The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus

The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus
The Rolling Stones Rock-and-Roll Circus poster 300x417px.jpg
Directed byMichael Lindsay-Hogg[1]
Produced bySandy Leiberson[2][1]
StarringThe Rolling Stones, Jethro Tull, The Who, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithfull, The Dirty Mac, Yoko Ono, Sir Robert Fossett's Circus and the Nurses.[2]
CinematographyAnthony B. Richmond
Edited byRuth Foster, Robin Klein[2][1]
Release date
12 October 1996
(New York Film Festival),
6 December 1996
(TV premiere)
Running time
66 min
LanguageEnglish

The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus was a concert show organised by the Rolling Stones on 11 December 1968. The show was filmed on a makeshift circus stage with Jethro Tull, The Who, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithfull, and The Rolling Stones. John Lennon and his fiancee Yoko Ono also performed as part of a one-shot supergroup called The Dirty Mac, featuring Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell, and Keith Richards. The original idea for the concert was going to include the Small Faces, the Rolling Stones, and the Who, and the concept of a circus was first thought up between Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane. It was meant to be aired on the BBC, but instead the Rolling Stones withheld it. The Rolling Stones contended they did so because of their substandard performance, clearly exhausted after 15 hours (and some indulgence in drugs).[3] There is also the fact that this was Brian Jones last appearance with the Rolling Stones; he drowned some seven months later while the film was being edited. Some speculate that another reason for not releasing the video was that the Who, who were fresh off a concert tour, obviously upstage the Stones on their own production. Led Zeppelin was considered for inclusion but the idea was dropped.[4][5][6][7][8] The show was not released commercially until 1996.

Concept and performance

The project was originally conceived by Mick Jagger as a way to promote the new record Beggars Banquet beside conventional press and concert appearances.[3] Jagger approached Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who had directed two promos for Rolling Stones songs (and would go on to direct the Beatles' Let It Be documentary), 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 Rolling 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[9]—in front of an invited audience. The performances began at around 2 pm on 11 December 1968, but setting up between acts and reloading cameras took longer than planned, which meant that the final performances took place at almost 5 o'clock in the morning on the 12th.[10]

By that time the audience and most of the Rolling Stones were exhausted. It was only due to Jagger's sheer enthusiasm and stamina that they kept going until the end. Regardless, 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. Pete Townshend recalled:

When they really get moving, there is a kind of white magic that starts to replace the black magic, and everything starts to really fly. That didn't happen on this occasion; there's no question about that. They weren't just usurped by The Who, they were also usurped by Taj Mahal – who was just, as always, extraordinary. They were usurped to some extent by the event itself: the crowd by the time the Stones went on were radically festive.[11]

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", maracas on "Sympathy for the Devil", and rhythm guitar on "Jumpin' Jack Flash" remain clear. Ian Anderson remarked:

Brian Jones was well past his sell-by date by then… We spoke to Brian and he didn't really know what was going on. He was rather cut off from the others – there was a lot of embarrassed silence. But a delightful chap, and we felt rather sorry for him… I was approached for an interview by a chap from Record Mirror… I inadvertently remarked that the Stones were a bit under-rehearsed and that Brian couldn't even tune his guitar, which was literally the truth but a bit tactless and inappropriate for me to say. This was duly reported, whereupon Mick Jagger was mightily upset. I had to send a grovelling apology to his office.[11]

The last song, "Salt of the Earth", was sung live by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger to the pre-recorded tape from the Beggars Banquet studio album on which the song had been released.

According to Bill Wyman's book, Rolling with the Stones, the Rolling Stones also performed "Confessing the Blues", "Route 66" and an alternative take of "Sympathy for the Devil" with Brian Jones on guitar.[12] Nicky Hopkins supplemented the Rolling Stones on piano.