Don't start Keith up on politics: Why the Stones missed Live8

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The Independent Culture

Some said Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney had a monumental clash of egos, each wanting the coveted headline slot. Others claimed that Geldof and Jagger had fallen out, but no one knew why.

The reason, it turns out, had less to do with superstar egos and more to do with Keith Richards' suspicion of politics.

In an interview broadcast last night, Richards, the Stones' guitarist, revealed that it was his own wariness over the politics of the headline-grabbing event that led to the Stones' absence from the event.

Indeed, Jagger and the Live8 organiser Bob Geldof had begged him to take part, Richards revealed on BBC2's Newsnight.

"I just thought the connection between Geldof and the Labour Party ... was just too tight; and I don't see debt reduction as being like - it's not going to feed the babies down there," he said from America where the band has just embarked on a year-long world tour of more than 100 concerts to promote a new album.

"I mean, who's this gratifying and where are the Africans? Where was their say? And I thought it was being stuck together too fast. I never had so much pressure in my life from so many knights of the realm."

Asked whether it was Jagger, who was made Sir Mick four years ago, and Geldof, who was given an honorary knighthood in 1986, who had tried to convince him to participate, Richards said: "Oh yeah, all the Sirs had a bash, believe me. Every one of them. I wondered who was pulling the strings, that's all. You know what I mean?"

Richards, 61, was also wary of the band's rare excursion into political lyrics when Jagger, 62, wrote "Sweet Neo-Con," a head-on attack on the American right which has been hailed as a highlight of the new album, A Bigger Bang, scheduled for release next week. But Richards had told Jagger he had no problems with its lyrics. "Personally, to me, I never think about politicians if I'm going to write a song. It's like a blank area to me. They all come and go, and I'm trying to write about more universal stuff. But if you feel like [it], then let's go," he said.

"I just didn't want it to become some peripheral distractions/political storm in a tea-cup sort of thing. But if you want to do it, let's go. I'm with you all the way."

He said he did not want the band to be seen as political, he added. "I just want to be seen as a good band and a great band ..."

Jagger insisted in the interview that social comment was very much part of what the Stones had always done - "though it's somewhat more hidden and this is a very open and direct song. But this is the different time we live in and I thought this was the best way to say it rather than hide it, cloaked in metaphors and subterfuge".

In conversations with all the band members, a picture emerged of a much happier, less tense atmosphere among them than had been common in the past. "Maybe Mick's a bit happier now he's been knighted," Ronnie Wood said.

Charlie Watts, 64, the band's drummer, has received treatment for throat cancer and this has raised questions over whether the current tour might be the band's last. Jagger said he did not know. "I can't even get past Christmas, to be honest."

But Richards indicated a willingness to go on. "The idea of retiring is like killing yourself. It's almost like hari kiri. I mean, no doubt, I intend to live to 100 and go down in history."