Magazine article The Spectator

Pirate and Boy Scout

Magazine article The Spectator

Pirate and Boy Scout

Article excerpt


by Keith Richards, with James Fox

Weidenfeld, £20, pp. 608,

ISBN 9780297854395

Keith Richards is a cross between Johnny B. Goode and Captain Hook. Like Johnny, he can play the guitar just like ringing a bell.

Like Hook, he is selfconsciously piratical in costume, speech and behaviour- though he is modest about his contribution to Johnny Depp's performance in the Pirates of the Caribbean. 'All I taught him was how to walk around a corner when you're drunk - never moving your back away from the wall.'

Johnny B. Goode never ever learned to read or write so well, but 'Keef' ain't half bad. He wrote 'Gimme Shelter', after all, one stormy afternoon in Mayfair while his girlfriend Anita Pallenberg was in Notting Hill, making Performance with Mick. And on this gig he is 'with' his old friend James Fox, who is a groovy writer (White Mischief), and has done him proud.

Life is funny, filthy, wise and scholarly, and disconcertingly decent, but the most surprising thing is how much he can remember.

An only child, he grew up on a council estate in Dartford, Kent, with his musical mother Doris and his disapproving father Bert, who in old age looked like 'a retired pirate'. His primary schoolmate Mick came from a detached house on what, had there been a black side of town, would have been the white one, and at 11 plus Mick went to Dartford Grammar in a red blazer, and Keef to Dartford Tech, which set the tone of their relationship.

Keef was a choirboy, which explains a lot, and also, incredibly, the leader of Beaver Patrol, Seventh Dartford Scouts.

He still admires Baden-Powell, and his approach to piracy is obscurely informed by the Boy Scout spirit: he is a stickler for 'the code'.

He bumped into Mick again at Dartford station in 1961, and they became soul twins, bound by a passion for the Chicago blues. Soon afterwards they met Brian, who was a whiner, a primper and 'a cold-blooded, vicious motherfucker'. The Stones were created by Ian Stewart, who was excluded from the official line-up because he played piano and looked wrong. Bill was recruited for his amplifier, and Charlie only when they could afford him, which they did by eating less and shoplifting more.

Soon they were world famous, and Keef was hanging out with Cecil Beaton, who admired his 'marvellous torso', and Arndt Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach ('a degenerate even by my standards'), and Captain Hook's fellow Old Etonians Robert Fraser, Christopher Gibbs and Mark Palmer. …

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