra-liquid London drawl, ‘OK guys, let’s go again.’
This is an extraordinary event. Live magazine is the only UK publication invited to witness the filming of Jagger’s latest venture. SuperHeavy is a collaboration between Jagger, Stewart, Stone, Damian Marley (son of reggae legend Bob Marley) and Indian-born Oscar-winning soundtrack writer AR Rahman.
Over a period of four days we were given unprecedented access to the performers as the final touches were put to a project that has taken two years, crossed four continents, involved one of the world’s largest superyachts, the personal assistance of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the input of America’s answer to Banksy, Shepard Fairey, not to mention levels of secrecy MI5 would be proud of (more of this later), to achieve. The outcome is a wholly unexpected return of the musicians’ collective ideal of the Sixties and Seventies – the supergroup.
‘In a room full of musicians it doesn’t take long to work out the dynamics,’ said Jagger
As Dave Stewart says, ‘It was all totally secret and we kept it that way for a hell of a long time, which is amazing given the people concerned. This was a journey that could only really develop if it was given space without the rest of the world putting their expectations on it.
‘It was essential we kept it secret. We had a codename for recording studios – DD Jam – and when a few people got to hear about Joss and Mick being in a session together it was put out that it was a Nokia campaign.
‘We recorded all over the place: LA, Jamaica, Turkey, Italy, Greece, India, Miami. We had people coming in at different times, different places. Paul Allen lent us his boat (a 414ft megayacht called Octopus with two helicopters, two submarines and a jet-ski dock). Mick would check in under names like Mr Gibson 3.3 – all very Ocean’s Eleven.’
‘Boats are very private places. Fake names in recording sessions – keep it simple… you know’ – ‘Mr Gibson 3.3’, aka Mick Jagger
Hours later, in a suite at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons, Mr Gibson 3.3 – Mick Jagger – is chilling before being driven off to a dance lesson where he will perfect his moves for tomorrow’s filming.
He is dressed in a peacock-blue cotton shirt and steel-grey trousers cut in the skinny, tapered style of a Sixties beatnik. His brown hair remains anti-establishment shoulder length and his face is a Francis Bacon portrait – fantastically riven by a life as extreme as you could get, untouched by surgery and defiantly his own.
Talking to Jagger is like trying to grasp mercury. He smiles and laughs, jokes and parries his way around questions. As it turns out, maintaining absolute secrecy was the least of his concerns.
‘I never found it that hard,’ he says. ‘I was worried about Dave because he often blabs when he’s talking and then my brother (Chris) said something. But if you want to keep things private you can. Dave blagged Paul Allen’s boat and we recorded vocals sailing round Greece and Turkey; boats are very private places. Fake names in recording sessions, keep it simple… you know.’
‘It’s good, I’m really happy with it. You sit back, you let others do their thing. You have your go, then you let the others go. It’s a good process. I’m interested to see what happens next, move on,’ said Jagger
Ask him what it was like playing with a completely new band and he grins.
‘Well, it was really great but really pressured. Great because it’s good to challenge, to do something different; pressure because day one, we got into a room, no one had written anything, none of us had worked together as a group. I knew Damian’s dad but not really him or AR (Rahman). Then, me and Dave are sitting there with guitars and everyone is sort of looking at the guys with the guitars…’
Were the others looking to him specifically because he was the legend in the room?
‘Well, I dunno about that. Definitely the oldest, the senior. But in a room full of musicians it doesn’t take long to work out the dynamics. I’ve known Dave and worked with him for the past 25 years on projects like Alfie and Ruthless People and just doing our own stuff together.
‘And Joss has opened for the Stones. I knew what singing with Joss was actually like and I hung out with her. I know she talks all the time and she is always up and laughing spontaneously. She is not like some broody, moody kind of girl who sits in the corner and you don’t know what she’s thinking. She’s telling you what she is thinking all the time, which is quite good really. And she sings all the time. She sings all her thoughts. I say, “Joss, can I get five minutes off the singing? Joss, shut up. Joss!”’ Jagger laughs.
