The Rolling Stones In Hyde Park: Summer 1969

It had been two years since The Rolling Stones had played live in public, their previous show being at the Panathinaikos Stadium in Athens, Greece, on the 17th April 1967. They would perform at the NME Poll Winners Concert in 1968 but that show in Greece was their last proper live performance. In that time they would release two albums, 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request and 1968’s Beggars Banquet. The former is an almost forgotten album in their catalogue and the latter is regarded as the start of a new golden era which would continue until Mick Taylor’s departure in 1974.

The concert at Hyde Park was free and as a result somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 people flocked to see them. The exact number is unknown. Photographs of the crowd on that hot summers afternoon reveal the hoards of people in the park with some of them arriving at the scene with candles a full day before the concert would start, in memory of the recently departed Brian Jones. Jones died two days before the Hyde Park concert and less than a month after he had been informed by Jagger, Richards and Watts that his services would no longer be needed. Jones hadn’t been a part of the Stones setup for a while and only supplied minor parts for their next album Let It Bleed which would be released in December of that year. The band chose Mick Taylor as his replacement who had been recommended to them by John Mayall who Taylor had been playing with up until that point. The Hyde Park concert was very much the start of a fruitful era for The Rolling Stones which saw the release of legendary album after legendary album with Mick Taylor being a big reason for that.

July 5th 1969

The Show:

  1. Adonaïs

  2. I’m Yours And I’m Hers
  3. Jumping Jack Flash
  4. Mercy Mercy
  5. Stray Cat Blues
  6. No Expectations
  7. I’m Free
  8. Down Home Girl
  9. Love In Vain
  10. Loving Cup
  11. Honky Tonk Women
  12. Midnight Rambler
  13. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
  14. Street Fighting Man
  15. Sympathy For The Devil

Before the band play any music Mick Jagger takes to the stage to read two stanzas from   Adonaïs, a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley as a tribute to the recently departed Brian Jones. Dressed all in white Jagger looks like something out of a Shakespeare play with a dress included. After the reading a number of white butterflies are released but due to the excessive heat on the day many of them tragically perished in the boxes on the side of the stage. Doves would have been a better option perhaps, or maybe not. A cover of the Johnny Winter song I’m Yours And I’m Hers is the first number featuring some great blues guitar playing from Richards and Taylor. Even though they both play well on this track one (or perhaps both) of the guitars are miles out of tune, effectively ruining the performance. A little slack can be given perhaps because this is their first show in nearly two years but the July heat could have been a reason for them being so badly out of tune. Jagger is on fine form though and more than makes up for the guitar mess going on behind him. This is of course, the first time Richards and Taylor wield their guitars together and things only get better from this point on. Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a big improvement when it comes to the guitars and then you can start to sense the band beginning to gel and the magic that would continue to grow over the next five years being cast for the very first time. Music history in the making.

Mercy Mercy is taken from their 1965 album Out Of Their Heads, a song originally written and recorded by Don Covay in 1964. Wyman and Watts sound incredible during this performance with Wyman in particular playing like a man possessed. Richards has always said over the years that the bass and drums in The Rolling Stones are one of the best things in the band because they give him something to play so wonderfully over, and that isn’t any more obvious than right here. After a shaky start the band are starting to warm up. Stray Cat Blues is the next song and the first of four songs the band would play from their 1968 album Beggars Banquet, an album they didn’t tour upon release. This is the first time the song is performed live and they sound fantastic, almost like they’d been playing it every day since it’s recording. Jagger is on fine form and has been since the start of the set, something that continues to the end of the set. Stray Cat Blues is followed by a fellow Beggars Banquet song in No Expectations and the first thing that springs to mind is how different it sounds to the studio version. Gone are the acoustic guitars that were so graceful on the album, replaced instead with two electric guitars that are still trying to get to grips with one another. It’s not a bad performance by any means and things thankfully improve as the song progresses with the two guitars coming down in volume and sounding more laid back as a result.

Danny D’Arcy – Audience Member

“One of the stories concerns a motley crew of chanting skinheads marching through the crowd at the back speakers corner entrance, trampling on hippies lying down. One massive shirtless bearded hippie took umbrage, forgot about his love and peace ethos, stood up and faced off the front leader who was wearing his black pork pie hat and crombie overcoat. He knocked him out with one punch, all his pals retreated very sharpish back to Marble Arch, they all had the skinhead outfits, checked short sleeved shirts, ox blood Doc Martins, turned up jeans, braces and number one crewcuts. They were a cocky bunch of oiks chanting “we are the skins” until their ‘leader’ was cut down by this hippie, haha. King Crimson were well impressive, what a sound, a new sound to hear as soon as I walked into the park. I’d never heard a mellotron before. They were playing In the Court of the Crimson King and it blew me away as we used to say. The mellotron and their combined choral voices covering the air all around the park then when they played 21st Century Schizoid Man I was stunned, it was a completely new style/fusion of music.

Musically the Stones, in my opinion, suffered from including them in the line up as a lot of the crowd compared the new to the old and it has to be said that at some points the Stones were out of tune and sloppy. My highlight from them was when they went into I’m Yours And I’m Hers with that incredible slide riff that Led Zepp later used on one of their songs. I didn’t get moved by the encore Sympathy For The Devil. It’s a great song but I never understood why such a talented group would want to praise old nick. Loved the massive photos of Brian and the release of the butterflies though a lot of them died of suffication before the boxes were opened.

