The Museum of the Moving Image (in New York City) presented a rare public screening of “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” on October 26, 2011, courtesy of ABKCO Films. Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who directed the concert film, was in attendance and did a Q&A and a meet-and-greet/book signing after the screening. I had the pleasure of attending the event and hearing some of Lindsay-Hogg’s great stories about working with legends.
Some of the Q&A was about Lindsay-Hogg’s 2011 memoir “Luck and Circumstance” and what it was like for him growing up as the son of actress Geraldine Fitzgerald, how he became a director, and finding out well into his senior years (after decades of rumors and speculation) that legendary filmmaker Orson Welles was really his biological father. But most of the Q&A was about Lindsay-Hogg’s memorable experiences as a director of “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” and the music TV series “Ready Steady Go!” (Lindsay-Hogg has also directed plays and feature films.)
As many Rolling Stones fans already know, “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” (filmed in a circus setting in London in December 1968) was originally intended to be a TV special shown on the BBC. The Rolling Stones were not happy with how they performed in the movie, so it remained unreleased until 1996, when it was released on home video and as an album. In 2004, “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” was released on DVD (and for a limited time in cinemas to promote the DVD). In addition to the Rolling Stones, other artists who performed in “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” were the Who, Jethro Tull, Taj Mahal, Marianne Faithfull and a “supergroup” called the Dirty Mac, which consisted of John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell and Yoko Ono.
Here is what Lindsay-Hogg said in the Q&A about the Rolling Stones, as well as some tidbits of info that he mentioned about the Beatles and the Who. The Q&A had a moderator, who asked most of the questions, but the Q&A was opened up to members of the audience toward the end of the interview, when most of the Rolling Stones-related questions were asked.
How did you gather all the musicians that are in “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus”?
The Beatles had done, in 1967, “The Magical Mystery Tour,” which was self-produced and self-directed. The Rolling Stones wanted to do their own things. They were always looking to figure out what to do, as well as make a record — in those days, make an LP. And because Mick [Jagger] and I got on, he asked me to come up with an idea for a rock’n’roll show that would have the Rolling Stones to headline it, and then also have other bands that they admired on the show.
So I was sitting in their office, and I was kind of getting nervous, because we had a production date, which was the early part of December of that year, and this was October, and I didn’t have an idea. I was doodling on a pad, like we all do — stick figures and circles and things — and I doodled a couple of circles.
And then what came into my head from looking at the circles was the word “circus.” And so I called Mick up, and I said, “I’m going to say seven words to you, and I think I’ve got it.” And those seven words were “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.”
And he immediately got it. And we immediately decided that it shouldn’t be kind of snazzy. It shouldn’t be like the Ringling Bros. Circus. It shouldn’t look like anybody’s making any money off of it. And so we decided it should have a look of a tatty, European traveling circus. And that’s why we have those strange acts with those wonderful, older acrobats and things like that.
We hired a circus to do it: the Robert Fawcett Circus that was actually touring in England. And he had to cut out the clowns too, but we lost footage and stuff like that. But the idea was it would be a place where the musicians would perform in a setting that would be appropriate for the period and the time. It couldn’t have been set up now, because most of it was set up from Mick Jagger’s black address book, which he carried in his back pocket. And so we had to decide — Mick and the other Rolling Stones.
Taj Mahal was Keith [Richards’] idea. Marianne [Faithfull] was also going to be on, because it was a very, very male culture. There were a few women around, by Marianne was one of the most prominent, not only because she was beautiful and had a sweet kind of voice, but also because at the time she was Mick’s girlfriend.
The first call — because Mick and I agreed, because I knew them and I filmed them a lot on “Ready Steady Go” in the first year — was to the Who. So Mick Jagger took out his address book, called Pete Townshend, and they were in.
Then we wanted to choose a new band, to give them some sort of shot, really. And we listened to a lot of demos. And we chose Jethro Tull because of an extraordinary guy called Ian Anderson, who looks like someone on the side of a road who plays a flute.
