Charlie Watts

A Weekend With Charlie Watts

Like most people back in late 1984, I was moved by the pictures we were seeing from Ethiopia. I felt something should be done and in a matter of days decided to stage a charity gig at Edinburgh's Usher Hall.
Now, I'd never promoted anything,so I was really throwing myself in at the deep end. I had worked on a couple of tours for Jack Bruce and gave him a call to see if you would get involved. He was interested but only if Charlie Watts and Ian Stewart would come along, so he gave me Ian's 'phone number.
Considering I called Ian up out of the blue, he was a real gentleman. Without him, I would never have managed to get a gig together and certainly would never have got to spend a weekend with Charlie Watts.
Although I tried the likes of Eric Clapton and George Harrison, I ended up setting up a line-up that I wanted to see. So, the final act of the evening was set as Jack Bruce on bass, Ian Stewart on piano, Rory Gallagher on guitar and Charlie Watts on drums with backing horns provided by Don Weller, Willy Garnett and John Pickard.
Ian told me to leave everything to him about getting Charlie to come along. He would drive up with Charlie's kit and Christmas presents for his own relatives in Fife.
My first contact with Charlie was at Edinburgh airport when I met the plane carrying Charlie, Rory, Simon Kirke, Bert Jansch and many others. The first thing that struck me was how ordinary and respectable he looked. We exchanged greetings and as I started to lead him to his car he turned and said, "Where are my jim-jams?"
Here I was, with one of the giants of rock and he was asking me where his pyjamas were! Luckily, Simon Kirke called out that he had them and we were soon en route for the hotel I had commandeered for them. It was an old castle set in an estate just outside Edinburgh and was far from being as warm as a modern hotel would be. It was a warren of vaulted stone rooms, ideal for killing the sound of rehearsing bands.
On my way down to the basement bar with Charlie, we came across Simon Kirke setting up his own kit for rehearsal (the roadies I had hired hadn't turned up!). Simon asked if Charlie practiced much. Charlie just shrugged and said he'd played twice that year (and we were in December). "After all", he said, "what's the point of playing for the family?"
Although only band members and crew were staying in the hotel they did have one booking they couldn't cancel - a wedding reception. So, as Charlie and co. prepared to start rehearsals in the room above the reception, who should appear but the bride's mother with wedding cake for the band. Everyone was charming to her and I'm sure she was taken aback at how gracefully her gift was accepted.
Throughout the day, I had never seen Charlie remove his coat - or smile until he stood at his kit for the first time. He carefully took off his coat and folded it over a chair. As he sat down a grin stretched from ear to ear. In moments, the sticks were in his hands and he became one with his kit. There was something magical about watching these men have real fun together. From the start, their playing was faultless and seemed to stretch each of them. Two of the horn players were there and were carefully taking down notation and structures of different numbers while every so often, Don Weller would walk in, listen for a few moments and say "I'm not together enough for this" before walking out again.
The audience for this private gig was Simon Kirke, one of the drivers, a minder, my girlfriend (now wife) and myself. At one point, I even called out, "Play Messin' With The Kid, Rory" and watched as he ran through the chords for everyone. In a matter of minutes, you would've thought they'd been playing it together for years. After nearly two hours, three of us left to get on with organising the next days gig.
About nine the next morning, I walked into the breakfast room to find Charlie sitting alone, wearing his coat once more. "You're up early", I said. "Didn't go to bed", he replied. He said he rarely did when he was on tour and would 'phone his wife, go out for a walk and just potter around. He'd been wandering around in the wood outside before it was even dawn.
I didn't see that much of him during the day as we arranged sound checks, photo calls, meal breaks and all the roadies who had eventually turned up. Much of my time was spent arguing with Rick Wakeman's manager who seemed to think that his artist outranked Charlie and should be the final act - who was he kidding?

Charlie on-stage

The gig came and went and afterwards I was in the Green Room with several of the bands. At one point, the wife of the hotel manager turned up to congratulate everyone. I found here standing in front of Charlie waffling on about having met him years before and really hassling him. He was totally oblivious to her and what she was saying. Turning to me (while she was still in full flow) he just said, "I want to go home". A minder was dispatched to take him back to the hotel and the woman was left wondering if he'd even been aware she was there.
It's strange,more than ten years on I can remember things so clearly.The great stillness that there was about him, the seemingly fragile quality and the two huge rolls of 50 notes still amaze me.
Will I see him again? Well, I did once, more than six months later but I would doubt it again. Would I like to see him play again? I don't know, there was something special that night when we watched a rehearsal that started as a basic warm up and run through and lasted nearly six hours.
It was a hectic weekend with fleeting glimpses of people and their talent from the real backstage viewpoint. A lot of people who played were my own heroes and musicians I respected. Some blew it completely - but not Charlie or Ian and after it was all over I watched as Ian checked the drum kit in the back of his VW camper before closing the door and driving away to deliver the Christmas presents.

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