MUSIC: Rolling with the Stoners in Rome

ROME - “What can a poor boy do in sleepy London town?” sings Mick Jagger in The Rolling Stones hit Street Fighting Man. Change “London” to “Rome”...and if you suffer from boredom a good answer to that dilemma is to go and watch The Stoners, one of the best Rolling Stones tribute bands currently performing. They have got the right groove.

People who turn up their nose at the thought of tribute bands are probably underestimating a phenomenon that is here to stay and will only get bigger. Perhaps they ignore the fact that originally even The Rolling Stones used to do covers, until their manager Andrew Loog Oldham decided that they had to start writing their own material. He allegedly locked Keith Richards and Mick Jagger inside a windowless room from which they were released only after producing their first original song, As Tears Go By.

To clear-up misunderstandings, cover bands are not the same thing as tribute bands. Cover bands do covers of different artists, with a mixed repertoire. Tribute bands focus only on one artist. They are forerunners, in a way, because in the next decades and – why not – centuries, people will still want to go and see the Rolling Stones. This is comparable to audiences still enjoying Shakespeare or Moliere at the theatre, even though new actors have replaced the original actors on stage.

 The energy The Stoners create during a live performance is extraordinary. They have by now established a sort of cult, with faithful followers who turn up regularly to their gigs and rarely miss the appointment at The Scholar’s Lounge in Via del Plebiscito, an Irish pub that offers probably the best ambiance in Rome for live rock music and is a sort of Mecca for English-speaking tourists and residents.

 Ugo Moretti, guitarist and founder of The Stoners, was therefore right when he first embarked on this adventure with the clear awareness that it was first and foremost a cultural operation. His mission was to re-propose the blues and the pure sound of rock in Italy, where the melodic element is usually dominant and rock’n’roll is not always recognised as a form of art. “When we were touring the States, we realised that crowds were very receptive, curious and even amused by the fact that Italians were playing the Rolling Stones,” recalls Ugo. “But we grew up with this music just like them. I’ll never forget the day when I first heard Brown Sugar, because when music speaks to the heart of people there are no boundaries.”

 The Stoners line-up includes Andrea Angelini (vocals, guitar and harmonica), Walter Bernardi (bass) and Attilio Corona (drums). Andrea speaks excellent English and therefore knows well what the songs are about lyrically, not only musically, when he is singing. “I’ve been listening to this kind of music since a very young age, and I think I got to the core of it,” he says. “When I approach a song I try first to recreate it in my mind and then infuse some passion in the vocals and guitar playing. Our band makes it a point to fully assimilate all the tracks before performing them in public, this is why rehearsals are paramount.”

The money side is a delicate issue. Some club owners even ask you to play for nothing, or to bring as many people as you can find, it is a sort of blackmail. Are The Stoners getting any satisfaction from this point of view? To answer this question they like to quote Mick Jagger, who said once in an interview that he is “sexually satisfied, financially dissatisfied and philosophically trying.” The real answer is that you do not make a living playing in a tribute band. But then again – to quote another Rolling Stones hit – you can’t always get what you want...

The Stoners have an impressive curriculum. They played at the Nag’s Head for The Rolling Stones Fans Meeting in Rome, at the Trecentoallora Biker’s Rock Festival in the province of Rovigo, they opened the Estate Romana 2007 season with a spectacular gig on the Tiber. Last but not least, The Stoners extensively toured the U.S. twice and were invited to play at the historical club Kenny’s Castaways in Greenwich Village, New York. Last year they performed in two venues that are highly rated by rock connoisseurs - La Stazione della Birra in Ciampino and the Fonclea Riverside along the Tiber.

Keith Richards used to say that the Rolling Stones music is essentially folk music. He started out playing acoustic guitar and then moved to electric guitar. Following in his footsteps, The Stoners have recently started a very daring and original experiment by playing the Rolling Stones unplugged; however, their repertoire is not limited to ballads such as Angie or Wild Horses, it even includes faster tracks like Midnight Rambler that you would not normally associate with an acoustic sound.

“If you’re reading this article,” concludes Andrea, “please go and see live shows. Don’t let the deejays rule the club scene! Musicians are important. They play with their hands and sing with their voice. They don’t play records just pushing a button.”

The Stoners perform in Rome regularly. It’s only rock’n’roll – but they like it, and do it well.