The UK's Woodstock moment...
The Rolling Stones free concert at Hyde Park in 1969
Before Woodstock and the summer of love, the Rolling Stones played to nearly 500,000 people in Hyde Park, for free, with a collection of other bands, in an event which helped to define UK youth culture in the late 1960s.
We partnered with Hstry.org to create an online historical re-enactment of the day using social media. We shared the sights, sounds, smells and vibes of one of the most significant concerts to have ever taken place in the UK which had a lasting impact on culture, not just music.
The Hyde Park free concerts (1968-1971)
Organised by Blackhill Enterprises the free concerts at Hyde Park grew out of the culture of hippie protests in London at the time (‘smoke-ins’ which later added musical entertainment to their agenda). It’s funny to think that the huge mass-ticketed events of today started out so humbly and, in a way, so innocently too.
Founded by members of Pink Floyd, with Peter Jenner and Andrew King, Blackhill Enterprises were behind all of the early Hyde Park free concerts. When Syd Barrett left Floyd, Jenner and King continued to run Blackhill which also managed a range of acts including, Roy Harper, Third Ear Band, Edgar Broughton Band, Marc Bolan and much later Ian Dury and even the Clash. In organising the free concerts in the park, they created the perfect platform to promote their artists to as wide an audience as possible.
The first free Hyde Park concert took place on June 29th 1968 in the cockpit area. Attended by John Peel he claimed that it was, “the nicest concert I’ve ever been to”. Nick Mason of the Floyd, said it was, “much more a picnic in the park than a mini-Woodstock.” Around 15,000 turned up to this first free Hyde Park gig. Pink Floyd, T-Rex, Roy Harper and Jethro Tull played this event which would set the mould for most of the other shows; this was predominately psychedelic rock (and folk) when it was at the height of its popularity.
Other shows that year included Traffic, the Nice, Pretty Things, The Action and Junior Eyes in July 1968, and Family, Fleetwood Mac, Fairport, Eclection, Ten Years After in August 1968. The concerts grew in notoriety but maintained the psychedelic ethos. Bands were not separated from the crowd, there was a lot of mingling and very little in the way of security. All of this would change in 1969 as the concerts increased in intensity and stature.
The Blind Faith concert of 7th June 1969 was the one that we would remember had Stones in the Park not happened. Recently released on DVD, the concert was the debut of (what was at the time the first) super group featuring Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood, and Ric Grech.
The debut concert of "Super Cream" was attended by around 120,000 people and went well as far as the fans were concerned. However, Clapton had reservations with their performance. Many punters, who had been starved of Cream performances while they toured the US, were disappointed in the low-key follow-up. However, the concert helped to launch the group, giving them a platform to release their debut, and enabled them to take on America more confidently. Support that day came from Donovan, Richie Havens, and the Blackhill managed Edgar Broughton and Third Ear Bands.
The Stones in the Park was by far the most famous London show of the 1960s. Coming just a few days after the death of Brian Jones, nearly half a million came to Hyde Park. This was one of the first major concerts, coming a few weeks before both Woodstock and the Isle of Wight festivals. We will be going into much more detail about the day with our live social media re-enactment – stay tuned for that!
1969 was rounded off with a free show by Soft Machine who played in September. Tantalisingly there was an additional show supposed to take place a few weeks before featuring Crosby, Stills and Nash, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead. Bringing the leaders of a psychedelic West Coast pop/rock scene to Hyde Park would have been a great musical achievement.
In 1970 the concerts continued but looking back with the hindsight of today, it feels as if some of the energy, enthusiasm and innovation had been lost. The 1970 Pink Floyd show also featured Roy Harper, Kevin Ayers, Edgar Broughton Band, Formerly Fat Harry, Lol Coxhill. In the end over 120,000 attended – this was nearly ten times larger than the first free Hyde Park concert to feature the band in 1968 and was the crescendo of the band as an underground act, before their commercial successes later in the 1970s..
The concert itself was well received as Pink Floyd played a host of new material, but there were a few problems with eight reported overdoses, injuries owing to flying beer bottles, and a more violent than usual Hells Angel security force. Coming in 1970, this was perhaps a foreshadowing of the more cynical and less innocent times to come… and the beginning of the end of the free concerts.
Canned Heat played only the second show of 1970, and in 1971, Grandfunk Railroad and King Crimson headlined the final two free shows.
The Hyde Park free concerts were of varying quality but one can’t deny the impact that they had on an entire generation. Thousands gathered in the park in central London to witness amazing music and meet like-minded people at these events which were the forerunners to the large festivals we know today. It’s fair to say that not only rock history, but social history, would have been much different had Blackhill Enterprises not taken the bold step to put on these shows.
These original free concerts were also instrumental in placing Hyde Park on the map as a venue and place to experience music. The huge events played in the park today may not have happened had the free shows not led the way all those years ago. With a range of recent events partially banking on the music heritage of the site to sell tickets, it’s about time that we recognised the role that these concerts played in ensuring the profits for promoters such as AEG Live today.
The Hyde Park free concerts:
June 29th – Pink Floyd, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Roy Harper. Jethro Tull.
July 27th – Traffic, The Nice, Pretty Things, The Action. Juniors Eyes
August 24th - Fleetwood Mac, Family, Fairport Convention, Roy Harper, Peter Starsted, Stefan Grossman, Eclection, Ten Years After
September 28th - The Move, The Strawbs, Pete Brown's Battered Ornaments, Roy Harper, The Action, Clouds
June 7th - Blind Faith, Richie Havens, Donovan, Edgar Broughton Band, Third Ear Band
July 5th - The Rolling Stones, Family, Battered Ornaments, King Crimson, Roy Harper, Third Ear Band, Alexis Korners New Church, Screw
September 6th - Crosby Stills and Nash, Jefferson Airplane , Grateful Dead (cancelled at last moment)
September 20th Soft Machine, The Deviants, Al Stewart, Quintessence, Edgar Broughton Band
July 18th - Pink Floyd, Roy Harper, Kevin Ayers, Edgar Broughton Band, Formerly Fat Harry, Lol Coxhill
September 12th - Canned Heat, Eric Burdon and War, John Sebastian
July 3rd - Grand Funk Railroad, Humble Pie, Head hands and feet
September 4th - King Crimson, Jack Bruce, Third Ear Band, Roy Harper, Formerly Fat Harry
Many thanks to UK Rock Festivals for much of the background and factual information. Check out their amazing site for information on all festivals that took place in the UK from the 1960s to the 1980s.