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LIVE'r than you'll ever be

The Rolling Stones at Kooyong Tennis Centre

© 1999 Duncan R Fry


I was rummaging around in a box of old reel to reel tapes the other day. Remember them, you young kids? Before cassettes, 8 track cartridges, Elcasets, digital compact cassettes, DATs, etc., there were these things that had to be threaded up by hand and unless you locked them on tight, would fly off during fast forward and attempt to slice your head off, spilling kilometres of shiny brown entrails around the room as they whirled and shuddered to a halt.

The wife of LL, (names changed to protect the innocent) had come across this horde of stuff taking up valuable parking space in the garage, and dumped them on him with the command - move them or lose them. So, not having a reel to reel player any longer, naturally he took the option of moving my house!

"See if there's anything decent on them, will you?" he asked. "Shouldn't take you too long!"

Yeah, right, about three months if I listened to them 24 hours a day was my guess. LL being a person who knew the value of a dollar, most of them were in mono on two separate tracks in each direction to save tape. Fine in theory, but a prick of a thing to weed through thirty years later!

Some of them had turned brittle, especially one branded not 'Scotch', but 'Irish', which broke into pieces as I tried to thread it up. Whatever was on there is gone forever. Which, considering it was most likely a very bad recording of teenaged Old Farts on Heat rehearsing in a garage (as a lot of the tapes turned out to be) is probably a blessing to the world of music.

Most of the tapes were larger 7" reels, but at the bottom of the box were some 5" reels. Hmm, I thought, these were the tapes that fitted LL's Sony 'Watergate', the suitcase sized portable that always seemed to clandestinely accompany us to concerts. (See The Hunchback of Festival Hall, Connections sometime 1995).

So, with the family out of the way for the day, I spooled up the first tape and hit paydirt straight away! Unless I was very much mistaken it was The Rolling Stones at Kooyong Tennis Centre, c.1970. I settled back in my seat with a fist sized glass of Southern Comfort, cranked up the speakers, and was immediately transported back to, well, if not the summer of love, then at least the autumn of post coital depression!

A blazing hot day greeted us at Kooyong, an open-air stadium that was the traditional home of the Australian Open for many years. But that day seats covered the hallowed grass of Centre Court for the Rolling Stones third tour of Australia.

We had all gone to see them on the previous 2 tours, where they played the Palais Theatre in St Kilda, and despite the 40+ degree heat we were determined to see them this time too.

This was a risky gig to tape - as we sat watching the show, the bouncers hauled out at least three people with similar ideas, mics and recorders trailing along behind them. But LL, leading his usual charmed recording life, had disguised the Sony as an Esky, covered it with beer and ice, and managed to neatly combine recording and drinking in the one action.

In fact the recording nearly stops before it starts, since the first thing you hear on the tape is "Lookout - shit, you've just poured a beer over the tape deck!"

And then, with an "Aye aye, 'ere we go," Mick and the boys launch into Brown Sugar, followed by the single's flip side Bitch, both tracks featuring Bobby Keyes on Sax. Ragged, rough, but everyone's in tune and they rock along.

The whole of the stage was covered in a white cloth, hiding all the amps, with a canopy over the top to (unsuccessfully) protect the band from the heat. At one stage on the tape Mick says "God it's 'ot," and later on "It's not just ''s fuckin' 'ot!" as he throws a large basin of water over the audience.

My recollection of the PA system is of a whole lot of smallish grey boxes and not enough bottom end grunt. This is borne out by the sound on tape - a lot of midrange honk and grating top end.

The songs ground on, some good, some plodding, and some sounding extremely unrehearsed. Gimme Shelter is followed by Keep Me Happy, then Tumbling Dice, Sweet Virginia, Honky Tonk Women which kicks along pretty well, then All Down The Line, Midnite Rambler, and Jumpin' Jack Flash. I imagine that somewhere in there must have been Satisfaction, but it doesn't seem to have been preserved on tape. The concert finishes off with a very ragged version of Street Fightin' Man that's so sloppy and untogether that Mick stops everyone half way through the intro, and they start it again!


In retrospect, it wasn't the best concert we'd ever seen - it dragged on a bit, plus the boys didn't play particularly well, probably because of the heat and/or jetlag and/or too much Courage Export lager and/or too much Bob Hope. But it's surprisingly listenable, considering its age and recording technique, and I like to think of it as an acoustic souvenir of the era, warts and all, rather than compare it to a pristine studio recording. Listening to old tapes like this is rather like looking through an old photo album.

My only regret is that they didn't play their last single for Decca at the concert.

Most bands felt that they were robbed blind by the record companies (rightly so - The Beatles reputedly made a farthing - a quarter of an old penny - on every record that EMI sold - 960 of them equal 1 pound!!!), and the Stones were no exception. Which is why as soon as their contract was finished they set up Rolling Stones Records, with the famous mouth and tongue logo, to get more control over their recordings and income.

But the band owed Decca records one more single - a contractual obligation record. Why not give them a song that they couldn't possibly release? Its title? Cocksucker Blues!

Imagine old Sir Edward Lewis, the head of Decca, choking and spilling his tea all over his morning Times as he listened to this lost classic!


This story first appeared in Connections magazine

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