‘It’s good, I’m really happy with it. You sit back, you let others do their thing. You have your go, then you let the others go. It’s a good process. I’m interested to see what happens next, move on.’
Jagger likes to keep moving; his motto is ‘Don’t look back.’
Jagger, Stewart, Marley and Stone in rehearsal
He nods. ‘I live in the now. But I don’t ever think, “This is amazing, I can’t believe I’m still doing this.” I am doing it. I’m just doing it. And I don’t think, “It’s all gone so fast”, because for me it’s still happening. When I started it was a different century and it seems like it. You move on. This band, this project, it’s all good.’
But it’s impossible to remove Jagger from his extraordinary past and even though we’re here to talk about SuperHeavy, the ghosts of the Rolling Stones and Keith Richards swirl around those skinny shoulders.
Richards’ autobiography, Life, torpedoed the fragile partnership of the Glimmer Twins, as Richards laid in to Jagger for being unbearable and betraying the ethos of the Stones by accepting a knighthood. Worse, Richards struck at the core of Jagger’s legend as a lover by boasting he slept with Mick’s girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, and claiming Jagger has a ‘tiny todger’.
As bizarre as it seems, ‘Todgergate’ has led to such a rift between the two that the Stones’ long-awaited 50th anniversary tour – due for next year – is currently off, although rumours have emerged recently that lawyers are desperately trying to broker an agreement between the two men.
I tell Jagger I want to ask him something.
Stone fools around by her trailer
He leans back and smiles, ‘When is the next Rolling Stones mega-tour? I don’t know really. There isn’t one so far. But there might be anything, anything can happen. It is the 50th anniversary next year. Everyone kept asking what was the date of our first ever performance, no one was giving the answer, so I decided I may as well bloody well find out myself.
‘The first ever performance we did was in July at the Marquee Club in London and it was billed as Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. It was just me and Keith, Brian (Jones) and a backing band. No one else – no Charlie (Watts), he wasn’t even there. I remember it exactly. I was 19 years old. Ricky Fenson on bass, Carlo Little on drums and Nicky Hopkins on piano. They all told us to **** off when we tried to hire them but it was a big deal getting a gig at the Marquee because it was the hottest London club. It was a jazz club trying to break into blues.
‘The gig was amazing – the drummer was going mad and Nicky was rocking his electric piano and I remember the crowd going absolutely wild. I was thinking as I was singing, they obviously have to book us again, this is the most rocking gig they’ve had in the Marquee ever. But they didn’t. They didn’t let us back in there for ages because rock was working-class, rubbish music. It didn’t exist on an intellectual level like jazz. They saw the future and they didn’t like it. That was our first gig and the people we wanted to get the point just didn’t get it.
‘Maybe we could go back to the Marquee to accept a plaque for 50 years of service instead (of a tour). That could work – except Keith can’t obviously come. Charlie could come but he wouldn’t get the plaque, obviously.’
It is the first time Mick has mentioned Keith. It is clearly not looking good for any kind of reunion. I ask him if he played the SuperHeavy album to the Stones (Never Gonna Change is particularly reminiscent of the Stones sound).
‘Ronnie’s listened to it. He’s sweet, he’s very supportive. He liked it very much, he liked it all, particularly some of the first tracks we started with. And Charlie liked it. He’s all about the grooves, he’s got a great ear. Charlie and Ronnie both have their own things but they see the bigger picture. Not everyone sees the big picture.’
Stone and Stewart at the mixing desk
‘I don’t know if Keith really listens to that much. I don’t know what Keith listens to.’
I tell him Keith is usually quoted as saying he listens to Chuck Berry.
Jagger shrugs: ‘Yeah, that is what he says. I wonder if it is actually true.’
Why, given the forensic detail in Richards’ book, did Jagger take it upon himself to research details of the Stones’ first gig?