But we turned down a group because we thought it was too guitar-heavy. That could have been a mistake, because that [group] was Led Zeppelin.
And then the supergroup. We had gone, first of all, to Steve Winwood, who was known as Stevie Winwood, because he was always younger than everybody. He had just started Traffic, I think, and he was supposed to form a supergroup to appear on the show. But for some reason, a couple of days before the show, Steve hadn’t, as we used to say, “got it together.” And so we had to come up with a supergroup.
And Mick and I thought, because I worked with the Beatles, that John Lennon might have the appetite to form something. He had already been playing with Eric Clapton. And then what you saw is what he came up with.
We didn’t know that Yoko [Ono] was going to perform, nor did the violinist who’d been imported from Paris, thinking that this was going to be his big break, playing with John Lennon. So when you look [at the movie] again on the DVD, you’ll see what started as a guy thinking, “Oh, this is going to be fun” to a look of exasperation. And when you look at his eyes, he realizes that Yoko Ono isn’t going to stop.
Anyway, that was “Rock and Roll Circus,” which we finished shooting in December of ’68. We showed a rough cut to Mick and Keith [Richards] and Allen Klein, who was their manager at the time. And they thought that the Who were better than the Rolling Stones in the rough cut that we put together. Now that could be possible.
Someone said years ago that, especially with the Who and the Rolling Stones at that period in their careers, it’s like watching icons being born. This is when they were 24, 25, years old. And we all know what they’ve given to the world.
But if the Who were better than the Rolling Stones [in the “Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” movie], it was because they’d been touring. They’d been on the road, and the Rolling Stones hadn’t been for a while. So the Who were really hot as players. And they’d just been working on that, which is part of the mini-opera they did.
The Who came on at 4 in the afternoon. It was very hot. Keith Moon: Was there a more adorable, insane drummer? And the cameras kept breaking down. This was an amusing anecdote in the book, but since it’s in the book, I won’t tell you about it now …
So the Rolling Stones didn’t get on stage until 2 in the morning. So they were ragged. That was the last time Brian Jones ever played with the Rolling Stones. The years hadn’t treated him well. He could hardly play anymore. Whether it was drink or drugs, it took a heavy toll. And he was dead about six months after we finished.
So it was the last time he played with the Rolling Stones — and they were pretty ragged. And so when we came to the one we’d all looked forward to at the beginning of the day, which was “Sympathy for the Devil,” we’d all been there — including the cameramen with their Viewfinders — for 17, 18 hours. We were exhausted.
And the take we did before the one which is on the screen was in shambles for the guys doing the recording, for the cameramen, for the Rolling Stones. It was just a mess. And we thought about, at one point, stopping them at 7 o’clock in the morning and then coming back the next night. But it was quite expensive.
And one thing about Mick Jagger is he keeps his eye very closely on not only where the dollars go but where the pennies go. And it was too much [money] to come back. But he’s an extraordinary person, as life has told us.
And so I said, “Can you do one more?” And he said, “Yeah. Can you do one more? Can you get your camera guys to do one more?” So we went and talked to the Rolling Stones and we gave them all, as they refer to in England, a “bollocking.” And we said, “This is it. We’re not going to do any more.” And then he does this extraordinary performance at 5 in the morning.
And also, just looking at it again tonight, I’ve seen a lot of stuff over the years of the Rolling Stones, but I’ve never seen Mick have such an intimate relationship with the camera [as he does in “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus”]. He actually does seem to be playing to you.
And then we finished it. It’s an extraordinary performance. I’ve never forgotten it. I didn’t know he could do it. Mick is wonderful, but I didn’t know this was going to come out that night at 5 o’clock in the morning. We finished “Salt of the Earth” at 6 [in the morning].
And who’s the guy who steps out in front of them [during ‘Salt of the Earth”]? No one has ever known. And he probably didn’t know either!
