The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album was a long time coming. It started life in Muscle Shoals sound in Alabama in early December 1969. And, after marathon recording sessions in London and at Mick’s house in the country during 1970, it was eventually mixed in early 1971.
The Stones have always been different. Rather than go on the road to support the album following its release, they decided to tour the UK in March 1971, a full month before Sticky Fingers went on sale. This was not necessarily as they would have liked it, as for “tax reasons” they had decided to move to France and needed to leave the UK before the new tax year began in the first week of April.
That’s why, on March 4, 1971, the band were at Newcastle’s City Hall for the opening night. This was The Stones’ first tour of the UK since the autumn of 1966. Apart from the famous Hyde Park concert in July 1969, they had only played at an NME Poll Winners’ Concert in 1968 – and then just a couple of songs – and so there was a lot of excitement among fans anxious to see the band.
The UK tour was a nine city, 16 show affair. To buy tickets for the Newcastle show, fans waited overnight, some as long as 16 hours – no fun at all during March in the North of England. The band traveled to Newcastle by train, at least most of them did; Keith missed both trains that took the other Stones north from London on their three-and-a-half-hour journey and so he was driven to Newcastle with his friend Gram Parsons from the Flying Burrito Brothers, arriving only minutes before the show was due to start.
Among the songs they played on their first show were “Dead Flowers,” “Bitch,” “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’,” “Wild Horses,” and “Brown Sugar,” all of which came from Sticky Fingers. However, for the remainder of the tour, they dropped “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” and “Wild Horses.” The band were on exceptional form for these shows – Bobby Keys and Jim Price had become the group’s resident horn section, and Nicky Hopkins was playing piano with them onstage for the first time ever on an entire tour, with Stu doing his boogie piano on numbers that had no minor chords.
Throughout the tour, they played two shows each night, except in Brighton and Leeds, and the ticket prices were £1, 85p, 75p, 65p, with 50p tickets available in some places. British Blues rock band The Groundhogs were the principal support band on the tour, but Noir, a little-remembered band, were on the Roundhouse show.
As usual, the media had a field day in expressing their views on the band. These include some august organs that you may not have expected to be reviewing the Stones back in 1971. According to the Financial Times, “Jagger might be the last of the great white pop entertainers. Those watery eyes stared out at the audience like a fish in an aquarium tank. What we will miss, particularly if the Stones do not tour here again, is their showmanship. The Stones are a piece of top social history.”
Meanwhile, The Spectator opined, “The band are playing with as much guts and excitement as they ever have done, and all of them with the exception of Mick Taylor are now pushing 30 (though Jagger at 50 is a curiously inconceivable image).”
The Record Mirror, a more likely place for a write-up of the tour suggested, “The Rolling Stones proved once again that they are still the best little rock and roll band in the land.”