You may also know the story of when the Stones police van and one of their cars went through to the rear stage, a young Ronnie Wood exchanged words with Keith and Mick. He was on the same musical R&B scene with them. Ronnie cracked, propheticly, “I’ll be playing with you one day.” I think the Stones were staying in a top floor room overlooking the park at the Hilton in Park Lane and were amazed at the size of the crowds. Oh and Richard Branson offered a free copy of the Stones new 45, Honky Tonk Women for every five bags of rubbish brought to the front of the stage.”

Bari Watts – Audience Member

“Found out about the gig via the Music papers at the time. Me and a mate went up by train the night before and slept in the park, quite a few people did. (We lived in Harrow Middlesex). We were sat to the right of the stage just in front of the trees which is where we slept the night before. We chatted with some Hells Angels during the night. At the time of course All the music sounded great. We were young, stoned and it was great weather! Family were excellent and King Crimson. I’ve watched The Stones set in recent years and can hear now how out of tune Keith is and how loose the band is! But then I just loved it all. Actually, I always thought that Mick Taylor was actually a bit too good for The Stones really? I just have the memory of a great day all round.”

Simon Bell – Audience Member

“I had gotten married on June 28th in London and we lived just off Portobello Road; an exiting time to be around there. It is possible we walked there, or Tubed it to Marble Arch. We were under a tree on a mound, slightly left facing the stage. I’ll confess at this point that I wasn’t a huge Stones fan but my friends were. I was there for the event. Later that Summer we saw Ritchie Havens there and I really loved him. As I hadn’t seen them before I noticed no difference with Mick Taylor, but I enjoyed the show, and of course it was very moving.”

Dadou Yebali – Audience Member

“I was sitting on a bench to the left of the stage looking out at the Serpentine,saw the dead butterflies being shaken out of cardboard boxes and Ginger Baker driving through the crowd just behind us in his Jensen. I don’t remember the music.”

I’m Free and Down Home Girl are the next two numbers, the former a Jaggers/Richards song originally featured on Out Of Their Heads and the latter a song written by Jerry Leiber and Artie Butler which the band covered on their 1965 album The Rolling Stones No. 2. These are two really good performances by the band which are then followed by a storming version of the Robert Johnson song Love In Vain which the band would record on Let It Bleed. This performance is without a doubt one of the highlights of the entire show, and you can hear how confident the band are with the new material which shows how much they had moved on from their past work. Loving Cup comes next, a song that would eventually be recorded for Exile On Main Street in 1972 but had been debuted in the studio in 1969. Considering the band were probably still working on it at this point it’s a fantastic rendition which significantly highlights their change in musical direction superbly. Taylor’s guitar playing in particular fits perfectly alongside Keith’s as if they were born to play together which, considering the legendary songs they would end up recording together, they were. The opening riff of Honky Tonk Women follows Loving Cup, a riff that every music fan in the world today knows intimately. It could only be Honky Tonk Women and the band play it superbly here, it’s first ever live outing. Mick Taylor plays a wonderful guitar solo here which highlights the  growing influence his playing is already having on the band as a whole.

One of the best songs on Let It Bleed is Midnight Rambler and the band treat the 250,000+ crowd with it’s debut performance. I can only imagine what it would have been like actually being in Hyde Park when they played this song and thank God we have a recording of it because it is magical. Jagger’s harmonica wails alongside the two guitars with Watts and Wyman keeping things steady behind them. At just short of nine minutes in length this is the longest track of the set so far and the change in tempo mixes things up and provides the throbbing crowd with a look into how their music will be from now on, with think riffs taking centre stage. Sadly things take a slight turn for the worse when the band perform (I Can’t Get No Satisfaction), because the untuned guitars that started the performance make an unwelcome return. For such a fantastic song it’s a disappointing performance that you can’t wait to be over which is a real shame. Things return to near their best on Street Fighting Man with the guitars sounding much better, at least compared to the previous song. Sympathy For The Devil is the final song of the afternoon and this version clocks in just short of twenty minutes in length making it the longest song of the set. It’s an energetic performance and a fantastic end to the afternoon although there are moments where you can sense Taylor is still trying to feel out the song, after all he wasn’t in the band when it was originally recorded. But apart from that it’s a fine show closer.

This show in Hyde Park is rightly considered one of the pivotal moments in rock history by one of rock history’s most revered bands. True, the band may not have performed to the best of their abilities, but in fairness it had been just over two years since the band had last performed in front of a live audience. Seeing the amount of people in Hyde Park as they stepped out onto the stage must have been an extremely daunting experience but they pulled it off and passed with flying colours. The show also marked a turning point for the band with the arrival of Mick Taylor. Their sound would forever be different and the new songs like Loving Cup, Midnight Rambler and Honky Tonk Women gave the crowd a preview of what was to come, a preview of a golden era for The Rolling Stones which would result in a succession of albums that are considered some of the best of all time. And this show was the first glimpse.

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Acknowledgements: Simon Bell, Danny D’Arcy, Bari Watts, Dadou Yebali.
Photo Credits: Photo 1: Sunday Mirror/MirrorPix/Corbis.  Photo 2: MirrorPix/Corbis. Photo 3: Daily Mirror/MirrorPix/Corbis.
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