Magazine article The Spectator

Every Picture Tells a Story

Magazine article The Spectator

Every Picture Tells a Story

Article excerpt

Ronnie Wood's life-long obsession

I am in Paris for the Rolling Stones' No Filter concert, in Ronnie Wood's dressing room minutes before he is due on stage. Walking through the door, I find myself in what looks like a giant crèche, sweeties in jars (I presume they're sweeties), and every size of child and grandchild bouncing around on a thick rug woven in the pattern of Ronnie's 'Wild Horses' painting. Ronnie greets me like a long-lost friend with a massive hug, no sign of pre-concert agitation.

Apparently Mick is somewhere round the corner doing a strenuous workout with his dance trainer. Keith may or may not be reaching down to touch his knee a couple of times as his warm-up, but here there is no sign of preparation. A setlist pinned to the wall gives me a tantalising preview of what is to come over the next few hours, each song hand-painted by Ronnie. He does this for all the tours. It's quite a thrill to see 'Brown Sugar', 'Satisfaction', 'Start Me Up' and 'Let's Spend the Night Together' in bright yellows and blues and greens. 'Charlie wants to come and say hello,' says Ronnie, as though about to introduce me to great-aunt Agatha at a christening.

Minutes before this, I've been in another area backstage holding Gracie, one of Ronnie's and his wife Sally's enchanting twins, talking to tour manager Joyce. She's worked with the Stones for decades. She tells me I went to the same school as a great friend of hers. This is turning out to be very un-rock and roll, but I like it.

It's very heart-warming. It feels like a bunch of old friends are meeting up for a reunion to play a bit of music together. Which is obviously what they are doing. Just factor in a zillion pounds worth of lights, dazzling effects and a massive adoring crowd, three quarters of a million strong so far on the tour. They're all waiting on the other side. I like the side I seem to be on, but how did I get here?

Rewind a few months to when out of the blue an email pinged on to my art website. It was from Ronnie and Sally Wood (I had never met them). 'We just wanted to let you know that we love your art. We're in Barcelona at the moment where Ronnie is painting also. We've just watched a Francis Bacon documentary which featured Maggi Hambling and we really love her work too.'

I don't know about you, but I don't often get emails from a Rolling Stone. I wasn't sure which bit of the email thrilled me most -- Barcelona! Maggi Hambling! It made me realise that art has led me on the most ridiculously exciting adventures and this was to turn out to be another one. The reference to Maggi Hambling was relevant, as she was my last great adventure.

I had interviewed Maggi for a piece about her favourite possession, a painting by Arthur Lett-Haines, one of the tutors at Benton End, the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing. After we'd finished she roared, still chain-smoking, to the film crew: 'Now bugger off, all of you. I've got to get ready for my masterclass tomorrow.'

Anneka Rice's 'Adrian in action', ink

The crew sheepishly retreated but in a moment of madness I said to Maggi: 'Can I come?' Maggi stared at me fiercely (Maggi does excellent fierce) for what seemed like about four days before she wrote on a scrap of paper: '10 a.m., bring charcoal.' That was it. I turned up the following day, met a roomful of strangers and have never left. It has been the most significant period of my adult life and I've gained a group of wonderful and nourishing friends.

After the Paris concert, I tentatively suggested to Ronnie that I make a radio documentary about his life and art, and he said: 'Yes, how about next Friday? …

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