The Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park, in July '69, was my 15th birthday present to myself, a couple of weeks off the day.
Annoyed at having missed Blind Faith a month or so back, I went alone: in part because I had no girlfriend and partly because schoolfriends going too would drop enough acid to fill Timothy Leary's cupboard and, though I adored the music, I was scared of the drugs. Which is probably why I had no girlfriend.
I walked along Bayswater Road from Notting Hill, where I grew up when it was Notting Hill, before Hugh Grant and the ravaging by millionaires. Mum and Dad were fine with the outing and expected a full report.
Brian Jones had just died and I was sad but not moved (as I would be by Jimi Hendrix's death a year later); word went round to wear white for Brian, and I did, with clunky Clarks sandals, hair just past shoulder-length.
I would watch the World In Action documentary made that day (never dreaming I'd one day work for the programme), and must not allow many subsequent viewings to colour my memories. I well recall crowds converging through the sunshine and trees, and approving thoroughly of the flamboyant dress worn by many – a peacock-feather cloak, in particular – most probably neighbours from Ladbroke Grove and the autonomous republic of Frestonia, recently proclaimed by squats around Freston Street, London W10.
I vividly remember the "profit and exploitation" street threatre just inside the park from Speakers Corner – the man with a £ sign on his topper — and enjoying it with an adolescent intensity with regard to such matters that I retain to this day. We marched for Irish civil rights and the Viet Cong in those days and I wanted some revolution with my peace-and-love, more – I think — than I expected from the Stones.
One must remember that theThe world at that time, according to bohemian teenagers studying for O-levels, was seen (not without reason) as apocalyptically divided between "freaks" and "straights" — and what the WIA film does not show was the prevalence in attendance at Hyde Park that day of "straights" or "squares" dressed for the occasion – "pseuds" as they were then known. Of course, when one replays the film to hear Mick Jagger railing against the notion of paying to hear rock'n'roll, and money-making generally, one realises that he was a "pseud" too – and I think I knew that back in 1969.
One of the enduring memories of the day is not of the Stones, but its near-ambushing by an unknown quantity called King Crimson, whose performances of the appositely entitled 21st Century Schizoid Man and Court of the Crimson King so enthralled and stunned the crowd it threatened to blow the Stones offstage. I was not alone in taking some time to remember why we'd all come.
A tribute to Brian Jones achieved this: Jagger read from Shelley and this was captivating. I was dazzled by whatever alchemy Taylor and Keith Richards were up to on stage and, without using World In Action or YouTube to cheat, remember above all a searing account of No Expectations, while lying down and looking up through trees at the back.
But, an earnest teenager, I became annoyed by people climbing those trees for a better view, until the branches broke. I objected to Hells Angels wearing swastikas. The secretaries, office workers and straights outnumbered the feather-cloak-wearing squatters to whom I naively thought the event rightly belonged and even at that age, I became tired of Jagger's pelvic prancing. I was unnerved by people spaced out to the point of losing consciousness. So I was therefore heartened when the gig reached, shall we say, its heavy-gauge critical mass of Street Fighting Man and Sympathy for the Devil, which invoked drummers and costumed dancers to inject the day with a bit of vim and voodoo. But even before the last song was over, I calculated that a clear walk home was more important than the denouement and left to catch up on history homework.
I had only been to three non-classical concerts in my life: Louis Armstrong at Hammersmith Odeon with Dad; then Son House and Bukka White, aged 13, at the same venue, and George Melly with Mum at a pub in what then passed for a 'shopping centre' in Shepherds Bush. And I do not really count this day in the park as a rock concert; I considered, and consider, it anthropological research. It would be a few months before my first real gig – Hawkwind safely back in Notting Hill, that Autumn – and a full year before the Isle of Wight festival was stormed by French revolutionaries who really believed in free music, and Hyde Park staged its real free day out of peace-and-love, when Pink Floyd premiered Atom Heart Mother, supported by Kevin Ayers, Edgar Broughton, Roy Harper and the Third Ear Band.
The Monday after the Stones, however, I stopped off at WH Smith on my way home from school, bought a copy of Beggars Banquet for the taxing price of 32/6 and listened to it all evening, every evening, for a week. I knew something special had happened and I'd been there. But I shall avoid the 2013 version like the plague – corporate-heavy, performed by millionaires to a crowd of straights and policed by the Met, who will switch off power if Keith plays too loud.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010