The Rolling Stones's Rock and Roll Circus started on the morning of 10 December, 1968, with clowns, acrobats, fire- eaters, trapeze artists and a boxing kangaroo and ended at 5.30am the next day, after a performance by Their Satanic Majesties themselves.
In the intervening hours, John Lennon performed in an impromptu supergroup comprising Eric Clapton, Keith Richard and Mitch Mitchell (drummer with the Jimi Hendrix Experience); the same group backed Yoko Ono as she performed; Marianne Faithfull, dressed in a floor-length satin gown, sang as Jagger held her hand. The Who gave a rendition of their first rock opera, "Quick One While He's Away", reckoned to be the best performance of the night; Jethro Tull opened the show and the blues singer Taj Mahal made up the numbers.
During the whole jamboree, Jagger dressed and acted as circus ringmaster; Lennon wore a juggler's outfit with silver sequins and black lace ruffles; Yoko Ono was dressed as a witch, all in black with a pointed hat and the other Stones wore ancient military uniforms.
After 28 years, The Rock and Roll Circus, intended to be a television special that Christmas of 1968, is finally to be shown. A CD of the highlights is issued in Britain tomorrow and a video next month. Both have been released by ABKCO, the New York company run by Allen Klein, once manager of the Stones and some of the Beatles.
The Rock and Roll Circus has many claims to a place in pop legend. The Stones' performance was the last ever of their guitarist, Brian Jones, who was to die a few months later and it had the startling sight for the audience of Lennon and Ono on stage together. The fact that neither the Beatles nor the Stones had played live for two years gave it further significance.
But Jagger, who had organised the whole event, based largely on his love of English circuses, was displeased with the outcome and refused to sanction its release.
The rights to the film and CD release, however, belong to Mr Klein, who believes that the sound track and video have been much sought after by music fans, and is not unaware of the huge sales generated by archive material, such as The Beatles' Anthology.
The rock writer David Dalton, who has become the historian of the event, says: "The Rock and Roll Circus captures the delirious optimism of an era. Depending on your point of view, it was either the high point in the history of the cosmos, or a period of mass hallucination, or both. But call it what you will, for a brief moment it seemed that rock 'n' roll would inherit the earth."Reuse content