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‘The only thing I’m jealous of is Mick’s hair’

He plays in pubs rather than packed stadia. He’s lived in a council flat and driven minicabs. But Chris Jagger claims he’s not the least bit envious of his famous older brother. Here, he tells Craig Mclean why

- Portraits by Zed Nelson

Chris Jagger talks to Craig Mclean

Last month, Chris Jagger posted the video for Hey Brother, the first single from his new album, on Youtube. ‘Hey brother have you got a little minute to spare?’ he begins, the singer and songwriter’s warm, soulful tones elevating the heartfelt emotion in the bluesy ballad. ‘I know that I’m so far from the crowd, and if I was there, I might act up too loud, ’cause I might be too proud.’

Jagger is filmed singing this at the piano in a recording studio, as it cuts to images of the musician feeding his sheep on his seven glorious Somerset acres. But the really arresting image that suddenly fills the screen is the black and white childhood photograph of Jagger, aged around four, and the aforementi­oned brother, older by four and a half years, on the beach. In terms of inheriting familial traits, apparently Chris got the

ears. His sibling, clearly – and ultimately, famously – got the teeth and lips.

Jagger explains that his musical partner Charlie Hart likes the song ‘because it’s revealing. He said: “It’s not just about your brother. It’s about everyone’s brother.”’

But really, of course, it is about the songwriter’s brother. Some seven decades on, Chris and Mick Jagger certainly still look similar. They even speak uncannily alike, in that unmistakab­le, adenoidal, slightly strangulat­ed voice familiar from almost 60 years of Rolling Stones interviews and concerts. But their singing voices are very different.

‘I don’t shout so much,’ says Jagger. ‘But we are quite similar. Though musically, when I did that album in ’94,’ he says of Atcha, suddenly veering around the houses, something to which this garrulous 73-year-old is prone, ‘I hadn’t made an album for 19 years. And I was really fed up with all this guitar music – djang djang djang,’ he says. ‘It was driving me nuts. But I loved the fiddle – it has such magic. And I loved all this Cajun stuff. So I moved away from that 4/4 guitar thing, which was very much what the Stones did.

‘So that was quite good for me: a little bit more world-y music, a bit more acoustic, some folky. Not rock’n’roll.’

Indeed. No artist wants to be competing with The Rolling Stones in the rock’n’roll field – certainly not the frontman’s brother, which helps explain why his melodicall­y rich, pleasingly rough-and-ready new album, Mixing Up the Medicine, touches on Cajun, folk and music-hall influences. Jagger nods in agreement. Over the years, he has worked with the Stones – he contribute­d to their 1989 Steel Wheels album, and wrote the opening lines of the 1986 single One Hit (to the Body); similarly, Mick duetted with his brother on Chris’s 2006 song The DJ Blues. Nonetheles­s it was a smart move to carve his own musical niche over the 10 or so albums he’s released, haphazardl­y, over the past 48 years to an appreciati­ve but, with the best will in the world, small audience.

‘You have to, but I always liked lots of different music. And so does my brother. The

Stones have recorded quite a lot of country stuff, other things, too. But you know what people want to [hear] is those guitar riffs.’

They also want to hear Mick sing, which he does on the opening track of Chris’s album, the rollicking Has Anyone Seen My Heart. The Jaggers have just been together in London recording a video in Mick’s garden for that, too. ‘It was really good fun. We were just singing and dancing around.

‘But referring to that song and the video,’ he continues, ‘one reason for doing that is, you don’t get to spend a lot of time with somebody who’s a very busy guy – they’ve got family of their own, all this stuff going on. So from my point of view, I have to create that opportunit­y. There’s no point in sitting back and going [woe-is-me voice]: “Oh, I’m being ignored.” I have to take the proactive role. So I go to Mick: “Come and sing on this track.” He can always say no. But that’s time you get to spend together, doing things you both like. Otherwise someone else will grab that time with him.’

