Exhibit’s only rock ‘n roll (but we like it): Inside stunning new Rolling Stones retrospective at Saatchi Gallery
Modern London exhibition proves to be an overwhelming assault on the senses
“FIRST you shock them, then they put you in a museum.”
So mused Mick Jagger in 2002 when The Rolling Stones were accepted into America’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
The consummate showman had borrowed the quote but he knew it resonated with his barnstorming band.
“Well we’re not quite ready to hang up the number yet,” he continued, hinting at a productive future while celebrating a storied past.
Fourteen years later, the sleazy, swaggering, lovable Stones are still rolling (witness their spectacular gig in front of 1.2million Cubans), but they are in a museum (kind of).
They’re the stars of the all-singing and dancing Exhibitionism at London’s Saatchi Gallery in the heart of their old King’s Road stomping ground.
This thoroughly modern exhibition uses up-to-date technology to chart the fabled history of the world’s biggest rock ’n’ roll band in incredible detail.
You see the flamboyant clothes, the rare artefacts, the key instruments, the album art, the tour posters and, of course, the best logo in rock — the big red tongue and lips.
It’s a riotous, overwhelming assault on the senses from the moment you step into the scarlet introductory gallery focusing on more than 50 years of global success.
The mind-boggling numbers come thick and fast in graphics reflecting the tours, air miles, hit singles and albums.
Next, via more than 50 curved screens of varying shapes and sizes, visitors are treated to a four-minute audio-visual bombardment of band stills and videos, lurid newspaper headlines about drug busts — and crowds going mental at venues ranging from small dance halls in the Sixties to Glastonbury in 2013.
The saddest moment comes with the death of Brian Jones in 1969 and you see Jagger at the free Hyde Park concert reading this tribute written by the poet Shelley: “Peace, peace! He is not dead, he does not sleep/He has awakened from the dream of life.”
Moving on, a small room is devoted to Jagger and Keith Richards’ fateful meeting at Dartford station, where they discover a mutual love of the blues — and The Rolling Stones are born.
Then it’s one of the showstoppers — a recreation of the band’s staggeringly filthy first flat in Edith Grove, Chelsea.
Richards remembers it as “a pigsty, basically” while Jagger adds: “It actually wasn’t a bad space. It’s what we did with it that’s disgusting.
“There was sick everywhere, dirty plates, dirty food.”
Strewn around the place are bottles of classic Sixties beer brands such as Watney’s Red Barrel and Bass Pale Ale.
There are hundreds of fag butts and empty packets of Player’s Navy Cut along with HP Sauce, 99 Tea, Heinz Chicken Soup and 1963 copies of Melody Maker and New Musical Express.
The sink is piled with unwashed dishes. The beds with stripy sheets lie unmade and the ashtrays overflow.
There are half-filled milk bottles and cracked eggs. A sideboard-style gramo-phone is open with rock ’n’ roll legend Chuck Berry’s Chess label vinyl LP One Dozen Berrys sitting on the deck.
Berry’s Rockin’ At The Hops and The Best Of Muddy Waters are next in line.
After the immersive Edith Grove experience, it’s on to another room and a cabinet containing some precious and revealing items from the early years.
There’s the Stones’ first contract signed by Brian Jones and fan club interviews including Keith’s personal ambition “To own a boat” and Mick’s “To own my own business”.
Then there’s Richards’ tiny diary, written in dense capital letters and revealing the triumphs and fears of a band in its infancy.
You read how on January 10, 1963, he “approached Charlie (Watts) for regular work” and how, that day, the Stones were “musically very good but didn’t quite click”.
One wall of this room is a bit like an airport departure board and shows how the Stones put the yards in during their first years together.
Hundreds of gigs are listed from Folkestone, Kent, to Phoenix, Arizona.
For the music nerds among us, the equipment is of huge interest — Brian Jones’ beautiful dulcimer, bassist Bill Wyman’s old amp and Richards’ 12-string acoustic guitar.
In a space set up like a recording studio, you feel the heady atmosphere the Stones create when they launch into (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction or Jumpin’ Jack Flash.
Here you get to mix songs yourself and listen to Jagger’s unadorned vocals, Richards’ tasty, bluesy licks, Watts’ rock-steady drumming or Bill Wyman’s basslines.
Lyric books and instruments abound, testaments to the Jagger-Richards songwriting partnership only rivalled by Lennon-McCartney, as well as countless other instruments.
There’s the black Gibson guitar Richards started painting in psychedelic colours during an acid trip.
“Yeah, that’s what acid does to you,” the guitarist told me. “It became a monument. I thought, ‘Look what you’ve done, you a**hole!’”
The gala exhibition launch was marked yesterday with a photo call for the Stones in front of a 3D version of the familiar tongue and lips, conceived in 1971 by John Pasche and inspired by wide-mouthed Jagger’s sexy pout.
Street artist Shepard Fairey, best known for his Obey campaign, said: “The Stones logo is the most iconic, potent and enduring in rock and roll history. It captures the essence of rebellion and sexuality that is the allure of all rock and roll at its finest.”
Perhaps the logo’s most vivid incarnation is the giant gorilla with Stones tongue and lips created for 2012’s GRRR! 50th anniversary album.
Elsewhere, album covers are celebrated with Jagger stressing that the designs ask the question: “What does this record mean?”
There are tributes to Andy Warhol, artist behind the controversial Sticky Fingers jeans and zip, and Delia Smith, who assembled the Let It Bleed “cake” from a tyre, film reel and clock face as well as miniature band figures that today’s Bake Off generation would be proud of.
But I guess it’s the clothes that really define this exhibition — because it was the Stones who ripped up the rule book by being the first Sixties beat band to dump the jacket-and-tie uniform.
There are so many great outfits but some of the standouts include: Jagger’s black velvet frock coat by Mr Fish, his woven silk 1966 jacket in magenta, lime green and orange, his Omega-symbol T-shirt with cape and his blue velvet jumpsuit with red scarf.
Where Jagger led, the likes of Freddie Mercury and Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler followed. Of the later fashion items, there’s Richards’ lavish antelope-print coat and Jagger’s Alexander McQueen sequin coat bearing faces of the tragic daughters of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia.
There’s Ronnie Wood’s waistcoat, about which he let slip: “Oh David Bowie gave me that.”
But most poignant of all is Mick’s feather cape and silk shirt, designed by his late partner L’Wren Scott and worn for performances of Sympathy For The Devil on 2012’s 50 & Counting Tour.
Footage of a typically stirring performance of that song provides the backdrop to several mannequins with devil horns dressed mostly in black and red.
The fiery colours of a silk crinkle cape are particularly fetching.
As this rollercoaster show careers to its finale, there’s a room simply titled “Rare”.
Treasures on show include a recreation of the Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! live album cover featuring an exuberant Charlie Watts and a donkey.
Watts reflects: “It was very odd to do something on your own.
“It was David Bailey, I think, who dreamed that up.”
Then there’s the leopard-print interior of Richards’ 1982 travelling wardrobe, Jagger’s make-up chair bought in 1996 at Lots Road Auctions, Chelsea, and Wood’s lovely hand-painted setlists.
Anyone who has been to a Stones gig will appreciate the exhibition’s last hurrah.
Passing through a suitably adorned backstage area to a door marked “To Stage”, you are given a pair of 3D specs for a viewing of Satisfaction.
You hear the crew’s radio comment “We’re ready to go whenever you are” and then there’s Mick in gold shirt launching into an age-defying performance.
It’s a great way to end a great experience. For Stones fans, or any follower of British culture, you WILL get want you want from Exhibitionism.
— Exhibitionism at the Saatchi Gallery runs until September 4 .