Friday, 9 July 2021

High Times And Green Grass: Stones In The Park


Hyde Park, July 5, 1969

This week marks the 52nd anniversary of the Rolling Stones’ historic free concert in Hyde Park.  Our man in the crushed velvet loon pants and grubby Afghan coat was on the spot in 1969 to witness it all.  Stuart Penney reports on the big day. 

The summer of 1969 was a busy time for concertgoers.  Supergroup Blind Faith played their much vaunted and highly anticipated debut (and, as it turned out, only) UK show in Hyde Park in early June and then barely a month later it was the turn of the Rolling Stones.  These early concerts took place on the banks of the Serpentine lake in a natural amphitheatre known as The Cockpit (actually a disused gravel pit dating back to the 17th century) and because the shows were free to all, the location required no fences and presented few problems with security.

The concerts were the brainchild of Blackhill Enterprises, the rock management company founded by Peter Jenner, Andrew King and members of Pink Floyd.  Among Blackhill’s clients were Marc Bolan, Roy Harper and the Edgar Broughton Band, so it was no surprise to see these artists regularly booked for the Hyde Park shows.

Around a dozen free concerts took place between 1968-71, averaging three a year.  The first, on June 29, 1968, featured Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Roy Harper.  A month later came Traffic, The Nice, Pretty Things, The Action and Junior’s Eyes.  In August it was the turn of Fleetwood Mac, Family, Fairport Convention, Eclection and Ten Years After and bringing the summer of 1968 to a close in September were The Move, Strawbs, Roy Harper, The Action and Clouds.  These early shows were comparatively small, laidback affairs with crowds not exceeding 15,000.  All this would change the following year as the concerts dramatically increased in scale and notoriety.

The first concert of 1969 attracted a crowd of 150,000 on June 7 to see Blind Faith supported by the Third Ear Band, Edgar Broughton Band, Richie Havens and, making an impromptu appearance, Donovan.  But this huge turn-out was a mere bagatelle compared to the next event 28 days later when a reported half million came to see the Rolling Stones. 

On Friday July 4, the day before the concert, a special “Stones In The Park” souvenir edition of the London newspaper the Evening Standard appeared with a colour front cover, which was most unusual for the time. It showed the band sitting on the floor of a rehearsal room (possibly Apple studios) surrounded by their Hiwatt amps and assorted instruments.  As a lifelong guitar obsessive I was thrilled to see Mick Taylor with a Gibson SG Standard complete with Bigsby vibrato. Bill had a seldom-seen Vox Astro IV violin bass and, best of all, Keith was pictured with a rare and beautiful Gibson Flying V.  With fewer than 100 original examples made in 1958/59 the Flying V was an unfeasibly scarce and desirable instrument, even in 1969.  According to Bill Wyman this very guitar had originally been owned by none other than bluesman Albert King.

The Hyde Park show was the only time Keith’s “V” was seen onstage and in 1971 it was one of several guitars stolen from Nellcôte, his villa in the south of France, during the Exile On Main Street sessions* (see footnote).  I treasured that copy of the Evening Standard for decades and, dog-eared and torn, it survived several house moves before eventually going the way of so many other items of ephemera.

After catching the 7:15am train from Sheffield to London St. Pancras, my girlfriend Carol and I arrived at the park around midday to find thousands already occupying their one square yard of grass (that’s 0.836127 square metres, for metric fans).  Many had camped out overnight in deckchairs and sleeping bags and some were still dozing.  Campfires and related outdoor survival paraphernalia were much in evidence and the air hung heavy with the unmistakable aroma of jazz Woodbines.  We eventually secured a spot to the left of the stage with limited visibility. 

A month earlier at the Blind Faith concert (which we also attended) the stage had been a relatively small, simple affair without any kind of backdrop.  This afforded fans a clear view past the band and the Marshall stacks and out across the Serpentine to the distant 33-storey Hyde Park Barracks tower, then still under construction.  I always thought this seemed a little low budget for such a major (and majorly-hyped) group.  

But with money seemingly no object for the Stones, their stage was many times larger than the one used by Clapton & Co and it was adorned with palm trees and a painted backdrop which included a giant blow-up of the Beggars Banquet inside sleeve, giving a much better overall atmosphere.  However, the visual effect was spoiled somewhat by dozens of assorted liggers, hangers-on, Hells Angels, photographers, friends, wives and lovers spilling onto the stage from the scaffolding towers on both sides.  All the Hyde Park concerts and many other large events of the era, including the Isle of Wight festivals, used the same WEM (Watkins Electric Music) PA systems with their familiar black columns and distinctive red logo.

