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Casanova and the Rolling Stones

This recording studio in London’s Denmark Street was very run down in the 1960s. It was little bigger than a hotel room, with stained walls and egg boxes on the ceiling to baffle the sound. The studio had no mixers, so that sound could only be recorded in mono. It was used for demo tapes and advertising jingles rather than master recordings.

In January 1964, five scruffy young men crowded into the tiny back room to make their first long-playing album. Cigarettes in hand, the Rolling Stones recorded Not Fade Away on 10 January. Other tracks followed in batches of two or three, for the rest of the month. By 4 February, the Stones had had enough and were barely talking to each other, let alone playing together.

Mick Jagger forgot the words to Can I Get A Witness and had to run to Savile Row and back to get a copy from the publishers. He was out of breath when he returned and sounds it on the recording.


Gene Pitney had arrived by then, bringing a bottle of brandy to lighten the mood. The Stones got stuck into the drink while Jagger and Phil Spector sat on the staircase outside studio reception and wrote the lyrics to Little by Little in ten minutes flat. They recorded it straight away, along with Now I’ve Got  A Witness and a couple of obscene songs for private listening. Pitney played the piano, Spector played a half-dollar coin against the empty brandy music bottle. The album was a huge success.


The recording studio is far left in this picture.  A couple of centuries before the Rolling Stones, the Italian playboy Giacomo Casanova came along this street one evening late in 1763. He was in love with a 17-year-old girl named in his memoirs as La Charpillon. She lived in Denmark Street with her mother. Casanova had written her some incriminating letters which she refused to give back. He therefore called round to her house to insist on their return:

‘I put two pistols in my pocket and proceeded to the wretched woman’s abode… I was furious by the time I arrived, but when I passed by the door I saw a handsome young hairdresser, who did La Charpillon’s hair every Saturday evening, going into the house.

I did not want a stranger to be present at the scene I intended to make, so I waited at the corner of the street for the hairdresser to go… I waited on; eleven struck, and the handsome barber had not yet gone. A little before midnight, a servant came out with a lamp, I suppose to look for something that had fallen out of the window.

I approached noiselessly; stepped in and opened the parlour door, which was close to the street. I saw La Charpillon and the barber stretched out on the sofa making ‘the beast with two backs’, as Shakespeare calls it.

When the slut spotted me, she gave a shriek and unhorsed her gallant, whom I thrashed with my cane until he escaped in the confusion. While this was going on La Charpillon, half-naked, remained crouched behind the sofa, trembling lest the blows should begin to descend on her.’

The hairdresser fled, clutching his trousers. So did La Charpillon, spending the night with a friend near Soho Square. Casanova stayed to smash a mirror and some chairs and a china service that he had given her. Then he too stormed into the night, intending to drown himself in the river without further ado. Italians, eh?








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