Stones in debt to Kiwi head honcho

Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood is hoping for better luck when the band plays a gig in Auckland next April. The last time they passed through New Zealand, in 2006, the tour nearly ended in disaster. The problem? Gravity. Keith Richards fell on his head after scampering up a coconut tree during a short break in Fiji.

"It wasn't even a very big tree!" says Wood from his home in London.

"But that accident certainly cut our little side-trip short. We were havin' a nice relaxed time until he started trying to be Tarzan! It was one of those trees that grow out on an angle, about six feet above the beach, and Keith was hanging underneath it like a monkey.

"I was beside him, looking out to sea, then I heard this ginormous thump. He'd fallen on the bit where it goes from powdery sand up to the hard stuff. Then he said ‘My teeth are bleeding!' and I knew something was badly wrong."

Richards was airlifted to Auckland where neurosurgeon Andrew Law performed a life-saving emergency operation, drilling into Richards' skull to relieve pressure caused by the fall.

When his condition stabilised and the tour resumed, the band's insurance company insisted Law travel with them to oversee Richards' recovery.

"Yeah, I dunno what was going on there. We carried on to Italy and Germany and so on, and I kept noticing Andrew on the plane and thinking - ‘Hang on! Isn't that Keith's doctor?' But he was a very nice guy.

"He left home at short notice and stayed with us for a good long while, and I imagine he got the rock'n'roll in his blood after that.

"He's been out to stay with Keith at his house, too. We've sort of lost contact since then, but I'm sure Keith will try to track him down when we're over there, because he was a very important man in his recovery."

So much so that Richards namechecked Law from the stage at the Stones' LA concert in late 2006, telling the crowd of 50,000 people that he wouldn't have been there without him: "He's from New Zealand and he's my head man, you know what I mean? He fixed the thing!"

The Rolling Stones are confirmed to play a one-off 14 On Fire show at Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium on Saturday April 5, 2014. It will be their seventh tour to our shores. They first toured here - minus Wood - in 1965. Now 66, Wood joined the band for its 1975 world tour, and has been a regular ever since.

"We can't wait to get down your way, to be honest. Everyone gets a bit fidgety when we're not on the road.

"Even though rehearsing is hard graft and all the travelling's really wearing, the reward is in the music, and when you're on stage playing well, it's almost a spiritual experience.

"That's what keeps us young, and it's a great feeling to be able to take your audience's mind off all the troubles in the world with your music. Music is a great healer."

Sunday Star Times