It was 40 years ago today – well, in June, actually – that Steve Winwood taught the band to play. Blind Faith, that is, who played the first ever free concert in Hyde Park in London in front of 100,000 people on 7 June 1969. And what a gig it was.
It is often said that the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island – as filmed by photographer Bert Stern for Jazz On A Summer's Day – was the greatest outdoor concert of them all, while jazz aficionados always cite it as the acme of cool, the perfect paradigm of music, fashion, attitude and weather, the epitome of modernist chic. But although Newport had Thelonious Monk, Anita O'Day and Gerry Mulligan, I think the Blind Faith gig was better. And cooler. Much cooler.
Born out of the ashes of Cream and the original incarnation of Traffic, Blind Faith were heralded as the first supergroup, a four-piece featuring Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker and Rick Grech (formerly of Family). They lasted barely seven months, fell apart after their debut album (released later in 1969), and have been criticised for leaving a lacklustre legacy. But what a gig this was.
I watched the concert – London Hyde Park 1969 – on Sky Arts about six weeks ago and so far I must have watched it seven or eight times. Because it is awesome. To read reviews of the concert you'd think that it was little more than a soundcheck, and even Clapton has been disparaging about the event (claiming their sound system wasn't big enough), but watching the film now, the concert seems almost magical, and has a timeless quality, as though it happened in a vacuum, or some sort of parallel universe.
Winwood is something of a revelation, and watching him sitting behind his electric piano in the mid-afternoon sun, in his purple ranch-style shirt and his red hipster trousers, with his impossibly boyish face, his mouth wrapping itself around the expertly crafted blue-eyed soul, he looks like nothing but a genuine pop icon.
Forget Elvis, forget Hendrix, forget Jim Morrison – for one day, 40 years ago, in the summer of 1969, Steve Winwood was the coolest man on God's earth.
Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'
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