Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones went train-spotting between gigs, filmmaker reveals

Brian Jones - BBC
Brian Jones - BBC

As a founding member of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones was the public face of fast living and 60s counterculture. However, a chance encounter with a schoolboy has revealed that the legendary rocker had a more mundane side and was a committed train spotter.

Jones, who drowned in July 1969 at the age of 27 after succumbing to drink and drug addiction, had the surprising hobby of watching trains race by the platform, according to Nick Broomfield, whose new documentary looks at the life of the tragic rock star.

The new film, The Stones and Brian Jones, remembers the founder of the world’s longest-running rock and roll band and his legacy as the “heart and soul” of the group before his death.

In an interview about the documentary with the Spectator, Mr Broomfield, whose previous films include Kurt and Courtney and Whitney: Can I Be Me, told how as a 14-year-old schoolboy he once met Jones on a train.

Mr Broomfield said that while attending Sidcot school near Winscombe in Somerset, he met Jones, the band’s original leader, on a train and fell into conversation with him and discovered the guitarist and singer was a trainspotter.

“There were all these first-class carriages and he was sitting there by himself and I sort of banged on the window. He was very welcoming and said, ‘Come in’. I said, ‘Can I have your autograph?’ and he said, ‘Yeah’, then he said, ‘Sit down’.

“It was like he just wanted to have a chat. This was the time when the Stones were urinating on garage walls and all the rest of it, but they were like a great symbol of good behaviour for us lot.

“Then the big surprise was that he was really into trains and trainspotting, which was not something that I’d expected. He and Stu [Rolling Stones road manager Ian Stewart] would go and buy bits for their train sets when they were on tour, or go trainspotting together.”

brian jones - John 'Hoppy' Hopkins
brian jones - John 'Hoppy' Hopkins

While Jones’s hobby may have been little known at the time, he is among a number of high-profile rockers and musicians to take an interest in rolling stock. Rod Stewart has a passion for model railways and spent 23 years on an intricate model of a US city.

Pete Waterman, the music producer and songwriter who worked with Kylie and Rick Astley, as well as being a judge on Pop Idol, is also a huge fan of model railways.

While Brian Jones was sorely missed by the rest of the band following his death, he is often overlooked in documentaries and the legacy of the band who celebrated their 60th anniversary with a European tour last year.

Mr Broomfield said that Jones was initially the Rolling Stone who received the most fan mail but had been relegated in the history of the band.

“He barely got a mention in that series of Stones films that was done for their 60th anniversary last year,” he said.

Jones experimented with the open guitar tunings he learned from the American bluesmen, and passed on the knowledge to Keith Richards and can be heard in the 1964 Number One hit Little Red Rooster.

rolling stones - Michael Ward/Getty Images
rolling stones - Michael Ward/Getty Images

He is also credited with using the recorder to transform the 1967 classic into another chart-topping hit.

In the new film for BBC2, Bill Wyman, The Stones’ former bass player, tells how “he would just pick up anything that was handy and create something out of it that wasn’t there originally”.

Broomfield, who spent two-and-a-half years unearthing all this material, said he had no interest in approaching streaming companies Netflix or Amazon to fund the film.

“Netflix are incredibly conservative and their first question would be, ‘Has the band signed off on this?’ If you said, ‘Well, no actually, because I’m going to make something that’s unauthorised’, they would tell you to take a running jump.”

On the BBC’s approach to the documentary, he added: “They rather like it when it’s not authorised and it’s going to be a much more honest, unblinkered look at something.”