The gig that time forgot

A row between the Beatles and the Stones kept one of the greatest concerts in history off TV
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Nineteen sixty-six is remembered for many things. It's the year that the Beatles recorded Revolver, the Beach Boys Pet Sounds, the Rolling Stones Aftermath and Dylan Blonde On Blonde. England won the World Cup and Time magazine visited the King's Road and Carnaby Street, took one look at Mary Quant's miniskirts and promptly declared that London was officially the "swinging" capital of the world.

What is not so well known, though, is that 1966 is also the year in which, before 10,000 of Britain's wildest screamagers, quite possibly the greatest gig ever took place at the Empire Pool, Wembley .That gig was the New Musical Express Poll-winners concert and it boasted a line-up never matched before or since.

Headlined by the Beatles, it featured the Rolling Stones, The Who, Dusty Springfield, the Yardbirds, the Walker Brothers, Roy Orbison, the Spencer Davis Group with Stevie Winwood, Cliff Richard, the Shadows, Herman's Hermits and the Small Faces, all playing short sets of their current hits.

The reason this concert is not enshrined in mythology alongside other famous live events such as Woodstock or Live Aid is probably down to the fact that, thanks to a row at the previous year's gig, neither the Beatles nor the Stones would allow their performances to be filmed. It had become a tradition that the show was televised nationally by ABC-TV on the weekend following the event, usually under the title Big Beat, and such was the case in 1965.

However, there had been a backstage row between Mick Jagger and John Lennon over who should headline. The Stones were performing off the back of three number ones in a row and Jagger had insolently declared that that made his band the biggest. Lennon had turned the air blue, enraged at Jagger's ingratitude after all the help the Beatles had given the nascent Stones (even penning "I Wanna Be Your Man" to help them get into the charts). Jagger insisted he would pull the Stones out of the show if they didn't headline and was crestfallen when NME proprietor Maurice Kinn reminded him he would be in breach of contract with ABC if he did so.

The upshot was that the Beatles won the day, though, characteristically, Lennon then decided it would be far too dangerous for his band to finish the show as the audience would gather outside the venue and tear them apart. So it was that the Kinks closed the '65 show and, when it came to 1 May 1966, neither the Beatles nor the Stones would allow the cameras to capture their performances.

ABC only screened the rest of the 1966 show in the London region. What viewers saw was The Who putting on a performance of "Substitute" and "My Generation" that moved the NME writer Alan Smith to declare: "I don't know that it was music; it was more like watching violence put to rhythm." They also saw Dusty do "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me", the Spencer Davis Group power through "Keep On Running", the Small Faces stagger through "Sha-La-La-La-Lee", the Walker Brothers cause young girls to faint with "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" and the Yardbirds freak everyone out with "Shapes Of Things".

What they missed was a vintage Stones performance. According to NME's review, Jagger was "almost worshipping various sections of the audience" as the band burnt through "The Last Time", the sinister "Play With Fire" and a raucous "Satisfaction", during which Jagger "leaped about four feet into the air".

They also missed the Beatles. NME's Alan Smith reported it this way: "John stood astride in the familiar Lennon style, shoved on a pair of brown sunglasses with familiar Lennon panache, and belted straight into the vocal of 'I Feel Fine'. The screaming seemed to reach the kind of level that only dogs and A&R men could hear.

"George's composition 'If I Needed Someone'... then Paul charged at the microphone and screamed out the opening lines of his raver 'I'm Down'. This one belted along with the express train rhythm of a Euston to Liverpool express with Ringo the engineer - until finally it screeched to a halt and the Beatles were disappearing down a hatch and away, not to be seen again."

We should add one word to that. "Ever." The Beatles never played live before a British audience again.

A version of this article appears in the latest edition of 'Uncut', on sale today


Ian McLagan of the Small Faces

"These screaming girls would be in front and the geezers would be at the back. We'd play to them - just jam. First time I played with the Small Faces we did 'Green Onions' and the kids didn't know or care. They just wanted to look at us."

Chris Dreja of the Yardbirds

"It wasn't dreadfully successful. Up until that point, Jeff [Beck] had had free rein - that stage was his. I think he felt a little pissed off that this other guitar player [Jimmy Page] was suddenly on the scene and he had to share that space. And both being brilliant guitar players, it was a bit like two gunslingers shooting it out. Psychologically and musically, with two such independent minds, it was never going to be brilliant."