'Stones in the Park' - extract by kind permission from Tony Norman's book
'My Cool Sixties - Lennon, Jagger & The Rest', published on 1st April 2012 by Steampacket Publishing
July 5th 1969 and midday traffic flows easily down Abbey Road. I pass the
studio where the Beatles have made history, but today is all about the Rolling
Stones. I park my Mini near Marble Arch and walk into Hyde Park. It's a
humid day, the sun peeping through scattered clouds. Luckily, it didn't
rain last night. Hundreds of fans slept here, in sleeping bags, on deckchairs,
all eager to claim a prime spot to see the Rolling Stones.
I walk past the Serpentine. Young kids fish in the lake, as family groups drift past in rowing boats they've hired by the hour. It's lunchtime in the park and life goes on as normal, apart from the rising rumble of live music. Then rock show reality kicks in, mini skirts, cotton shirts, kaftans, shades, and long hair everywhere. I flash my backstage pass and immediately see my friend Jennie Halsall who's looking good in her blue and white dress and hippie hat.
She tells me she first saw the Stones in Watford a few years ago and only about 20 people turned up. It's a bit different today: the press enclosure at the foot of the stage is packed but we squeeze into a space on the grass and enjoy the support bands. My favourites are Family, with Roger Chapman's gravelly vocals punching out songs from their excellent album, Music in A Doll's House.
As the crowd rises to them, I realise I need to take a pee and curse the tin of Coke I bought out in the park for the rip-off price of two shillings. Ice creams at the same stall were 1/6d, so the spirit of love and peace obviously hasn't filtered through to London's small-time hustlers. As I stumble through the crowd - trying to preserve my cool and avoid stepping on someone's toes - I regret breaking my golden rule. At big gigs like this I try not to drink, which is a drag but a lot better than coming face-to-face with the backstage toilets. They're better than the ones outside shared by thousands, I know that, but it's still a horror trip. I hold my breath while I pee and reel out into the fresh air just as the Stones arrive in what looks like an army truck. Concerts like this need security, but was importing gangs of Hells Angels to do the job really wise? With their leather jackets, metal helmets and swastika badges, they ooze menace.
Now, as the Stones make their way to their backstage caravan, the Angels shove people aside with needless force. For me they don't fit with a day like this, nuff said. The Stones look focused as they disappear from sight to prepare for the show. They haven't played live for over a year and the death of Brian Jones has added an extra dimension. How will they deal with the tragedy? We'll soon find out. I say a quick hello to Chris Walter on my way back to sit with Jennie, then check out the crowd which stretches back as far as the eye can see. I'm hearing there are upwards of 300,000 people here today and so far not one arrest.
oaks are dotted around the grassy slope above the stage, offering shade
but blocking views. Most people are cool with that, but a few kids climb
the trees to score a prime seat. Some branches are broken in the process
and when the man on the mike gives the culprits a hard time for being selfish,
the rest of the fans applaud. Nobody wants bad vibes, just great music.
Dark clouds roll in as the big moment approaches: please don't rain on us,
not today. A huge roar greets the Stones as they walk out onstage.
Jagger looks instantly at ease, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd, as the rest of the band take their places. Mick Taylor stands to the left beneath palm trees imported to decorate the stage.
Next it's Charlie Watts behind his drums, then Keith Richards and Bill Wyman in front of a huge wall of speakers. Jagger, in what looks like a white cotton dress, has the front of the stage in which to weave his magic. But first... a tribute Brian Jones.
'Okay, will you cool it just for a minute?' Mick asks the crowd. 'I really would like to say something for Brian, and I'd really dig it if you would be with us, with what I'm gonna say... about what I feel about Brian... and I'm sure you do too... about him just going when we didn't expect him to.'
Jagger is emotional, stumbling over his words. 'I really don't know how to do this sort of thing, but I'm gonna try,' he explains. Some idiots in the crowd are still shouting. Amazing how insensitive some people can be, even at a time like this. 'Are you gonna be quiet or not?' Mick snaps, and peace finally settles as he reads some lines from Shelley and the Stones stand in silence, their heads bowed. The hassles that split the band are forgotten. At this moment they are thinking of a lost friend. 'Peace, peace, he is not dead, he doth not sleep, he hath awakened from the dream of life...' Jagger's voice echoes with a raw brand of emotion rarely seen at a rock show. Harsh reality is difficult to deal with in the warmth of a summer's day.
The poem ends and I sense relief in the polite applause that follows. Time for the Stones to do what they do best. Thousands of white butterflies fill the air as the band kick into one of Brian's favourite tracks, I'm Yours And I'm Hers. The raw power of the Johnny Winter song lifts the mood and Marianne Faithfull smiles for the first time from the side of the stage.
is dancing, strutting, pouting, and singing with the ease and grace of a
master showman. He has to be the best front man in the world. I always enjoy
seeing Daltrey with The Who, but he has one main move, whirling the mike
high above his head. Jagger has a thousand moves, gestures, expressions,
all flowing from the self-belief that underlines every performance. He is
the ringmaster who leads the show.
I'd love to tell you we are being treated to a classic concert, but sadly that's not true. The sound is ragged. Watts and Wyman are rock solid, but the two guitars often sound out of tune. Mick Taylor plays some nice bluesy slide, but as he said when we met, it will take time for him to feel part of the Stones. It's too early for any real rapport between him and Keith, they're still finding their way. The songs are great, of course. Hits like Jumpin' Jack Flash and Satisfaction, plus Midnight Rambler and Love in Vain from their next album, and the new single Honky Tonk Women, all have their moments but there's something missing. Maybe the band are rusty after that long layoff, maybe recent events have caught up with them.
Whatever the reason, from where I'm sitting it all feels a bit flat. It's Jagger who keeps the show alive. He knows the band are playing way short of their best but he shows no weakness, holding it all together with his unique brand of ego and wizardry. The show finally kicks into gear with the last two songs, both from Beggar's Banquet. Street Fighting Man is powerhouse rock. Question: how does Charlie Watts do it? He's not like Keith Moon, pounding the kit like a madman. Charlie looks cool and relaxed, almost like a sleepy commuter on a morning train, but he delivers killer rhythms that could stop traffic.
Wyman's pounding bass drives the song forward and, at last, Keith Richards comes alive. Taylor's guitar senses the lift in mood and weaves its own tasty patterns. Jagger's prancing, having fun. His vocals have been strong all afternoon and now the band have finally shown up he's on the high wire, living the moment. It's time for the last song, Sympathy For The Devil. African drummers join the Stones onstage, at one with the menacing beat.
The lyrics are dark, but the mood is light, as Mick dances with a tribal warrior complete with spear. It's all a bit cheesy, but he carries it off with a smile, before kneeling down at the front of the stage and teasing the young girls who reach up to touch him. Excitement grows, shades of early tours, teenage fans with tear-stained faces, longing for Jagger, the shaman who makes their hearts race. The girls claw their way up onto the stage, things are getting a little out of hand, Mick knows the signs, it's time to go. One last message for the crowd, really had a good time, really had a good time, he repeats the words over and over like a mantra, as the band build to a crescendo, African drums pounding, stoned crowd rising, voodoo song shining for the one who has fallen, no need to explain, no sugar and spice, this is how it should be, rock 'n roll gypsies at one with their music... the music of the Rolling Stones.
Jennie and I are up on our feet as the final chords crash and tumble. This wasn't just a rock show, it was a worldwide event. Paul McCartney is leaving at the same time as us, no security men, no big fuss. I'd love to talk to him but I chicken out. He looks happy, like he's really had a good time. Jennie and I feel the same way. The Stones came through... thanks to Jagger.
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