The Rolling Stones concert of 23 September 1966 turned out to be memorable in more ways than one.
Top of the bill at the Royal Albert Hall for the first time, the group introduced their British fans to the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, whose sensational opening performance included a young boy singer called Prince Albert. The first half of the show also featured The Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page as lead guitarists.
As exciting as it must have been, all were somewhat upstaged by the mini riot that took place at the start of the Rolling Stones’ set – an incident that would have been but a hazy memory were it not for the incredible footage captured by film-maker Peter Whitehead. The scenes were later edited into the promo for the Stones’ single Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?
The witness accounts of how it started differ slightly but, whatever song the Stones were playing, it was soon halted by dozens of frenzied fans who pushed past the ushers and clambered on stage to grab a handful, or whatever they could, of their heroes.
“Keith Richard was knocked to the ground, Mick was almost strangled, while Brian Jones and Bill Wyman took to their heels, followed closely by dozens of determined fans. Charlie Watts sat quietly behind his drums watching the scene,” reported Norrie Drummond, who was reviewing “the pop world’s social event of the year” for the New Musical Express.
Managers, agents and PRs rushed from their front-row seats to assist the security guards, who were perhaps more accustomed to sedate chamber music recitals and easily overwhelmed by the relentless volley of teenage bodies hurtling past them.
The announcement came that unless everyone returned to their seats the show would be cancelled.
On the spot and recording it all was Peter Whitehead and, thanks to his 16mm hand-held camera and his brilliant eye for detail, the viewer is virtually participating in the scene, in what Village Voice called “a frenzied there-ness”. We see a dolly bird with long blonde hair and a striped dress thrown roughly back into the crowd. A boy plants a kiss on Keith Richards before he is pulled away and flung into the seething throng below.
Mick Jagger makes a cursory attempt to shake off a girl who is swinging around his neck, putting less energy into escaping her clutches than he does at batting his tambourine. Bill Wyman hangs onto his bass like grim death as fans claw at him from all sides; meanwhile, Keith Richards is doggedly refusing to let a helper take away his precious guitar.
The New Musical Express reporter wasn’t entirely accurate, however, in his observation about Brian Jones’s haste to leave the stage. On the contrary, one of the most striking images of Peter Whitehead’s film is the sight of the dandified lead guitarist hugging his knees and laughing like a mad prince, revelling in the chaos and destruction around him.
It wasn’t the first time that Peter Whitehead had filmed a riot at a Stones concert. In September 1965 he had accompanied the group on a trip to Ireland to make what became the first Rolling Stones documentary, Charlie Is My Darling, which remained unreleased until 2012.
Far from being the grunting oafs depicted by newspaper headlines, the band members in fact had a pretty good grasp of the dynamic between them and the audience.
In Whitehead’s 1965 film, Bill Wyman gave his explanation for the stage invasions. “Contact. Any sort of physical contact. Touching you. That’s why they try to get in close. Touching your coat, pulling you, touching your hair, just so they can say ‘I touched so-and-so’.”
And, as Peter Whitehead revealed in a 1994 interview, the Stones’ front man primed him to expect action at the Royal Albert Hall. “Mick said, ‘I’ll tell you when I’ll get the girls up on stage.’ After a couple of songs, he turned around and said ‘Ready?’ and within 15 seconds the kids were on stage swinging around his neck. He’d toss a couple of girls off and he’d look around as if to say ‘Got enough?’ in the middle of singing this song. It’s demonic, it’s voodoo, it’s Satan.”
Sympathy For The Devil, the tragic death of Brian Jones and the murder at Altamont were a couple of years down the line but, that night in 1966, Peter Whitehead had already shone a light on the dark side of the Rolling Stones.
This rare film and other legendary performances will be screened at Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London on 1 May and Peter Whitehead’s Icons of the Hall on Saturday 27 May, both in the Hall’s Elgar Room as part of the Hall’s Summer of Love: Revisited series.
Claudia Elliott is a music journalist and historian who writes about the 1960s. claudiaelliott.contently.com
Rolling Stones setlist: 23 September 1966
Paint It Black
Under My Thumb
Get Off of My Cloud
Not Fade Away
The Last Time
Have You Seen Your Mother Baby