Leslie Woodhead describes filming ‘The Stones in the Park’ in 1969

The Stones in the Park came about because Jo Durden-Smith, my long-standing chum who was doing these rock ‘n’ roll documentaries, got a call from Mick Jagger himself – he said, “Hey, Jo – you guys have got great cameramen – why don’t you come and film our concert in Hyde Park?” – this is the summer of 1969, before Woodstock, weirdly enough, it wasn’t afterwards – and so Jo and I went to talk to Forman and Plowright about it, and with great reluctance they signed a budget of I think £9,000 to make it, and we simply shipped in every good World in Action crew we had worked with – including George Jesse Turner stuck on the top of a van in the middle of the park – and that was all done in a day.

Again, it was made up as we went along. I mean, we had no… the only film that had happened that was somewhat analogous was Monterey Pop Pennebaker’s film at the Monterey Festival the year before. But we basically… there were six crews, the directors were all former World in Action people – people like John Sheppard and so forth – each had a crew and a camera man – all World in Action people – and we went off, we decided we would record whatever the hell was going on in the park that day as well as what was going on on stage it was a technical omnishambles, I remember, doing that thing, it really was. I mean, first of all, I arrived in the park at the stage at 7am that morning, on a beautiful summer’s morning, to find that none of the filming equipment had been delivered – not one thing.

So we immediately ordered it all over again, and then shortly afterwards we got all the old stuff and the new stuff – so we had a pile of equipment 10ft high that had to be sorted out. So we fumbled through the morning with the Hell’s Angels being a pest, and then as we began filming, the Stones were so late on stage that we were getting concerned about the light levels – they were hours late. Brian Jones, of course, had died just leading up to that so we got Mick’s poem and all that wonderful absurdity. But as I say, technically, it didn’t really… it stretched us to the edge of possibility.

When Jagger picked up the mic to start the first number, he picked up the wrong mic – or at least one that didn’t contain our feed – so if you look at the first number, about half way through it a frantic man runs from behind and sticks another mic in his hand. So half of the first number is semi-audible. And the band were so wrecked, out of their heads stoned by the time they started the concert, that I remember it was tragically out of tune, their performance. I remember going to mix it with a very good rock ‘n’ roll mixer who had done a lot of their albums, and he said, “What do you want me to do with that? It’s just terrible.” And when we screened it, we screened it in Golden Square, Mick was in Australia doing his Ned Kelly thing, but the remaining Stones… we filmed the rough cut of the Stones in the basement at Golden Square.

I remember when it came to a stop, part one came to an end, Keith said, “I hope the lead guitarist tunes up before part two.” Of course he didn’t, it just gets worse. So God knows how it survived – it still gets screened a couple of times a year and I still get grabbed by people who remember it fondly. It was the very early days of us shooting in colour, so we only got 10% of the rushes printed in colour; the rest was in black and white – which was a real problem when we discovered that the camera I was shooting with, which was on the left hand side of the stage, the assistant had left the door open for the early numbers, so it was all orange-edged, all our stuff was… a sort of vibrating band of orange. For years after that, mad hippies came up to me and said, “That was years ahead of its time, that groovy tinting of the film,” which we didn’t even know about until we got the show print.

So one way or another it was very primitive technically, but it had the energy of the concert – so it delivered the goods. I remember the Daily Telegraph said, “This is the loudest thing since World War One.” I remember screening it for Cecil Bernstein at Granada and he was just shaking his head in bewilderment about what his boys had been doing! I edited it all in Manchester, and that was the most fun actually, putting that together and finding different ways of doing the different numbers, despite the many technical shortcomings, like the main camera for Satisfaction, we lost all the rushes – they disappeared under a bush somewhere, which we never rediscovered – so that had to be cobbled together from whatever else was surviving, with a lot of crappy freeze-frames and stop-motion things, which were done in Humphrey’s Labs in London because you couldn’t do them in Manchester, which meant that they went off on a train and didn’t come back for a week, by which time they were wrong, but it was too late to do anything about it – that kind of thing was just par for the course in doing those films.

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