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Revisiting the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus
*By Marcelo Sonaglioni


Those were the days in late 1968… With the whole concept for The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus developed by Mick Jagger and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, they both planned an all-star music concert that would be shot under a big-top tent. But in fact the concert’s footage, which originally was supposed to be an hour-long BBC television Christmas special, was not aired at the time and even thought to be lost (save for some footage in The Who’s 1979 movie The Kids Are Alright) until a restored version was finally shown in 1996.

rolling stones rock and roll circus 1968

Shot on December 11 1968, Jagger was extremely complimentary as they staged the event, while Lindsay-Hogg established his reputation as the producer of the TV music program Ready Steady Go!, among other works (he would also direct The Beatles’ “Let It Be” later) “Michael is a very creative guy,” Mick said at the time. “We came up with this idea, and the whole idea, obviously, is to make it a mixture of different music acts and circus acts, taking it out of the normal and making it slightly surreal… mixing the two up. And also we wanted as many different kinds of music as possible. So that’s why we thought about who would be the best kind of supporting acts.” Regarded as one of Rock’s finest moments, the The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus TV special was to be also used to promote the Stones’ new album “Beggars Banquet”.

Also hired was Tony Richmond, who later worked on the movies Don’t Look Now with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland and The Man Who Fell To Earth with David Bowie, who Lindsay-Hogg brought in as the film’s cinematographer. He employed cutting-edge, French-designed 16mm cameras to capture the show, while Glyn Johns and Jimmy Miller used the mobile from Olympic Studios to record the audio.

rolling stones taj mahal the who circus 1968
L. to R.: Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Keith & Brian watching the rehearsals of Taj Mahal / Mick talks to The Who’s Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey

Jagger and his bandmates wanted the event to include notable rock performers of the era. Traffic and Cream were initially invited, but both had split up before they could participate. However the show featured a parade of real Rock royalty, including names such as The Who, John Lennon, Marianne Faithfull, Eric Clapton, Jethro Tull, The Rolling Stones themselves performing several songs from their latest album, and even a extraordinary supergroup created for the event, The Dirty Mac, featuring John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell. Yoko Ono and violinist Ivry Gitlis are featured on their second song, a jam called “Whole Lotta Yoko”. Still, despite all these fine features, the show end up being shelved and never broadcast.

The Marquee Club, Olympic Sound Studios, and the Londonderry House Hotel in Mayfair all hosted camera tests and rehearsals in the days leading up to the start of filming on Wednesday, December 11. A few songs were polished, while others (like Lennon, Jagger, and Clapton singing a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue”) were finally removed from the setlist.

The location for the filming was InterTel video services’ studios at Stonebridge House in Wembley. Members of The Rolling Stones fan club, prize winners of a New Musical Express contest, and a few visiting American Hells Angels made up the invited audience. With the stage designed to resemble the interior of a circus, members of Sir Robert Fossett’s Circus, including trapeze artists, fire-eaters, clowns, acrobats, a tiger, and even a boxing kangaroo, performed alongside the musicians on the bill.

Although the shooting of the special was supposed to wrap up on December 11 1968, it actually continued into the next day, lasting from 2:00 PM to 5:00 AM. The length of the show—more than 15 hours—was caused by the amount of work required to set up the stages and reload the cameras between performances. In March 2019, Lindsay-Hogg remarked to the LA Times that “The clowns and The Rolling Stones got along very well”. “And it was great backstage,” he said. “They were all sitting in a room – John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton – playing blues on guitar and harmonica. Keith Moon was playing spoons on a table.”
The late music critic David Dalton, who was present in 1968, claimed that “The Rock And Roll Circus captures the delirious optimism of an era.

The Stones’ Circus was also Brian Jones’ final live performance with the band, and despite clearly being under the influence of drugs, he still played some fantastic guitar, especially his slide guitar solo in “No Expectations”. Among other highlights, on a side note, Tony Iommi, a founding member of Black Sabbath, appeared on the show as the guitarist for Jethro Tull for two weeks in 1968 (before rejoining Sabbath, that is)

Sadly the Stones didn’t release the audio and video until 1996, 28 years after the event. It was said that the band wasn’t happy with the outcome. They believed The Who’s performance had stolen the show’s spotlight from them, whch might have left them unsatisfied rather than happy with the show’s overall results. In fact The Who’s incredible performance of “A Quick One While He’s Away” was one of the highlights of the show, just like The Dirty Mac’s stunning rendition of The Beatles’ “Yer Blues”.

The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus (ABKCO 1268-2)
Release date: Oct. 14 2006

rolling stones rock nd roll circus cd 2006

1 Mick Jagger– Introduction Of Rock And Roll Circus
2 Unknown Artist– Entry Of The Gladiators
3 Mick Jagger & Yoko Ono– Introduction Of Jethro Tull
4 Jethro Tull– Song For Jeffrey
5 Keith Richards– Introduction Of The Who
6 The Who– A Quick One While He’s Away
7 Unknown Artist– Over The Waves
8 Taj Mahal– Ain’t That A Lot Of Love
9 Charlie Watts– Introduction Of Marianne Faithfull
10 Marianne Faithfull– Something Better
11 Mick Jagger & John Lennon– Introduction Of The Dirty Mac
12 The Dirty Mac– Yer Blues
13 Yoko Ono & Ivry Gitlis With The Dirty Mac– Whole Lotta Yoko
14 John Lennon– Introduction Of The Rolling Stones
14 The Rolling Stones– Jumping Jack Flash
15 The Rolling Stones– Parachute Woman
16 The Rolling Stones– No Expectations
17 The Rolling Stones– You Can’t Always Get What You Want
18 The Rolling Stones– Sympathy For The Devil
19 The Rolling Stones– Salt Of The Earth

rolling stones rock and roll circus 1968

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