The Rolling Stones played six concerts at Earls Court Arena at the end of May, 1976. And like many other artists many complained that the poor acoustics of the venue detracted from what were otherwise very solid shows. One collector even called the shows at Earls Court a “disaster.” To make atonement to their fans, the band did the unthinkable and offered themselves to the Knebworth Festival in August. Queen, who had just hit superstardom with the release of A Night At The Opera, were originally scheduled for this event but were bump in favor of the Stones. (Promoter Freddie Bannister made it up to Queen by promoting their free Hyde Park appearance a week later.) The all day event was professionally recorded and filmed, and the Stones played one of their longest and most unique concerts in their career.
Most of the early vinyl releases of Knebworth were incomplete and man come from a good audience recording. The show can be found on Hot August Night (DDR Production KNEB- 876-A/B/C/D), Hot August Night (KNEB 1976/ KNEB 876-A/B/C/D), Knebworth Fair (RSVP 005), Look At My Face (R-S A/B), Stoned Stones (Apollo LP 786), Stones Tour Mop Up! (Productions Allied 082), Hot August Night (Hot Lips HLR-RS 004/5) (taken from the video soundtrack and missing “Stray Cat Blues”), and Route ‘ 76 Low Tide & Fair Hits (RSVP – 005) with eight songs from the audience tape plus one track called “Hip Shake.”
On compact disc this show can be found on Live Dead Flowers (Black Cat BC 030), Save Me (RSP-1), Live – Vol. 1 (JOK-053-A), Best Of The Knebworth Fair (Midnight Beat MB 088) and Everybody’s Got To Go (Great Live Concert RR786 A/B) are all early releases with the incomplete show from the video soundrack. The complete show has been released before and is an edit betwen the video soundtrack and audience source and was issued previously on Hot August Night (Vinyl Gang VGP 146), Hot August Night At Knebworth Fair (Stone Crazy SC 001/2/3), a three disc set which includes a bonus cd with the 1977 El Mocambo recordings, and Knebworth Fair – Complete Recordings 1976 Final !!! (Shaved Disc TSD 020/21). Hot August Night on SODD is a similar mix of the video soundtrack and the audience recording. Compared to the other releases, it sounds a bit brighter and more dynamic and is a good way to own this show.
The program for the event states: “Only one week after the Rolling Stones finished their recent British tour, it all felt like a wonderful dream that never really existed. That dreaded monotony of daily routine returned to haunt theatre managers, promoters and record company executives who had been previously plagued by an endless series of requests for Rolling Stones tickets. The suddenly everything went quiet. Reminders of their first British tour for almost three years lingered behind and helped ease the pain. While the Stones entourage swung through the European leg of the tour, Black And Blue held steady in the album charts. To gently remind us of what just was, Top Of The Pops ran a film clip of Fool To Cry.
“Within three whirlwind weeks, the Rolling Stones had impressively created more excitement and caused more commotion than any other single event that had preceded them. They were royally embraced by the national media and instantly given more coverage than the political escapades of the new Prime Minister.
“As the pound sank lower and lower on the exchange market, the value of the Rolling Stones increased rapidly. Tour t-shirts boldly stuck out of ordinary concert crowds. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards badges became necessary decoration for the well-dressed fan. Yet the biggest revelation was these 1976 audiences, no longer exclusively comprised of overgrown adolescents high on a nostalgic good time. The Rolling Stones really were a new band. And there were legions of pubescent fans willing to testify undying loyalty. To them Satisfaction never existed. To them the Rolling Stones were It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll, Angie or Hot Stuff.
“Spoiled by the well paced, perfectly executed professionalism of the Stones’ live performances, other bands seemed less potent in their wake. Many contented fans stopped going to concerts altogether, preferring to keep the magic intact. Restless for that Rolling Stones high, record players spun worn-out copies of Exile On Main Street and almost worn-out copies of Black And Blue. Already the summer promised to be very long and very hot. Even annual events like Crystal Palace Garden Parties and the Reading Festival failed to ignite any special fire. Another long stretch of time inevitably lay before the Stones returned to these shores. So we waited. Sometimes seeking temporary salvation on the dingy pub circuit where fresh-faced, energetic bands emulated the Stones.