‘It isn’t necessarily correct,’ he says. ‘Everyone’s recollections of these things are all dim and distanced. It’s a very long time ago. A lot of things have been taken in the intervening period and your memory of it is different from one day to the next. Everyone has a different memory of what actually happened.
‘But if someone said to me, you are completely wrong Mick, Charlie played at the Marquee gig, here’s a picture – well maybe I was wrong. I don’t remember it like that but maybe he was there. But you see, then, that picture might have come from the October gig in the Marquee and who’s to know? And so the point is that somewhere around there, there was a band called the Rolling Stones but the actual first gig in July was not with Charlie or Bill (Wyman).’
‘It was all very secret so I set up the Supergrass Police. Word spreads. We had to keep this under wraps’ – ‘The Lynchpin’, aka Dave Stewart
‘We both talk about obscure blues bands, we both laugh at the same things,’ said Stewart of Jagger
In his hi-tech offices on Hollywood Boulevard, opposite the old Capitol Records building, Dave Stewart is sifting through Shepard Fairey’s drawings of a tiger, the SuperHeavy logo. He rolls up his sleeve and shows me a tattoo of the same image on his arm.
On the walls are framed albums from Stevie Nicks, Bryan Ferry, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Beyoncé, Paul McCartney, Bono. Stewart has worked with everybody.
Those who remember Stewart as the guy who stood behind Annie Lennox in the Eurythmics need to reassess. In America Stewart is huge; he has his own label, he makes films and he writes books on business.
His book The Business Playground (including Jagger’s own account of his business style), was so well received he is invited to lecture by major companies all around the world. Jay-Z asks him for advice, Bob Dylan (a member of supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, who recorded in his home studio) counts him as his closest friend. In his custom-made fedora (he has them made at Lock & Co in St James’s) and shades Stewart is a Sunderland-born reinvention of Andy Warhol.
SuperHeavy was his idea.
‘I’ve loved reggae music since Annie (Lennox) and I used to share a squat above a reggae dub shop in Crouch End. Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill used to come and trade their records and you’d hear these sounds blasting.
Stone and Stewart on the video set
‘Years later I was at my home in Jamaica and one night I heard all these sounds coming from all different areas, from these huge sound systems – reggae, rock, blues. I thought, that was what I wanted to do, bring all these different sounds together in one band.’
This musical cocktail, mixed with a uniquely Eastern sound, made him think of all the great musicians he’d worked with, from Jagger to his friend AR Rahman, and whetted his appetite. Stewart first met Mick in 1984. Their bond, he says, was forged in ‘blues and a shared sense of humour’.
‘We both talk about obscure blues bands, we both laugh at the same things. He was my first call. We came up with names: Joss was obvious because of the voice and the fact we’ve both worked with her, like her and rate her. No one has a voice like Joss Stone. I’ve known Damian since he was nine and AR for 12 years. Mick was just up for the idea – “Go for it. Do it.” He’s like that. He commits. It wasn’t about egos, it was about getting a bunch of musicians together.
‘I was the lynchpin, organising, pulling things together. Everyone just got there when they could. It was all very secret so I set up the Supergrass Police, getting people to check Facebook sites, MySpace. Any studio you turn up in, other musicians look in saying, “Hey, what’s going on there?” Word spreads. Engineers may make a comment on Twitter.
‘This was two years in the making, we had to keep it under wraps. Mick was great, he never says a word to anyone. I called in Shepard to help; he wanted to hear the music. He loved the idea and came up with this perfect image.
‘What was different was when we got in a room. That was the end of the planning. There was no music. We had to write, do it as we were there. That’s pretty exposing for a lot of people and it was a good way of just getting everyone’s ideas going.
Stone in make-up. Prior to being called by Stewart to make a solo album, she had taken off to Spain in her second-hand camper van without heating
‘Joss would sit there with the notepad, everyone throwing in ideas. It was Damian who kept riffing with this line, “Super-heavy, super-heavy”. We loved that and then Mick and I work in a similar way. It was pretty fascinating to get all these different people writing songs together. Egos go, you become musicians, you talk in this musicians’ shorthand.’