Jagger – who’s also spent time writing features and travel stories for newspapers – adds that recently he’s been archiving ‘a lot of my stuff. And I’ve got so many cassettes, and I came across a tape the other day of me interviewi­ng Mick in Buenos Aires. I flew out there to write a story for a newspaper, and the guy who was doing his press said: “Why do you want to interview him?” And I said it was a really good opportunit­y to have a conversati­on with my brother without a lot of people interrupti­ng all the f—king time!’

We’re talking in the cider barn of his neighbour’s farm, next door to Jagger’s house near Glastonbur­y in Somerset. It’s a richly characterf­ul homestead, comprising former farm buildings and a beautifull­y cultivated garden. The oldest bit of what they call The Big House dates from 1700. The adjoining Small House is a cosy space filled with regular domestic clutter – pictures of the grandkids, one of Mick and five of his kids, a Blu-tacked list of the foods the generally hale-and-hearty Chris has to avoid to combat acid reflux (the Jagger boys clearly

have good metabolism­s, although Chris doesn’t quite have the same frame – that of an adolescent boy – as his brother). The barn conversion is where Jagger rehearses with his band and Kari-ann, his wife of 40 years, teaches Iyengar yoga.

He and Kari-ann Moller have lived in Somerset since 2000, having upped sticks from their five-bedroom Edwardian house in Muswell Hill, north London. The five grown-up sons, aged 38 to 50, they share (two from her previous marriage, one from his, two together) come and go with the couple’s 14 grandchild­ren. Their youngest son, Robert, lives in another house on the site.

Jagger is the brother of one of the most famous rock stars in the world, an occasional journalist and also a former actor. Kari-ann is a former model who worked for Mary Quant as a teenager in the ’60s and appeared on the iconic cover of the 1972 debut album by Roxy Music.

‘She was paid £40 for the session, end of story – they never paid her a penny since,’ grumbles Jagger. ‘You feel like maybe you should bring a court case, but what the f—k, life’s too short.’

Coincident­ally, a vinyl copy of Roxy

‘That was my dad’s name. And it’s my name. Why should you refute the name Jagger?’

Music’s 1975 album Siren is propped up on Chris’s desk. The model on that sleeve was Jerry Hall. She left the band’s frontman Bryan Ferry for Mick Jagger two years later. They were together for 22 years before splitting up in 1999. But Jagger says he’s still friends with the mother of four of his brother’s eight children by five women.

‘Jerry has always been a big supporter of me and my music. And helped me any way she can. She’s also quite a big pal of Kariann. But we have lost touch with her a bit, obviously,’ he says, a glancing reference to both Hall and Mick’s split and her subsequent marriage to Rupert Murdoch.

The other reason for our meeting today is Jagger’s autobiogra­phy, Talking to Myself, published on the same day that his album is released. A rattlingly good picaresque, he admits that it’s taken a while to make it to the

page – albeit not quite as long as his brother’s. In 1983, Mick received a reported £1 million advance to write his autobiogra­phy. But one ghostwrite­r failed to complete the assignment, and Mick wasn’t happy with a second ghostwrite­r’s quickly written salvage job, leading the musician to abandon the project and return his advance.

‘It was John Ryle, I remember,’ Jagger says of the first ghostwrite­r, the thendeputy literary editor of The Sunday Times. ‘I met him, he was a nice guy. Anyway, I don’t want to go on about his memoir,’ he adds, not unreasonab­ly.

‘I did float the book around a little bit, and came across this literary-world attitude that was a bit stuffy. And nobody was really that interested: “Oh, well, it’s a bit marginal, what have you got to say?” If I said to them, “I’m doing a biography of Mick Jagger,” oh yeah, they could sell that – open chequebook kind of thing. But I’m doing my story. “Oh. Well, we’re not sure about that…”’

Talking to Myself is rich on the family details of Jagger’s childhood in Dartford in Kent. He writes lovingly of his parents – his father Joe was a PE teacher, his mother Eva a

hairdresse­r. It was a happy childhood, full of sport, family outings and music, with both brothers falling hard for the rock’n’roll singles that entered the house after their father bought a Philips record player. As Jagger writes, singles like Hound Dog by Elvis Presley ‘must have made a huge impact on Mick, ditto the movies Rock Around the Clock and Jazz on a Summer’s Day… He was already knocking about in a skiffle group… It was all above my head and I guess my brother was pretty secretive about it as I can’t remember him even singing much at home.’

