© 1996/2008 David Stark & Jeff Dexter
Strictly no unauthorised reproduction without permission
AS WELL AS MARKING THE LAST-EVER UK PERFORMANCE by The Police, who are set to headline the second day of this weekend's "Hard Rock Calling" in Hyde Park, the date of Sunday June 29th also marks another milestone anniversary in rock history: it will be 40 years to the day since Pink Floyd headlined the first-ever free concert in Hyde Park on June 29th 1968, along with Tyrannosaurus Rex (aka Marc Bolan), Roy Harper and the up-and-coming Jethro Tull, who hold the honour of being the first band to take the makeshift stage, of which more below.
Music industry veteran David Stark attended that first concert as a 15-year old schoolboy, just a couple of weeks before he gate-crashed the world premiere of the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" film in July '68 and ended up sitting directly behind the Fab Four... but that's another story. Jeff Dexter was the DJ and master of ceremonies at most of the concerts in Hyde Park, being a seminal figure on London's underground music scene of the 60's. Together Stark and Dexter have researched the history, line-ups and some of the stories behind every one of the 16 free concerts which took place from 1967 - plus the "one that got away", a spectacular that was to headlined by Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Grateful Dead in 1969 but which was cancelled at the eleventh hour.
The original idea for staging shows in the park was conceived by promoters (and Floyd's first managers) Peter Jenner and Andrew King of Blackhill enterprises, when they spotted a brass band playing at the old bandstand. After obtaining permission from the Ministry of Works, with the help of Arts Minister Jenny Lee and Labour party member Ben Pimlott, the first concert was held by the Serpentine's natural amphitheatre area, the Cockpit. The tiny makeshift wooden stage was actually owned by the park having previously been used by a troupe of highland dancers.
Amplification for most of the shows was provided free of charge by Charlie Watkins and John Thompson of WEM, while stage management was looked after by Ian Knight and Hugh Price's 'Implosion' team at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, the new location for London's legendary Middle Earth underground club. Disc jockey and MC Jeff Dexter - instantly recognisable by his long blonde hair and spectacles - span the records between the bands and kept everyone in a groovy mood. A year after 1967's explosion of flower-power, the sounds, smells and love wafting from Hyde Park were to keep London's hippies, freaks and music fans rocking and 'head' dancing on a semi-regular basis for the next summers until 1976. And all for free...
1) June 29th 1968 (at the Cockpit)
PINK FLOYD, TYRANNOSAURUS REX, ROY HARPER, JETHRO TULL
• Jethro Tull opened the first-ever concert at the suggestion of Pink Floyd, whom they had recently supported at Sheffield University. They had also opened for political folk troubadour Roy Harper, who like Tull's lead singer/flautist Ian Anderson, also hailed from Blackpool.
• Tyrannosaurus Rex (Marc Bolan and Steve Took) had just charted with their debut single 'Deborah'. David Stark recalls: "I didn't know too much about them, except that Bolan was already becoming a bit of cult figure at my school, especially with the bods who were also into Lord of The Rings."
• Pink Floyd closed the show with tracks from new album 'A Saucerful Of Secrets', including concert highlight 'Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun', which Roy Harper joined in on tympani.
2) July 27th 1968 (at the Cockpit)
TRAFFIC, THE NICE, PRETTY THINGS, THE ACTION, JUNIORS EYES
• The Nice's set included Keith Emerson's knife-throwing acrobatics during 'Rondo'. They played early on the bill as they had to play at Norwich Boys Club that evening. However, they got busted on the way for speeding, and the police also found drummer Blinky Davison completely naked in the back of the van, resulting in the band missing the gig completely.
• Nice guitarist Davy O'List was characterised in Jenny Fabian's cult pop novel Groupie as a member of 'The Elevation' whose pre- and post-Park activities are described in graphic detail in the book.
• Pretty Things drummer John 'Twink' Alder managed to upset the park vibes by hurling his kit around and jumping crazily into the audience.
