15 January 2012
Director: Michael Lindsay-Hogg
65 minutes, 1968
"The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus" is a film released in 1996 of an 11 December 1968 event put together by "The Rolling Stones". The event comprised two concerts on a circus stage and included such acts as "The Who", "Taj Mahal", "Marianne Faithfull", and "Jethro Tull". "John Lennon" and his fiancee "Yoko Ono" performed as part of a supergroup called "The Dirty Mac", along with "Eric Clapton", "Mitch Mitchell", and "Keith Richards". It was originally meant to be aired on the BBC, but "The Rolling Stones" withheld it because they were unhappy with their performance.
The Stones contended that they withheld the film's release due to their substandard performance, because they had taken the stage early in the morning and were clearly exhausted. Many others believe that the true reason for not releasing the video was that The Who, who were fresh off a concert tour, upstaged the Stones on their own production. The Stones had not toured recently, and were not in top playing condition to match "The Who".
The project was originally conceived by "Mick Jagger" as a way of branching out from conventional records and concert performances. Jagger approached "Michael Lindsay-Hogg", who had directed two promos for Stones songs, to make a full-length TV show for them. According to Lindsay-Hogg, the idea of combining Rock music and a circus setting came to him when he was trying to come up with ideas; he drew a circle on a piece of paper and free-associated.
The Stones and their guests performed in a replica of a seedy big top on a British sound stage - the Intertel (V.T.R. Services) Studio, Wycombe Road, Wembley - in front of an invited audience. The performances began at around 2 p.m. on December 11, 1968, but setting up between acts took longer than planned and the cameras kept breaking down, which meant that the final performances took place at almost 5 o'clock the next morning.
By that time the audience and most of the Stones were exhausted; Jagger's sheer stamina managed to keep them going until the end. Jagger was reportedly so disappointed with his and the band's performance that he cancelled the airing of the film, and kept it from public view. This was the last public performance of Brian Jones with The Rolling Stones, and for much of the Stones performance he is inaudible, although his slide guitar on "No Expectations" remains clear.
Some of the footage of the concert was thought to be lost until 1989 when it was found in a trash can in a cellar. A significant segment of footage of "The Who" from the production was actually shown theatrically in the documentary "The Kids Are Alright" (1979), the only public viewing of the film until its eventual release. The Stones' film was restored and finally released on CD and video in 1996. Included on the recordings are the introductions for each act, including some entertaining banter between Jagger and Lennon, expressing mutual friendship and admiration.
This concert is the only footage of "Black Sabbath" guitarist "Tony Iommi" performing as a member of "Jethro Tull"; he was a member for this show only as a favour to "Ian Anderson" while they looked for a replacement for "Mick Abrahams". The band mimed to the album version of "A Song for Jeffrey". This footage also included some of "Ian Anderson"'s first attempts of his now famous flute-playing position, with one leg in the air.
In 2004, a remastered DVD was released, with audio remixed into Dolby Surround. The DVD includes footage of the show, along with extra features which include previously "lost" performances, an interview with "Pete Townshend", and three audio commentaries. Of particular interest in the Townshend interview is his description of the genesis of the Circus project, which he claims was initially meant to involve the performers travelling across the United States via train (a concept used for a short concert series in Canada that was later documented in the feature film "Festival Express"). The remastered DVD also includes a special four-camera view of "Dirty Mac"'s performance of "The Beatles"' "Yer Blues" (showing Ono kneeling on the floor in front of the musicians, completely covered in a black sheet).
According to "Bill Wyman"'s book, the Stones also performed "Confessing the Blues", "Route 66" and an alternative take of "Sympathy for the Devil" with "Brian Jones" on guitar.
Excerpt from Lindsay-Hogg interview:
How did you gather all the musicians that are in "The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus"?
"The Beatles" had done, in 1967, "The Magical Mystery Tour", which was self-produced and self-directed. "The Rolling Stones" wanted to do their own things. They were always looking to figure out what to do, as well as make a record — in those days, make an LP. And because Mick and I got on, he asked me to come up with an idea for a rock'n'roll show that would have "The Rolling Stones" to headline it, and then also have other bands that they admired on the show.
So I was sitting in their office, and I was kind of getting nervous, because we had a production date, which was the early part of December of that year, and this was October, and I didn't have an idea. I was doodling on a pad, like we all do — stick figures and circles and things — and I doodled a couple of circles.
