Tuesday, October 7, 2008

History Of Festivals 12: Knebworth 1976: Free Blues

Knebworth Festival 1976

The Rolling Stones were booked to play at Knebworth and entered right into the spirit of the ‘Knebworth Fair’ vibe. Earlier in the summer of 1976, they hired two brave souls to dress up in Harlequin outfits – the symbol of the event – and run onto centre court at Wimbledon on finals day with a banner ‘Stones At Knebworth’. Even better, they got two topless girls to do the same at a (televised) Sussex cricket match. That must have caused some choking on pink gins.

The Stones came down to the North Hertfordshire stately home – probably quite to their taste – a few times before the August 21 event, in order to scope the venue out. They were especially keen on the idea of having jugglers and clowns around the place; and also had input into the stage design, which resembled a great big mouth with a long tongue-type walkway jutting out. Sound familiar?

On the Thursday night, the Stones soundchecked, but were interrupted by… an irate Girl Guide leader, who insisted that she had booked part of the park and “her girls” were unable to have a camp fire sing-song due to the racket of their esteemed satanic majesties. The promoter suggested she go and take it up with Mick Jagger. So she marched down to the stage, grabbed Mick by the arm and bellowed: “Young man, this noise must stop. My girls can't hear themselves sing.”

Sir Mick suggested that she “f*ck off”, as you would, but they make Girl Guide leaders out of tough stuff, it seems, as the world’s biggest rock and roll band stopped nevertheless.

1976 was that incredible hot summer, and promoter Freddie Bannister and owner/lady of the manor Chryssie Cobbold – who has written an excellent book on the Knebworth Festivals – expected many more than the 100,000 ticketed punters to turn up to see the Stones and five other bands: 10cc, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Todd Rundgren's Utopia, Hot Tuna, and the Don Harrison Band. Queen were originally booked to headline but got shunted when Mick and Keef fancied Knebworth – Freddie and company would show they could rock it outdoors with their superb Hyde Park show a month later.

The Don Harrison Band opened and found the crowd unmoved by their Credence-ish bayou rock, although that summer’s single ‘Sixteen Tons’ was a belter. Technical difficulties meant that there was a two-hour delay before Hot Tuna – Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady’s band formed as an offshoot of Jefferson Airplane – came on. They didn’t play many gigs outside of the US and were well received, as was the eccentric Todd Rundgren, who closed with a storming take on The Move’s ‘Do Ya’. At this time todd was emerging from his dense proggy rock and into shorter, snappy rock on Ooops Wrong Planet and the grandiose visions of Ra, both of which were to be released the following year. Todd, a still largely unsung genius of rock n roll was to return in 1979 for the Zeppelin gig. But the real highlight was to come next.

Lynyrd Skynyrd were awesome. The Knebworth version of ‘Free Bird’ has gone done as an absolute classic, and it’s easy to see why. Check out some excellent You Tube footage from the Old Grey Whistle Test (presented by Annie Nightingale when she was just plain old Anne, according to the credits. Wonder what happened with the name change?) It’s just totally blinding stuff – sad and heartfelt to start, then that lovely wailing guitar. The crowd are swaying a bit, sort of blessed out. Then it all goes off. Singer Ronnie Van Zandt, the archetype of hard-riding Southern rock in T-shirt and cowboy hat, drinking JD – takes to the front of the stage, down to the tip of the tongue bit, and apparently in direct contravention with the express instructions of Herr Jagger, who didn’t want anyone muscling in on his tongue action, if you see what I mean.

Anyway, so Ronnie goes back to the band and, arms around guitarists Gary Rossington and Allen Collins, leads them to the front of the stage for some of the most tremendous duelling, barnet shaking, jumping up in the air balls out rocking you will ever see. Skynyrd new-boy and rhythm man Steve Gaines joins in and the three guitarists tear it up. It should be mentioned at this point that bass player Leon Wilkeson is banging away on his bass wearing a policeman’s helmet. Artimus Pyle’s drums pound along, Billy Powell’s keys soar, three hot backing singers add to the raunch.