• Traffic redressed the musical balance with a brilliant performance of 'Mr Fantasy', watched from the wings by Eric Clapton among others - along with an unknown weirdo who wore a lampshade on his head all day.
3) August 24th 1968 (at the Cockpit)
TEN YEARS AFTER, PETER GREEN'S FLEETWOOD MAC, FAMILY ECLECTION, ROY HARPER, FAIRPORT CONVENTION, PETER SARSTEDT, STEFAN GROSMAN
• Folk singer Sandy Denny had joined Fairport Convention a few weeks earlier. After playing first on the bill, the band played an evening show in Market Harborough joined by two members of Family, whose just-released debut album 'Music in A Doll's House' was produced by Traffic's Dave Mason.
• Danny Kirwan had just joined Fleetwood Mac as third guitarist. "We only played about three long numbers", recalls Peter Green, "one featuring Jeremy Spencer, one featuring Danny and one featuring me".
• One year later, Ten Years After were to achieve massive success with their performance at Woodstock.
4) September 28th 1968 (old bandstand)
THE MOVE, PETE BROWN'S BATTERED ORNAMENTS, ROY HARPER, CLOUDS, THE ACTION
• One of the smallest shows, where some hippies in the audience started picking flowers much to the annoyance of Park gardeners and members of the deck chair brigade.
• Roy Harper made his third appearance, while Cream lyricist Pete Brown and his band had to return to the stage after their set to recover some forgotten equipment, having previously left to play another gig.
• Fan Chris Marshall writes: "My diary evaluation of the afternoon reads: 'Rainy but quite good.' And this just about summed it up... nevertheless it far outstripped the later over-blown events featuring The Stones and Blind Faith, where the earlier sense of freedom and innocence had been stripped away."
5) June 5th 1969 (at the Cockpit)
BLIND FAITH, RICHIE HAVENS, DONOVAN, EDGAR BROUGHTON BAND, THIRD EAR BAND
• Blind Faith's live debut was one of the highlights of the year. The supergroup's line-up comprised of Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker and Rick Grech, with a set sparkling with new classics like 'Can't Find My Way Home', 'Sea Of Joy' and 'In the Presence Of The Lord'.
• DJ Jeff Dexter: "The thing I remember most was walking over to Robert Stigwood's offices in Brook Street to meet Blind Faith and accompany them back to the park. Just before we all left, Ginger Baker opened a drawer in Stiggy's desk and found a master tape of the latest Bee Gees album, which he promptly set fire to and put back in the drawer!" Ginger now completely denies this.
Free festival regulars the Third Ear Band, led by Glenn Sweeney, are still going strong and only recently toured Italy to promote their latest album.
• The Edgar Broughton Band's quasi-political heavy rock went down surprisingly well, and for many the abiding memory of the day is the sound of hundreds of car horns being repeatedly honked to the anthemic rhythm of 'Out, Demons Out' long after the show had finished.
The Rolling Stones
6) July 5th 1969 (at the Cockpit)
ROLLING STONES, BATTERED ORNAMENTS, FAMILY, ROY HARPER, ALEXIS KORNER'S NEW CHURCH, SCREW, KING CRIMSON, THIRD EAR BAND
• Mick Jagger had been inspired to play the park while attending the Blind Faith show. The next day Brian Jones quit the Stones, although his replacement Mick Taylor had already recorded 'Honky Tonk Women' with the band on June 1st (rush-released on July 4th), Taylor was officially introduced at a press conference at the Hyde Park bandstand on June 13th.
• The Stones rehearsed for the show at the Beatles' Apple Studios in Savile Row, prompting brief rumours of a Beatles-Stones supergroup line-up.
• Plans for the show were suddenly overshadowed by Brian Jones' drowning in his swimming pool on July 3rd. The Stones announced the show would go on as a tribute to him, while the police allowed the park to stay open the night before as tearful fans started arriving and lighting candles.