“Everything changed that last Saturday in June. Young boys still flocked to the Mary Quant make-up counter, while Stones t-shirts made a big splash at Brighton beaches. But unseasonably warm summer humidity had forced most people inside. Just one spin of Get Yer Ya Yas Out could reduce the listener to a damp, sweat-stained condition. Television seemed a lightweight alternative and the annual Wimbledon tennis Tournament provided good Saturday afternoon entertainment.
“The temperatures were even hotter on the centre court, where Jimmy Connors and Stan Smith battled through the quarter-finals as the thermometer reached 105 degrees. Referees were allowed to remove their jackets. Just as Jimmy Connors was about to deliver another big serve, several people dressed like clowns emerged onto the courts, catching the normally staid BBC announcer by surprise. Despite the sweltering heat, these were authentic clowns complete with white faces. They looked terrific on colour TV as the presented each of the players with a rose. They also had several cardboard signs that plainly read for all the nation to see: STONES FOR KNEBWORTH. Seconds later the clowns were ushered off the court by attentive policemen, and the match was resumed.
“Knebworth?” the confused BBC announcer kept repeating. “They don’t mean the Rolling Stones do they?” But the first outrageous clue had just received nation-wide exposure right there on the centre court. By Sunday suspicions were further aroused when a similar incident stopped play during a televised cricket match at Lord’s. The message was the same: STONES FOR KNEBWORTH. By Monday morning, simple white posters with fancy black longhand decorated vacant shop windows and display areas all over London’s West End, proclaiming the event official and triggering off a bout of electricity. For the first time since anyone could remember when, the Rolling Stones were playing Britain twice in one year. Thank God for small favours.
“Reminiscent of previous escapades when aerosol graffiti sprayed It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll over undergrounds and council flats everywhere, the Rolling Stones were back with a prankish vengeance. The giant wheels behind the intricate Stones machinery began to move once more, planning for Knebworth with all the strategy and artillery normally associated with a full-scale touring attack. From the start, Knebworth was destined for glory. This was no ordinary event. With a six-night London stand at Earl’s Court that drew severe criticism over the sound system, the Rolling Stones were determined to be clearly audible at Knebworth. There was even talk of incorporating large doses of Chuck Berry into the set. Rock ‘n roll was clearly the order of the day.
“Knebworth welcomes the Rolling Stones edition Mach III (sic), stripped of previous brass decoration, roaring like a well-oiled engine. The Rolling Stones survive because they easily adapt to changing times. Personnel changes allow them to rock with the times and roll with the flow, always maintaining enough of their initial roots and original image so we don’t forget what once was.”
1. (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
2. Ain't Too Proud to Beg (The Temptations cover)
3. If You Can't Rock Me / Get Off of My Cloud
4. Hand of Fate
5. Around and Around (Chuck Berry cover)
6. Little Red Rooster (Willie Dixon cover)
7. Stray Cat Blues
8. Hey Negrita
9. Hot Stuff
10. Fool to Cry
11. Star Star
12. Let's Spend the Night Together (first since 1967)
13. You Gotta Move (Mississippi Fred McDowell cover)
14. You Can't Always Get What You Want
15. Dead Flowers
16. Route 66 (Nat King Cole cover)
17. Wild Horses
18. Honky Tonk Women (followed by a snippet of "Country Honk")
19. Tumbling Dice
21. Nothing From Nothing (Billy Preston cover) (performed by Billy Preston)
22. Outa-Space (Billy Preston cover) (performed by Billy Preston)
23. Midnight Rambler
24. It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It)
25. Brown Sugar
26. Rip This Joint
27. Jumpin' Jack Flash
28. Encore: Street Fighting Man
Mick Jagger: Vocals, Piano, Harmonica and Guitar
Keith Richards: Guitar and Vocals
Ron Wood: Guitar and Vocals
Bill Wyman: Bass
Charlie Watts; Drums
Billy Preston: Piano, Organ, Clavinet, Synthesizer and Vocals
Ian Stewart: Piano
Ollie Brown: Percussion and Vocals