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Formed in 1979 by school pals Norman Rodger (vocals and guitar) and Ally Palmer (guitar) along with bassist Neil Baldwin and drummer Colin MacLean, the post-punk/new wave band appeared to have a promising future ahead of them when they released their debut double A-side Playing With Fire/Shattered By It All in 1980, but just two years later things had taken a decidedly downward turn... enter, The Rolling Stones.
Remembering how the band came to support the biggest rock band on the planet, TV21’s frontman recalls, “In 1982 we were managed by John Kalinowski, better known as Kelloggs, who had started his career as the road manager for Procul Harum before working with people like Joe Cocker, Nick Lowe and Madness.“Through his connections in the U.S., he'd got wind the Rolling Stones were to embark on a European stadium tour and would be doing three theatre shows in Scotland as a warm up.
“At that point, TV21 were struggling, having been dropped by our record label and, in fact, we were all back on the dole. Kelloggs thought that getting these gigs as the opening act would be the ideal way to get record companies to see us. He was still friendly with a number of people in the Stones’ camp and it was suggested we send our album to Mick Jagger, who was taking responsibility for choosing the support band. To our surprise, he liked it and we were offered all three gigs.”
Rodger continues, “Growing up as Stone’s fans, it felt amazing to be selected, especially as it was Jagger’s personal decision. It was a real shot in the arm for the band, as we had been pretty low and this gave us a real focus.”
TV21 would support the Stones at Aberdeen’s Capitol, Glasgow’s Apollo and Edinburgh’s Playhouse. Recalling the Aberdeen soundcheck, Rodger says, “Convention is that the main act soundchecks first, then the support gets to do theirs between them finishing and doors opening. We arrived on time but there was no sign of the Stones. They were late. This at least gave us time to settle into our dressing room - literally a broom cupboard under the stage.“The band eventually arrived. Last on was Keith Richards, who stumbled on, bottle of Jack Daniels in hand.“As he approached his guitar tech, he took a final swig from the bottle as the tech deftly simultaneously slipped the guitar strap over Keith’s shoulders, while he handed him the bottle and immediately transformed into a rock god, launching into the opening chords of Start Me Up. It was truly impressive. We were then treated to our own private show. To cap it all, Mick Jagger ran up the aisle, right to the end of our row, to check out the sound for himself singing just a few feet from us using, what was then pretty new technology, a wireless microphone. Amazing.
“The Glasgow Apollo show was an interesting one. Our dressing room this time was even more upmarket, the toilet under the stage, which when we arrived it was a foot deep in murky water. Eventually we were given access to Mick Jagger’s personal gym room on the proviso we had to be out as soon as we finished, so that he could do his pre-show warm up. The gym was also well catered with fresh fruit and a very well stocked bar - I seem to recall that we liberated a bottle of vodka.”
Then came the fateful night in Edinburgh, at the Playhouse.“I warmed up for the show at The Playhouse by going to the dole office that morning, to sign on, hoping that no one would recognise me from the night before at The Apollo,” the singer remembers, adding, “Contact with the Stones was pretty minimal. Jagger watched us from the balcony at Aberdeen. You could spot him a mile off so that was a bit unnerving. After the first gig he had come backstage and just said, “Hello, I’m Mick, great show guys…” and that was that. I was in my underpants at the time. It’s not often you meet your heroes dressed like that. Other than that, we had no other contact with the band, which I still find a bit disappointing.”
Looking back, Rodger admits they were all a bit in awe when they did the first gig with the Stones and definitely “a bit nervous”.
“We got over that on the second night - I was more nervous that Ally’s mum and dad were in the audience than that we were playing with The Stones,” he adds, reflecting, "Listening back to the tapes of the shows, the Glasgow and Edinburgh gigs were a lot more confident than the opening gig.”
“To this day, the experience is one we all cherish and one we’ve dined out many times over the years but not a single record company took up the offer of a free ticket and so, disheartened, we took the decision to call it a day and split up the band, backstage in a dressing room - a real one - in the Playhouse, midway through the Stones’ set. It felt like the right way to end, to go out on a high.”He concludes, “I was passing the Playhouse the other weekend, 40 years ago to the day of that final show. It was amazing to think back on the gigs and just how vivid the memories still are. We might not have reached the heights we set out to achieve, but not many bands get to open for The Rolling Stones.”