When the Rolling Stones Launched the ‘Goodbye Britain’ Tour
By 1971, the Rolling Stones had sold millions of records – but were almost broke. Band members owed the British government hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes they didn't have. "After working for eight years, I discovered at the end that nobody had ever paid my taxes and I owed a fortune," Mick Jagger told NME. "So I said fuck it, and left the country."
Before Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts, Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor became exiles in France to avoid paying a tax rate that could reach 95 percent of their income, they scheduled a "Goodbye Britain" tour. The slate of concerts in nine cities kicked off on March 4, 1971, at Newcastle's City Hall, where more than 2,000 people jammed the auditorium.
The Stones supplemented their lineup with session greats Bobby Keys on saxophone, Jim Price on trumpet and keyboardist Nicky Hopkins. By the tour's start, the Sticky Fingers LP had been recorded but would not be released for another month. The Stones debuted three songs from the album that first night.
"In a pink sateen suit and a multicolored jockey's cap, Mick leads the band onstage and starts the set with 'Jumpin' Jack Flash,'" wrote Robert Greenfield in Ain't It Time We Said Goodbye: The Rolling Stones on the Road to Exile.
Next on the set list: "Live With Me," "Dead Flowers" from Sticky Fingers and "Stray Cat Blues." "Far more intimidating than his songwriting partner in every way," continued Greenfield. "Keith Richards sits down beside Mick on a wooden stool in a purple spotlight and picks out a dead-perfect acoustic version of Robert Johnson's 'Love in Vain,' followed by 'Prodigal Son.'"
Watch the Rolling Stones Perform 'Dead Flowers'
"Midnight Rambler" came next, then "Bitch," a song from Sticky Fingers that showcased Keys on sax. Jagger then announced, "And now a song for all the whores in the audience" and the band launched into "Honky Tonk Women," followed by "Satisfaction." The show wrapped with Chuck Berry's "Little Queenie," "Brown Sugar" from the new LP and "Street Fighting Man."
"At its climax, Mick flings a wicker basket filled with yellow daffodils into the house," wrote Greenfield. "As the final chords of the song ring out through the hall and flower petals slowly come floating down through the spotlight beams, Mick leaps four feet into the air and screams."
The tour continued with performances in Manchester, Coventry, Glasgow (Scotland), Bristol, Brighton, Liverpool, Leeds and London. The final performance on March 26 at London's Marquee Club was filmed for U.S. television. (The Stones released a DVD of the concert in 2015.)
The tour completed, the Stones were required to leave Britain by April 5, the day taxes were due.
"The last thing I think the powers that be expected when they hit us with super-super tax is that we'd say, fine, we'll leave," Richards wrote in his autobiography, Life. "We'll be another one not paying tax to you. They just didn't factor that in. It made us bigger than ever, and it produced Exile on Main St., which was maybe the best thing we did. They didn't believe we'd be able to continue as we were if we didn't live in England. And in all honesty, we were very doubtful too. We didn't know if we would make it, but if we didn't try, what would we do? Sit in England and they'd give us a penny out of every pound we earned? We had no desire to be closed down. And so we upped and went to France."
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