This month, wanna take you back to a time before I moved to Russia. The year is 1972.
On 5th August, at the old Wembley stadium, the London Rock’n’Roll show took place. It was an epochal event, not just for those who were Teds, but for all UK fans of our great music. In my opinion, it helped towards kick-starting the 1970’s rock’n’roll Revival. In other words, it was a huge event in UK rock’n’roll history.
When I arrived at the stadium, attired in my drapes and creepers, what surprised me (and many others who told me the same afterwards) was the sheer size of the crowd. We realised it wasn’t just us who were crazy about our wonderful music ! A magic moment early on was when we were all given the “green light” to leave the stands and go onto the pitch area of the stadium. Like Scottish football fans of bygone years, we invaded the pitch en masse, getting ourselves a birds’ eye view near the stage !
The billing was a who’s who of rockin’ icons. But the proceedings began inauspiciously, with Heinz performing on stage. Heinz, a protégé of Joe Meek, was one of those early 1960s “pretty boy” types, who used to sing bland, poppy numbers. On stage he murdered Cochran’s great hit, “C’mon everybody”. Still, it was good to get him out of the way early.
Then something to behold and savour; Screaming Lord Sutch. Before he appeared, gorgeous females in bikinis carried a coffin onto the stage to the sound of raucous music. Hundreds of pigeons were released out of cages near the stage. Then Sutch appeared out of the coffin, dressed up like a werewolf, complete with knife, hat, fake blood and make-up; brilliant ! But more was to come. Between excellent rock’n’roll numbers and more outrageous antics on stage, including great dancing from the bikini clad females, the Stripper appeared. With an introduction from Sutch, she proceeded to take everyone’s mind off the music (or at least for all the males present) with one of the most erotic stripteases I’ve ever witnessed. Errrr, not that I’m a connoisseur in these matters, you understand. Sutch’s whole set was sensational and he got a thoroughly deserved standing ovation from us. And there was still Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry to come !
Up next was Bo Diddley. I’ve always liked Diddley, but never raved over his live performances. To me they were a bit one dimensional. But fair play, the guitar sound was as good as ever.
Then the Killer. Dressed all in red, Jerry Lee Lewis was high octane from first song to last. Plenty of movement, including the signature feet on the keyboards. Smokin’ !
Next up, Bill Haley and the Comets; the Comets never failed to impress with the quality of their musicianship. I saw them a few times many years after 1972 and they still had it. But gotta be honest, Bill looked a little bit past his best by 1972; but still, a quality set, great to see the legends.
Then one of the biggest highlights of the show for me – Little Richard. Crazy and wild as he ever was, terrific ! The culmination was his final number, “Jenny, Jenny”: He ended it by jumping up onto his piano and stripping to the waist, throwing his garments to the crowd. Then he leaped into the audience, to the delight of all of us present. He’d have got my vote for being top of the bill.
But the actual top of the bill was the Chuck Berry. A fine choice. He banged out his most famous numbers, with his customary energy and movements, duck walk and all. That concert was the first time I personally heard his rude lyrics version of “reelin’ and a rockin”; certainly took me by surprise ! Then half way through this particular number, the electricity serving the sound system conked out ! The Great Man didn’t blink an eye. As soon as the power was restored he was off again, 100 rockin’ miles an hour.
After Chuck, that was it – the end of a legendary concert. For me it was a privilege to have been there. My Russian rock’n’roll friends here in Moscow can only get to see such legends when they’re well past their heyday, when they come to perform in Russia. The Communist Party in charge in the Soviet Union in the 1970s would never have allowed such decadent Western culture to “corrupt” their youth !
For those of us who were young in the 1970s and part of the rock’n’roll Revival, that concert was something very special. For some of us, it was indeed “The Greatest Show on Earth !”Richard Hume