I got satisfaction rocking with Mick and Keith

Singing with the Rolling Stones was unforgettable, says Jane Macarthur

I’m shaking and sweating as I descend the stairs into backstage blackness. Somewhere a few metres behind me, Mick Jagger shouts, “Thanks to Voce Chamber Choir and the  London Youth Choir!” and a few metres beyond that, some people yell their approval. Twenty thousand people. In 50 years, the Rolling Stones have never performed “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with a live choir: we’ve just made rock ‘n’ roll history.

By we, I mean Voce, a London chamber choir with around 25 members that was founded by Suzi Digby OBE in 2003. Our last concert was at St Peter’s Eaton Square, to an audience of a few hundred classical-music lovers who clapped politely when we finished Duruflé’s Requiem. Gareth Malone, presenter of The Choir, carolled with us not long ago, and we’ve sung for Rod Stewart and Russian royalty. But the Rolling Stones? This is new.

At the start of November, we performed for Matt Clifford, the Stones’ musical director. We had to prove we were good enough for the job, that our consonants were crisp and that our sopranos could manage to hold five bars of top C . “It’s going to be loud,” he told us repeatedly. “You’re used to the acoustics of a nice church. When the O2 is full of screaming people, and Charlie’s on his drums, and you’ve got the keyboards, and the backing vocalists, and Keith, Ronnie and Mick all blasting out… There ain’t no acoustics. You’ll have your headset and it’ll help but really, nothing can prepare you. Nothing.”

Our next rehearsal was at Wembley. In the semi-darkness, the band ambled on stage. Cool as you like, in tracksuit bottoms and a collared shirt, Mick took control. Keith, Charlie and Ronnie chatted quietly, fags dangling from their lips. We began our unaccompanied intro: “I saw her today at the reception…” A minute later, the band kicked in and my tears welled up. Even in rehearsal, Mick gave everything to his performance, mirroring the suggestions of the choreographer who stood in the pit in front. Towards the back of the stage he had two items on a metal stand: a bottle of hand sanitiser and a box of tissues, covered with images of provocatively dressed women. Was the box decorated by a dedicated intern or does Kleenex make a saucy tissue holder just for Sir Mick? I wasn’t close enough to tell. It was later that afternoon we were told the Stones had never performed the song with a live choir before. Keith’s verdict? “Damn cool.”

I feel far from cool as I arrive at The O2 a week later and discover that Mick has sent us all T-shirts – tour logo on the front and a unique message on the back: “You can’t always get to sing with The Stones – but I did.” We get into our black evening wear and wait to be called.

The band finish their main set on schedule and, after a few minutes huddling in the wings, we ascend the stairs and take our places for the  encore. In the pit beneath us I see a few of the Stones’ children, smiling and waiting expectantly. The stage lights go up, and then it comes, the roar, as the fans instantly recognise the famous melody. We’re probably meant to be looking demure and  choral but when Ronnie blows me a kiss, I enthusiastically return it.

Meanwhile, Mick handles the crowd with practised energy, looking wonderfully nonplussed when a black bra lands at his feet. And then we’re singing again, joining with the band for the song’s glorious, climbing  finale. In total, we’re onstage for around six minutes. It seems like six seconds, and I imagine I’ll be talking about it for the next six decades.

Voce’s ‘Carols by Candlelight’  is on 16 December (vocechamberchoir.org.uk)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus brought her Bangerz tour to London's O2 Arena last night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?