July 5, 1969: Hyde Park, London We hadn’t planned to go to Hyde Park until a few days beforehand, when Brian Jones’ death suddenly changed the nature of the event. As the weekend approached the incentives grew stronger: the chance to hear Mick Taylor, young pretender to the axe god crown; and the Stones had been away – touring in the States, recording Beggars Banquet, or just inactive and incommunicado – for years, it seemed.
Actually, I’d never seen the Stones. I had a ticket to see them at the Stevenage Locarno on April 1, ’64, but flu poleaxed me and I was flat out in bed hallucinating. April Fool, indeed. My girlfriend at the time, Mary, came round the next day to tell me how terrific they were. Nice. By 1969 the failed drummer was a fully-trained hack, and here was a chance to catch them at the end of the decade that had been theirs, that had become ours too. Well, that’s what it felt like.
“Mick Jagger’s panegyric hushed the vast crowd to its very fringes.”
The night before Hyde Park I stayed at my (new) girlfriend’s flat just off the Fulham Road, close enough to walk through the balmy day to the event. Of the support bands, King Crimson made a thunderous impression – confident sound, strong material, exceptional playing, fresh approach. I bought their debut album as soon as it came out that October.
Mick Jagger’s panegyric on the fallen former Stone Brian Jones from Shelley’s Adonaïs: An Elegy On The Death Of John Keats – “Peace, peace! He is not dead, he doth not sleep/He hath awakened from the dream of life…” – hushed the vast crowd to its very fringes. It seemed at the time and still does now, a brave and decent thing. This sort of trouble was not, to my knowledge, ever voluntarily taken by the newly invented Youth. It reminded me most of my grandfather, every Remembrance Sunday, making the short bus trip from Bow, laden with medals, to the Royal Fusiliers War Memorial on Holborn to commemorate the friends and relatives who died in the war he’d fought in and would never talk about.
The Stones, well, I’d see them play better later, and transcendence would await their last few numbers. By then, the soul-blues of Don Covay’s Mercy Mercy and Alvin Robinson’s Down Home Girl had warmed them, us, up, but there was a lift when Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts whirred into sync and (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction kicked in. As Keith Richards’ driving riff broke through one thought how, well, generous it was to give the young and melodious “new Mick”, dripping with technique, this chance.
After that, the originals drove harder: Honky Tonk Women, Street Fighting Man and ending on Sympathy For The Devil. Whenever I hear that song I think, in a madeleine moment, of toes plashing in the Serpentine. We started the slower walk back down the Fulham Road, weather still nice, mood cooler than cooled, Stones riffs still buzzing in our heads.
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