Wembley: September 1974

Writing yesterday about the first two Knebworth festivals, helped prise open another ‘window of memory’: recollections of attending a concert with an incredible line-up (see poster, above) at Wembley in September 1974, a week before my 26th birthday. The event featured a dazzling array of  California superstars (plus The Band) and drew a crowd of around 80,000, a key attraction being the fact that Crosby Stills Nash and Young had got together again, and this show was their first in the UK since 1970.

Wembley 1974 (photo from http://www.ukrockfestivals.com by Vin Miles)

We were lucky: as well as the excellent music, it was a gloriously warm, sunny afternoon, unusual for mid-September.  Jesse Colin Young opened proceedings at 12 noon, and was followed by a two-hour set by The Band, featuring:

Just Another Whistle Stop, Stage Fright, The Weight, Shape I’m In, Loving You is Sweeter Than Ever, Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, Across the Great Divide, Endless Highway, Smoke Signal, I Shall be Released, WS Walcott Medicine Show, Mystery Train, Genetic Method, Chest Fever, Up on Cripple Creek.

Joni Mitchell was next with a set part solo with acoustic or piano, and partly accompanied by Tom Scott’s L.A. Express (the band that had provided the distinctive sound for Court and Spark, her most recent album). They were: Max Bennett (Bass), Victor Feldman(Piano), Robben Ford (Electric Guitar), John Guerin (Drums and Percussion), Larry Nash (Piano) and Tom Scott (Woodwinds and Reeds).

Set list: Woodstock, Big Yellow Taxi, Rainy Night Home, Last Time I Saw Richard, This Night Tonight, Raised On Robbery, Twisted, Some Situation, Peoples Parties, Blue, All I Want, Help Me, For Free.

Joni Mitchell, Wembley 1974 (photo from http://www.ukrockfestivals.com by Vin Miles)

Then the main event: nearly four hours of Crosby Stills Nash and Young. The quartet had reassembled once again in the summer of 1974, with sidemen Tim Drummond on bass, Russ Kunkel on drums, and Joe Lala on percussion. They embarked on an outdoor stadium tour, arranged by San Francisco impresario Bill Graham. The band typically played three and a half hours of old favorites and new songs, many of which never appeared in a definitive CSN or CSNY studio format. There is an unreleased film of the Wembley Stadium show; highlights on YouTube (below) reveal the quality of these performances, with CSN&Y often switching instruments during the same song.

Set list: Love the One You’re With, Wooden Ships, Immigration Man, Helpless, Military Madness, Johnny’s Garden, Traces, Almost Cut My Hair, Teach Your Children,Only Love Can Break Your Heart, The Lee Shore, Time After Time, It’s Alright, Another Sleep Song, Our House,Hawaiian Sunrise, Star of Bethlehem, Love Art Blues, Old Man, Change Partners, Blackbird (Beatles cover), Myth of Sysiphus, You Can’t Catch Me-Word Game, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (with Joni Mitchell on vocals),Deja Vu, First Things First, Don’t Be Denied, Black Queen, Pushed It Over the End, Pre-Road Downs, Carry On, Ohio.

A week later, Soundz magazine carried this review of the event:

By The Time We Got Through Neasden…

Barbara Charone and Geoff Barton report on the day the spirit of Woodstock invaded Wembley Stadium.

Everyone had their doubts. Throughout the daylong musical orgy of all 72,000 paying customers sat in nervous anticipation, enjoying the exceptionally fine music and the low key atmosphere but privately wondering if the rave reviews from the states were true.

Like a dream come true, three master of the California sound and one transplanted Englishman flawlessly revealed how after all these years and all those changes, they remain unchallenged title-holders as the definitive American band, heavyweight division. CSN&Y had been good in the past but they were even better at Wembley. From the “Love The One Your With” kickoff right on through the passionate “Ohio” finale, CSNY turned a content, sane crowd into crazy, raving cup-match brawlers.

Too proud to deliver anything but the best, the band paid special attention to details, lyrical phrasing and spellbinding guitar duels as if the 72,000 were a room full of people. They sang emotionally and played superbly. Crosby and Nash cranked up the enthusiasm and polished off the harmonies. Stills and Young turned on the rhythms and revved up the solos. Kunkel, Drummond and Lala pounded out the beat with frenetic energy. English hard rock devotees blinked twice in disbelief and finally agreed that well, er ah, yes those Americans really could rock n’ roll.

The Wembley set, the last concert of this CSN&Y reunion tour, was largely similar to the summer’s previous shows, yet played and presented with opening night fervour. You’re not supposed to hear high falsetto or background piano weavings in a sports arena. You’re not supposed to sit on the edge of the hard wooden seats eagerly awaiting the next song, oblivious to the brisk evening temperatures or the passed-out drunk to your left.

The quality was high throughout the set and the magic moments many. Joni Mitchell injected delicate harmonies into Young’s stunning “Helpless”. Nash earned the applause of a beautiful rendition of “Our House” backup vocal support from CSN&Y gently blasting out of the monster speakers with unbelievable clarity. A whisper-soft “Blackbird” hushed the audience to a ecstatic silence of admiration.

And again “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” got all 72,000 people clapping along as the song builds to it’s joyous climax. “Deja Vu, done up harder and rockier, showed off Young’s piano abilities as Stills delivered a wincing guitar solo that came out of nowhere and destroyed everyone. While Young almost stole the show with his autobiographical “Don’t Be Denied”.

By the time they got to “Carry On”, the whole CSN&Y front line looked more like a swinging chorus revue than a rock band, as Stills and Young axed out guitar conversations that left fans speechless. The applause was overwhelming.

‘It was great to be here.’ Nash squealed as they stood stage centre embracing. ‘We love you all’. Crosby mumbled. There were 72,000 people standing, waving, clapping and behaving like lunatics. It was rock ‘n roll at it’s most potent high.

This had been the only European gig on CSN&Y’s 1974 reunion tour and was the only opportunity many of us had to see them at their peak. People came from all over Europe and many celebrities also were in attendance. After the show Neil Young and Steven Stills jammed with Jimmy Page in a London club.

On a less enthusiastic note, Michael Watts and Steve Lake observed in an article titled ‘CSN&Y- Journey Through The Past’,  published in Melody Maker on 21 September:

The Wembley Music Concert, starring Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Joni Mitchell and the Band went off … well, okay is probably the best word. Not climacteric, or transcendental, or phantasmagoric, or even plain outasite – just … okay. The long jam on ‘Carry On,’ which closed the set, was mindless and boring; Crosby’s ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ seemed more daft than ever – a sentiment now totally displaced in time. Their earnestness couldn’t always pull them through. It was both right and totally inappropriate that they should finish as an encore with ‘Ohio’. ‘Tin soldiers and Nixon coming.’ Well, Nixon’s gone now, in almost every sense. But that song was emphatically about a particular era – about McGovern, and student politicking, and fierce idealism – and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young are firmly of that era, the placard reading ‘Good Vibes’ hung about their necks. And that was why Saturday’s gig at Wembley was somewhat washed-out. Because, after all, you can’t help but make comparisons. Nostalgia is rampant in the blood. Where will it all end?”

It won’t.  It’s still there, 36 years later.