That passion and energy and virtuoso soloing above the chunky, totally simple blues riff… anyone who has ever yearned for a good time, or wanted someone or something really badly and been ready to fight for it: here it is expressed in pure thumping rock form.

For the obvious reasons, there’s always a bittersweet feeling when you see a band like Skynrd back in the day. Of the four rocking out on Mick Jagger’s stage lip, three are gone now – Ronnie and Steve in the 1977 plane crash, Allen from complications of the 1986 car crash that paralysed him.

Following Lynyrd Skynyrd on this Saturday would have been a tough ask for anybody and maybe 10cc with their blend of smart, wry, poppy rock were not the best choice. Their double live album proves just what a kick ass live band they were but they were beset by technical difficulties to boot and took two hours to get on stage. ‘I’m Not In Love’ went down a treat, but the organisers were by now seriously nervous, as the event was badly over-running.

The Stones started playing at 11.30pm – half an hour after the event was supposed to end. The crowd were drunk and tired and rowdy, but a few bars into ‘Satisfaction’, it was clear that this was going to be a good night for the Stones. Ronnie Wood, not long in the band, had given them even more impetus, driving them along and providing a sort of warmth and humour on stage that acted as the perfect foil to Mick’s high-energy sex appeal. They played a long, fine show with plenty of classics – ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ and ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ were standouts.

Looking at the footage, it makes you think how they were playing, really, to a new generation of fans, lads who were in the sandpit when ‘It’s All Over Now’ came out. But they were still the supreme entertainers, brilliantly paced and perfectly delivered. Could say the same even 32 years on from that, I guess. But excellent though the Stones were, the day belonged to Lynyrd Skynyrd, and there’s not many that can say, as Artimus did, that “they blew The Stones off the stage that day”.

Free Stuff

We’re in a blues mood this week with four great albums to win. Now, I’ve noticed a little drop off in the amount of people entering the weekly draw for free stuff, possibly because you think you’ll never win. Well, as we’ve never had more albums to giveaway, your odds are considerably better, so why not give it a go?

John Mayall: Turning Point

This is a great 2 CD set. The original album is actually a soundtrack from a 25 minute live film of the same name, which I’ve never seen and doesn’t seem to be available anywhere.
Anyway, recorded live at the Fillmore East in 1969 without a drummer, this is a different kind of Bluesbreakers record; much stripped down.
The original album is here plus 3 extra live tracks from the same gig and a load of interviews too.
We do a great John Mayall shirt here. You should buy one!

Gary Moore: Back To The Blues

Does exactly what it says on the cover. Gary turns up, wails the blues and goes home. I know some don’t like his blues, others prefer it to his hard rock, I love it all primarily because I love the tone he gets. Huge power but lyrical somehow.
We do a stonking Gary More t-shirt from the After The War tour here. You need one of them!

Janis Joplin: Greatest Hits

A classic album all on its own, it rolls all Janis’ special moments into one ten track album. Best track? Down On Me with Big Brother; riotous, spine-tingling stuff.
Have you seen our Janis T-shirt here?

Eric Clapton: Live In The Seventies

I have all Clapton’s 70s albums and my favourite has always been EC Was Here, so you’re getting the best of 70s EC solo on this I reckon.

The best stuff on here is the 2 Blind Faith tracks Presence Of The Lord and Can’t Find My Way Home, though a superb arrangement of Ramblin’ On My Mind pushes both of them on which Capton jus keeps calling out key changes and the band slide right into it. Hugely impressive to a shambling guitarist such as myself.

Our Clapton shirt captures him in the early 70s here.

I’ve got the of each of these to give away so if you fancy owning one email me john@djtees.com with your name and address and put Mayall, Moore, Clapton or Janis in the subject box – or any combo of those that you’d like a chance to win.

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