Ronnie Wood – artist, musician, producer and author. However, there is so much more to know about the man himself, and on Saturday 12th October Eagle Rock Films will premiere ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ at London Film Festival. This intimate portrait traces the lives and careers of Ronnie Wood, directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Mike Figgis (‘Leaving Las Vegas’, ‘Internal Affairs’, ‘The Battle Of Orgreave’). Produced with the full cooperation of and access to Ronnie himself, the film is the first in-depth film biography of the artist.
‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ is the definitive portrait of one of the most important guitarists in rock music. Since he bought his first Rogers electric guitar for £25 over 55 years ago, Ronnie Wood has been at the centre of rock ‘n’ roll, his electrifying and timeless style a key part of the history of British music.
Acclaimed director Mike Figgis’ new film brilliantly captures what it means to be such an iconic presence. Made over two years for Eagle Rock Films, ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ features revealing new interviews with Wood’s Rolling Stones bandmates Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts, as well as his old sparring partner in the Faces, Rod Stewart. Other key interviewees in ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ include Wood’s wife Sally Wood, successful singer Imelda May and art phenomenon Damien Hirst. He reminds viewers how Wood is one of the few musicians to have a respected alternative career as a painter, when he says: “Ronnie is a dab hand – he can paint better than me.”
Figgis relished the chance to get to work with Wood: “I was intrigued by Ronnie. The combination of his eclectic musical range and his love of painting seemed like a promising start to a documentary. I decided to jump in and we began talking, the first of a really interesting series of conversations. We covered so much ground in these talks and that led to interesting encounters with the likes of Damien Hirst and then a lovely music session in a studio. The remaining Stones chimed in with interesting stories and the result is the film. Ronnie Wood is a very interesting guy, so many personas.”
Ronnie is thrilled and honoured to have had this film made about his life: “Who would have thought that a lad from Hillingdon would be able to combine all his hobbies and convert them into such diverse careers? It’s such an incredible feeling to look back on my life and discuss key moments along the way that I remember vividly as if they were yesterday. I am flattered that so many talented people took the time to say such nice things about me!”.
Interspersed with dazzling vintage performance footage of The Jeff Beck Group, the Faces and the Rolling Stones, ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ traces Wood’s life from his loving yet eccentric upbringing in West London, where his father Arthur would fall asleep in neighbours’ gardens as Wood and his two brothers often awoke to find “characters draped over the furniture” Arthur had brought home from the pub.
It was a childhood which set Wood up to thrive in music, first with his schoolboy band The Birds before Wood recalls how Jeff Beck was “in my sights” after The Yardbirds had split. Forming The Jeff Beck Group, Stewart explains how they were so powerful live that even The Grateful Dead were unable to follow them onstage after their first show in the US. One of the most extraordinary sequences in ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ is previously unseen film of The Jeff Beck Group’s manager Peter Grant remembering their career. As Wood says of Grant’s famously intimidatory methods: “I stayed well away from it. I wanted to keep my hands intact, and my face.”
After turning down the chance to be Led Zeppelin’s bassist, partly because Grant had become too much to deal with, Wood and Stewart formed the Faces when they learned Steve Marriott had left the Small Faces. Figgis’ film brilliantly captures their all-too-brief heyday and fondness for each other – even if they still can’t agree on how the Faces ended.
Near the start of ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’, Wood recalls seeing the Rolling Stones play at Richmond Athletic Ground on August 11, 1963. The 16-year-old cut his leg open on a tent peg, but was too enthralled to notice, saying: “There were all these girls around and I thought ‘That looks like a good job… I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but one day I will be there.’” It took until 1975, but Wood has been a key figure in the Rolling Stones ever since. As Keith Richards puts it in the film: “This band works on two guitars. And it’s very important who they are.” The pair are hilarious in discussing their “friendly rivalry”, Richards saying admiringly: “Ronnie is as tough as nails. He’s very like me…. He ain’t sloppy at all.” Charlie Watts’ respect for his bandmate is clear as he talks about how Wood has been able to stay a Stone for so long, while Mick Jagger explains the importance of Wood’s personality as well as his musicianship. “The shows became more humorous,” says Jagger of Wood’s first Stones tour. “Everyone was smiling and grinning, it was a very different mood.”
While Figgis’s film is sympathetic to its central character, it doesn’t shy away from Wood’s hardships. He’s brutally honest talking about his battles with drink and drugs, disclosing his three-year battle to beat freebase addiction as well as overcoming lung cancer. ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ is an ultimately optimistic and redemptive portrait of a musician who is almost unique in seeming to be admired and respected by everyone he encounters. It takes its title from Wood surviving his chronic smoking habit, as he says: “When they operated on my cancer, they took away my emphysema. They said my lungs were as if I’d never smoked. I thought: ‘How’s that for a Get Out Of Jail Free card?’ Somebody up there likes me, and somebody down here likes me too”
Wood delights in his recent sobriety, as wife Sally enthuses: “If you’re talking to a sober person, you’re talking to the real person. I prefer the real person.” She says being clean has made her husband sharper and more creative.
Throughout, footage of Wood playing guitar and harmonica is a reminder of a versatile instrumentalist, while he also thoughtfully and skilfully paints in his studio. It climaxes with Wood giving a beautiful, intimate performance of ‘Breathe On Me’ from his 1975 solo album ‘Now Look’. It’s appropriate: ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ is a new look at Ronnie Wood – a rewarding and always compelling insight into one of music’s most likeable, successful but complex key players.