THE ROLLING STONES’ ROCK AND ROLL CIRCUS (Filmed 1968)
In December1968, the Rolling Stones decided to stage a TV show, possibly inspired by the Beatle’s’ ‘Sergeant Pepper’ album, that would be a musical concept event based around a circus, filled with great acts of the day performing within the ring. They hired director Michael Lindsay-Hogg who had already filmed early pop promos for songs of theirs.
The show itself was a hugely ambitious under-taking. The technical breaks needed meant that even though they began filming at 2pm, by the time the Stones themselves came on it was already five o’clock the next morning. Jagger felt their own performance was under-par due to exhaustion. Subsequently the film was never released until 1996. They needn’t have worried. Despite its ups and
downs, THE ROLLING STONES’ ROCK AND ROLL CIRCUS is well worth seeing.
There’s a slightly awkward parade opening in front of the wooden ring of guests; Charlie Watts looks particularly bemused with his tambourine - but then the line-up of bands begin to work their magic. They’re not only an impressive roll-call of some of the era’s great rock acts, but the film preserves them at arguably their heights and in some interesting combinations. Jethro Tull mimed to ‘Song for Jeffrey’ and ‘Fat Man’ to cut down on rehearsal time. Only the former was used, but it’s a zesty opener. The Who keep the energy flowing with a punchy rendition of their first mini-opera ‘A Quick One While he’s Away’. Taj Mahal gives good soul voice, and then Marianne Faithfull comes on, looking alluring and giving a beguiling version of the Goffin/Mann song ‘Something Better’.
Meanwhile, In between band sets the Stones’s separately filmed linking intros are a little uncertain, especially Charlie Watts, bless him. A bigger misfire is the pastiche showbiz cross-talk between Jagger and Lennon, calling each other ‘Michael’ and ‘Winston’ (Lennon’s middle name). It’s leaden and unfunny yet has the value of detailing the audience on the line-up of Lennon’s ad-hoc super-group of the night ‘the Dirty Mac’ (doing ‘Yer Blues)’. We have Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. They make an excellent chemistry – until this is irreparably damaged by Yoko joining in with an excruciating screechy wail. It’s either purposely tuneless like some sort of ironic spin on jazz scat singing, or more likely the other kind of scat. She doesn’t realise how abominable she sounds. Nor possibly does John. Love is blind; Ono indeed. She doesn’t endear herself any further to anti-Yoko Beatles fans like myself who resented her multi-media influence on her future husband (not to mention her snake-oil disguised as art, but that’s another matter).
Regardless of that aural mis-step, eventually after what is still an amazing bill of artists the Rolling Stones appear and treat us to the last half-hour of a much better performance than Mick feared. Maybe it was that defiant burst of energy needed to overcome tiredness that sometimes lifts you above the ordinary, but they give solid renditions of some of their most famous live concert favourites. Jagger of course demands much of himself and prides himself even today on giving the very best. Only in the closing number ‘Salt of the Earth’ do he and Richards betray a little of the understandable weariness settling in. Luckily, the crowd around them picks up the ending and runs with it. It’s a real egalitarian pleasure seeing the other bands mix with each other and the audience. Pete Townsend, be-hatted, eggs on the silliness amongst his peers and fans in a delirious party spirit reminiscent of the Beatles live finale of ‘All You Need Is Love’ the previous year.
Check out THE ROLLING STONES’ ROCK AND ROLL CIRCUS.
As the opening text says: ‘It’s two days in December 1968 that in many ways capture the spontaneity, aspirations and communal spirit of an entire era…’