By Brian Nankervis.
(an edited version of this story was published in The Age on 9th February 2013)
My friend Andy and I had been preparing for the Kooyong concerts for years. We met in Year Seven, in 1968. I was already a Stones fan thanks to my cousins. Andy had an older sister who insisted The Stones were cooler than the Beatles. The Stones were our band and while we were too young to experience early hits like ‘Satisfaction’, ‘Get Off My Cloud’ and ‘Paint It Black’, by the time ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ burst from the radio we were hooked. The political fury of ‘Street Fighting Man’ and the blues of ‘Beggars Banquet’ blew our tiny minds. The cool kids at school liked The Stones and could reproduce the cowbell in ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ note for note. By 1969 they were dancing like Mick Jagger, hands on hips, goose-stepping through the tuck shop, pointing at kids who had no idea what they were doing. We knew what they were doing.
Then the live album from The Stones’ first tour of America in three years arrived. ‘Get Yer Ya Yas Out’, was an incredible LP and Jagger’s stage patter added humour to our mimicry. “Think I busted a button on my trousers. You don’t want my trousers to fall down now do you?” We’d quote these comments on the tram or in Biology in a loose approximation of Jagger’s cheeky drawl. We thought we were hilarious.
We watched ‘Gimme Shelter’, stunned as the band played on while Hells Angels beat fans with pool cues and a young man was stabbed. We were aroused by Tina Turner fellating her microphone, fascinated by glimpses into hotel rooms and amazed to see Keith playing a cassette version of ‘Brown Sugar’, just recorded at Alabama’s Muscle Shoals studio. We were thrilled by the style and the substance, the sound and the fury of this band, playing live to adoring crowds. We wanted that in Melbourne.
‘Sticky Fingers’ in 1971 and ‘Exile On Main Street’ in 1972 added fuel to the fire and when tickets went on sale near near ‘Surf Dive and Ski’, we bought tickets for both shows. I reckon we paid $5 a ticket and carried them with us all summer. “We Play, Rain Hail or Shine” the tickets said.
February 17 finally arrived and I sat high in the grandstand, waiting. My stomach churned. It was incredibly hot, but I was oblivious to the rising mercury. The Stones were in Hawthorn. Madder Lake had finished and “everything seemed to be ready”. I looked at Andy and we sang a chorus of ‘Brown Sugar’, people around us joined in and we started slow clapping. Suddenly there was movement down the front, the crowd began to roar and I started shaking. The Rolling Stones were about to play.
Forty years later I treasure that initial, heady thrill of seeing ‘The Greatest Rock and Roll Band In the World’ walk on stage in the blistering afternoon heat and begin playing. I laughed when they launched into the first song, ‘Brown Sugar’. Laughed with exhilaration and relief. Laughed to hear Keith Richards play those chords out front of Charlie's solid beat. Here they were, The Rolling Stones playing right in front of me. I can still see the amps covered in white material, Keith swaggering in flared denim jeans, Bill standing like a statue, Mick Taylor playing his guitar effortlessly, Bobby Keys stepping forward to play sax solos just like on the records and the black security guard who sat on stage, clapping along with every song while trams rattled down Glenferrie Road.
They were loud and raw and loose, the crowd danced in the aisles and we were united, experiencing that intangible magic we’d been yearning for. The set list was great. Hit after hit after hit. ‘Tumbling Dice’, ‘Happy’, ‘Gimme Shelter’, ‘Sweet Virginia’. Keith and Mick Taylor trading guitar solos on the slow blues of ‘Love In Vain’, the mock theatrics of ‘Midnight Rambler’ with Jagger on his knees, moaning and whispering, slapping his belt onto the shiny stage. The visceral power of ‘Jumping Jack Flash’. It’s a gas, gas, gas.
They finished with ‘Street Fighting Man’ and while Mick threw rose petals from a bucket and yelled “we gotta go” over a wall of noise, I was elated, knowing that for me it wasn’t over. We had tickets for the next show a few hours later. At night, in the dark, under lights. It would be more like the concerts we’d seen on film and I wouldn’t be so nervous and it wouldn’t be so hot. We’d seen fans sneak down and stand in front of the stage and we were determined that tonight we would be there.
We filed out of the stadium comparing notes and favourite moments and stood in groups, not sure what to do before the next show. Someone suggested we jump over a nearby fence and soon we were swimming in the Scotch College pool, in our jocks, doing bombs and horsies, singing ‘Brown Sugar’. “I said yeah, yeah, yeah, whoo!” … ecstatic that we were about to see The Rolling Stones. In Melbourne. In a tennis stadium. Again!
SPECIAL THANKS to Bruce Thomas for his photos.