James Phelge - a complete unknown like a Rolling Stone

 

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MOJO Magazine

Phelge's Stones by James Phelge

WHEN a book arrives on an imprint called Buncha Assholes, the phrase 'quality merchandise' doesn't immediately spring to mind. But don't be fooled, because behind Phelge's Stones' cheapo facade lies perhaps the most touching and perceptive memoir of The Rolling Stones' early days so far committed to print. Hollowed forever in the Stones' pseudonymous collective writing credit, Nanker Phelge, the book's author shared the group's squalid communal flat in Edith Grove, Chelsea while they were still an unknown R&B act playing the Ealing Club and Crawdaddy. As such, he witnessed most of the pivotal moments in their career, including many a cauterising early performance, their first encounters with Andrew Oldham and The Beetles, the ruthless sacking of lan Stewart and, later, the niggling incidents that slowly began to distance Brian Jones from the rest of the group.

Clearly a Moon-like loony, Phelge's impish sense of humour allied him closest to Keith and Brian, with whom he liked to "nanker" about and generally cause mischief. Here, his gift is to interweave these tales of adolescent exuberance - urinating on the band from the top of the stairs, raiding neighbours' fridges for food, spoiling lovers' intimate moments with the aid of an air rifle - with exquisitely observed snapshots of early '60s London and vivid evocations of the Stones' verbal and emotional interaction.

Ennui-bustin' exchanges also proliferate: take the evening when Phelge brings home a poorly-painted picture to brighten up the flat's gob-strewn walls:
'lt looks like a wonky gorilla,' scoffs Keith.
'If you look hard enough you can see the meaning,' I reply, smiling to myself.
'Fuckin' meaning,' groans Mick.'Go on, what is it then?'
'It's fairly obvious. It's about how man will always survive against the odds...The white bits are flecks of debris."
"What it means," says Keith, "is that whoever did it can't fuckin' paint."

It's the only Stones book I've ever read that doesn't leave you asking, Yeah, but what were they really like? Peppered with belly-laughs, genuine pathos and unwitting insights into the Stones' taste in clothes, food, humour and girls, this is a thoroughly edifying 'history from below', dodgy grammar an' all. Via this book, you can experience life with the band at Edith Grove - and you know what! I got on with them all famously.

Pat Gilbert