It was a hot, sticky day and with the concept of bottled water still a marketing man’s distant (wet) dream we sweltered through the support acts which included King Crimson, Family, Battered Ornaments, Third Ear Band and Alexis Korner’s New Church.  Despite their impending fame King Crimson were still an unknown quantity to most of the crowd at that point.  There was already quite a buzz about them in the music papers but their debut album In The Court Of The Crimson King would not be in the shops until October 1969, three months hence.  Unsurprisingly, this was the original Crimson line-up comprising Robert Fripp, Greg Lake, Ian McDonald, Michael Giles and lyricist Pete Sinfield.  MC Sam Cutler introduced them declaring, with devastating prescience, “this new band is going to go a long way”.  The KC setlist was “21st Century Schizoid Man”, “The Court of the Crimson King”, “Get Thy Bearings” (a Donovan cover!), “Epitaph”, “Mantra”, “Travel Weary Capricorn” and “Mars: The Bringer of War”.

And then there were the bikers.  Despite being totally at odds with the prevailing peace and love vibe, it had become fashionable in America at that time to hire Hells Angels members to act as security at outdoor shows to protect the stage and equipment.  The Grateful Dead especially liked to identify with the Angels’ outlaw image so we should probably blame them for starting this dubious trend.  It was a frankly naïve and reckless affectation which reached a tragic and murderous nadir at the Stones’ Altamont Free Concert in December 1969 with the death of an audience member at the hands of the Angels.

Mercifully, the idea didn’t translate too well on our side of the Atlantic and, for all their stormtrooper swagger, German stahlhelm and brazenly displayed swastikas and other Nazi insignia (unthinkable today), the British Hells Angels on duty in Hyde Park were a hopeless bunch and a pale imitation of their thuggish American counterparts.  Positioned in the press enclosure immediately in front of the stage, this unattractive, sallow-faced crew glowered menacingly at everyone around them.  But despite their macho bluster and surly demeanor, these weekend greasers appeared largely clueless as to why they were there.  It was later confirmed that there were only twelve arrests on the day and a subsequent police report opined that the 50 Angels hired by the Stones proved "totally ineffective".  We should probably chalk this up as one of Mick’s (for it was surely his idea) least successful brainstorms. 

The Battered Ornaments were awarded the coveted second support slot immediately before the Stones, probably because they were also managed by Blackhill Enterprises.  Their founder and Cream lyricist Pete Brown had suffered the ignominy of being ousted from his own band just days before the concert and they performed at Hyde Park without him, requiring guitarist Chris Spedding to take over on vocals.  As Spedding later admitted, “We fired Pete Brown because we didn’t like his singing.  It was unfortunate because none of us could sing better than him.  There were no good singers in the band”.  Undeterred, Brown resurfaced with his new band Piblokto! later in 1969 and went on to record a couple of albums for the Harvest label. 

The Battered Ornaments used an old army field ambulance as their tour bus at the time and much to Spedding’s annoyance this was requisitioned by the Stones to use as a decoy vehicle to smuggle Jagger & Co from their Park Lane hotel to the backstage area instead of their attention-grabbing limousines.  Perhaps because the vehicle was painted in military olive green many contemporary reports of the concert described the ambulance as an “armoured personnel carrier”.

The Stones hadn’t played publicly for over two years and the concert was intended to be the public unveiling of their new whiz kid guitar player Mick Taylor, fresh out of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers.  He had been introduced to the press three weeks earlier at a June 13 Hyde Park photo call and the “Honky Tonk Women” single (recorded with Taylor on June 1) was rush-released in time for the free concert.  They rehearsed in the Beatles basement studio at Apple in Savile Row and put together a 14-song set, much of it drawn from Beggars Banquet and the yet to be released Let It Bleed, with a few singles and early album tracks thrown in.

Before the Stones took the stage MC and tour manager Sam Cutler made an impassioned plea asking people to come down from the trees they had climbed to secure a better vantage point.  Couched in the hippy jargon of the time, Sam’s announcement was along the lines of “Listen, people. There are many trees around the park and these trees have many branches.  Some of them are being damaged.  Please do not damage the trees. Trees have feelings too, people”. 

