The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus is a film released in 1996 of a December 11, 1968 event put together by The Rolling Stones. The event comprised two concerts on a circus stage and included such acts as Eric Clapton, 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, as The Who were.
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, 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 canceled 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 favor to Anderson while they looked for a replacement for Mick Abrahams. The band mimed to the album version of “A Song for Jeffrey” and ‘Fat Man’ as the Stones told them to cut their time down and it would save time on rehearsing,” Fat Man’ never made the final release . 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 concert 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 alternate take of “Sympathy for the Devil” with Brian Jones on guitar.
Have a groovy day 🙂
Peace and Love,
If you liked this article, make sure you subscribe to the feed via RSS
Check out the Retro Rebirth Design Catalog