• The Stones forsook limousine service on the day to arrive at Hyde Park in the Battered Ornaments' camouflaged ex-army truck. Their performance was preceded by Mick Jagger's famous white-frocked reading from the 39th and 52nd stanzas of Shelley's 'Adonais', followed by the release of hundred of white butterflies - which, despite the brilliant weather, had to be kept warm backstage with electric fires which the organisers had to hurriedly find on the day. (Private Eye's version of events claimed that "Spiggy Topes released thousands of caterpillars to crawl over the audience!")
The Rolling Stones
• A huge photograph of Brian Jones hung from the back of the stage, but ominously crashed onto Greg Lake's head during King Crimson's set. Robert Fripp recalls: "I was totally amazed at the sense of community, the great weather and the whole atmosphere of the event. I couldn't help sensing how huge it was, all held together by a feeling of goodwill, especially around the stage area. Even my current bank manager told me he went to the gig as a lad and climbed a tree to get a good view, which is all right by me!"
• The show was MC'd by Sam Cutler, with security provided by the Hell's Angels (or 'Hell's Herberts' as dubbed by Melody Maker's Chris Welch). The only non-human security barrier was a single rope.
The Battered Ornaments appeared minus their lead singer and main songwriter Pete Brown, who had been fired just days before the gig, much to his dismay.
• The late Alexis Korner, father figure of the British blues scene, had arranged the Rolling Stones' debut gig at the Marquee Club in July 1962. His band the New Church played a hybrid of blues and psychedelia at the Hyde Park show, while Roy Harper was drafted in during one set-change to perform a solitary song.
• After the concert, many fans drifted across the park to the Royal Albert Hall, where The Who and Chuck Berry were playing the 2nd show of the final night of that week's 'Rock Proms', promoted by Roy Guest and MC'd by Jeff Dexter. The Stones and friends also turned up to watch the show from a grand tier box.
XXX) September 6th 1969 (Cancelled)
THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
Crosby Stills & Nash, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead were due to play a massive concert - postponed at the eleventh hour due to "problems in America", according to a report in that week's New Musical Express.
7) September 20th 1969 (park centre)
SOFT MACHINE, THE DEVIANTS, AL STEWART, QUINTESSENCE, EDGAR BROUGHTON BAND, ECLECTION
• Eclection, playing their second park gig, were Doris Henderson, Gerry Conway George Hulgreen, Gary Boyle, Poli Palmer and Trevor Lucas who later replaced Richard Thompson in Fairport Convention.
• Quintessence got the crowd dancing with their hypnotic flute-based incense'n'beads-tinged grooves.
• Rock anarchist Mick Farren led heavy rockers the Deviants, formerly the Social Deviants and who later turned into the Pink Fairies.
• Al Stewart's 1969 album 'Love Chronicles' (featuring Jimmy Page on lead guitar) was voted Melody Maker's 'Folk Album of the Year'.
• Jeff Dexter: "Soft Machine were fabulous, Robert Wyatt being one of the best jazz/rock drummers of all time and having that incredible voice. Everyone loved them and nobody wanted to leave the park that day."
• Co-MC was the Radio One DJ Pete 'Flower-Drum' Drummond.
8) July 18th 1970 (park centre)
PINK FLOYD, KEVIN AYERS & THE WHOLE WORLD, LOL COXHILL, ROY HARPER, EDGAR BROUGHTON BAND, FORMERLY FAT HARRY
• The first Hyde Park show to feature a fully-fledged backstage hospitality tent, provided by EMI/Harvest Records to celebrate the forthcoming release of Pink Floyd's 'Atom Heart Mother' which the band performed in its entirety, complete with accompanying band and choir.
• Soft Machine co-founder Kevin Ayers' new band featured guitarist Mike Oldfield, keyboard player David Bedford and saxophonist Lol Coxhill.
