Cal­lig­ra­phy for the devil

Ron­nie Wood re­veals how his “emo­tional” il­lus­trated setlists help turn ev­ery Rolling Stones show into an event

UNCUT - - Instant Karma! - PETER WATTS

“The setlist is part of our mo­ti­va­tion. It means it’s not just an­other gig”

BACK­stAGE at a Rolling stones con­cert, among the bot­tles of min­eral wa­ter, cig­a­rette car­tons, flow­ers and gui­tar cases, you will al­ways find an easel, can­vas and set of magic mark­ers. th­ese are the prop­erty of Ron­nie Wood, who spends 20 min­utes draw­ing and dec­o­rat­ing a setlist for ev­ery show.

“It be­came part of my ri­tual af­ter re­hearsal, not­ing the key of the song, the ti­tle and then record­ing how many times we’d played it,” says Wood over the phone from his stu­dio in Barcelona. “Had we had dif­fi­cul­ties with it and played it more than once to work it over?

“I started to make all th­ese lit­tle notes and it be­came a habit, and quite a nice one. the boys then got in­ter­ested. At first they were all, ‘What are you do­ing this for?’, but now Keith will come and draw a lit­tle man made out of mu­si­cal notes. Or he’ll draw a knob, just like Rod used to.”

For Wood, his il­lus­trated setlists – which have just been col­lected in a lim­ited-edi­tion book – act as a mu­si­cal map to the con­cert ahead and a poignant diary of past tours. “I’ll note when peo­ple like Bobby Keys or Mick tay­lor dropped by, and that makes it an emo­tional thing, be­cause there are friends that are no longer with us,” he says. “some­times I’ll note if some­body has died, like John Baldry, James Brown or BB King – th­ese are his­toric mo­ments.”

Fol­low­ing his time at Eal­ing Art school, Wood is a prac­tised sign­writer, and the setlists have lovely cal­lig­ra­phy, us­ing a va­ri­ety of fonts, sizes and colours. songs are some­times em­bel­lished – a devil for “sym­pa­thy…”, two charg­ing stal­lions for “Wild Horses” – while lo­ca­tions are com­mem­o­rated in the form of a rugby ball for twick­en­ham, a sham­rock for Croke Park or a blaz­ing sun for Coachella. the stones tongue fea­tures in sev­eral in­car­na­tions, while for shows in 2017, Wood’s twin tod­dlers Alice and Gra­cie added their dis­tinc­tive and en­dear­ing scrawl.

“On gig day my time is taken al­most en­tirely with the mu­sic, so it’s about hav­ing to stick with the ba­sic tools of the mark­ers,” ex­plains Wood. “I didn’t want to get too arty but I wanted it to be pleas­ant to look at. It has a vis­ual ap­peal, and see­ing them to­gether brings back lovely mem­o­ries for me as a mu­si­cian. Peo­ple treat the setlist with awe. It’s a real keep­sake and it’s dif­fer­ent for ev­ery show.”

Wood says that the setlists often show the dif­fer­ence be­tween a re­hearsal and a gig night. “In re­hearsal we are much more prone to break­ing out into a jazz groove or an im­promptu blues riff. there’s a more re­laxed feel. so there’s one here in toronto where we did “Har­lem shuf­fle”, “Night time Is the Right time”, “Go­ing to A Go-Go”, “Lonely Av­enue”, “Mr Piti­ful”, along­side “time Is On My side” or “Hot stuff” or “tum­bling Dice” or “Bitch”. We might not have played those songs to­gether on stage, or at all, for many months.”

the cus­tom be­gan in 2005, when Wood’s roadie Pierre sug­gested he use a can­vas and easel. He says he wishes he’d kept this sort of record since the 1970s, al­though he laughs at the idea of that hap­pen­ing when he was per­form­ing with the “di­shev­elled” Faces. But now the setlists are firmly part of the process that en­sure the stones stay fresh af­ter five decades on the road.

“We need the mo­ti­va­tion, and the setlist is part of that. It means it’s not just an­other gig. We couldn’t do that – it has to be an event for ev­ery gig.”

Ron­nie Wood’s book, The Rolling Stones Set Lists, is avail­able from Gen­e­sis Pub­li­ca­tions at ron­niewood­setlists. com

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