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Lennon, Clapton, Richards, Mitchell: A Tidy Guide To The Dirty Mac

Who were The Dirty Mac? They never made an album, but this John Lennon, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Mitch Mitchell supergroup are rock’n’roll legends.

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The Dirty Mac CREDIT Michael Randolf
Photo: Michael Randolf

Eric Clapton is rightly credited with instigating two of rock’s earliest supergroups, Cream and Blind Faith, yet he also starred in a third, the near-mythical The Dirty Mac.

Who are The Dirty Mac?

You may well ask… The Dirty Mac never made any critically acclaimed albums, nor could they be found on the charts, yet this elusive outfit are the stuff of rock’n’roll legend. How so? Well, for one thing their line-up also included The BeatlesJohn Lennon, The Rolling StonesKeith Richards and Jimi Hendrix Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell. Secondly, they only ever gave one public performance – and most people weren’t even able to see it for nearly 30 years.

When did The Dirty Mac play?

It seems fantastical on paper, yet The Dirty Mac really were heroes just for one day. On Wednesday, 11 December 1968, The Rolling Stones gathered the cream of the contemporary British rock scene in Fossett’s Big Top (in reality placed on a sound stage at Wembley’s Intertel Studio) to appear on their planned TV special, The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus.

Featuring contributions from Marianne Faithfull, Taj Mahal and Jethro Tull (appearing with Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi), plus The Who’s incendiary performance of their mini-opera A Quick One While He’s Away, The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus was indeed a grand, celebratory affair. Yet it was shelved without release and remained locked away in the vault for years, gaining a mystical, Holy Grail-like reputation until it finally saw VHS release in 1996.

The reason was long-rumoured to be the Stones’ dissatisfaction with their own performance, though the film reveals that they rocked: their set including earthy, vibed-up versions of ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ and ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. The show’s real revelation, however, came when The Dirty Mac took to the stage. Following a surreal exchange with Mick Jagger, where he introduced himself as “Winston Leg-Thigh”, Lennon joined Clapton, Mitchell and Richards (the latter on bass) for a smoking version of ‘Yer Blues’: one of many highlights from The Beatles’ then recently released “White Album”.

How did The Dirty Mac get their name?

Lennon reputedly came up with the name The Dirty Mac simply as a play on Fleetwood Mac, then under Peter Green’s tutelage and established as leading lights in the UK’s late 60s blues boom. A throwaway moniker for a one-off supergroup, The Dirty Mac also accompanied Yoko Ono and violin virtuoso Ivry Gitlis on the improvised ‘Whole Lotta Yoko’ during the day’s filming, but were never heard of again until the footage was officially released.

With hindsight, it’s impossible not to speculate whether this star-studded quartet could later have returned to their collaboration, not least when you consider that both The Beatles and Eric Clapton’s short-lived Blind Faith would split within the next 18 months. The cold light of reality suggests not, yet to this day their crackling live performance of ‘Yer Blues’ is still enough to make rock’n’roll fans yearn for a return of the Mac.

The limited edition deluxe reissue of The Rolling Stones’ Rock And Roll Circus is out in June and can be ordered here.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Graham D'Arcy

    July 29, 2017 at 2:50 am

    I have a copy of the DVD, excellent stuff and a piece of music history v!

  2. Art

    August 7, 2018 at 7:37 pm

    The instrumental portion that was anchored by Clapton for the last 2 minutes was fire

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