BOOK REVIEW / Mouth and trousers: Mick Jagger: Primitive Cool by Christopher Sandford; Gollancz pounds 16.99

IN 1963, the Rolling Stones were given their first slice of primetime Saturday- night television. They mimed 'Come On' for Pete Murray's Thank Your Lucky Stars. And afterwards, while the switchboard was still humming with calls from appalled viewers, an ATV executive took the band's manager aside and advised: 'Lose the vile-looking singer with the tyre-tread lips.'

This July the 'vile-looking' singer turns 50 - still a member of the Rolling Stones, still some way off a tyre- change. The birthday present he didn't ask for is this unauthorised biography by Christopher Sandford, though he probably won't object to all of it - certainly not the part where Sandford writes: 'He looks, at a glance, somewhere between 16 and 30 - a remarkable achievement in anyone with three small children and a granddaughter.'

Mick Jagger at 50] Jagger the Granddad] These are jokes which we never seem bored with, though ageing was in the game plan from the start. When the Stones first grouped, most of their material was written by 70-year- old, cracked-faced blues singers, alongside whom even the present-day Keith Richards looks like a breakfast television aerobics instructor. So, the deeper the lines go, and the longer their career lollops along, the more the Stones approach the status of the originals.

Reversing the conventional manner of rock star biographies, Sandford exposes the innocence behind the scandal, gets right down to the clean truth beneath the grubby lies. Diabolism? Not Jagger's bag. Drugs? Well, he certainly took some, but the crucial thing was that he could take them or leave them. And sex? Here's Marianne Faithfull: 'Even when we climbed into our draped, four-poster bed Mick was only interested in reading a book.' When the police busted Richards's flat, they did not find Jagger, Faithfull and a Mars bar in a striking combination. Richards's stock of confectionery appeared on a police inventory and the tabloid imagination did the rest.

This may be the first rock biography to exploit the comedy of understatement. You will need, though, to get beyond the opening vignette, written like fiction, picturing Jagger in a hotel room in 1964, looking down on the screaming fans: 'Jagger smiled, frightening himself.' But once locked on to the story, Sandford works fast, quotations pared to the quick - ' 'A gas,' said Jagger'; ' 'A drag,' said Jagger'.

Jagger emerges variously as a tight businessman, a loose dilettante, a surly brat, an affable wag. Sandford keeps them all in the air, rather than straining for a composite. The pace makes light of some weighty research. The moment where Sandford displays the Stones' phone numbers in 1969 looks a little like showing off. But he gets some good mileage out of Tom Keylock, a former tour manager. Maybe, just possibly, Jagger had sex with Brigitte Bardot and Tina Turner, though not at the same time. For a while 'he had a morbid fear of losing his money'. Also his hair. And Sandford interviews Jagger's parents, although, again, the fruits of this scholarship may disappoint if it's dirt you're after. The chief message is: say what you like about Mick Jagger, he always called his mum.

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Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


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