IT was a Monday in March 1971. School had just finished and I was on a train journey to another universe with three pals. Next stop: the beating heart of rock’n’roll.

In a couple of hours I would be feeling more alive than I’d ever felt while at the same time being convinced I would never walk out Glasgow Green’s Playhouse alive.

If I live to be 200 I will never forget the rush of exhilaration which gripped the packed theatre as the first chords of Jumpin’ Jack Flash rang out.

The audience rose as one and the euphoria was at times too intense to bear. The opening song was hardly over when I noticed that the balcony above us was dangerously close to buckling under the pressure of 2000 stomping feel.

With more than an hour to go it seemed to me unthinkable that the theatre would be anything other than a pile of rubble by the time the night was over. It looked like I’d be unable to keep that solemn promise I’d made just hours earlier to my parents that I’d be on the last train home come hell or high water.

My friends saw the bouncing balcony too, but I guess we figured that if we had to leave this world early there was no better way to go. However, we reconciled ourselves to our fate – we certainly didn’t give the balcony another moment’s thought.

That night opened the door to a thousand adventures, some joyous and life affirming, others … well, less so. But if a time machine took me back to that train in 1971 I’d jump on it again in a flash.

READ MORE: The Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts dies aged 80

I thought of that night on Tuesday, when news of the death of Charlie Watts was beamed all over the world. I’d be lying if I said I gave the drummer more than a cursory glance throughout the concert.

This was the Rolling Stones … there was so much else to take in. Mick Jagger; sexually ambiguous, dangerously provocative, dancing round the flickering flames as the gates of hell opened to welcome him to the ranks of the dark, abandoned souls within. Keith Richards: the ultimate rock’n’roll gypsy, able to conjure musical alchemy no matter what and how many drugs had been ingested; Mick Taylor, who had joined just two years earlier to replace founding member and Rolling Stone incarnate Brian Jones: standing in the heart of darkness which was an integral part of the growing Rolling Stones mythology, a replacement for a legend who could never be replaced .

Bill Wyman, about whom the less said the better.

With all this going on, who was ever going to give a second look to a stone faced grumpy drummer who looked like he regarded flamboyance with the same disdain it later emerged he held for rock’n’roll itself?

Charlie Watts was somehow at the very heart of the Rolling Stones storm yet somehow stood apart from the madness.

This was a band like no other, either before or since. It encapsulated the tumultuous times we were living through, virtually dragging the peace and love generation into chaos, violence and degradation and darkness as it detailed the death of the 1960s dream in real time.

It was the Stones who countered Woodstock idealism with the haunted Altamont festival, where 18-year-old Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by a Hells Angel just feet away from Jagger as he performed Under My Thumb.

It was the Stones who seems to conjure up the ravaged soul of Satan himself with an exploration of his links to the horrors of history in Sympathy for the Devil.

It was the Stones who both lead and followed a generation from the gentle meditations of marijuana, through the psychic hallucinations of LSD, the feelings of invincibility created by cocaine and eventually to the self-loathing and wasted exhaustion of heroin addiction.

This wasn’t a band. It was a whole era going to hell in search of an escape from mundanity and growing increasingly desperate as time to find a way back began to run out.

THERE was nothing and no-one touched by the Rolling Stones circus who emerged undamaged by its self-destructive glamour.

Not even Charlie Watts. He stood separate from the madness, a rare calm in the vortex of “the greatest rock’n’roll band in the world”.

His marriage in 1964 to Shirley Ann Shepherd endured while all the other relationships with the Stones bubble disintegrated.

For years he didn’t even tell his bandmates he was married, ostensibly so as not to alienate the band’s female fans in an era of teen hysteria and Beatlemania.

However, you can see why it also suited him to keep his private life rooted on solid ground away from the crazy unpredictability of the Stones lifestyle.

The National:

Charlie Watts with his wife Shirley Ann Shepherd

He was never taken with the hippy experience of the 1960s and probably even less so with the bohemian habits of the generations which followed.

When the Stones were booked for Glastonbury in 2013 he found it hard to hide his antipathy. “I didn’t want to do it,” he told the Guardian at the time. “Everyone else does. I don’t like playing outdoors and I certainly don’t like festivals.

“I never liked the hippy thing to start with. It’s not what I’d like to do for a weekend, I can tell you.”

Nor did Watts share some of his bandmates’ more esoteric taste in fashion. He favoured elegance over excess, preferring suits and ties to the more outrageous outfits of Jagger.

But no matter how far he tried to get from the Stones lifestyle he could not escape unscarred. His drinking habits worsened in the 1980s and had a brief flirtation with heroin, perhaps not as surprising as that sounds given the appetites of many of his jazz heroes.

For the most part, however, the drummer remained aloof from the excesses the Stones became legendary for. In the middle of the mayhem he remained committed to music. It’s true he preferred jazz but he brought a percussion genius which electrified Stones records. While all around him were pushing their sonic and lifestyle experiments to sometimes frightening extremes Charlie Watts remained dependably himself, unflappable and in time.

This week I was watching an old clip of the Stones being interviewed in the 60s about their rise to fame. The interviewer was trying to understand the effect the band had on their audience and was probing Mick Jagger for an explanation. Jagger smiled knowingly and suggested it was some almost mystical form of chemical reaction. When Charlie Watts was asked he simply said: “I don’t know.” He didn’t know and he didn’t really care. When asked about the band in later years he didn’t mention their reputation for hedonism and decadence. He would simply say: “I play the drums”.

Those drums were sometimes subtle and straightforward, at others complicated and incredibly skilful. He always delivered exactly the performance the song required to make maximum impact.

His biggest success, though, was undoubtedly keeping The Rolling Stones together for almost 60 years, a feat which would have been impossible for anyone else.

Now he’s gone will the band split up? Or will they, as Keith Richards once suggested, refuse to retire? For a rock band in their 70s and 80s there’s no roadmap to the future.

One thing I do know is that if I really could jump back on that train in 1971 I’d certainly pay a lot more attention to the man behind the drumkit. It was largely down to him that the Green’s Playhouse balcony was bouncing to that glorious beat.