Fifty years in the game and The Rolling Stones still have a few things to do for the first time. Their du Arena show tonight opens their 14 On Fire Tour, which will see them make their Middle East debut in Abu Dhabi. In an interview supplied by the show’s promoters, Flash Entertainment, Mick Jagger says that the prospect of performing in front of a new crowd is thrilling. “It’s great to be playing somewhere for the first time,” he says. “I always love that and I’ve always been looking forward to coming back here because I know that lots of friends of mine had really fun gigs.”
Is this your first time in the UAE? How has Abu Dhabi been treating you?
It’s going well. I have been in Dubai once very briefly for one night and I didn’t see very much. You know, when you are doing a show somewhere, you don’t necessarily get to see very much, but I try to see as much as I can. We are sort of staying out of town a bit as well. But I went in to town for a bit last night and had a nice dinner with some people and saw lots of things around. So yes, it is treating me well.
We’ve had thousands of UAE fans write in with 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 will be the one I dedicate to them. I enjoy playing that one because usually it gets everyone going. I don’t know how many fans we are going to get from which countries. It is kind of interesting to see the kind of mix it’s going to be. I am looking forward to playing to a very different crowd than perhaps what we are used to in Europe or America. It will be great fun.
The du Arena is the biggest music venue in the region. We hear that you’ve had a little walk round. Any first impressions?
I think it will be a good place. I went there last night and I went there today and did some singing there. The stage is all set up and I went to the back of the du Arena where there is a seating area that goes up the back [The Grandstand] to see how the view is. It’s a good place. It’s quite big but not enormous and it’s quite contained. The sound is pretty good in there with no people, which is a good sign because there is not a lot of reflective surfaces and so it’s not echoey. I am looking forward to it and I think it’s going to be a good gig.
You rehearsed for this tour in Paris. Do you always prepare for new tours in the same way or is it different each time?
It depends on where we are, what kind of tour we are doing and how long since we last played. It is very consistent in as far that we run through a whole of lot of [songs]. Sometimes we have long rehearsals and run through 60 or 70 different numbers, depending on the stage I have to work on that. I do a bit of dance routines and stuff to get myself in shape. The stage is 60 metres across and there is a runway that is 40 metres, so it’s quite a long way from one to the other.
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 music-making process?
The first one he did was the Sticky Fingers cover and he did, as your rightly say, the Love You Live cover. I hope I am not too nit-picky and controlling about that, but Charlie [Watts] and I go through the poster art and the album art, the T-shirts and all these things to make sure they go up to standard and sometimes we throw things out. I think it’s good that it all represents you. We have used a lot of good people, like Andy Warhol, because we try to keep an interesting standard to our artwork.
How have the relationships within the band developed since you all came together?
People have different relationships in the band. Some that are one-on-one, then as a band together and then as a bunch of people together. Some people have arguments, some get along really well and they have dinner together. It is such a long relationship and it obviously changed so much over the years that it will take me a very long time to explain it to you – and I probably won’t be able to remember it all – because it’s so multifaceted. We still enjoy ourselves when get on stage. We enjoy hanging out together and having a good time.
The Rolling Stones have always been a band best appreciated live. How has the experience of touring changed for you throughout the years?
Well, touring in a Volkswagen van with a sandwich is slightly different than staying in a really nice hotel in the suburbs of Abu Dhabi. It is obviously much more comfortable than it was, but when you are 19 or 20, you don’t really care about it very much. In a funny way, it is still very similar when you get on the stage. Since the mid-70s, or even the end of the 60s, it got a lot easier. It became more organised and not the hit-and-miss business that it was and the disorganised gigs and badly run shows where no one knew what they were doing. Now this stuff is more of a well-oiled affair than what it used to be, so it makes it more enjoyable. I supposed you do miss the not getting to the gig on time because you got a flat tyre, but it is still a lot of fun.
What would you have done if you hadn’t been a frontman?
In reality I was hoping to get into the diplomatic service. I was looking at that sort of thing but you get swept up in doing music and you go often on a complete tangent and what you will never know is would you have been good or maybe useless at it completely? The problem with showbiz is if you don’t watch out you will have a whole bunch of time where you are not really learning anything because you have to be involved in your career. You lose your curiosity about the rest of the things that are going on around you. I realised that a long time ago, so you want to keep yourself intellectually stimulated. Doing shows is kind of like being a footballer; it’s fascinating when you are on, but you get a lot of downtime and you have to fill it up satisfactorily.
Through the past 50 years of The Rolling Stones, what’s been the pinnacle for you?
I am not saying this is the high point of our career, but playing Glastonbury for me recently [in 2013] was a really big thrill and just seeing the audience and how many they were and how the beautiful the weather was. We managed to step up onto the plate and played as well as we could. That was a memorable gig.
Finally, any message to the fans who are heading to the du Arena tonight?
I think it is going to be a great show, and I hope everyone is going to get out and have a real party and let their hair down and have fun. We will all be in it together and enjoy ourselves. It is great to be playing somewhere for the first time. I always love that and I always been looking forward to coming here, because I know that lots of friends of mine had really fun gigs. So we are looking forward to Friday, so see you there.
Rolling Stones play at the du Arena at 7.30pm on February 21, 2014. Tickets begin from Dh495 from www.ticketmaster.ae
Click here to listen to the interview.