No satisfaction for fans without the right plastic

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The Independent Culture

When the Rolling Stones step on stage at the newly built Wembley Stadium next summer, the crowd is likely to go wild. Particularly the American Express card-holders.

In a spot of corporate queue jumping, the credit card company has done a deal with the world's most famous rock'n'rollers for exclusive access to advance ticket sales of the Bigger Bang tour. On the British leg, the Stones play Wembley on 20 August, Hampden Park in Glasgow on 25 August, Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield on 27 August and the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, on 29 August.

Yet while ordinary fans of the Stones (combined age 245) were excluded from the ticket hotline for the dates for four days, Amex card-holders were ordering up to 12 tickets each. Members of the official Rolling Stones' fan club were entitled to four tickets. The Amex deal has meant that time is not on the side of the public wanting to see the band. When the Wembley Stadium date eventually went on sale at the end of last week, it sold out within one hour. Another date, 22 August, was added and has been subject to the same four-day exclusive period for American Express holders. The general public can start buying tickets for that gig tomorrow.

Critics say that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts have returned to form with their latest tour, which has rekindled their reputation for raucous live entertainment. The Amex deal is one of many lucrative endorsements for the band, further bolstering their combined fortune of £480m.

The US leg of the tour this winter has been sponsored by Ameriquest, a mortgage company, while the Mercedes R-class is the "official car". Past tour sponsors have included Tommy Hilfiger and Budweiser.

American Express is keeping quiet about how much it paid for the sponsorship, citing commercial confidentiality.

A company statement explained: "American Express has a long history of providing special access and meaningful experiences to card members. As part of this ongoing commitment, American Express has partnered with the Rolling Stones to secure a special opportunity for card members to purchase their tickets prior to the general public."

The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, a life-long rock fan, derided the Stones - who cancelled a British tour seven years ago for tax reasons - as "clapped-out capitalists".

"It's a very long way from: 'I can't get no satisfaction' to where we are now, " he said. "They have completely sold out. If they want to come across and make some money then fine, but you do get the impression it is business first and music second."

A spokesman for the Rolling Stones defended the ticketing arrangements. "American Express is the sponsor and that happens on world tours. The Stones were the first band to do sponsorship and now everybody does it. If you don't have the money from the sponsors you wouldn't be able to build such a fantastic stage which costs about $2m (£1.2m)," he said.