This is like a best-of compilation of the musical acts who were a part of the Secret Policeman’s Ball(s) that were put on by famous English comedians and rockstars for the benefit of Amnesty International that plays out like a feature. There is no commentary between the acts, only a fade to black and applause.
All of the performances are quite good, but considering the lineup, that comes as no surprise.
Sting – Roxanne: Just the man by himself, playing the song on electric guitar while his wailing falsetto is in fine form. A nice clean version of the song.
Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton – Father up the Road: A real treat on this DVD. Witnessing these two have the time of their lives as they take their Fender guitars through a clinic of how to play note perfect rock and roll while making it all feel like a sloppy batch of barroom blues. Just wonderful.
Pete Townsend – Pinball Wizard: Taken from the first 1979 musical performance of these events that would inspire the other musicians to perform at the following balls. A stripped down, acoustic rendition that resonates still.
Phil Collins – In the Air Tonight: Phil on piano with one other accompanying him on acoustic guitar. The massive drums will be missed by fans but this version creates a nice haunting vibe.
Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill: David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd for those currently under rocks) plays band leader as this monster of a song rolls through flickering lights, creating a booming ying to Phil Collins understated yang.
Mark Knopfler & Chet Atkins – Imagine: A spellbinding version of the John Lennon classic done completely on finger-picked acoustic guitars. Simply magical. You’d have to be soulless to ignore this one.
David Gilmour – On the Turning Away: The Pink Floyd alumnus returns for more thunderous fair. Lots of keyboards and drums and a big guitar solo to close out the last half of the song. Good ole Gilmour.
Dave Stewart – Amnesty: An epic and interesting piece played by a string section, choir and Stewart on guitar. No doubt, this was especially created for the Human Rights organization that shares its name.
Bob Geldof – I Don’t Like Mondays: Before he ran off to create Live Aid (being inspired by the Secret Policeman’s Balls) Bob gives us a sociopathic feeling rendition of his one big hit. Only a piano player and his anxious behaviour accompany him.
Beck & Clapton – Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers: These two guitar Gods return for a much more laid back piece. Still…seeing Clapton playing rhythm guitar while a lit cigarette rests in his string might be the very image of cool.
Sting – Message in a Bottle: From the same set as Roxanne. Another fine sounding performance.
Pete Townsend & John Williams – Won’t Get Fooled Again: Another acoustic rendition of a Who classic, but this time with Spielberg’s go-to composer John Williams as player number two. One of those once-in-a-lifetime moments to witness.
Peter Gabriel – Biko: Competing against Dave Gilmour for both biggest band as well as most ominous sounding tune. Look for Lou Reed to be a part of the group as this one groans along.
The Secret Police – I Shall Be Released: This is a mash-up of many of the aforementioned performers. Fronted by Sting, Phil Collins, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton & Bob Geldof can be spotted in this grand show ender.
1.33:1 Full Frame. Some of the footage is hazy as it was only intended to be aired as a special on television and not as a major release. Footage from the later Balls looks much cleaner as the event grew in scale and gained more distribution.
Sadly only available in Stereo. This is sad when you consider the caliber of artists that are featured. Like the video quality, I’m sure the fact that this was originally a theatrical performance and nobody knew how big it would get is responsible for the poorer recording quality. It is ONLY the caliber of the artists that makes the quality decent.
Feature length bonus entitled The Secret Policeman’s Files. This is another compilation of clips, mainly giving the history of Amnesty International and the celebrity involvement it has had.
The stars sound of on their political feelings and how they came to perform at the Balls. This makes for interesting tidbits about activism but even more interesting stories of the event’s origins.
What started as a tiny benefit spearheaded by John Cleese and featuring only comedian friends of his, turned into a major movement of politics in the entertainment industry, particularly with musicians. These events and performances inspired many celebrities to use their fame for good, and very likely helped many around the world. Here, we simply get to enjoy some nice tunes that have a ton of heart behind them.