Rolling Stones, Live At Hyde Park, 5 July 1969

Mute Song’s Andrew King recalls the moment he unleashed thousands of white butterflies on-stage to commemorate the death of ex-Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones.

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  • By Paul Nichols
  • 11 Mar 2015
  • min read
Mute Song’s Andrew King recalls the moment he unleashed thousands of white butterflies on-stage to commemorate the death of ex-Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones.

Myself and Peter Jenner started a management company in 1967 and we had the idea to do some free concerts in Hyde Park. It was very much in the spirit of the time. The first one was in 1968 for about 200 or 300 people, but things took off really quickly from there.

It was very amusing getting The Stones to do it – we knew it would be a big one. Funnily enough, they came to us so it was pretty straightforward – they left most of the arrangements to us.

I remember Granada Television had six film crews following us round that day. They caught just about every angle, and even filmed Mick Jagger’s then girlfriend Marianne Faithfull coming down the steps of their house before the gig, shoving a block of hash into her cleavage!

It was the week Brian Jones had drowned. They’d already sacked him a month before and were rehearsing guitarist Mick Taylor, who replaced him. Mick and Keith thought someone might have a pop at them that day, so there were guns around. It was the first time I’d ever seen guns in the music biz. They were very worried.

During the course of that day a million people came and went. Hyde Park was packed all the way back to Marble Arch. It was the last one we did there. People climbed the elm trees for a better view but they shed their branches and the gardeners said it wasn’t safe anymore.

For me, the day kicked off at three in the morning and went on very late indeed. The butterflies were such a bloody hassle! Mick announced that he was going to read a poem by Shelley on the death of Keates, which he did quite extraordinarily badly, as if he’d never heard of a comma or full stop in his life. It was obviously Marianne’s idea – she was the literary one. When he finished, all these butterflies were supposed to fly out, representing the soul of Brian Jones. It was my job to unleash them.

The butterflies were bred at a farm in the West Country. They came up by overnight train in cardboard boxes to Paddington Station. I remember the breed had been a thing of considerable consternation with the gardeners, because they didn’t want them to affect the park’s ecosystem. We were chuffed we’d managed to find the right species of butterfly – but it wasn’t plain sailing from there. I remember being down at Paddington Station at 4.30am to collect them, peeped into one of the boxes… and they all appeared to be dead!

I panicked and called the butterfly farm, who told me they were just cold and asleep, and I had to warm them up to get them to fly. So I took them backstage, but the only heating we had were two tiny electric fires students use to heat cans of baked beans. We started stacking up these butterfly boxes on the heaters and one of them caught fire. It was a real palaver. In the end, we managed to perk them up a bit and by the time of the gig a few butterflies did fly out as they were supposed to, but an awful lot just went plonk onto the stage. I’ll always remember Mick in that tutu, looking on somewhat aghast…

Andrew King founded Blackhill Enterprises with Peter Jenner in 1967, managing bands including Marc Bolan, Kevin Ayres, The Clash, Pink Floyd and Ian Dury. In 1976 he started a publishing subsidiary and prospered with The Clash and Dury catalogues. He continued as Dury’s manager until his death. In 1992, King became General Manager of Mute Song, presiding over a diverse roster of innovative rock, pop, techno, jazz and folk songwriters. He still consults for Mute Song.