9) September 12th 1970 (park centre)
CANNED HEAT, ERIC BURDON & WAR, JOHN SEBASTIAN, MICHAEL CHAPMAN
• John Sebastian had performed at the Isle of Wight festival two weeks earlier, and entertained the rain-drenched Hyde Park crowd with his 'spirit of Woodstock' acoustic set. "But everyone was more interested in his wife Laurie who was a stunner backstage", recalls Jeff Dexter.
• Five days after the concert, Eric Burdon and War were joined onstage at Ronnie Scott's club by Jimi Hendrix - his last ever performance. He died in the early hours of Friday 18th September.
• Blues'n'boogie merchants Canned Heat had also been hit by tragedy, when guitarist Al 'Blind Owl' Wilson died of an over-dose on September 3rd in California. Nevertheless the band honoured tour commitments in the wake of the massive Euro-success of 'Let's Work Together' and album 'Canned Heat Cookbook'.
• Michael Chapman, soaked to the skin, played with his band Richie Dharma (drums) and Rick Kemp (bass). His album 'Window' with cover photo of his wife Andru, was the inspiration logo of the Virgin Records label.
Grand Funk Railroad
10) July 3rd 1971 (by Speakers Corner)
GRAND FUNK RAILROAD, HUMBLE PIE, HEADS HANDS & FEET
• 'Funk in the Park' was conceived by Island Artists as an American Independence Day celebration to launch much-hyped US rockers GFR in the UK. Despite initial reluctance by the Ministry of Works to grant a licence, the concert went ahead a day before July 4th with assistance from US ambassador Walter Annenberg.
• Heads, Hands & feet's line-up included guitar wizard Albert Lee and vocalist Tony Colton who recalls, "We drove through the crowds into the backstage area in a Rolls Royce borrowed from actor Richard Harris. We went on first and held up pretty good considering we were facing a still-settling crowd".
Humble Pie, featuring Steve Marriott and Peter Frampton, stole the show in their attempt to upstage GFR by playing appreciably louder than the American outfit.
• GFR's style of grandiose rock histrionics received a mixed reception from the crowd and the media, who were suspicious of the band's advance reputation as the 'loudest' and 'highest paid band in the world'. The show ended with a version of the Stones' 'Gimme Shelter'.
11) September 4th 1971 (park centre)
KING CRIMSON, JACK BRUCE, THIRD EAR BAND, FORMERLY FAT HARRY
• Robert Fripp: "Two years after we played with the Stones, it seemed the shows were already getting too corporate - people were beginning to get much more commercial about any event, even if it was for free".
• Jack Bruce promoted his new 'Harmony Row' album with musicians Chris Spedding (guitar), Graham Bond (organ), Art Themin (sax) and John Marshall (drums).
No concerts took place as the local authorities refused to issue a licence. Probably due to the controversy surrounding the possible introduction of The Night Assemblies Bill. This Bill was the follow on to The Isle Of Wight Bill introduced by Tory MP Marc Woodnut, after the last Isle Of Wight Rock festival. Tory MP Jerry Wiggins introduced The Nigh Assemblies Bill, another badly drafted private members bill which was a 70s version of the current Criminal (IN)Justice (Bill), Act, designed to stop large gatherings of young people to listen to certain kinds of music and have a good time. Although the bill had passed its second reading in The House, it was finally defeated thanks to the persistent, sterling efforts of the wonderful Jean Bradbery, who generated the support of Derek Taylor and a few other caring activists in politics and the music industry, including Arthur Davison MP, James Wellbeloved, Tom Salter, Jeff Dexter, Michael Alfandary, Harvey Goldsmith and some help from the people at Great Western.
12) June 29th 1974 (park centre)
KEVIN AYERS BAND, NICO, CHAPMAN-WHITNEY STREETWALKERS, GONG, KEVIN COYNE, GT MOORE & THE MASSED REGGAE GUITARS
• Ex-Family Roger Chapman and Charlie Whitney's new band streetwalkers were managed by Harvey Goldsmith and Michael Alfandary, the flamboyant Hampstead Young Conservative.
