Sunday, June 02, 2024



Music journalist Paul Sexton has been interviewing The Rolling Stones for over 30 years, most recently about their latest album ‘Hackney Diamonds’.

No wonder he was asked by band and family to write the authorised biography of the remarkable and much loved Charlie Watts, who passed away at the age of 80 on the 24th August 2021. He missed only one Stones' performance in 57 years.

Sexton has cleverly and carefully weaved a complex tale of the working life of the Stones. . Over the years the band has become a huge operation capable of handling remarkable tours across large parts of the globe, entertaining vast crowds of hundreds and thousands in colossal  venues or open air festivals. Who can forget it when the band finally took over Cuba.

Behind the band and the band's story is Charlie Watts who, by all accounts, is considered  to be one one of the greatest drummers of  modern times. not something that he would say of himself, 

Just listen to any Stones track and you'll hear Charlies' perfect grooves which were vital to Keith and Mick. He was the rock of the Rolling Stones.

By all accounts he was  very polite and modest. His quiet nature was highly valued.

It is better known to many that Charlie was one of the world's best dressers with a huge collection of carefully selected suits, shirts and shoes from the leading brands around the world.

Charlie was also well known as a huge collector of many objects and things. He was very generous to his friends and families.

 When he did travel he did drawings of every hotel room he slept in. 

When the Stones started doing bigger venues he used in artistic abilities to help decide the designs, and backdrops.  A man of great taste.

In the spare time in-between The Stones fixtures Charlie developed a wide variety of Jazz ensembles who also travelled extensively and produced many albums.


I have a personal interest in Paul’s excellent book as I have been a Lewesian since 1985. Charlie and his wife Shirley enjoyed two years in Lewes [1965-1967].

I am very pleased that Paul has included some material from two editions of my successful but short-lived local paper the Lewes Musical Express which documented the town’s musical history and current musical events of the time. I hope he does not mind me adding some reciprocating quotes.

‘In June 1965 the Watts were ‘thinking  of buying the 16th C Old Brewery House in Southover Street. Lewes. The manor house had survived when the Verral & Sons brewery buildings were demolished in 1905.

‘It was exactly what they wanted in an East Sussex town far removed from the Wild West End (and indeed from the Wild West of London)’.

‘They made an immediate offer, moved in by October. Shirley began her long passion of breeding horses. ‘Charley spent much of his time rummaging in antique shops in Lewes and Brighton.

Paul mentions Charlie doing a BBC interview in 1966 on a bench outside the house

‘In 1967 they moved to the village of Halland, 7 miles north-east of Lewes, into  Peckhams, a centuries-old manor house that NME’s Keith Altham says was once used by the 1st Archbishop of Canterbury.

 ‘He told Keith “It’s a very old town, the County seat of Sussex and its being overrun. I don’t like the houses in suburbia. I wouldn’t live in one for free.”

‘Charlie bought Peckhams from Lord Shawcross, a former Attorney General for England and Wales. Here they had room to indulge Charlie’s almost compulsive tendencies as a collector. Paul writes that at that time they had three Collies, one donkey and a racehorse.

‘They also bought a farm in France where they lived between tours and recordings. They were required to return To Peckhams after a burglary of antique guns and American Civil War relics.

‘In 1976 they moved to Foscombe House in Gloucestershire.

 Paul writes: ‘While resident in E.Sussex and ever neighbourly to those who respected his boundaries, Charlie befriended Norman Ashdown who staged concerts in the area.’

Norman’s son Michael who I interviewed for the Lewes Musical Express said

“ I don’t know how it started  but they were big mates and certainly in first name terms. I know dad used to consult quite a bit and Charlie would give him information about producers, managers and agents – who to avoid as well as who to go with and suggest people that were reliable. He’s got a lot to say about Charlie Watts.”

“ On Friday Dec 15th 1967 Norman staged a concert by the Alan Price Set.’   Michael told me “One of the reasons Dad wanted them was quite self- indulgent because he was a great fan of Alan Price. Charlie Watts was there. I remember him coming in with a bottle of scotch and going in the dressing room”

Paul’s book refers to in an interview by the NME: that night.

“I’ve got time to do things that I’ve never been able to do before..I’ve swept in and out of dressing rooms with Rolling Stones. Now I am able to talk to people like Alan and just listen to the band. He was very good. I really enjoyed that evening.”

Paul then refers to the Lewes Musical Express and another example of Charles’s obliging nature. “He was often driven round Lewes by the horse-loving father of Doug Saunders, the guitarist/vocalist with the late 70s Mod revival band The Lambrettas”

“ When I was a kid,” said Doug, “I used to get taken to one of their houses, either the one by The Swan or the bigger place at the end of the Broyle at Halland. I knew he was a pretty big star and thought it weird that he was so very ordinary and was making a cup of tea for us. I’ve got a shirt which Charles got from Mick Jagger and which, for some reason, he gave to my dad.”

Paul writes: ‘The Summer of Love drew to a close. Charlie was on amusing form with the Melody Maker about its presence in his neighbourhood.

“ When Flower Power started it was probably fantastic” he mused. “But now it has now become a funny word like rock’n’roll. There is even a shop in Lewes which has got “Herrings are Flower Power” written up in white stuff on the window. I suppose they’ll have “Sprats are LSD next.”


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