Still, Jagger is nothing if not pragmatic, keen to establish himself from the prologue as an artist and a man in his own right. The book begins with a snapshot of him in India in 1968, buying a copy of the newly released Rolling Stones album Beggars Banquet. He’s been travelling the hippy trail for a while and has missed several Stones landmarks, including the death of Brian Jones (about whom he writes eloquently and movingly).

‘I guess the two of us were made in the same image,’ he writes of he and his brother, ‘had the same roots, and that you cannot deny, no matter how many twists there are in the road. I didn’t see it like that when I left London. It was almost instinct. And I was proud to be independen­t and take the road in front of me and trust in fate.’

As he unabashedl­y declares of his mindset in 1968, the year he turned 21: ‘My life in London was becoming increasing­ly irrelevant. What exactly was I going to do with myself ? It would be the classic case of the super-successful elder brother and the younger dissolute one if I wasn’t careful.’

But now he reveals to me that he had originally grasped the thistle of his situation in a much more pointed way.

‘I did start the book with another intro: “Name?” “Chris Jagger.” “Oh, any relation?” “Yeah, I’m his brother.” “You’re not!” “I am.” “You’re not!” “OK, I’m not.” Then I thought, “F—k it, I’m not gonna write that.”’

There was also another title which he, sadly, junked: Relative Obscurity. Which is obviously brilliant.

‘Yeah, but not everyone gets your sense of irony.’

What does it mean to him to be a Jagger? ‘Ah… Well, that was my dad’s name. And it’s my name. Why should you refute that? If your name was Goebbels, you might possibly not want to be called Goebbels. But why would you refute Jagger? I did a TV show once in Germany with Mike Mcgear. And they said: “He’s Paul Mccartney’s brother!” I thought: “Well, what’s the f—king point of changing your name? You might as well just say Mike Mccartney!”’

Jagger is equally candid about his life and career ups and downs. The epitome of the struggling artist, in his memoir he talks about how money has been a constant challenge for him and Kari-ann, including a period in temporary council accommodat­ion, busking and driving a minicab. ‘Not that I made any money out of minicabbin­g!’ he splutters.

I wonder how difficult it was to admit to those profession­al and financial struggles. ‘I’m only writing about what happened,’ he shrugs. ‘When I was in that council bed and breakfast, I did actually write a script, which I sent to Mike Leigh.’

And, he points out, hard graft and hard times make for great art. Luxury is the enemy of creativity: ‘What happens with bands is, they get big and then they tour America and then they take a lot of cocaine – and then what’s their next album about? I maintain that writing songs is born out of real-life situations.’

One particular­ly difficult real-life situation that doesn’t feature much in the book is the trials of his and Kari-ann’s first son John. He writes how John was ‘getting into trouble at school and we thought he might do better as a boarder somewhere. Since he was an excellent sportsman and my brother had offered help with the fees, we decided to send him to Millfield in Somerset.’

But while at school John became addicted to crack cocaine, first trying it at 16. In 2004, aged 25, he was jailed for 12 months for burgling houses to fund his drug habit. In 2012 he was in prison again, then rearrested for more offences while on probation.

When I ask how John, 42, is now, his dad replies, ‘He’s all right,’ and that he’s clean. ‘He’s doing odd jobs and he’s singing with the Vargas Blues Band,’ he says of the group led by Spanish guitarist Javier Vargas. ‘He’s quite a good musician and singer.’

Of course, he admits, his son’s struggles have been a worry. ‘You don’t want anyone to come to grief, do you?’

Was he concerned for John’s life when he was addicted?

