The Rolling Stones “The Best Of Knebworth Fair” (Midnight Beat MB CD 088)
Around And Around / Little Red Rooster / Hot Stuff / Star Star / You Gotta Move / Route 66 / Wild Horses / Honky Tonk Women / Country Honk / Tumbling Dice / Midnight Rambler / Street Fighting Man
On Saturday 21st August 1976, The Rolling Stones went to Knebworth park in Hertfordshire to play their biggest British gig to date, let alone since Hyde Park 5/7/69. It should have also been their most lucrative gig to date, but things went pear-shaped when (once again…) it came to getting paid. Promoter Fred Bannister later said that less than 100,000 tickets had been sold when in fact there had been 110,000 pre-sales and 30,000 tickets sold on the day – the crowd was estimated as being inbetween 150,000 and 200,000 people…and The Stones were on a percentage of the tickets sold on the gate but, despite the size of the crowd, were allegedly told otherwise by the promoter . Bill Wyman later remarked that “The outcome was that we never recived a penny for the gig and we paid Billy Preston £500 and percussionist Ollie Brown £200.” As with the previous 2 tours, brassmen Bobby Keys and Jim Horn were not included…..the jazz orientated Charlie probably missed them. The CD liner notes state that “Knebworth welcomes The Stones edition mach III, stripped of previous brass decoration, roaring like a well oiled engine.”
The original provisional running order states that The Stones would take the stage at 7:15 p.m. but due to “someone pulling some cables at the last minute”, The Stones didn’t take to the stage until 11:30 p.m. but compensated by playing until after 2 a.m. Bill Wyman said “It was the longest show we had ever played and included many of our old songs” With the departure of Mick Taylor, the press once again strongly hinted that “this could be the last time” whilst giving their last 2 albums rather scathing reviews…..but the truth being that The Stones themselves were feeling re-vitalised with the arrival of guitarist Ronnie Wood who had in fact been a Stone for well over a year at this point, confirmed by a press statement issued on 14th of April 1975 stating that Woody would be accompanying The Stones on their upcoming “TOUR OF THE AMERICAS 1975”.
Ronnie’s debut live performance with the group being on Thursday 1st of May 1975 when The Stones drove thru New York unannounced on the back of a flatbed truck. Footage from this, included in the “25 X 5” documentary film shows the band ripping thru “Brown Sugar”. Various sources state that this ended with Jagger throwing leaflets into the crowd advertising the band’s upcoming tour, their first U.S. tour since the amazing 1972 jaunt that spawned the films “Ladies and gentlemen The Rolling Stones” and the never-to-be-officially-released “C**ksucker Blues” and is thought to be The Stones at their live peak, equal only to the amazing November ’69 American tour that redefined what we call a live concert – all of a sudden not only did The Stones have a proper P.A, they were also playing to audiences that were actually listening. At the time of Knebworth, Wood already had 2 Stones tours under his belt including their 6-night stint at London Earl’s Court in May ’76. At Knebworth, 6 different bands played that day, including the Jefferson Airplane off-shoot band Hot Tuna, Lynyrd Skynyrd and 10CC. The event was compared by Capital radio’s Nicky Horne.
As if to compensate for the wait, The Stones played a total of 29 songs at Knebworth, including 2 of Billy Preston’s own songs – Preston being a star in his own right, as well as being a much-in-demand Mr.session man par excellence. Sadly, the bootleg contains only 12 songs of the Knebworth set (That is, if you count the 29-second “Country Honk Theme” as a song, which is little more than Jagger asking Woody if he remembers a certain song while Woody plays a lick over it.) This is a huge damn shame considering which songs we don’t get on the C.D. As for the other 11 songs on this boot, proceedings open with Chuck Berry’s “Around and Around”, the 6th song into the Knebworth set list. An old favourite of theirs recorded by The Stones in 1964 and released on the U.S. only album “12 X 5”, released in October ’64 but not included on the U.K. version of the album “The Rolling Stones no.2”, released here in January of ’65.
The superb 1989 BBC Arena documentary film “25 X 5” shows them in 1964 playing the song amid scenes of mass hysteria, the band barely able to hear themselves while the audience seats are all getting very, very wet. Next up is another nod to their early influences with “Little Red Rooster”, the 2nd cover version of out 6 in the set and the 4 included on the bootleg. On this version, Mick’s vocals are just about barely audible but precisely why this is still isn’t clear. The source of the recording – whether it be from the mixing desk, from TV footage (although some does exist) or an audience tape isn’t stated on the liner notes. What is audible, however, is a short burst of ear-splitting feedback at 2:35 – and this time, it seems that Mick has remembered to bring his harmonica – as opposed to the mimed Ready Steady Go! version where he pretends to have one in his hands…a very passable imitation! Next up it’s time for something from their most recent album “Black and Blue” (Criminally underrated if you ask me….) released in the U.K. on the 23rd of April ’76 – “Hot Stuff” – Which musically nods to James Brown (Keef’s clicky riffing) and lyrically nods to the current disco trend that was sweeping the U.S. at that time, 2 years before “Miss You” became a huge dancefloor smash itself, especially the 9-minute remix 12″ single version. The lead guitar on the LP version of “Hot Stuff” being played by Harvey Mandel but here Ronnie manages it with finesse and precision.