Was there any footage from “Let it Be” that wasn’t in the film?
We’re hoping that “Let It Be” (and when I say “we,” I mean Apple) will be put out again in 2013: the film itself and a companion DVD, which has a lot of the stuff you’re asking about. “Let It Be” turned out to be a documentary of the Beatles working and going up on the roof [of Apple] and giving their last concert. It was a lot of footage, and we sort of got it down to a length that we thought would be good.
And also, since the Beatles were the producers as well as the stars, they were looking at the picture as a musical picture rather than as an exposé, rather than a documentary of what went right and what went wrong with them all. But then we also wanted to put in some of the other stuff which we captured. So we did a rough cut, and we showed it to them the same night that Neil Armstrong landed on the moon.
And there was a lot of John and Yoko which didn’t turn up in the final cut of “Let It Be.” And the morning after the screening, I got a call from Peter Brown, who was one of the guys at Apple, and he said, “I think some of the John and Yoko stuff should come out.” And I said, “I don’t know.” And he said, “Well, let me put it like this: I got three phone calls this morning saying that some of the John and Yoko stuff should come out.”
Obviously, those three calls were from Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, right?
[He smiles.] There’s a lot of jamming, but since they wanted it to be a musical picture, a lot of the tension was to do with their own songs rather than the other songs. We’ve got some radio songs from when they were kids growing up. So the answer to what’s happened to all of that stuff? In the companion DVD, which we hope Apple will release in all of their wisdom in 2013, a lot of the stuff is in the companion DVD.
Since the Rolling Stones thought the Who performed better than the Stones in “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus,” did you have to cut out a lot of footage of the Who?
No. It was all that we came up with that day. The funny thing is that Mick, as well as being a performing person — and that’s the other thing about the Beatles — they’re famous and we know them as major cultural figures, but Lennon, McCartney, Jagger, Richards and Pete Townshend were good musicians.
It’s good to make this distinction: It wasn’t so much that Mick and Keith thought the Who actually performed better and were tighter. They [the Rolling Stones] thought that they [the Who] were musically better, that they were tighter as a band, and in playing that song [“Sympathy for the Devil”], Mick and Keith thought the Rolling Stones sounded very ragged, very un-together, very messy. They [the Rolling Stones] had been on stage from 2 a.m. at 6 a.m., and the Who had come on at 4 in the afternoon.
So it’s really the Stones not being as good as they’d want to be, especially in a show called “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus,” not “The Who’s Rock and Roll Circus.” That’s the distinction. They thought they were bad, as opposed to the Who being that much better.
How did you decide who would be in the audience of “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus”?
I’m happy you asked that question, because it’s a pat on the back for me. We got the audience from the Rolling Stones fan club canvassing, going out into the clubs where kids were at. And the Rolling Stones fan club was quite deep at that time.
But I knew we were going to be shooting over two days — or at least rehearsing. We shot Taj Mahal on day one, and everyone else on day two. I just knew it was going to be a very long day. The audience that was there at noon was unlikely to be the audience that would stay the course until 2 or 3 or who knows how much later in the morning.
So I came up with the idea of those ponchos and those little hats [worn by people in the audience], because that meant that if Audience Member No. 1 or 2 bailed out at 9 o’clock at night, the other audience members would come in and you wouldn’t even know it, because they were wearing the ponchos. Also, after that shot when the camera goes around Marianne Faithfull, they had added a wonderful color to the palette of what’s going on.
So the audience was mainly fans. Some of the kids worked for the office of the Rolling Stones. And anyone who heard about it.
And then, as you notice, as the evening really wore on, it included Taj Mahal and his band and the great two guys who never go to bed — Pete Townshend and Keith Moon — and John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They all stayed. They were all so close to each other. They were the only people who’d had this experience of being 21 and having no money and liking this kind of music — and at this age, almost ruling the world.
Why did it take so long to release “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus”?
