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I spent a glorious morning on Wednesday just past in the company of the Rolling Stones at Exhibitionism, the blockbuster, career-spanning show on the life and times of The World's Greatest Rock'n'Roll Band. The show is at the Saatchi Gallery on the King's Road.
Listed below are just five reasons why you should see this, the best exhibition of its kind to hit London since David Bowie Is… at the V&A in 2013
1. It Doesn't Stink
In the run-up to Exhibitionism I'd read (I forget where) that there were to be certain aromas piped in to the exhibit to help recreate the atmosphere of being up-close with the Stones. One, er, herbal smell in particular was mentioned.
Unless my olfactory facilities had deserted me, no such aromas have made it to the final cut.
Which is a blessing when we see the recreation of Edith Grove, the flat the young Stones shared in 1962 and '63. The damp walls, the peeling wallpaper, the crusty bed sheets, the fag ends screwed into unwashed dinner plates. The squalor is so vividly presented that the very thought of how it must have smelled is enough to make you woozy.
One of the best, nastiest, most yucky bits of museum curation I have ever witnessed. Bravo!
2. Keith Talks!
The tales of Keith's legendary drug abuse are so often re-told that they have become almost ho-hum. And while it's fun to hear tales of drunkenness and cruelty direct from the horse's (no pun intended) mouth, Keith is at his best when talking music. Exhibitionism reminds us (as did his 2011 autobiography Life) that Keith's day job is as a musician, and not as some Grand Guinol pantomime dame.
Exhibitionism has lots of footage and audio of Keith talking about music. And he talks music the way he writes about it and plays it: hypnotically, passionately and like no one else on God's green earth. I could have listened all day.
4. The Gear
No not THAT kind of gear, man, I mean the clobber, the kit, the duds. The clothing section of the show is split into three sections – parts two and three are entitled Glam and Spectacle respectively, and they deal with the 70s to the present day. Both sections are a lot of fun. But for me it is the area of the room entitled King's Road that wins the day: clothes, not cozzies, sharp suits, peacock finery from the period when the band belonged to London and were merely on loan to the world.
Like Keith talking about music, movie director Martin Scorsese is always rhapsodic when holding forth on the topic of film. A staunch Stones fan, his Shine A Light stage doco (2008) captures the stately Stones in full spate and is already an important rock'n'roll document.
In Exhibitionism, Scorsese also discusses, in a specially commissioned filmed interview, earlier Stones documentaries and sheds light on the subject like only he could. His take on Jean Luc Godard's One Plus One (1968) sees him poised deftly between being a fan and a critical moviemaker and sent me back to the DVD the moment I got home.
5. Mick & Keith's Handwriting
It's a huge show. There's Sir Mick in 3D (!) jiggling at ya with all the vim and vigour of a man a QUARTER of his age; Keith's guitars, and his insights into their special qualities, are fascinating - ditto Ronnie's. The interactive mixing desk app is a lot of fun. And the famous sleeve art is beautifully and seriously presented. But amid all the pomp, two small details stay with me…
Mick Jagger's lyric books stopped me in my tracks – humble spiral bound pages written in longhand. Silly, really – I suppose I had imagined Sir Mick dictating his song words to some minion as another minion fed him grapes while yet another gave him a pedicure.
The facsimile pages from Keith's diaries of January and February 1963 – scrawled with details of gigs and rehearsals and new guitars – are full of youthful hope and, as such, are incredibly touching. This glimpse – this glimmer – behind the showbiz facade at the songwriters behind the vast circus of The Stones was worth the admission alone.
Exhibitionism runs to the 5th September 2016
Find the Saatchi Gallery here…
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To mark the occasion, April is Music Month on The Daily Constitutional!
A month of plaques, locations, facts, reviews and more lies ahead. And I'm compiling the Ultimate London Playlist – get in touch with your favourite London song or piece!