‘Yeah, because you don’t know where the hell they are or who they’re mixing with and what they’re doing. No matter how old they are, they’re still your children.

‘He’s been clean for a long time. He went to treatment, so even if you relapse, you’ve

got the tools to be able to cope – but it’s not a guarantee. Music’s been great for John… It’s given a lot of people strength to be able to cope with life by giving them a focus. People have realised what good therapy it is.’

I mention that Jagger seems never to have fallen prey to the cliché of rock-star addiction. ‘I’ve seen quite a lot of it in other people,’ he says. That put him off ‘because you don’t want to fall down on your face, “Oh, he’s drunk.” I think that would be an ignominy.

‘And partly, being Mick’s brother, you’ve got to keep up the good name of the family. Because otherwise you’re the dissolute [young brother] – the Roger Clinton! That’s highly embarrassi­ng.’

So how much pressure has it been living up to the Jagger name?

‘I think when I got to 40, I just thought, “Oh, f—k it, I don’t give a s—t any more, I’m just gonna do what I want.” When you’re a lot younger you’re unsure of yourself.’

Ask him if he’s ever been jealous of Mick, and he pauses. ‘The only thing I was jealous of was other people taking my brother’s time. But I’ve never been jealous of Mick, no, because I think that’s a really bad idea. You should count your own blessings, be glad of who you are, and don’t think the grass is always greener somewhere else.

‘The only thing is, he’s got more hair than me. So I am slightly jealous that Mick’s got more hair than me.’

By now we’re back in Jagger’s garden, sitting under his 350-year-old yew tree, a spot in which he likes to write songs. Given the idyllic circumstan­ces, the family set-up, the normal existence with neighbours who make cider for a pound a pint, the life less observed and reported on, I’d suggest Chris is the lucky Jagger.

‘Yeah,’ he nods. ‘I couldn’t live that other life. I was just up in London and I was thinking: “I couldn’t do this.” The life is so inside. I like to be outside.’

He never wanted to be his brother? ‘No, of course not. But the thing about playing music, or writing, or acting, whatever you do, you need that to generate enough income. If you can’t get the money, you have to stop doing it, or you’re just broke all the time, and then the wife keeps going: “Why don’t you go and get a proper job?” Then you have to go out taxi driving.’

Here in deepest Somerset, the sun is over the thatched roofs and Jagger’s band are arriving for rehearsals in the barn – in a couple of weeks they’re playing ‘a little festival up in Carlisle run by a friend of mine’. Everhospit­able, he invites me to hang around and ‘drink more zuider’. Tempting though it is, I’ve a train to catch. But before I go, I ask him how he would characteri­se his relationsh­ip with Mick now.

‘So, I got someone to interview him, asking what it’s like having me as a brother. And he said: “Well, it’s great having someone doing similar things to what you’re doing. That’s nice – you can sit down together, you can play music, you have mutual knowledge.” We can just chat for hours without getting [bored]. Or, not say a word. As long as his kids don’t jump in and start wanting him to play, or my grandchild­ren.

‘But,’ he adds, ‘it would be pretty miserable if Mick Jagger didn’t have a brother.’ Why?

‘Well, he’d be the only f—king child. Imagine what a spoiled brat he’d be!’ Mixing Up the Medicine and Talking to Myself are out on 10 September through BMG

‘When I got to 40, I just thought, “I don’t give a s—t any more. I’m just gonna do what I want”’

 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Mick and Chris Jagger in 1985
Mick and Chris Jagger in 1985
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Jagger, his wife Kari-ann, Jerry Hall and Mick in 2000
Jagger, his wife Kari-ann, Jerry Hall and Mick in 2000
 ??  ?? With Kari-ann and their combined family in 1983
With Kari-ann and their combined family in 1983
 ??  ?? The brothers in 1951
The brothers in 1951
 ??  ?? Jagger and Kari-ann in the garden of their Somerset home
Jagger and Kari-ann in the garden of their Somerset home
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? Appearing on American Bandstand in 1974
Appearing on American Bandstand in 1974

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