The Secret Policeman’s Ball
Before MTV’s “ Unplugged “ series there was The Secret Policeman’s Ball which featured many popular rock performers without their bands and electric instruments. This was quite a novelty at the time, 1979 and 1981, and the only other times this type of performance was recorded was the jam sessions for 1970’s Let it be and Elvis Presley’s 1968 Comeback Special.
“ The Secret Policeman’s Ball is the collective name informally used to describe the long-running series of benefit shows staged in England to raise funds for the human rights organization Amnesty International. The shows started out in the mid-1970s primarily as comedy galas featuring popular British comedic performers and later expanded to include leading musical performers. “
Both the 1979 show and 1981 show were filmed and given a theatrical release and what really strikes me about the musical performances is the emotional delivery and how much better the songs sound without the band and all the electronic bells and whistles. The studio versions are great but there is something magical about the live tracks. For all you film buffs, the 1979 show was filmed by a documentary crew on 16 mm and the 1981 show was filmed on 35 mm by Julien Temple.
The Secret Policeman’s Ball and other Ball were the catalyst for subsequent big aid shows most notably Live Aid. As you may have guessed from the cheeky titles, members of Monty Python played a major role in the shows origins with John Cleese being on of the co-founders.
Without further adieu, let’s look at some rock and roll history and some classic performances.
First up is the often-maligned Phil Collins. Poor old Phil! You have to admit or agree that his first solo album was pretty good and had some edge to it. Later albums and later years – not so much. But here is a song that you may not have heard before and Phil certainly does the piece justice..
Next up is Pete Townsend, accompanied by classical guitar great John William’s. How’s that for an odd pairing?
And finally for today, Sting gives the vocal performance of a lifetime…
And yes I know Sting is playing an electric guitar! So go away!