The Stones finally arrived onstage in the late afternoon to wild and prolonged applause.  Mick repeatedly called for quiet as, in a flat, emotionless monotone, he read the eulogy for Brian Jones who had died just two days earlier.  The poetry meant absolutely nothing to us (and probably most of the crowd, too) at the time but, as we later discovered, it was two stanzas of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem on John Keats’ death, “Adonaïs”.  As the eulogy ended the signal was given for roadies to release thousands of cabbage white butterflies from cardboard boxes on either side of the stage.  But instead of the moving visual tribute to Brian the Stones were presumably hoping for, the imprisoned insects had suffered in the summer heat and most of them fluttered dead or dying onto the stage.

Following the poetry reading the opening number was “I’m Yours And I’m Hers” a slide guitar cover of a Johnny Winter song from his April 1969 self-titled debut CBS album.  Never officially released by the Stones it was an unusual choice, especially since Winter’s original version was only a few weeks old at the time. The significance was probably lost on most of the audience but, as we later found out, the song was a favourite of Brian Jones.  From there it was straight into a ragged version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” which, although a little rough and ready, sounded just fine.

Four songs from Beggars Banquet were included in the set, along with two from Let It Bleed, an album which would not be released until the end of 1969.  The oldest song was “Down Home Girl” from their 1965 second LP Rolling Stones No. 2 (US title Rolling Stones, Now!).  Another surprise was “Loving Cup” which, although first recorded during the Let It Bleed sessions, didn’t see the light of day until a new, faster version appeared on Exile On Main Street two years hence. 

As the crowd drifted away at the end there was a stage announcement offering a copy of the single “Honky Tonk Women” (released just the day before) to anyone who volunteered to collect a bag of rubbish.  Back then a 7” single retailed at six shillings and eight pence (33p), which is the equivalent of £6 in 2021.  I was quite tempted by the offer of a free record but not tempted enough to get my hands dirty.  Besides, I fondly imagined I was too cool for that kind of thing.  Health and Safety would have a field day with something like that now considering the number of syringes and other delights you’d find in today’s concert garbage.  It was later estimated that 5,000 tons of rubbish were removed from the park, but that only £100 (equivalent to £1,700 in 2021) of damage was reported.  Funnily enough, most of that meagre destruction was to the trees Sam Cutler had seemed so concerned about.

New boy Mick Taylor acquitted himself amazingly well considering this was his first live outing with the Stones.  But overall the band sounded tentative and under-rehearsed, and Keith’s guitar was a little out of tune in places.  But none of that seemed to matter a jot at the time.  Music wasn’t freely available 24-7 like it is now and we were thrilled just to see the Stones (and see them for free, too). 

Keith alternated between that amazing Flying V and a more prosaic Gibson ES330, while Taylor swapped between his Gibson SG Standard and an original sunburst Les Paul, a guitar which is probably worth more than the price of a decent house today, even without the Stones’ provenance. Bill, meanwhile, unearthed his 1964 Framus 5/150 Star bass, which he nicknamed "The Humbug" because of the striped pattern in the wood. In a 1971 Rolling Stone interview Keith admitted "We played pretty bad until near the end, because we hadn't played for years.  Nobody minded because they just wanted to hear us play again."

Although it wasn’t a vintage performance, the 1969 Hyde Park concert was a genuine coming of age for the Stones.  It seemed like this was the point where they made the transition from a package tour singles group into a fully-fledged rock albums band.  While it wouldn’t become official for another six months or so, the Beatles were now finally out of the picture and the Stones were free to conquer America and become the biggest stadium rock band in the world. 

Later that evening The Who and Chuck Berry were double-billed at the Royal Albert Hall just a short stroll across Hyde Park.  It was the closing night of the first season of the Pop Proms and Teddy Boys in their drape jackets and drainpipes turned up in force to pay homage to Chuck.  Bizarrely, the Teds abused the Who and front man Roger Daltrey reportedly received a cut to his head after objects were thrown at the band.  Over the years I’ve spoken to several people who attended both the Albert Hall event and the Stones concert too.  We seriously thought about going to this show, but it had been a long hot day and we bailed early, footsore and sunburned, to catch the 10:20pm train home to Sheffield.

In the weeks afterwards much was made of Jagger’s “man’s dress” and dog collar combo which he wore for the opening numbers.  The garment was made by designer Mr. Fish - apparently for Sammy Davis Jr - before it found its way to Mick.  The grown-ups weren’t impressed of course and parents across the land went into apoplexy at the sight of Jagger sashaying across the stage in such an outfit.  Mick removed the dress after the first few songs to reveal a violet-coloured vest (or singlet, as the Americans might call it) beneath.  David Bowie also famously wore a Mr. Fish dress on the cover of his 1970 third album The Man Who Sold The World.


