London Hyde Park 1969

Blind Faith

Any hopes for a truly magical cinematic thrill ride are slightly dashed when it comes to Blind Faith’s London Hyde Park 1969 DVD. And yet, its historical significance cannot be underestimated. The sheer fact that it exists at all, even in a somewhat fragmented form, is reason enough to rejoice. What it lacks in actual concert footage, is made up somewhat indiscriminately by the addition of a BBC documentary-styled introduction, extolling the past achievements of Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood and Rick Grech before they came to form the aptly named supergroup Blind Faith. The obligatory extras, like music videos for The Spencer Davis Group’s “I’m A Man,” Traffic’s Hole In My Shoe,” a portion of Cream’s “I’m So Glad,” along with a photo gallery set to “Well All Right” and a discography of each band member prior to Blind Faith, are all fine and dandy. The real meat and potatoes of the DVD is the actual concert itself.

On June 7, 1969, after months of rumor and speculation, Blind Faith climbed up on a small stage and played their very first gig in front of 100,000 people at London’s Hyde Park. With anticipation at an all-time high, the band had a lot on the line. For Clapton, the hype was unbearable, something he had attempted to escape in the aftermath of Cream. Despite an outpouring of adulation after each and every number of the short set, the listless performance was sub-par at best. On occasion, Winwood screeches out of range, especially on “Sea Of Joy,” although he reins it in and keeps it simple for the most part. An indifferent Clapton plays flawlessly and assumes the role of sideman to Winwood, contributing little else besides his godly presence, which at the time was immense. Baker's hyperactive drumming has never been more on target and in the pocket. Grech fits in well without calling too much attention to himself.

As for the songs and the film, the magic moments are on equal footing with the miscalculations. The 10-minute introduction segues shoddily into the concert as the group works its way through Buddy Holly’s “Well Alright.” The music churns along at a sprite pace as the film jumps back and forth between actual footage and still-shots of the band. In between new numbers from the self-titled debut album, which wouldn’t come out for another two weeks, they play “Sleeping In The Ground,”a standard blues number before plodding through a sleepy version of The Stones’ “Under My Thumb.” Things seem to converge more easily on the next three songs as an up tempo “Can’t Find My Way Home” sails through virtually unscathed, followed by “Do What You Like,” featuring a tremendously fluid drum solo from Baker, followed by a mesmerizing “Presence Of the Lord.” The inclusion of out-of-focus crowd shots throughout the performance can get tiring at times, but the gaggles of dancing freaks amongst a largely subservient audience is priceless, if only to show how novel the idea of a large outdoor rock concert was in 1969.

The short Scandinavian tour that followed the Hyde Park concert would reap additional praise as the players played smaller, less demanding venues and became tighter as a unit. Unfortunately, external problems with crowds and police during a July and August tour in the U.S. put a damper on any future plans for Blind Faith. They splintered a mere four months after the Hyde Park concert. Clapton took up with Delaney & Bonnie while Winwood, Baker, and Grech tried to carry on in the guise of Baker’s Air Force. Winwood and Grech left soon after to reform Traffic. Thirty-seven years later, the clamor for Blind Faith has been reignited with the release of the long-awaited London Hyde Park 1969 DVD. Warts and all, it’s still a worthwhile souvenir from a pivotal period in rock and roll.

~ Shawn Perry

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