Here on The Future Is Past we are willing and able to celebrate the achievements of anyone regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation religion or politics. So, taking equality a step further still, this week’s unsung hero is not even going to be a living breathing entity. Instead we are going to celebrate the bricks and mortar rock sensation that is The Wick.
It was all the fault of the Beatles and the Stones of course. Towards the end of the 60’s there was a minor migration of the rock aristocracy out to the country, for some reason Surrey was a popular destination. All of the Beatles, with the notable exception of Paul McCartney had fled the capitol by the time they had split up. Ditto the Stones had already flirted with their own property portfolios. A notable absence from the property goldrush was the Small Faces whose financial situations remained the stuff of nightmares. By the time they had split the members were struggling to afford a bedsit between them.
As far as the 1970’s was concerned rock never sleeps, a couple of years into the new decade and serious money was being made. Some of the musicians had learned form the mistakes of the 60’s and started hiring accountants as well as managers who had their clients’ best interests at heart. The core of the Small Faces had teamed up with ex Jeff Beck singer and bass player namely Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood. Within a couple of years the band had moved from grandad shirts to satin jackets, from cannabis to cocaine and from bedsit to mansion.
Stewart was clearly the most bankable asset of the band having a solo career as well as being a major songwriter. Soon he was actively being encouraged to buy expensive cars and bigger houses. A major reason for this was tax, the more you spent the less tax you paid as long as your accountant could write the purchases off as expenses. And so Stewart was soon being advised to sell his expensive house and buy an even more expensive one.
Wood had only a fraction of Stewart’s business acumen but even he was realising the potential of property and turned his attention to The Wick, a 20 room 4 story Georgian mansion perched on Richmond Hill in Surrey (of course). This might seem excessive for someone who has been rootless for most of his life so far but this was the 70’s Wood had money and needed to get rid of it.
The property had previously been owned by the actor Sir John Mills but a couple of hundred years earlier had been home to portrait artist Sir Joshua Reynolds. The cost of the property was the laughable sum by today’s standards of £140,000. Despite this it was still too expensive for a still rising pop star but help was at hand in the shape of fellow bandmate Ronnie Lane who agreed to buy the cottage in the grounds and so offset the total cost. Lane set about building a mobile studio at his cottage while Wood, clearly having a lot more space set about converting the basement of his mansion into a rehearsal and recording studio. Obviously 20 rooms would be excessive for just one person but Ron had his wife Krissie. Krissie had originally been Eric Clapton’s girlfriend before her and Ronnie fell for each other big time. This was the period when free love collided with big business, Ronnie and Krissie were products of their time, she clearly had a thing for rockstars managing to squeeze in a low key affair with George Harrison and actually leaving the Wick for a while to have a relationship with Jimmy Page.
And as for Ronnie Wood…
Wood is actually a very talented guy indeed but for whatever reason he’s best remembered as the person that all musicians form that era love. He was a catalyst or the glue as and when needed. He was great with the two things that musicians loved namely music and drugs, if you loved those things you could be assured of a great time at the Wick.
And so, the stately Georgian pile became a gathering place for the emerging rock aristocracy, Clapton, Bowie, Townsend and most importantly, the Stones. When Clapton emerged bloated and shivery after his heroin holiday it was Pete Townsend who gathered a superstar band to welcome him at a concert at London’s the Rainbow. Wood was in the band and rehearsals were at the Wick. The building was becoming the epicentre for the new generation of emerging millionaires. It was secluded and just enough out of London to allow everyone to go about their unlawful businesses without attracting any unwanted attention. Keith Richards so loved the place that he moved into Wick Cottage. Richards was free to so what he wanted which was mainly to take shitloads of drugs and jam with his new best mate. If he needed to go into the capital he would just drive there in his Ferrari at 90 miles an hour down the country roads regardless of the fact that he had never passed his test. He was immortal.
As might be anticipated life at the Wick was not all sweetness and light. If you didn’t want to talk bullshit all night it could be a dark place. Stewart’s girlfriend at the time Dee Harrington was always uncomfortable there as were drummer Kenney Jones and his missus. Jones being as abstinent as you could be in the Faces didn’t always have a choice about attendance. Wood was soon recording his own solo records there. His albums have a certain charm if you can appreciate groove and feel over substance (which I can). In addition to what might be regarded as more focussed projects there were endless jams. Jones soon began to regret that Wood had his phone number as he was dragged out of bed yet again at 2 am because Keef and Ronnie wanted to play. One night a session was taking place with Mick Jagger on guitar and David Bowie on backing vocals. For some reason Keith Moon was also present but the call again went out to Jones. The hapless drummer was frequently encouraged to play ‘more like Charlie’. Jones pointed out that they wouldn’t call Watts out at 2 in the morning.
The track was taken away by the ever-canny Jagger who stripped it of everything apart from Wood’s 12 string guitar and the drums which Watts felt ‘sounded more like me than I do’. The track was finally released as Its Only Rock ’n’ Roll (But I Like It). It’s a track that to me was just too knowing, one of those songs that starts with a title that DJ’s and reviewers were going to love.
But what do I know.
The happenings at the Wick were about so much more than music. It marked a time when musicians could achieve almost unlimited wealth in a few months and could live the life they chose. There was no Twitter or Instagram, what happened in the Wick stayed in the Wick, any memories will be pretty unreliable. And so, they were able to live like the aristocracy of old, they had the money and they could pretty much do what they wanted. There’s no doubting that a good time was had by many, amazingly no one died and new musical friendships were cemented, most notably with Wood and the Stones…this would come in handy.
Ronnie Wood is naturally useless with money although possibly better than fellow bandmate Ronnie Lane. There was no way that Wood was going to hang onto a house that today is worth, well put it this way, the cottage alone was up for 3.65 million a while back. This is the man that according to his next wife Jo blew his kids school fees on a Rolex watch.As might be anticipated his separation from his first wife proved too expensive to keep the property although, in a bizarre twist of fate the house is now the property of a certain Pete Townsend.
Kenney Jones also made good just by virtue of not getting divorced or off his face too often. An 80’s YouTube clip shows him launching a helicopter from the front lawn of his mansion to go and collect fellow(Who) bandmate John Entwistle.