The Stones in the Park (Limited Edition) Review
The story of Brian Jones is one of tragedy. During their pomp of the mid-to-late sixties, Jones was undoubtedly the leader of the band. Mick and Keith may have been the songwriters but it was Jones who gave The Rolling Stones glamour and who gave their music texture. It was Jones who added Mellotron to 2000 Light Years From Home, sitar on Paint It Black and beautiful slide guitar on Little Red Rooster. It was Jones' presence in the band that gave them the confidence to record Aftermath and Between The Buttons and via his meeting and romancing Anita Pallenberg, he gave the Stones beauty. The Beatles may have popularised the moptop but it was the blond Jones who wore it best. Dazzlingly talented as a musician, Jones' failing was to be born without the steely ambition of Mick and Keith. It was to be his undoing.
On a holiday to Tangier in 1967, Anita Pallenberg left Brian Jones for Keith Richards. With Jones physically abusive to Pallenberg, Richards apparently said nothing more to her than, "Baby, we're getting out of here!" And that was that. Well actually it wasn't. It doesn't sound like much but Pallenberg leaving Jones for Richards created a shift in the balance of power in the band that would see it becoming Richards' band, Jones' no longer. The instrumental dandiness of Between The Buttons and Their Satanic Majesties Request gave way to the rock'n'roll of Beggars Banquet and Richards' sulphurous brew of hard rock, pagan rhythms and badass writing. When Jones showed up at all, he could barely hold an instrument. Asking the band at one session, "What can I play?", Jagger caustically responded with a, "I don't know Brian, what can you play?" By all accounts, Jagger, Richards, Wyman and Watts were perfectly patient with Jones but with tax bills looming, a tour was needed and the physically frail Jones could barely cope. Even his beauty could survive the assault of alcohol and drugs, leaving Jones looking overweight and puffy in the promo video for We Love You. For Jones, the only way was out and with Wyman, Watts and Jagger visiting him to tell him that Mick Taylor was waiting to take his place in the band. One month later he was dead.
The Rolling Stones had been planning the free concert in Hyde Park to unveil Mick Taylor as being a permanent fixture in the band but the death of Jones only two days before overshadowed the event. In front of over 200,000 fans, Mick Jagger took the stage in a white smock, released hundreds of butterflies, most of which were already dead, and read Percy Bysshe Shelley's Adonais to the crowd in honour of Brian. They had samba drummers ready for Sympathy For The Devil, Honky Tonk Women ready to play for the first time and Mick Taylor, a superb guitarist, ready for his first live gig with the band. They had the Hell's Angels for security - something that seemed to work well in London but which would be disastrous at Altamont - an urging for their fans to respect the trees in the park, a documentary film crew from Granada Television and the good will of almost a quarter of a million people. As a gesture, it was probably all that Jones could have asked for but one doesn't need hindsight to see how it all went so wrong.
For a start, the band are woefully underpowered and under-rehearsed. Taylor had only just joined the band and whilst there have probably been better-attended debuts than this one, it clearly shows in the band that perhaps they weren't quite ready. He is not, however, a nervous guitar player - in fact he's clearly confident and able and would go on to feature on the very best of the Stones' albums - but it's obvious that the band are still reeling from the shock of hearing about Jones. However, it's clear that they're playing Hyde Park with equipment that would serve the average-sized pub venue today and the band do sound quite dreadful at times. Midnight Rambler is actually really good as is Honky Tonk Women and Sympathy For The Devil but Jumping Jack Flash is wretched and I'm Free would have you thinking that the version by The Soup Dragons was actually worth your time.
But that seems somehow unimportant when faced with a band who are clearly mourning the loss of Jones. There are, of course, better concert DVDs featuring The Rolling Stones and, better yet, there are the albums that reach a creative peak with Let It Bleed, but this is a fair record of a band who were preparing to enter a period of success that might have felled a lesser band. All that said, it might well have been best for Jones to die when he did - could he have faced life alone and outside of the Stones? He certainly couldn't have survived within the Stones but as this film shows, perhaps they weren't quite ready for life without him.