Mick’s vocals are also loud and clear by now, thankfully. Next up we go back to 73’s “Goats Head Soup” album with a song originally titled “Starf**ker” but changed to “Star Star” after record company intervention. They were also told that they would have run the line about “giving head to Steve McQueen” past the “Great Escape” Hollywood mainman himself…….he raised no objection. However, the U.S. version obscures the line about the groupie in question washing a certain part of her anatomy over with another Jagger vocal but the McQueen line and the chorus which repeats the original title about 10 times over remains intact. Just so you know. Next up is Fred McDowell’s “You Gotta Move”, covered on ’71’s “Sticky Fingers” album and performed acoustically on their gargantuan ’69 U.S. tour and back in the live set since Ronnie’s first Stones tour that began june ’75. It’s a great rendition.
The last cover version both in the setlist and on the bootleg is Bobby Troup’s “Route 66”, obviously brought to The Stones attention initially by Chuck Berry’s version for it to end up as the opening track on The Stones debut album. Maybe the next Altamont bootleg that emerges should be called “Route 666″…. Next up we go back to “Sticky Fingers” once more for the classic and timeless “Wild Horses”, a song made popular once again a couple of years ago when Susan Boyle covered it. I doubt she’s a Stones fan, but she does a good version . This version here however is where Ronnie really shines to the point of nobody really missing Mick Taylor that much….Woody’s solos are on fire here . The sound quality has also vastly improved by the time this song starts. After it finishes, Mick tells the crowd that he hopes they’ve had a really nice day and “I know some of ya are gonna be a bit late home but you can sleep tomorrow, can’t ya.” After asking them if they mind if The Stones carry on for a while it’s “Ok, we will then” and then into the unmistakeable intro to “Honky Tonk Woman”. A good enough version but not a patch on the N.Y.C. november ’69 “Get your ya-ya’s out” version, which they’ve never really surpassed themselves live anyway.
This also seems the case with the next song, “Tumbling Dice” – again, a good enough rendition but missing not only messrs Horn and Keys but also the velocity of the ’72 U.S. tour version. Again, Ronnie’s soloing is maybe the best it’s ever been at this concert and during his early period in the band, but this song has been part of The Stones setlist since 1972, so take your pick!!
After the gig, the Daily Mirror U.K. newspaper reported that “Jagger was down to his last stitch, a flashy pair of tights and raving rather like a gay Richard III”. Well….for everything Keith has ever had to say about his creative partner and glimmer twin over the years, he has still always said “That is where you find the pure unadultrated Mick Jagger, is when he’s playing mouth harp.” Well, Mick gets the trusty old harp out once again for the next song “Midnight Rambler”. It’s an absolutely storming version, one of the longest ever at just over 13 minutes and its closing section is probably the fastest it’s ever been. Now this one DOES stand up alongside the Nov ’69 tour version, and there are people who do favour Ronnie Wood to Mick Taylor so this is the version for them! I myself am not sure just how much footage from this gig is in existance….but hopefully one day we’ll see it in full as it was definitely professionally recorded – check out this gig’s “Wild Horses” on YouTube. One review which was a bit kinder was in the now defunct magazine The Listener. It stated “Charlie Watts looked very neat and as like Bertrand Russell as ever. One’s feet were with him and one’s pulse with Bill Wyman.” The ‘sober and sensible’ but yet always tight-as-two-coats-of-emulsion rhythm section, Charlie and Bill always being the ones who, onstage, looked like they really didn’t want to be there…..but their playing would suggest otherwise.
Sadly, the next 4 songs – ‘I.O.R&R’, ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Rip This Joint’ and ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’ are not included on the boot so it’s straight to the last song of the night that has closed Stones concerts since 1969 at this point and will continue to do so for some years to come – “Street Fighting Man.” Here, Ronnie makes a major blooper at 1:33 and while it’s a good enough set closer, once again, look to ’69 and ’72 for the definitive live versions, such as the “…ya ya’s” album and the “Liver than you’ll ever be” bootleg (’69) and just about any live ’72 bootleg. This version isn’t necessarily bad…..there’s just better ones in existence.
So…all in all, very good sound quality and performance and definitely one for the people who prefer the Ronnie Wood line-up – but, being so incomplete, hardly a definitive snapshot of the event. The whole gig would make a great DVD and/or a great 2-CD edition bootleg….considering what’s been popping up over recent years, who knows what’s in someone’s archive library or gathering dust in somebody’s attic somewhere….I look forward to a complete uneditied version someday. Footage of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s slot has been
seen on VH-1 etc, suggesting that maybe the whole event was professionally filmed. But as to who has the rights is anyone’s guess.
The complete setlist of the Knebworth gig is listed in Bill Wyman’s “Rolling with The Stones” book as – Satisfaction/Ain’t Too Proud To Beg / If You Can’t Rock Me – Get Off Of My Cloud / Hand Of Fate / Around And Around / Little Red Rooster / Stray Cat Blues / Hey Negrita / Hot Stuff / Fool To Cry / Star Star / Lets Spend The Night Together / You Gotta Move / Y.C.A.G.W.Y.W. / Dead Flowers / Route 66 / Wild Horses / Honky Tonk Women / Tumbling Dice / Happy / Nothing From Nothing / Party (last 2 Billy Preston) / Midnight Rambler / It’s Only Rock n Roll / Brown Sugar / Rip This Joint / Jumpin Jack Flash / Street Fighting Man.
I played this CD once when I originally bought it around 20 years ago. Keith’s guitar is not included in the mix on this recording. The only moment you can hear Keith is at the very beginning of a song, just before the other band members kick in. When Mick asks Keith “do you remember that one?” Keith is the one who plays the intro to Country Honk. IMHO this is not a title worth searching out. There are better versions out there. The Australian Black Cat 2CD Knebworth title comes to mind as worthy of adding to one’s Rolling Stones collection.