And then what came into my head from looking at the circles was the word 'circus'. And so I called Mick up, and I said, "I'm going to say seven words to you, and I think I've got it". And those seven words were "The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus".
And he immediately got it. And we immediately decided that it shouldn't be kind of snazzy. It shouldn't be like the Ringling Bros Circus. It shouldn't look like anybody's making any money off of it. And so we decided it should have a look of a tatty, European traveling circus. And that's why we have those strange acts with those wonderful, older acrobats and things like that.
We hired a circus to do it: the Robert Fawcett Circus that was actually touring in England. And he had to cut out the clowns too, but we lost footage and stuff like that. But the idea was it would be a place where the musicians would perform in a setting that would be appropriate for the period and the time. It couldn't have been set up now, because most of it was set up from "Mick Jagger"'s black address book, which he carried in his back pocket. And so we had to decide — Mick and the other "Rolling Stones".
Taj Mahal was Keith [Richards'] idea. Marianne [Faithfull] was also going to be on, because it was a very, very male culture. There were a few women around, by Marianne was one of the most prominent, not only because she was beautiful and had a sweet kind of voice, but also because at the time she was Mick's girlfriend.
The first call — because Mick and I agreed, because I knew them and I filmed them a lot on "Ready Steady Go" in the first year — was to the Who. So "Mick Jagger" took out his address book, called "Pete Townshend", and they were in.
Then we wanted to choose a new band, to give them some sort of shot, really. And we listened to a lot of demos. And we chose "Jethro Tull" because of an extraordinary guy called "Ian Anderson", who looks like someone on the side of a road who plays a flute.
But we turned down a group because we thought it was too guitar-heavy. That could have been a mistake, because that [group] was "Led Zeppelin".
And then the supergroup. We had gone, first of all, to "Steve Winwood", who was known as "Stevie Winwood", because he was always younger than everybody. He had just started Traffic, I think, and he was supposed to form a supergroup to appear on the show. But for some reason, a couple of days before the show, Steve hadn't, as we used to say, 'got it together'. And so we had to come up with a supergroup.
And Mick and I thought, because I worked with "The Beatles", that "John Lennon" might have the appetite to form something. He had already been playing with "Eric Clapton". And then what you saw is what he came up with.
We didn't know that Yoko [Ono] was going to perform, nor did the violinist who'd been imported from Paris, thinking that this was going to be his big break, playing with "John Lennon". So when you look [at the movie] again on the DVD, you'll see what started as a guy thinking, "Oh, this is going to be fun" to a look of exasperation. And when you look at his eyes, he realizes that "Yoko Ono" isn't going to stop.
Anyway, that was "Rock and Roll Circus", which we finished shooting in December of 1968. We showed a rough cut to Mick and Keith [Richards] and Allen Klein, who was their manager at the time. And they thought that the Who were better than "The Rolling Stones" in the rough cut that we put together. Now that could be possible.
Someone said years ago that, especially with "The Who" and "The Rolling Stones" at that period in their careers, it's like watching icons being born. This is when they were 24, 25, years old. And we all know what they've given to the world.
But if "The Who" were better than "The Rolling Stones" [in the "Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus" movie], it was because they'd been touring. They'd been on the road, and "The Rolling Stones" hadn't been for a while. So "The Who" were really hot as players. And they'd just been working on that, which is part of the mini-opera they did.
"The Who" came on at 4 in the afternoon. It was very hot. Keith Moon: Was there a more adorable, insane drummer? And the cameras kept breaking down.
So The Rolling Stones didn't get on stage until 2 in the morning. So they were ragged. That was the last time "Brian Jones" ever played with "The Rolling Stones". The years hadn't treated him well. He could hardly play anymore. Whether it was drink or drugs, it took a heavy toll. And he was dead about six months after we finished.
So it was the last time he played with "The Rolling Stones" — and they were pretty ragged. And so when we came to the one we'd all looked forward to at the beginning of the day, which was "Sympathy for the Devil", we’d all been there — including the cameramen with their Viewfinders — for 17, 18 hours. We were exhausted.
And the take we did before the one which is on the screen was in shambles for the guys doing the recording, for the cameramen, for The Rolling Stones. It was just a mess. And we thought about, at one point, stopping them at 7 o'clock in the morning and then coming back the next night. But it was quite expensive.
And then we finished it. It's an extraordinary performance. I've never forgotten it.