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All for love and publicity
free is free? That's the question a suspicious and incredulous public is asking
after the tremendous success of Blind Faith's Hyde Park debut two weeks ago.
Well in the case of free concerts In London's open spaces, nobody makes a financial
profit - the kudos comes from the massive publicity and exposure that groups
and artists receive from donating their musical services to play for the public
in the open air.
Free concerts in Britain started just over a year ago as one expression of the
then current (and still, we hope, flourishing) cult of love, equality and denial
of material wealth in favour of community benefits. There had been various free
events in America, in places like New York's Central Park and it was inevitable
that the same approach would be tried here.
-run by Peter Jenner and Andrew King - determined to try the idea here. They were
deeply involved with the emergent underground scene in Britain, having helped
to start UFO in Tottenham Court Road and were the first agents to obtain work
for groups like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Pink Floyd. They also had close contact
with various underground publications.
They wanted to start free concerts in London but in the words of Andrew King they
"never thought they'd be able to do it in Hyde Park." Preliminary approaches to
the Ministry of Public Building and Works received immediate rebuffs.
So Jenner and King engaged the help of various
Members of Parliament, including Ben Whittaker, MP for Hampstead. With this support,
they re-approached the Ministry and after negotiation, it was agreed that Blackhill
could go ahead with its plans.
The first concerts were held In June, July and August and featured acts like the
Floyd and Tyrannosaurus Rex. At first the public were unbelieving and suspicious.
Since then the free concert idea has flowered and matured to the point where 120,000
people gathered peacefully on a Saturday afternoon in Hyde Park to see Blind Faith
make its debut and to listen to the music of artists like Donovan, Richie Havens
and the Edgar Broughton Band.
Blackhill list the pertinent points of free concerts as first of all, they cost
nothing to the audience, they are a launching pad for new bands, they produce
a monster audience which couldn't be held in any auditorium, they bring back picnics
to the parks and, primarily, they give artists a chance to give back to followers
a little of what they have been able to take out of music, spiritually and financially.
However, while free of the immediate profit motive,
the reasons for appearing free in parks is not entirely altruistic The massive
publicity given, for example, to the Blind Faith concert will make an immense
impression in the States and virtually guarantees that Blind Faith will have the
same stature and earning power as the Cream had when they make their first appearances
there. The supporting groups too received excellent publicity.
So for one afternoon's work, a tremendous amount of promotion for the future is
obtained. In addition, record sales are stimulated by these appearances.
I asked Andrew King if in fact ANYBODY made any money out of free concerts?
"The Edgar Broughton band made a little money from the free concert in Hyde Park
from a Swiss TV company which filmed it and Blind Faith expect something to come
in the future from film royalties, but that's all.
"In fact it cost Blind Faith money to do the concert
because they had to pay for the stage to be made bigger and had to buy scaffolding
and tarpaulin which they found they couldn't hire," replied Andrew, who holds
an Honours degree in philosophy from Cambridge university.
Did Blackhill make money out of them? 'These concerts have cost us a lots of money.
The Stigwood office did pay us a very small fee for arranging the last one, but
it was tiny and when we take into account all the work and time spent on fixing
it up, we lost on the project.
Ministry of Public Building and Works have also started paying us a very small
fee this year - it works out just about enough to pay for the cost of phone
So, as Blackhill Enterprises are agents who have to make a profit to survive
why do they put on these concerts?
"Believe me or not the main reason we do them is because we feel a great interest
in the importance of pop music in Britain. The more importance it has to everyday
life, the happier we are. If pop music progresses here, in the long run we will
benefit. That's the reason"
Anything that propagates music, especially music which is becoming more and
more meaningful and experimental, should be encouraged. And when the music and
the musicians are liberated from the trimmings of commerciality - even if it's
only once in a group's career - it must be good for pop and its public.
At one time the idea of the Beatles and Rolling Stones playing in a park and
not charging for the privilege of hearing them would have seemed ludicrous.
Now it's more than a possibility, and that can only be good.
pages include large photogalleries of the concert, most especially King
Crimson and Jack
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