After jetting into the UAE early on Tuesday (February 18) morning, The Rolling Stones have had a few days to check out the sights of Abu Dhabi. Mick Jagger – at 70 years old, still the most iconic frontman in rock n’ roll – took a few minutes out to answer some questions ahead of the band’s historic Middle Eastern debut at du Arena on Friday February 21.
Hi Mick. How is the UAE treating you? It’s your first time here, so far so good?
It’s going well – I’ve been in Dubai briefly for one night, I didn’t really see very much, and when you do a show somewhere you don’t necessarily always see very much of the town, but I try to see as much as I can. We’re staying out of town, it’s a bit spread out, but I went into town last night and went around and had a nice dinner with some people, so yeah, it’s treating me well.
We’ve had thousands of UAE fans write in to vote for their favourite song that you’ll perform on Friday. If you could choose, which song would you dedicate to your regional fans?
‘Start Me Up’ would be the one that I would dedicate to them. I enjoy playing that one because it usually gets everyone going. I don’t know how many fans we’re going to get from which countries. It’s interesting to think of what the mix will be. But I’m looking forward to playing to a very different crowd to perhaps we’re used to in Europe or America. It will be very different, but great fun.
The du Arena is the biggest music venue in the region. We hear you’ve had a little walk round, first impressions?
It sounds pretty good, I think it’s going to be a good place. I went there yesterday (Tuesday) at night, I went there today (Wednesday) as well and did some singing. The stage is all set out. I went to the back of the du Arena, where there’s a seating area which is quite good to see the view. It’s a good place – it’s not enormous, it’s quite big but not massive, kind of contained. The sound sounded pretty good with no people in there, which is a good sign. I’m looking forward to it, I think it’s going to be a good gig.
Judging from the You Tube footage the band has released, tour rehearsals in Paris seem to have gone really well. Do you always prepare for new tours in the same way or is it different each time?
It can be different, it depends where we are and what kind of tour we’re doing and how long since we’ve played [together]. Obviously it’s very consistent in that there’s a whole lot of numbers we run through. Sometimes we do rehearsals in London, of 60-70 different numbers. Depending on the stage I have to work on that. I do a bit of dance routines and try and get myself in shape, because the stage is quite big – its 60 metres across, and then there’s a runway which is probably 40 metres. So, it’s quite a long way from one end to the other! [laughs]
Andy Warhol famously designed your Love You Live album sleeve in 1977. You were quite involved in that process and have been throughout the band’s career. Do you still throw yourself into all areas of the band?
Yeah, the first one he did was the Sticky Fingers cover, and he did as you rightly say the Love You Love cover. I hope I’m not too nit-picky and controlling about it, but Charlie [Watts] and I particularly go through the poster art and the album art and the T-shirts to make sure it looks up to standard. Sometimes we throw things out. We’ve used a lot of very good people – as you mentioned Andy Warhol – we’ve always tried to keep an interesting standard to our art work. I kind of enjoy doing that and I think it's fun and it represents the band.
It’s great that [former Stones guitarist] Mick Taylor will be joining you onstage Friday. How have the relationships within the current band developed since you all came together?
I mean that’s really impossible [to answer] – people have different relationships within the band, people are one on one, as a band together, as a whole bunch or group of people together. Some people have arguments, some people get on really well and go out to dinner together. I mean it’s such a long relationship, and then it’s obviously changed so much over the years that it would take me a very long time to explain it all to you. And I probably wouldn’t be able to remember it, it’s so multi-faceted. Erm, but we still enjoy ourselves when we get onstage and we still hang out together and we’re having a good time.
How has the experience of touring changed for you over the years and what is the motivation to continue?
Well, touring with everyone crammed in a Volkswagen van with a sandwich is slightly different to staying in a really nice hotel in the suburbs of Abu Dhabi! [laughs]. It’s obviously much more comfortable than it once was, but when you’re 19 or 20 you don’t really care about it very much. In a funny way it’s still very similar when you get on the stage to what it always was. That part of the experience is very, very similar, but since the mid ’70s, or even the end of the ’60s, it got a lot easier – it became more organised and became not the hit-and-miss business it was, disorganised gigs and badly run shows where no one knew what they were doing. Now all this stuff is much more of a well-oiled affair than it used to be. And it makes it much more enjoyable. You do miss the not getting to the gig on time because you’ve got a flat tire, but it’s still a lot of fun.
So tell us, what on earth would you have done if you hadn’t been the lead singer of The Rolling Stones?
The parallel universe... I don’t know. In reality I was hoping to go into diplomatic service! [laughs] And so, I was looking at that sort of thing, but who knows what you would have done? You get swept up in doing music, you go off onto a complete tangent, and you will never know what you would have been good at, and maybe you would have been completely useless at that, or been wonderful at it. The problem with going into all these showbiz careers is that if you don’t watch out, you don’t... I had a whole bunch of time where I wasn’t really learning anything, because you’re so involved in your career, and you lose your curiosity about the rest of things going on around you, life and things you’re really interested in. But I realised a long, long time ago that you want to keep yourself intellectually stimulated, because doing shows... it’s weird, it’s a bit like being a footballer. It’s fascinating while you’re onstage, but you’ve got a lot of down time and you need to fill that up satisfactorily.
Through the last 50 years of The Rolling Stones, what’s been the pinnacle for you, other than Friday night’s show of course?
Well, I think playing Glastonbury last year – I’m not saying that was the high point of our career but for me recently that was a really big thrill. Just seeing the audience and seeing them responding, and how many there were, what a great night it was, how beautiful the weather was, how lovely England is when it’s nice, all those things combined. Glastonbury is like the alternative Ascot, where there’s all these quite fashionable English people, an awful lot of them all at once. There was a real buzz in the crowd, and we managed to play as well as we could, and I think that was a memorable gig.
Finally, thank you Mick for playing here, fans across the region have been crying out for the show for years. Any message to the fans that are heading to the du Arena on Friday night?
I think it’s going to be a great show and I hope everyone’s going to get out and have a real party, and let their hair down and have fun. I’m sure we’re going to all be in it together and enjoy ourselves. And it’s great to be playing somewhere for the first time. I always love that, and I’ve always been looking forward to coming here because I know lots of friends of mine have had really fun gigs, so we’re looking forward to [the gig] – so see you there.
Limited tickets still on sale at the time of writing from www.ticketmaster.ae.