Jagger and Bowie (and probably Marc Bolan too) were among the few able to carry off the androgynous rock star look with casual aplomb and this fed directly into the burgeoning glam scene of the early 70s.  Many other glam bandwagon jumpers (no names, no pack-drill) were not nearly so successful in this respect, making a mockery of the whole thing and coming across more like clodhopping bricklayers in make-up instead of fully-fledged members of the Peacock Revolution.

I think this was also the first time I realised how cool Keith looked.  He’d always seemed slightly nondescript in the early days of the Stones (at least until the drug busts of 1967), where he was overshadowed by Mick and Brian with their great haircuts.  But in Hyde Park Keith’s hair was longer and he really began to look the part.  I’ve always intensely disliked the lazy, overused cliche “elegantly wasted”, but it’s probably true to say his classic 70s image began to take root here.

View from the cheap seats. Picture taken by Carol Pinder

Using a cheap Kodak Instamatic camera, we captured just a solitary photograph from our vantage point on the day.  It’s not a great picture, admittedly, but 52 years later I think it’s worth reproducing here.  Mick can be seen onstage just above another camera being held aloft by someone in front of us.  Today that scene would be a veritable sea of iPhones recording the action to immediately upload to Facebook, Instagram or YouTube.  But in 1969 there was only one cheap camera as far as the eye could see (in the crowd, at least).  Not everything changes for the better, it seems. 

Carol and I went to just one more Hyde Park free concert after the Stones.  On July 18, 1970 we saw Pink Floyd previewing their Atom Heart Mother album almost three months before its October release.  This time the stage had moved over to the Park Lane side of Hyde Park and as we were living at Notting Hill Gate by then it took just a leisurely stroll along the Bayswater Road to witness the action.  Supporting Pink Floyd were the usual suspects: Roy Harper, Kevin Ayers, Edgar Broughton Band, Formerly Fat Harry and Lol Coxhill.  The Third Ear Band were also on the bill but, for reasons unknown, they didn’t appear.  It was an eventful and quite surreal day with a full choir and orchestra backing Floyd.  But that’s probably a tale for another day. 

Rolling Stones Set List:

Eulogy for Brian Jones

I'm Yours And I’m Hers

Jumpin Jack Flash

No Expectations 

Mercy, Mercy

Stray Cat Blues

I'm Free

Down Home Girl

Love in Vain

Loving Cup

Midnight Rambler

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction 

Honky Tonk Woman

Street Fighting Man

Sympathy for the Devil


*Bill Wyman has stated that 11 guitars and some basses were stolen from Nellcôte in 1971.  Apart from the Gibson Flying V mentioned above, Keith’s other stolen instruments likely included a Gibson ES-355, 1959 Gibson Les Paul Custom, 1959 Gibson Les Paul Junior, Gibson Hummingbird acoustic, Epiphone Frontier acoustic and two Ampeg Dan Armstrong Plexiglass electrics.  A Fender Telecaster and a Gibson SG Standard belonging to Mick Taylor were also taken.

Some of the guitars which were stolen from Nellcôte including Keith’s Hyde Park Gibson Flying V and Mick Taylor’s Gibson SG
The Hyde Park concert featured on one of the Rolling Stones commemorative stamps issued by the Royal Mail in January 2022

Many thanks to Carol Pinder for the crowd photograph and for filling in a few details which slipped my mind. 


  1. I vaguely remember seeing ‘Stones in the Park’ on Australian TV, one of the first concerts we ever saw.

  2. Excellent article. Thank you for taking the time to write it!

    Also, thanks for the info about the instruments and the ones that were stolen. I not heard that before. I knew well about Jimmy Page's stolen Les Paul, but not about the Rolling Stones having their guitars stolen. A 1959 Les Paul in good condition could easily fetch $250,000 American dollars.

  3. In case anyone still wants more detailed Stones scribblings, try this:

  4. Replies
    1. I hope a collection of your pieces gets into print. Your experiences are valuable social history, and entertaining - unlike many published rock writers who are mostly a dull lot.

    2. Gee, thanks. I've added a link to your own very fine and highly recommended blog down at the bottom of the main page.

  5. I went to both the Stones Hyde Park and the Who/Chuck Berry Albert Hall concerts with a couple of mates. The Hell’s Angels ripped out the seats in the first few rows. Fights with bouncers(and fans) broke out. Really ugly vibe. If I recall correctly, the RAH banned rock concerts for a period because of the damage the Hells Angels and Greasers caused.

    1. It was a Mott the Hoople show at the RAH in July 1971 which prompted the ban on rock concerts. It ran from March 1972 to the end of 1973.


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