The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus production was a complete mess. Looking for a unique way to promote their latest album Beggars Banquet, the band conceptualised a three ring circus between themselves, the Small Faces, and The Who. The Small Faces eventually dropped out, but in their place came John Lennon, Jethro Tull, Marianne Faithful, and Taj Mahal. Complete with a real circus setting in what was set to be a wild spectacle.
And it might have started out that way, but filming continued to drag on throughout the day. The changing of camera reels and the time it took to set up and break down each new act’s equipment, plus getting them properly staged and blocked, turned out to be a logistical nightmare. The crowd, dressed mostly in preachers robes, were often stiff and exhausted during The Rolling Stones’ performance due to the fact that it was early in the morning hours by the time they actually made it onto the stage.
Even worse, the artists that got to perform before them were far more exciting: The Who demolished a version of ‘A Quick One While He’s Away’, while Taj Mahal pulled out a captivating version of ‘Aint That a Lot of Love’. Even the pre-recorded performances, like those from Jethro Tull and Marianne Faithful, were noticeably more enthusiastic as a whole than most of the Stones (minus Mick Jagger and his unwavering energy) were able to produce.
One of the major problems stemmed from the fact that Brian Jones was on his last legs with the band during the production. His contributions to Beggars Banquet were diverse, from the mournful slide guitar of ‘No Expectations’ to the Indian instrumentation of ‘Street Fighting Man’ and the bluesy harmonica of ‘Dear Doctor’, but his reliability was low. When he showed up to the soundstage, he barely knew where he was or what he was doing. As such, most of his parts throughout the concert are inaudible, and there are even claims that his amplifier wasn’t even turned on.
The Stones got help where they could: ace session man Nicky Hopkins played the piano, while percussionist Rocky Dijon filled in on congas. But when it came time for their final number, the band members joined the crowd in robes and macks for a sing-along to Beggars Banquet‘s closing number, ‘Salt of the Earth’. While Jagger and Keith Richards sang their vocals live, the rest of the music was from the studio recording of the song. The results are still fascinating, but the audience is clearly beat as they sway back and forth during the song.
The band were aghast at the results, and a planned premiere on the BBC was cancelled. The footage remained locked away for years until 1996 when it was judged to be too historically significant to keep under wraps. The show was Jones’ final performance as a Rolling Stone, as well as the only video footage of Tony Iommi’s brief stint in the Tull before returning back to Black Sabbath. It also contained Lennon’s one-off supergroup The Dirty Mac performing ‘Yer Blues’. The combined weight of these factors meant that the Rock and Roll Circus eventually got a public release in 1996.
Watch The Rolling Stones close the show with ‘Salt of the Earth’ down below.