In 1965, still basking in their first flush of success, rock band The Rolling Stones headed off to Ireland for a brief, two day tour, and documentarian Peter Whitehead, hand-picked by manager Andrew Loog Oldham, followed them to record their trip. He mixed candid footage of the group, both in interview and in casual conversation, with interviews from the fans and passersby the venue as the followers gathered outside the theatres, inquiring which Stone it was they liked best and why. He certainly got a response as to their preferred member, but when it came to the whys and wherefores the answers were not so forthcoming, they just liked them apparently, with no further thought than that. But along with the vox pops and backstage clips, there was the band playing live...
That was the idea, anyway, but for decades if you managed to track down a copy of Charlie is My Darling you would be disappointed to hear those concert extracts basically playing the records over the recording of the screams from the audience as the band went through their act, and this was a sticking point for many in what was a valuable document otherwise of some of the most famous rock stars of all time: what was the point in Whitehead not allowing us to hear them playing live? Sure, there were all those bon mots and observations from the Stones, but their raison d'être was after all that concert business, which may have been why future films about them were careful to preserve the live sound, enabling us to appreciate the run of hits.
There were more concert movies about the Stones than the Beatles, possibly more than any other band of their longevity, from the cultural low point of Gimme Shelter to the slick, Martin Scorsese-directed Shine a Light, but this modest effort caught them just as their superstardom was breaking - we see the screaming fans and remember that this was very much the natural reaction to pop music idols, and continues to be to this day. That doesn't mean the adherents to the Stones' music were solely teenage girls, as we see just as many boys at the concerts, including one section where a concert descends into chaos as a stage invasion erupts, young Irishmen seizing the opportunity to knock Mick and Keef and the rest about a bit, which watching now has unfortunate echoes in the far more serious tragedy at Altamont a few short years later. Whitehead even spots a priest in the crowd of one gig, and manages to interview him afterwards in the foyer; he likes the band and blames the fans for any immorality.
The Stones, presumably stung by the complaints about the live sound on the original version (though there are at least four versions of this in various lengths and combinations), reissued the film in 2012 with a more authentic mix to better recreate what they would hear at a Stones concert in 1965, though admittedly that would most likely be drowned out by the screams. It is more satisfying, especially mixed in with the bits and pieces of the group chatting, with Bill Wyman claiming he's planning to be a musician, and an inscrutably arch Brian Jones rather poignantly telling us his future is uncertain (he also says here he'd like to make a move into films, behind the camera one supposes). Charlie Watts, for whom this is named, is the most wry and witty and makes the most of opening up for the camera though in brief snippets as the director doesn't linger long on anybody: Keith says next to nothing. There is one exception, a squiffy Jagger and Richards playing around with a piano, doing impressions, talking poetry and generally having a laugh. Knowing the ups and downs to come, this is very valuable.