Music
9:18 pm
Thu April 4, 2013

Rolling Stones To Return To Hyde Park After 44 Years

Originally published on Fri April 5, 2013 9:05 am

This July, The Rolling Stones will play London's Hyde Park for the first time in 44 years. The band's last concert there — July 5, 1969 — turned out to be a defining moment in musical history, which those who were there will never forget. Mick Jagger hasn't.

"It was kind of strange," Jagger recalls over the phone. "You know, it was a free concert. Brian Jones, who was a founding member of the band, had very recently died."

Jones had died just two days earlier. He was a brilliant musician, undone by drugs and alcohol. A few weeks prior, he and the Stones had parted company. Stones superstar Keith Richards says the band members felt they should go ahead with that concert, despite Jones' death.

"I mean all those people were coming," Richards says. "It was one of those showbiz things, really, wasn't it? The show must go on, you know."

Hyde Park was swamped as never before. A quarter of a million people gathered there, drenched by sunshine and marijuana smoke. Philip Norman, author of several books on the Stones including a new biography of Jagger, was in London that day.

"It actually was the high-water mark of the hippie sensibility, because it really was love and peace," Norman says. "There was a sense, yes, of an almost quasi-religious gathering in memory of Brian Jones, who still had a huge fan base. But it quickly turned into a showcase for Mick Jagger."

Jagger transfixed the crowd the moment he walked out.

"Mick was wearing this extraordinary white fluffy garment which looked like a little girl's party dress," Norman says. "It actually was a suit. It had really been made for Sammy Davis Jr., and Mick had borrowed it."

Jagger began by remembering Jones, persisting despite interruptions from the crowd. The words he chose came from "Adonaïs," an 1821 poem written by Percy Bysshe Shelley as an elegy for John Keats:

Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep
He hath awakened from the dream of life

"Lots of white butterflies were released at the end of the poem," Norman says, "again very symbolic of peace and mourning and all that — but they'd been kept in these cardboard cartons, and many of them had died. Not many actually made it to flutter away."

Richards later said the band played abysmally that day. It was adjusting to a new guitarist, Mick Taylor.

"It was difficult because, I mean, obviously you are a band and it's the first go-round with the new guy," Richards says. "On top of that it's one of the biggest shows you've ever done. You make the sign of the cross, and keep your fingers crossed, you know what I mean — and hope for the best."

This July's Hyde Park show will be different. This time, we must pay for tickets, and crowd numbers are restricted to 65,000. But don't rule out the return of that white dress. Jagger hasn't.

"I tend to choose my dresses, at the last minute, so I don't know what I'm going to do about that," Jagger says. "I can still get into it."

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Well, people who live in London with any measure of cultural capital have probably heard that tickets go on sale tomorrow for a concert billed as the music event of the summer. In July, The Rolling Stones will play Hyde Park for the first time since 1969. As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, the band's last concert there turned out to be a defining moment in musical history.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Those there on that day in Hyde Park, for that gig on July the 5th, 1969, won't ever forget it. Mick Jagger hasn't.

MICK JAGGER: Well, it was just kind of strange. You know, it was free concert. Brian Jones, who was a founding member of the band, had very recently died.

REEVES: Brian Jones died just two days earlier. Jones was a brilliant musician, undone by drugs and alcohol. A few weeks before, he and the Stones has parted company. Stones superstar Keith Richards says the band felt they should go ahead with that concert despite Jones' death.

KEITH RICHARDS: It was like, babe, we've got to go on. I mean, all these people are coming. It's one of those old showbiz things - the show must go on.

REEVES: Hyde Park was swamped as never before. A quarter of a million people gathered there, drenched by sunshine and marijuana smoke.

PHILIP NORMAN: It was actually the sort of high-water mark of the hippie sensibility because it really was love and peace.

REEVES: Philip Norman, who's written highly acclaimed books about the Stones, including a new biography of Jagger. He was in London that day.

NORMAN: There was a sense, yes, of doing a quasi-religious gathering in memory of Brian Jones, who still had a huge fan base. But it quickly turned into a showcase for Mick Jagger.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHEERING FROM ARCHIVED CONCERT RECORDING)

REEVES: Jagger transfixed the crowd the moment he walked out. Philip Norman again.

NORMAN: Mick was wearing this extraordinary, white, fluffy garment which looked like a little girl's party dress. It actually was a suit. It had really been made for Sammy Davis Jr., and Mick had borrowed it.

REEVES: Jagger began by remembering Jones.

JAGGER: OK, now listen. Now, will you just cool it just for a minute - because I really would like to say something for Brian.

REEVES: Despite interruptions, Jagger persisted.

JAGGER: ...just cool it, just before we'd start, and I really hope - if you do, I'd really appreciate it. If you all could just - say a few words, what I think - I feel about Brian, and I'm sure you do; and what we feel about him just going when we didn't expect him to, OK?

REEVES: Those few words were from "Adonais" by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

JAGGER: Peace. Peace. He is not dead. He doth not sleep. He hath awakened from the dreams of life...

NORMAN: Lots of white butterflies were released at the end of the poem. They'd been kept in these cardboard cartons, and many of them had died. Not many actually made it to flutter away. And there had been long negotiations with the local authority, that these have - not got to be male butterflies. They had to be female butterflies because males would devastate the gardens around.

JAGGER: ...we decay like corpses in the channel. Fear and grief convulse us, and consume us day by day. And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.

REEVES: Then the Stones played one of Jones' favorites, and returned to doing what the Stones do.

(SOUNDBITE OF OPENING GUITAR CHORDS FOR "JUMPIN' JACK FLASH")

RICHARDS: It was difficult because, I mean, obviously, you're a band and it's the first go-around with a new guy. On top of that, it's one of the biggest shows you've ever done. You make the sign of the cross and keep your fingers crossed - you know what I mean? - and hope for the best.

REEVES: Keith Richards later said they played abysmally that day. They were adjusting to their new guitarist, Mick Taylor. This July's Hyde Park concert by the Stones will be different. This time, we must pay for tickets. Crowd numbers are restricted to 65,000. But don't rule out the return of that white dress; Mick Jagger hasn't.

JAGGER: I tend to choose my dresses at the last minute, so I don't know what I'm going to do about that. I can still get into it.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC FROM ARCHIVED CONCERT RECORDING)

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.