Stones In The Park has been shown on television several times over the years with Channel 4 broadcasting it perhaps a decade or so ago. It's never looked particularly good but that's more likely to be the fault of the original production and the manner in which the film was stored than how it was broadcast or, as is now, transferred onto DVD. Shown in 1.33:1, this is a scratchy, grainy-looking feature with a very harsh-looking palette but, to be fair to Network, one doubts if there was very much that they could have done that would have improved matters. As an example, there are various effects shots that doubtless impressed many people in the late-sixties but which are woefully dated here. But in keeping with the original cut, they've been preserved along with the occasionally clumsy edit, hair and bit of print damage.
However, what Network have done is to remix the audio track into an optional DD5.1, which, at least at first, is very impressive with his separation of Richards' and Taylor's guitars and the boosting of Wyman's bass in the mix. But what they also seem to have done is to have added on a quite unbelievable amount of echo to the mix, leaving the various interviews and backstage chatter to be almost unintelligible. Therefore, in spite of my original liking of the DD5.1 remix, I headed straight back to the original DD2.0 mono mix, which might well be a little muddier-sounding but has a good deal more clarity.
Most of this bonus material is unrelated to the actual concert, being made up of interviews with members of the band from many years before and after the concert. However, there is still some very good material in here. The first extra is Previously Unseen Footage (27m14s) of the band performing Mercy, Mercy, Stray Cat Blues and No Expectations, all of which were recorded at the Hyde Park gig but were cut before transmission. These are presented in DD2.0 Mono but are incomplete with the sound and video dropping out during Stray Cat Blues only to be replaced by some silent footage of the crowd. This won't have universal appeal but there is something fascinating about seeing the reality behind the legend of the Summer of Love and the beautiful people therein, many of whom seemed to believe that the wearing of a pair of pink sunglasses in little round frames would make up for the dreadful clothing, the lank curtains of brown hair and rotting teeth.
Mercy, Mercy is also available as a second bonus feature, where it has been remixed in DD5.1 but which suffers the same problem as the remix on the main feature. Next up is a television show that will be instructive to anyone who only thinks of John Birt as an unpopular DG of the BBC and as an equally unpopular blue-sky thinker in the current Labour government. This World In Action is the edition that saw Mick Jagger debating his drug charge and modern morality with William Rees-Mogg, writer of the famous Times editorial Who Breaks A Butterfly Upon A Wheel?, Father Thomas Corbishly, Lord Stow Hill and Christian writer Dr John Robinson. Jagger had just had his three month sentence for the possession of drugs quashed by the court on appeal that very day and he relaxes after the trial in the company of these four men and the gentle sounds of a remote country house. To be fair to Jagger, he is rather out of his depth here despite being given a rather easy ride with his adoption of a accent somewhere between his own estuary English and the received pronunciation of Rees-Mogg. However, the five men have a good old debate about fame, morality and the corruption of youth and no matter how easy it is to mock Jagger, it's hard to imagine a Shayne Ward or similar debating such matters with theologians, an attorney general and a newspaper editor.
Finally, there are three press conferences, one of which was also seen in the World In Action feature from July 1967 (4m05s) and sees a just-released Mick Jagger paraded before the press to explain himself. The second is a mute press conference from 1964 (2m40s) showing the band looking very fresh-faced - even Keith Richards - and being chased by a gaggle of teenage boys and girls, whilst the last on the disc is an interview with Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts from 1971 (1m46s) just prior to their leaving to the south of France and Exile On Main Street.
Network could have sent this out to the shops as a budget release with no special features but they've done rather a good job with this, sourcing the World In Action episode with Jagger and presenting a fairly complete view of life around Jagger and the rest of the Stones in the period of Brian Jones' death. Of course, Stones In The Park isn't actually that good a concert but it is an important one and I think that outweighs its many failings.