Stewart is often described as an eccentric yet, like Jagger, he is a man of absolute discipline. His day begins at 8am – coconut juice, a trainer and then work. He works till 7.30pm and then leaves.
‘I was working with Stevie Nicks recently and she couldn’t believe I’d walk out of the recording studio the same time every day. But I’ve learnt that creativity has to be rested to stop it burning out. I did that in my Eurythmics days. Now I understand how to work, how others work – how to make it the best.’
‘I didn’t tell Prince William or Kate Middleton about the project. Definitely not. They are lovely people, but I kept it quiet’ – ‘The Outsider’, aka Joss Stone
‘I love Dave, I love Mick – he’s always having a go at me for smoking – and I loved this idea,’ said Stone
Next day on set, 24-year-old Joss Stone is waiting in her trailer to be called on set. She is rolling tobacco into a cigarette paper as a hairdresser works on her hair. For her, this project was a gift.
‘I’ve been in this business almost half my life. I’ve been signed by a label, fought with a label (she paid millions to get herself out of a contract with EMI two years ago), been forced to make certain albums, told I couldn’t make others and now I’m at the stage of my life where my attitude is very simple: if you want to do something and you think it’s great, just do it. Don’t let anything stop you.
‘I love Dave, I love Mick – he’s always having a go at me for smoking – and I loved this idea. I got two more friends out of it and most of all I got an education in songwriting from Mick. I sort of felt I was getting my songwriting degree.’
Stone is a one-off. Having rebelled against the celebrity culture she was once so caught up in (as a teenager she was one of the most famous singers in the UK and U.S. but a disastrous incident at The Brits in 2007 in which she gave a speech in a strange American accent saw her ridiculed by the press), she remains on the outskirts of the industry.
She has no official manager, runs her own home-grown record label and leads the lifestyle of a Devon hippie. Prior to being called by Stewart to make a solo album, she had taken off to Spain in her second-hand camper van without heating, with her dogs and lived in a boatyard for a month and a half while a friend fixed up his boat.
Her new album, LP1, was recorded simultaneously with SuperHeavy. Her recollections of working with Mick shed a fascinating light on one of history’s greatest songwriters.
‘My style with lyrics has just been to blurt what I think on to the page and think, “Great, that’s words.” And you have to remember, when we were getting together the idea was to come up with songs fairly quickly. So I was thinking, just get words down, words, words words. Fill up a page.
‘I’d sit in a room with Mick. I had the notepad so I was the one writing. Mick kept stopping me – he’d go over every word. There would be an expression like “there’s the rub” and he’d look at it and ask me if I knew where the expression came from, that it was from Shakespeare, and why it would be right or wrong and why maybe using an older sort of word afterwards would work.
‘I know she talks all the time and she is always up and laughing spontaneously. She is not like some broody, moody kind of girl who sits in the corner and you don’t know what she’s thinking,’ said Jagger of Stone
‘The one big row we had was over his idea and my idea of soul. He then started explaining how “soul” was derived from French and how it was a much broader school than I thought. He is so unbelievably knowledgeable about literature, music, music history, classical music. When we finished the sessions he gave me a really old book of Shakespeare sonnets. He really made me think about lyrics, about words – he was like the best teacher I’ve ever had.’
Like the others, Stone had to swear the oath of secrecy.
‘I definitely kept it quiet. I never really talk about what I’m doing to anyone. You’d sound like a bit of a show-off in my local pub banging on about being in a recording studio with Damian Marley and Mick Jagger. I didn’t tell Prince William or Kate Middleton about it either, definitely not. They are lovely people and they are interested in what I do but I didn’t mention it.’
Stone had her own dramas to contend with. When her name came up in the top five of Britain’s richest female singers, a plot to kidnap and murder her was uncovered, with police arresting two men just yards from her home. The case has yet to go to court, but Stone is seemingly untroubled by the hideous twist.
