Friday, February 5, 2010
The Rolling Stones' Rock N' Roll Circus
Mick, the ringmaster:
With Sandy Lieberson:
Marianne relaxing backstage:
Brian and Keith backstage:
The beautiful couple share a laugh:
John, Julian and Yoko:
Marianne and Julian Lennon:
Brian chats up American model Donyale Luna:
Yoko the witch:
John Lennon with The Dirty Mac:
Marianne performs "Something Better":
In between takes, Mick comes to her side to offer words of encouragement:
Ladies and Gentleman, the Rolling Stones:
The Rock N' Roll Circus was an event dreamed up by Mr. Jagger - a spectacular, otherworldly, chaotic concert affair distinct from the usual televised experiences of the time, and a way for fans to enjoy the visual side of the Stones. The show would feature the Stones as headliners, of course, and star some of their friends and favorite acts. Slated to air on the BBC, the funding for the R N' R Circus came from the Stones themselves to the tune of 50,000 pounds, who were so keen on the idea. Rehearsal for the Stones and special guests The Who began on Friday, December 6 at the Marquee, in Wardour Street. It was the first stages of the filming, featuring fancy high-tech cameras specially ordered from France. On December 8, the Stones recorded the soundtrack for the Rock N' Roll Circus at Olympic Studios with Jimmy Miller and Glyn Johns (they would part-mime to this during the concert). The full cast rehearsals came the next day, on Monday, December 9 at the Londonderry House Hotel. The filming itself came next, between December 10 - 12. Traffic had recently split up and were replaced by The Who. Jethro Tull were selected over Led Zeppelin (albeit a recently formed Zep). Taj Mahal in place of Doctor John. John Lennon & Yoko Ono (dressed as a witch and babbling incomprehensibly). Marianne. Eric Clapton. Mitch Mitchell (Hendrix's drummer). American model Donyale Luna (the beautiful black girl seen with Brian Jones in the above pics) in place of Mia Farrow. Brigitte Bardot was invited to be ringmistress, but had to decline due to contractual obligations (too bad, huh?). Avant-garde violinist Ivry Gitlis and classical pianist Julius Katchen. The show was taped in Wembley, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, filmed by Tony Richardson and produced by Sandford Lieberson. Then for the acts themselves! Mick was ringmaster with a heavily sedated companion (a Bengal tiger). There were midgets and various circus performers. Anita was supposed to appear as the bearded lady but didn't because she was supposedly ill throughout the filming. While people were standing around waiting for the cameras, the supergroup dubbed The Dirty Mac - John Lennon on vocals, Keith Richards on bass, Eric Clapton on lead guitar, and Mitch Mitchell on drums - jammed on '50's songs like "Peggy Sue" and "Sweet Little Sixteen". The next day of filming, the 11th, began at noon and lasted a grueling 18 hours. The audience were exhausted too, many of them having waited since 8 AM to be admitted. Most of the audience members were winners of a New Musical Express ticket drawing. They were given a brightly colored poncho and felt hat to wear. The opening scene featured the whole cast, dressed to the nines in their circus getups and playing wind instruments. They were led out by acrobats, midgets, and a cowboy. Mick gave his introduction, then Jethro Tull performed a short set. Taj Mahal performed a live version of "Ain't That A Lot Of Love". Bill Wyman, dressed as a clown, introudced a comedy routine by two clowns. Keith, dressed as a circus dandy in his top hat and eye patch, introduced the fire eater and his assistant (Donyale). Charlie Watts introduced a visibly nervous Marianne singing "Something Better" (which is a poignant moment; Marianne had just miscarried she and Mick's child). In between takes, Mick nealt beside her offering words of encouragement. Brian mumbled an introduction of the classical pianist. Then, after a break for dinner, The Dirty Mac performed the Beatles' song "Yer Blues". Then an explosive performance by The Who, complete with Keith Moon pouring water over his drums. Then a long wait while the Stones' stage was set up. They didn't take the stage until 2 AM and had multiple takes of each song. The highlight of the set is "Sympathy For The Devil" where Mick peels his shirt off to reveal tattooed devil's heads on his torso and biceps. The closer was "Salt Of The Earth", where the Stones sat among the audience and rocked back and forth, everyone joining in the chorus at the end. Although Brian appears to enjoy himself throughout the performance, he is barely audible most of the time (except the slide guitar on "No Expectations") and the Circus proved to be his final performance with the Rolling Stones. Less than seven months later, he was dead.
When all was said and done, it was 6:30 AM and everyone went home. When Mick saw the footage, he was disappointed by the Stones' lackluster, tired performance and felt upstaged by the Who, red-hot after a US tour (the Stones hadn't toured for almost three year), so the show was shelved. The Who's part was included in a late 70's documentary "The Kids Are Alright", but the rest wasn't seen until 1996, when the concert was finally released. I've watched it quite a few times, and I never thought the Stones' performance was bad at all. If you've never seen it, I definitely recommned doing so. I also recommned the book "The Rolling Stones Rock N' Roll Circus" by Mike Randolph, a book of photos that many of these scans are from. In the intro by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, he recalls working on the show, and how Anita and Marianne were whispering in "their secret language" backstage, and other fond anecdotes.
All photos = my scans; most photos taken by Mike Randolph and Tony Sanchez.