The Rolling Stones and the chaos of the 1976 Knebworth Festival

PA NEWS PHOTO 22/8/76 MICK JAGGER AND KEITH RICHARDS OF "THE ROLLING STONES" AT KNEBWORTH PARK CON

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones at Knebworth in 1976. - Credit: PA

1976 saw one of the biggest rock bands of all-time come to Hertfordshire, but The Rolling Stones and their Knebworth Festival set was one filled with chaos from the very start.

Started by Freddy Bannister in 1974, the promoter went big for Knebworth, booking The Allman Brothers Band and The Doobie Brothers for the debut concert, followed by Pink Floyd a year later.

An estimated 160,000 people attended the first two festivals, and with Knebworth’s popularity growing, Bannister set his sights on another star name.

He desperately wanted Led Zeppelin to headline – as he had done in 1974 – but after his efforts failed, he turned to Queen before The Rolling Stones offered themselves up.

THE ROLLING STONES 1976: The Rolling Stones, led by Mick Jagger (c), perform during a day-long conce

The Rolling Stones - seen here at the 1976 Knebworth Festival - were booked after failed attempts to secure Led Zeppelin. - Credit: PA

The Stones were simply too good to turn down, but by the mid-1970s, run ins with the law, media criticism and the emergence of punk rock had seen their once bright star begin to fade.

Nevertheless, Bannister booked Mick Jagger and co, but he made sure the supporting acts did not upstage the famously temperamental rockers, with Lynyrd Skynyrd and 10cc among those booked.

And then the problems started.

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Thursday night saw the band soundcheck in the grounds of the manor house, but the unexpected interruption of a rather irate Girl Guide leader stopped them.

Complaining that she had booked part of the park and her girls were unable to have a camp fire sing-song due to the noise, Bannister told her to take up the issue with Jagger himself.

Far from overawed by the rock icon, she marched to the stage, grabbed his arm and bellowed: “Young man, this noise must stop. My girls can't hear themselves sing.”

Jagger’s response was to the point. “F*** off.”

Knebworth Festival 1976

An estimated 200,000 people flocked to Knebworth in 1976. - Credit: Richard Humphrey

Sound would continue to plague the festival, when on the Saturday, technical issue would lead to lengthy delays between acts, much to the frustration of the estimated 200,000 strong crowd.

The Stones had insisted on creating a carnival atmosphere at Knebworth, but large number of clowns, buskers and circus acts hired for the festival did little to ease the boredom of the audience – which included Beatle Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.

Lynyrd Skynyrd helped turn things around with an exceptional and iconic performance that wowed those in attendance, culminating with the climactic rush of ‘Freebird’.

The lengthy delays caused by the sound problems saw The Rolling Stones take to the stage – designed to recreate their instantly recognisable tongue logo – at 11.30pm, putting Bannister and Knebworth House at risk of breaching their promoter's licence.

Knebworth Festival 1976

Sound issues led to lengthy delays at Knebworth in 1976. - Credit: Richard Humphrey

But with the spirit of rock and roll coursing through the air, the show went on as Jagger, Richards, Wyman and Watts looked to end Knebworth on a high.

By this time, a tried, drunk and rowdy crowd were growing increasingly restless, but the opening notes of ‘Satisfaction’ sparked life into the audience and The Stones took the night home.

Playing their biggest concert since their 1969 Hyde Park show, Jagger strutted his stuff as the ‘Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World’ ripped through their extensive catalogue of hits, backed by an impressive lighting display.

With 'Honky Tonk Woman' and 'Jumping Jack Flash' among the standouts, The Rolling Stones rocked until the early hours as the festival came to a close.

Despite another successful summer at Knebworth, a hefty fine was to follow.

“We were supposed to finish by midnight, and it eventually ended at about 2am,” recalled Bannister.

“I think David Cobbold, who held the licence, got fined £2,000.”

Mick Jagger, Rolling Stones singer

Mick Jagger strutting his stuff at Knebworth. - Credit: PA

The 1976 Knebworth Festival would help launch the show into one of the biggest concerts in the world, with continued success into the 1980s and 90s, including Freddie Mercury’s final performance in 1986, the iconic Oasis set of 1996 and Robbie Williams in 2003.

The Rolling Stones would go on to have a career resurgence following their late-night Hertfordshire showing, appealing to a new generation of fans as they battled against the punk movement.

As for Bannister, his determined efforts to book Led Zeppelin would pay off in 1979 as Page, Plant and co. came to Knebworth. But it would end his involvement with the festival.

A financial disagreement led to a bitter fallout between the promoter and Led Zep manager Peter Grant, with the dispute forcing Bannister's promotion company, Tredoar, into liquidation, thus bringing his association with the festival to a close.