Marley, Jagger, Stone and Stewart
‘You know what?’ she says. ‘My life has been so bizarre, so extreme, that this just seems to fit into the madness of all of it. It’s not going to make me change anything in my life. It’s not going to make me move or act in a different way. Why would I? If you do that then you are allowing someone to get to you, to affect you, to change you. I actually laugh about it now. I’m not going to be a crazy, paranoid person who’s afraid of the world.
‘I am actually thinking about writing a thank-you note to those guys. The whole thing has meant I can get two more dogs. I have three already and my mum says that’s enough, but now I think, just get two more for protection. So a good thing has come out of it.’
Jagger’s cerise trainers
Unsurprisingly Stone is not big on ego. She is protective of Jagger as ‘a really nice guy’.
‘It was a genuine collaboration,’ she says of working with SuperHeavy. ‘You can hear everyone, everyone’s voice, everyone’s musical fingerprint. It’s all clearly there.’
On set there is trailer equality; each artist has an identical-sized van. Outside his, AR Rahman, an Indian prodigy who won an Oscar for his score for Slumdog Millionaire, is somewhat bemused by the razzmatazz of his surroundings – and worried about having to be driven in a vintage Chevrolet through the Miracle Worker video set.
Before SuperHeavy he was only vaguely aware of Jagger.
‘Growing up in India pop music was Michael Jackson, Queen and Pink Floyd. I never heard of the Stones. Mick is a very nice man but I keep meaning to go and listen to his music. It was a very wonderful, different experience for me.
‘Being on the yacht was totally amazing. There was a studio there and everyone relaxed and drank – except me because I don’t drink. I did a lot of work and it was very fun and creative – lots of swimming off the boat. I missed going down in the submarine but I gained from being with these people. Joss has an extraordinary voice and Mick has real magic in him. You have to watch him, hear him.’
‘Paul Allen lent us his boat (a 414ft megayacht called Octopus with two helicopters, two submarines and a jet-ski dock). Mick would check in under names like Mr Gibson 3.3 – all very Ocean’s Eleven,’ said Stewart
With a face poignantly reminiscent of his father and dreadlocks scraping the floor, Damian Marley emerges from his trailer to talk as the session starts to wrap.
‘Mick knew my dad but I only knew of him through the Stones’ Satisfaction, that’s it. Dave and Mick are both geniuses in my opinion. They got this thing together, mixed a great cocktail, young and old, east and west.’
Back at his hotel, Jagger is in good spirits. The initial reception to Miracle Worker is very positive and a buzz is starting to build about the album. Stewart is already talking of a tour – and a festival. Mick laughs.
‘That’s Dave, he loves ideas,’ he says. ‘If people love it and they want it then we’ll do gigs. If they can’t be bothered we won’t do them.’
The album artwork designed by Shepard Fairey
Jagger still goes to gigs: ‘I like small venues, the smaller the better. It’s more fun for me – you get the touchy-feely thing.’
His current favourites include Bruno Mars, Janelle Monae, Lady Gaga and Beyoncé.
‘I watched Beyoncé at Glastonbury on television. I was impressed, really impressed; she has come on miles and miles. She’s a very up-to-date, very modern version of Tina Turner. I rate Lady Gaga too – good musician, good songwriter, good piano player.’
It is said that Tina Turner taught Jagger to dance. He laughs.
‘I don’t ever remember Tina giving me any tips. I think I was giving her tips, wasn’t I?’
He puts on his campest voice: ‘Swish that dress dear, come on. No, no, no.’
He grins. ‘I think that’s actually how it went.’
At 68 Mick Jagger is ridiculously fit.
‘I’m still a 28in waist, same as I was at 19. I’ve got good stamina. You watch what you eat, you exercise, you have a bit of fun. You keep on going forward. Don’t stop. Do what makes you happy. Don’t look at the clouds of tomorrow through the sunshine of today. That’s it.’
The single ‘Miracle Worker’ is out now. The album ‘SuperHeavy’ is released on September 19