■ The Rolling Stones guitarist, 70, on the band’s new tour, exploding lungs and the ultimate frontman… but is it Mick or Rod?
You’re off on tour again. Do you guys ever stop?
Apparently no. Great, isn’t it? After the last show in Paris, we all looked at each other and said: ‘We’re just getting warmed up.’
What is it about the Rolling Stones that keeps you going?
There’s something magic that happens when all four of us come together. It’s like a momentum none of us can explain. It’s like, bang — an unstoppable force.
Do you think you’ll do another tour?
There’s nothing to stop us because I think the band is playing the best it’s ever played.
In what way?
All of the songs we play have a life of their own. Instead of the monotony of ‘er, not that song again’, which you would think might set in with us being so weathered and aged, there’s a kind of freshness. Satisfaction, for instance — that takes on a completely different shape every time we play it now, which means it’s more of a challenge to make it ring true with a different presentation.
How do you achieve that?
We have a rough arrangement but none of us know what’s coming next. So we’re all having to keep on our toes.
Do you see much of the places you play?
Most of the time we are trapped in the hotels because once the word gets around town, you are confined to barracks, as it were. In Argentina, for instance, forget about it — you can’t go out.
Is there anywhere you haven’t played?
I’d like to play to the Samburu tribesmen in Kenya. I think we’d have something in common.
What’s it like being a Rolling Stone?
It’s a continuing adventure. Fun. We get enough off-time to be able to contemplate what it’s like but not enough spare time to really wallow in any great bits. There’s so much on our plates and my twins [Gracie Jane and Alice Rose, with wife Sally, who turn two in May] are taking up all my spare time. They are fantastic.
Do they go on tour with you?
Yeah. They love people and people love them. Sally is pretty full-on with them during the daytime. They enjoy soundchecks and then they go home to bed for the gig.
You don’t seem to age… how do you keep your hair?
[Laughs] Thank you, God. Someone up there likes me and someone down there likes me as well.
How is your cancer?
I had three months of check-ups and it was all clear and they said go and enjoy life.
Would you turn down chemotherapy if you wanted to keep your hair?
I don’t want to lose my hair. If your body is riddled with cancer, it’s a losing cause. Luckily, all mine was contained within the left lung and I was fortunate enough to get shot of it, bang. There was none in the rest of my body so I didn’t require chemo.
Do you have any regrets about all the excesses of the past?
No, not even smoking for England for over 50 years — it was a wonder I wasn’t riddled with cancer in both lungs. It’s a wonder they both didn’t explode.
Do you have a message for anyone told they have cancer?
Just be strong and remain positive. I was prepared to remain positive to my dying breath. I’ve had a great life and I was all ready to go. Wow! I didn’t know I was going to be given the ticket to last this long. What a reprieve.
Do you have any vices left?
Just the mere act of getting up in the morning is the big vice for me now.
So what do you do to relax these days?
Well, my painting and drawing are my big relaxer, but apart from that I love box sets — Spiral’s great.
Who’s the better frontman, Rod Stewart or Mick Jagger?
I have played with two of the best frontmen: Rod in his warmth and his humour, and Mick with his sheer stamina, vigour and unbelievable energy. Mick comes and urges you on. He shares a vibe and gives encouragement, and I often feel him go by and wonder: ‘What was that?’ I have to hand it to him. Chris Cowley
The UK leg of the Rolling Stones No Filter European Tour starts at the London Stadium on May 22