This has got to be a must-see for all those who still entertain a fascination with the endlessly reverberating cultural, musical, and social upheavals of the late ‘60s – mostly because it’s one more way of entertaining unshakeable morbid obsessions and watching everyone’s favourite almost-utopia die the death it never should have.
For one thing, Blind Faith itself was the band that, for many, signalled a souring of the great musical dream: an overblown, over-hyped, overrated blues-rock behemoth that pulled together ex-members of Cream (Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker), Traffic (Steve Winwood) and Family (Rick Grech), hastily launched by greedy music execs to help keep the cash registers ringing in the wake of Cream’s recent split. This, their debut performance, was, in true counter-cultural style, a free gig in London’s Hyde Park in front of a cool 100,000 punters on a warm June afternoon in 1969. What shows most of all is just how under-rehearsed and under-prepared they were, rattling through the 40 minutes worth of tunes that made up their only album later in the year.
Don’t get me wrong, if you dig ‘60s rock, you’ll probably get off on seeing them tackle the chugging white-boy blues of “Sleeping in the Ground”, the Clapton-penned gospel-soul ballad “Presence of the Lord”, and especially the classic and perfectly catchy psyche-country-rock of “Can’t Find My Way Home”—here introduced by Winwood as “a new number we’ve got together.” It’s also endlessly fascinating to watch these icons doing their thing…well, all of them except Rick Grech perhaps, who never really made it out of the ‘who-the-hell?’ file in the first place.
Clapton is the pinnacle of disdainful cool here, taking a back seat, no vocals, standing towards the rear of the band, concentrating on his guitar and turning out clean, simple, and technically brilliant solos that show a remarkable amount of restraint after the stratospheric excesses of Cream. Ginger Baker is a monstrous presence, all sweat, red frizzy hair, and damaged amphetamine grimaces, thrashing the daylights out of his double kick-drum set-up. And Winwood’s all exuberance, fresh-faced and smiling, knowing it’s mostly his show as he leads the band through a set that’s made up mostly of his compositions, his voice never quite making the high notes but his boyish vim just about winning us over.
But it’s the background that really pulls you in. Pull back from the tiny stage stranded in a sea of heads and you see the real event taking place—a hundred thousand times over. The real draw here is not in the band shots (including some impossibly tight close-ups on Clapton’s fret-work) or the endearingly laughable psychedelic-kaleidoscope effects. It’s in the swiftly edited and endlessly fascinating contextual shots pulling in a multiplicity of sources to create a compelling collage of the wider event: leafy shots of bucolic Hyde Park in the early summer, and boating on the lake; random individuals, including the obligatory lone Afro-Saxon, freaking out in a Dionysian abandon, semi naked or in full Carnaby Street regalia, as those nearby either ignore them or watch on with a detached approval; Hells Angels chugging beer, weighed down with Iron Crosses and leather; Donovan dancing in a white suit; babies in buck-skin diapers who by now are all grown up ad executives.
If you’ve seen Monterrey Pop or Woodstock, you’ve seen this kind of thing before. And yet, there’s something else about this footage that fascinates: it’s the sense that all this is coming to an end, you are actually watching the ‘60s die. When the show begins, it’s under a perfectly blue sky, an endless English summer day, but by the time it ends the light’s already beginning to fade into dappled early evening. You can feel that one true moment in history coming to a close. And then there’s the clincher: as the band launches into a matter-of-fact rendition of the Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb”, you realise with a tiny jolt of numb shock that it’s the self-same tune the Stones would be playing six months later at the Altamont Speedway at the exact moment Meredith Hunter was stabbed to death by belligerent bikers riding a ragged descent into beer and bad trips.
So if regretful brooding’s your thing, why not sit back, open a beer, and watch the first rattling death spasms of a million youthful dreams. Now that’s entertainment.