• Former Velvet Underground legend Nico sang two numbers, having just recorded a live album with Kevin Ayers, John Cale and Brian Eno under the name of ACNE.
Gong's line up included David Allen (vocals/guitar) Steve Hillage (guitar), Didier Malherbe (sax) and Pierre Moerlin (drums).
• The show was put together by Blackhill Enterprises secretary Lynne Boot.
13) August 31st 1974 (park centre)
ROGER MCGUINN, ROY HARPER & HEAVY FRIENDS, JULIE FELIX, TOOTS & THE MAYTALS, CHILLI WILLI & THE RED HOT PEPPERS, KOKOMO
• Blue-eyed UK soulsters Kokomo included ex-members of Arrival and Joe Cocker's Grease Band. Jody Linscott Kokomo's brilliant and beautiful percussionist records that not only was the gig most memorable, but also that night she walked home alone through the park around 2am, passing the stage that still had the Steinway grand piano left on it, climbed up and played it to herself until darn! 'It was so wonderful playing under a clear sky with a perfect crescent moon'.
• Pub rockers Chilli Willi specialised in a cookin' brand of country rock with a Notting Hill influence.
Jamaican star Toots appeared with just one of his Maytals (the other was in the US), with a set including a reggae version of John Denver's 'Country Roads'.
• Roy Harper's 'Heavy Friends' included Dave Gilmour, John Paul Jones and Steve Broughton on drums, replacing the originally-planned Keith Moon.
• Roger McGuinn's set included Byrds' classics 'You Ain't Going Nowhere', 'Wasn't Born To Follow' and 'So You Wanna Be A Rock'n'Roll Star, encoring with 'Eight Miles High'.
14) May 31st 1975 (park centre)
DON MCLEAN, CARAVAN, JOAN ARMATRADING, DAVID LEWIS, SHUSHA, SCREEMER
• Singer/actress/writer Shusha is the mother of Darius Guppy, who hit the headlines in the 90's for distinctly non-musical reasons.
• Canterbury prog-rockers Caravan, led by Pye Hastings, are still going and released "The Show of Our Lives - Caravan at the BBC 1968-1975" in 2007.
• The May spring weather was so cold that McLean kept his winter jacket on. The concert was jointly promoted by Capital Radio, with part of McLean's set released the following year on the live album 'Solo'.
15) August 30th 1975 (park centre)
WIGWAM, BYZANTIUM, SUPERCHARGE, THIRD WORLD
• Original headliners Back Street Crawler pulled out at the last minute when guitarist Paul Kossoff (ex-Free) was taken ill.
• Jamaica's Third World went on to become reggae super-stars with worldwide hits like 1978's 'Now That We've Found Love' and collaborations with Stevie Wonder.
• Byzantium's line-up included Chaz Jankel, who later joined Ian Dury in Kilburn & The High Roads and became his main songwriting partner.
• Wigwam all came from Finland, apart from ex-pat British vocalist/keyboard player Jim Pembroke.
16) September 17 1976 (by Speakers' Corner)
QUEEN, KIKI DEE, STEVE HILLAGE, SUPERCHARGE
• The biggest event in the Park since the Stones in '69, with an estimated audience of 150,000.
• MC was Bob Harris of Radio 1 and Old Grey Whistle Test fame.
• Comedic jazz rockers Supercharge featured bald sax player Albie Donnelly wearing a ballet tutu in spoof honour of Freddie Mercury.
• Steve Hillage finished his set with a blistering angry guitar solo in response to a front-row audience scuffle.
• Kiki Dee performed 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' with a life-size cut-out of Elton John.
• Queen opened with 'Bohemian Rhapsody', with Freddie Mercury entering from beneath the stage via a trap door. Their set featured latest single 'You're My Best Friend' and all the hits, finishing amidst smoke bombs and an audience sing-along to 'In The Lap Of The Gods'.
© Copyright 1996/2008 David Stark & Jeff Dexter.
No unauthorised reproduction without permission.