Mick Jagger talks to John Hiscock about never-ending tours, family life and his work on the new James Brown biopic
Mick Jagger Photo: AFP
Mick Jagger is planning his birthday party. “Are you coming?” he asks jokingly. “I don’t know how big it will be but it’ll be a nice party. It’ll be fun with plenty of dancing and carrying on.”
For a great-grandfather who has been dancing and carrying on for most of his life, he looks by far the youngest 71-year-old in New York.
We are talking in the Mandarin Oriental hotel a few hours before he is due to walk the red carpet at the famous Apollo Theatre for the premiere of Get On Up, a film he has co-produced about the life of soul singer James Brown, who was one of Jagger’s early influences.
“I’d met him and hung out with him,” he says. “He was a full-on, super high energy stage performer and I always admired the way he danced, the way he played an audience, the way he always gave 100 per cent and was always trying to do new things. “
A bit like Jagger himself, who has many facets to his showbusiness life and has no intention of giving up on any of them in the near future. Later this year he will be resuming his tour with the Rolling Stones which was interrupted by the death of his girlfriend of 13 years, L’Wren Scott. Hard work has helped him deal with her death. “I’ve been touring in the summer, I’ll be touring in the autumn and I’m still touring and I don’t know when I’m going to stop, but I’m still going now.”
Part of the hard work involved putting the finishing touches to Get On Up, which he produced in partnership with Oscar-winner Brian Grazer based on a script by the British playwrights Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. The film, which was in the works for 12 years, follows James Brown’s life from his childhood of abandonment and abuse through his times in reform school and jail to becoming one of the most influential figures in 20th century music, known as Mr Dynamite and the Godfather of Soul.
Jagger has produced films before but none presented the problems he faced with the James Brown story. In fact, he says bluntly, the movie only became a reality after Brown, whose hits included Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag and I Got You, died on Christmas Day in 2006, aged 73.
“It was very difficult when he was alive because he kept changing his mind and he wanted this and he wanted that and didn’t want too much negativity, which I totally understand,” he says. “And after he died his estate became very difficult to deal with because there were so many of them. I don’t think I’m talking out of turn to say there were disputes.”
Wearing a casual dark blue jacket, navy trousers and a mauve shirt with thick, wavy dark hair, Jagger looks at least 15 years younger than his age and as slim as he was in his twenties. A keen cricket follower, he admits he is disappointed about the fate of the England cricket team which recently lost the Second Test to India. “What a disaster,” he says. “I’m going to watch the highlights – or I should say low lights – later today.”
But he is clearly in a good mood, laughing and joking and making fun of his image. Although the Stones have played every major concert venue in the world, he says jokingly: “I always know where I am because I write it on the mirror in the bathroom.”
The singer, whose tour with the Rolling Stones resumes in October in Australia and New Zealand, gives an insight into his thinking when he takes the stage: “As soon as you get out there you sum up an audience. You have to take their temperature. Sometimes they’re loud and enthusiastic and you know it’s going to be a good show but sometimes they can be a little slow on the uptake because maybe they haven’t had enough to drink and you have to work a little bit harder at the beginning.”
He has seven children by four different women and has dated platoons of girls young enough to be his daughters and has no intention of slipping quietly into retirement. Instead, knighted by the Queen and venerated as the King by today’s pop acts, Sir Philip Michael Jagger intends to keep right on rocking.
“I enjoy touring,” he says. “It’s a very energising thing. You never get bored. It’s very irresponsible because you don’t have to worry. You get to one place and you know you’re not going to stay there more than a couple of days. Good, bad or indifferent, you’re on to the next place.
“I get very emotionally involved with the whole thing. I’m very passionate about touring. Every time you go onstage it’s a very exiting moment because you never know what’s going to happen. It’s always different. A lot of unexpected things happen. Each show is a new event. You’re in a different place with a different audience. It’s a very exciting couple of hours and it’s a very intense relationship with the audience.”
When he is not with the Rolling Stones he is involved in composing and movie-making. He has produced a dozen film and TV shows, won a Golden Globe for a song he wrote for the remake of the movie Alfie and has collaborated on a massive 374 movie and TV soundtracks. He began an acting career in Ned Kelly in 1970 and since then has appeared in another 15 movies and television shows.
He was originally approached about producing a documentary on Brown. “Then I woke up in the morning and said, ‘Well, that’s great but why don’t we do a feature film? I could do the documentary as well, but can we do a feature?’”
Chad Boseman, who, like Brown, is from the Deep South and who starred as the baseball player Jackie Robinson in the film 42, was cast as Brown, but encapsulating Brown’s seven tumultuous decades on film proved a massive task, which was where Jagger came into his own.
“I saw what all the problems were and how they could be surmounted,” he says.
Jagger admits he based some of his stage performances on Brown’s shows although, he says with a laugh, “James Brown was still doing the splits when he was quite old, which I could never do.” And, he says, still laughing, “My parents were slightly different from James Brown’s.” But, he said, “They didn’t want me to be in show business because it wasn’t much of a profession and for me the defining moment was when I decided to leave college and not just sing rock and roll at weekends but sing it all week. I had a record out and I was very successful so I decided to leave college and that was a big moment for me.”
Until meeting L’Wren Scott he managed to maintain two totally separate lives, as a wild-living rock star and a devoted family man, keeping in close touch with his ex-wife Jerry Hall and their four children, Elizabeth, 30; James, 29; Georgia, 22 and 16-year-old Gabriel. He has three other grown children, five grandchildren and he became a great-grandfather in May this year when Jade’s daughter Assisi gave birth to a daughter.
“Looking after your children and always being there for them is very important,” he says.
The rocker had already had a highly publicised affair with Marianne Faithfull; a daughter, Karis, by Marsha Hunt and been married for five years to Bianca, the mother of his daughter Jade, when he met Hall, then a 21-year-old model who was engaged to his pal, Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry.
Hall cancelled her wedding plans and Jagger left his wife but throughout their 25-year relationship Mick made little pretence of being monogamous.
“His life was like a railway station with women constantly coming and going,” Jerry wrote in her autobiography. “Whenever I got home I’d find things from other girls, such as earrings, next to our bed.”
They had four children together, but Jerry filed for divorce in January 1999 after Mick fathered a son, Lucas, with model Luciana Giminez Morad. Both Jerry and Mick stipulated that their Hindu wedding ceremony was not legal under British law and the marriage was ruled null and void in August 1999.
He is currently reported to be romantically involved with 27-year-old New York-based ballet dancer Melanie Hamrick, whom he met in Tokyo in February.
When the Rolling Stones started back in 1962 Mick Jagger had no idea he was embarking on a lifelong career. “We didn’t think it would last very long because at that time there were very few people who had careers in pop music that had lasted,” he said. “But we worked very hard at it and we were lucky that attitudes towards popular music changed and it came to be taken more seriously so, because it acquired all the nuances of an art form, you could work within it and have a long career within it, so we were lucky.
“Physicality is a big part of performing and I try to keep it going as long as I possibly can.”concert, film, movie, music, singer, television, tour, tv