Rolling Stones at Hyde Park in 1969 - I was there

PUBLISHED: 17:40 05 July 2019 | UPDATED: 17:40 05 July 2019

Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park on July 5 1969. As many as 650,000 people are thought to have been there

Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park on July 5 1969. As many as 650,000 people are thought to have been there


Martin Newell recalls the big Rolling Stones gig that took place in Hyde Park on July 5, 1969

Fifty years ago yesterday, The Rolling Stones gave a free concert in London's Hyde Park. Somewhere between a quarter and half a million people attended. That's me under that big tree there: aged 16 in chalkstripe hipster bell-bottoms, hippy scarf, green waistcoat, Small Faces haircut, heat headache and nosebleed.
It was very hot and at one point I really was beginning to fade unto my own parade. I suffered nosebleeds quite often when I was younger and they used to wipe me out, rather.

Without looking it up, I can remember that the other bands on the bill that day were Screw, whose harmonica-player-vocalist collapsed bleeding, onstage, possibly over-playing with the nerves of it all. There was also Alexis Korner, an early Rolling Stones mentor, now generally regarded as the father of British Blues. Family, one of my favourite bands played, along with the Battered Ornaments and King Crimson - who were stunning. Then, round about mid-afternoon, The Rolling Stones came on and the place went nuts, in a quietly British way.

The Hyde Park concert was originally intended as the debut of the Rolling Stones newboy, Mick Taylor, a 21 year-old blues guitarist previously with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. He'd replaced the sacked founder member Brian Jones. It's been rumoured however, that Taylor may have been second choice to Rory Gallagher, the Irish guitar wizard.

Gallagher, unfortunately, had his own foreign tour to do and having run out of time was forced to leave before Keith Richards could be woken up in time to audition him. Described later by the writer Truman Capote as a 'pretty Jean Harlow blonde', Mick Taylor would prove over the next five years to be a sound choice for the band and a formidably good foil for the ragamuffin riffing of Keith Richards.

But the unexpected had happened. Only two days before the concert, Brian Jones was found dead in his swimming pool. For Jones, a young man as notorious as he was famous, it was another first. Hadn't he been the first Rolling Stone? Now he was first of the gang to die and the first member of the 27 Club. Fusty moralists in the national press were keen to claim, too, that Jones' death was beginning of the Permissive Society's chickens coming home to roost. Taylor's intended debut now became his predecessor's funeral wake.

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His former bandmates may have put up their bravest cool front when Jones died. Inside they were shocked to their boots. These were young men, remember, still only in their mid 20s. They'd already experienced great fame, media condemnation and the spite of a rain-grey British Establishment, even crosser now, at having started a generational war which they were gradually losing. A Rolling Stone death should have been their victory and vindication. That wasn't how our generation saw it.

Now here we all were, in Hyde Park, clapping, shaking our heads, banging Coke cans, idiot-dancing (some of us) or wilting in the heat and trying to keep still (me).The Stones played an undercooked and rather out-of-tune concert for us. Only a curmudgeon would have held it against them, though. If they were rusty, it was because these shell-shocked young guys hadn't played in public for two years. Now they were giving a massive concert, with a new guitarist, only two days after one of their number had died.

So these were the legendary Rolling Stones? They were surrounded by the great and good of the hippie aristocracy, who sat on the stage like so many stoned athelings with their beautiful boho girlfriends. Down the front of the stage, meanwhile, in WW2 German helmets and military surplus caps with chain-trims, were the British Hells Angels -the alternative society's newly-appointed praetorian guard.

Some of them, boyishly slender under the weight of their unexpected responsibilities looked a little self-conscious. The gig however was peaceful and it must be noted, laced through with a respectful undertone.

Britain in those days was not festival-literate as it is today. Glastonbury, as an event, hadn't even been invented yet. Most of us didn't quite know how to BE at a festival. There was no trouble however, none that I know about, anyway.

The Stones played their raggedy set, thanked us all and then went offstage to huge and affectionate applause. Honky Tonk Women, the band's new single hung around in the pop charts and on the nation's jukeboxes right through to the autumn.

The moddy haircuts, skinny jackets and clean-shaven three-minute pop sensibilities of the mid-Sixties were long gone, replaced now by Zapata moustaches three-button grandad shirts and hippie scarves.

The mood was less frivolous, less fun. Rock had gone 'underground' so the music papers told us. The songs would soon become longer, the concepts more pompous, the flares wider and the hair flappier. When the day was over, I reckon, so was the Party After the War and we all traipsed sadly home to prepare ourselves for the lugubrious and utterly dull early 1970s.

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