It disappeared. The plan was the Rolling Stones wanted to re-shoot their segment, but the sets had been torn down. The tatty European circus had been torn down. And we couldn’t rebuild it. And it was the customers’ money.
And then someone had the idea that we would go to Rome, where the original circus was: the Circus Maximus, where the gladiators were at the time being tortured. And we would do the Rolling Stones’ segment in the theatre in Rome. And I thought, “Gee, that’s going to be a tough cut, between this little, tatty traveling circus and the one in Rome.” For various reasons, the Roman shoot fell apart, I think because people [did not get] the permit from the city of Rome.
And then Brian Jones left the group. He was released from the group, really, and he was replaced by Mick Taylor. The Rolling Stones went on tour, so that was, like, four months. We shot it in December ’68, and suddenly, it’s September 1969.
And what I learned from not only working with them but also with the Beatles is that if a rock’n’roll project started to lose momentum, it could disappear, because these musicians, these artists — like any of us — are subject to whim or changing their mind or getting bored with something. And the Rolling Stones had kind of moved on.
We worked with the rough cut, and it’s all in these cans of film. But it gets shut down, because we weren’t going to work on it for a while, but these cans of film exist. The cans of film then get moved to the Rolling Stones’ large office in London. Then the Rolling Stones, for tax reasons, leave England for a year to go to France. So they don’t need the big office anymore. So they take on a smaller office, which is just for fielding telephone calls and things like that. And along go the cans of film.
But the smaller office doesn’t really have room for cans of film, because they’re on the top of toilet seats, they’re in closets. People can’t walk around; they’re tripping over cans of film. So they get thrown out because no one really knows what they are and what they’re doing there. They’re getting in the way.
A key member of the Rolling Stones team was a guy called Ian Stewart — Stu. He was their road manager. He was the sixth Rolling Stone. He played piano on a lot of the early stuff. Andrew Loog Oldham [the Rolling Stones manager in the band’s early years] didn’t think [Ian Stewart] looked like a Rolling Stone, so [Ian Stewart] became their head roadie.
So Stu was in the office one day and he heard people discussing that they were going to throw these cans of film out. And he thinks maybe one day somebody will want this. And so he puts the cans of film in his van, and drives them out to his nice home in the country, which is a farm. He and his wife, Cynthia, lived there with their dogs.
And then Stu dies prematurely. And his widow, Cynthia, was walking around the property one day to see what’s where and what’s what. And she goes in the barn. And up against the wall of the barn was a rake leaning against [cans of film] and some hay sticking out of these cans of film. And so that’s where they were. They were in a barn, saved by Ian Stewart.
And then we had to go through Allen Klein, who had the rights to a lot of Rolling Stones work, because he’d worked with them. And Allen was the one who got all the [film] negatives reconstituted, and then put us to work again. We had the rough cut, and then we worked with the rough cut to make the final cut. So this would not exist, obviously, without the Rolling Stones and the other musicians, but also Allen Klein, who was the one who thought, “This has to be seen by the world.”
What year was this?
Around ’89, ’90, ’91.
How did the Who’s performance footage from “The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus” end up in the Who documentary “The Kids Are Alright,” which was released in 1979?
A guy called Jeff Stein made a movie called “The Kids Are Alright.” And they knew the Who were in the “Rock and Roll Circus,” but no one had seen it. So Jeff asked if Pete could call Mick, which is the way it worked in those days, if they could borrow some [footage] for “The Kids Are Alright.”
So they had the rough cut which we’d done. And then that was the sequence that was lost, because they’d also cut it a bit differently. And they’d cut from the negative, and no one knew where any of this stuff was, except it turns out it was in Pete Townshend’s vault. And then it got back to where it should’ve gotten back to.
It’s been on an extraordinary journey, this time capsule. My contribution is what it is, but it’s an extraordinary group of people who found themselves in London in the mid-to-late ‘60s who were just blowing the world apart.