The Rolling Stones, Leeds University Union, Saturday March 13, 1971
Being a fifteen-year-old schoolboy, how come I was one of 2,000 lucky punters crammed into Leeds University Refectory fifty years ago tonight when The Rolling Stones made their historic appearance there?
By that age, I was going to plenty of live gigs, and Leeds, and the university in particular, had no shortage of big names playing the city at the time. But to get tickets for the university you had to present your student ID. I soon solved that conundrum – I forged one. Admittedly, I had no prior experience in document falsification but this was a pre-hologram, pre -laminate era; all I needed to do to graduate early was stick my photo on a card I’d photocopied.
Already that term I’d seen Pink Floyd, Traffic and Elton John at the Refectory (yes, the bands really did play in a student dining room, and still do for that matter) while sadly missing out on Led Zeppelin. But the Stones? That was the big one, and demand was high.
To be sure of getting a ticket it was necessary to queue overnight in, as it turned out, sub-zero weather. Was I cold? No. I was at home in bed. The reason? I’d agreed to lend my dodgy ID card to a lad in the year above me at school – he was only too happy to be provided with the wherewithal to purchase the two tickets allowed. My only condition for affixing his photo to my magic card was I got that second ticket. Monday morning at school, the deal was concluded. 90p changed hands. Bargain.
On the night of the gig, fortified with three pints of Tetley’s (well, I was only 15), I made my way into the hall and recall plopping myself down right in front of the students sat nearest to the stage. I was virtually under the stage, but by the time the Stones came on I’d slid myself back to have a perfect position in line with Keith and Bill. Not, I confess, very considerate of me, but I had only one thing on my mind: to get as close as possible.
In those days, audiences sat patiently on the floor as the bands performed. No mosh pits, no stage charges, no bouncers even. All very civilised (apart from false-ID schoolboys pushing in). A good bit of head banging therefore ensured as the Stones premiered Brown Sugar and Bitch, charged through Jumping Jack Flash, Satisfaction and Street Fighting Man, while in between ‘bringing it down a bit’ with Love in Vain and Stray Cat Blues. Only at the encore, a version of Chuck Berry’s Let It Rock, did the crowd finally feel able to stir a leg.
It was seventy-five minutes of pure rock ‘n’ roll perfection. Back in 1971, the Stones were at their height as a performing band: imperious, swaggering, still on an upwards creative curve. Mick Jagger the supreme showman without the exaggerated ‘projection’ that would follow. Keef in full, elegantly-wasted, human riff mode. The tightest, locked-in rhythm section imaginable, and a trio of sax, piano and trumpet beefing up the sound. But most of all, Mick Taylor on guitar providing the light to the satanic shade that has been missing from the Stone’s sound since he left the band in 1974.
I’ve seen the Rolling Stones around twenty-five times since – always an adventure, a treat and an ‘event’ – but never as good as at this particular show. The good thing is, you can still listen to the concert! Originally recorded on the Rolling Stones mobile studio truck for a BBC radio broadcast, eight tracks soon appeared on vinyl bootleg – I still have my copy. Then, in 2015, the Stones released the full audio of the concert, all 13 x tracks played on the night, as part of their Sticky Fingers deluxe boxset. Stream it tonight, and don’t forget to turn it up loud. I know I will be. No ID required. And nobody pushing in, either.
‘I can see that you’re fifteen years old/No I don’t want your I.D.’
NOTE: concert photos of Rolling Stones at Leeds University are credited to John Rettie.