On December 11th, 1968, The Rolling Stones wanted to put on a very unique performance: a circus extravaganza played for a small audience and recorded to be aired on BBC. Played under a big top, the “circus” included strongmen, trapeze artists, a boxing kangaroo, and even a live Bengal Tiger. Joining the Stones were some of the greatest musicians of all time, including John Lennon,The Who, Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, and Eric Clapton.
While post-production problems and lost film meant the final recording was only eventually released in 1996, the once-in-a-lifetime festival still held many important moments in musical history.
The First Lennon Performance Since The Beatles’ 1966 Tour
It is easy to forget sometimes that the last tour by The Beatles was less than halfway through their lifespan. In December 1968, the band had just released The White Album while John and Yoko also released Two Virgins.
For The Rolling Stones’ event, John and Yoko were invited to join Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell, and Keith Richards to perform as the supergroup “The Dirty Mac.”
The only time the group played together, they performed “Yer Blues” and improvised a piece called “Whole Lotta Yoko” it involved jazz and blues music over free-form vocalizations provided by Ono.
In a very “Lennon-esque” move, the still-current-Beatle introduced all band members by name, but identified himself instead as “Winston Leg-Thigh”.
Perhaps the saddest moment in the show, though only known in retrospect, was the final performance of The Rolling Stones with Brian Jones present. According to Michale Lindsay-Hogg, the director for the “circus” and later director for The Beatles’ famous rooftop performance, “[Jones] couldn’t really contribute at all on the guitar, except for a few chords.” Six months later, Brian Jones was found motionless in the bottom of his swimming pool. He passed away at the age of 27.
For many Rock ‘n’ Roll historians, the “circus” was a turning point in sixties rock acts.In the film that was eventually released in 1996, Marianne Faithful stated the truth many were not ready to admit: “There was an apocalyptic air about the whole thing.”
One year later, The Rolling Stones played the fateful concert at Altamont.