Tag Archives: music exhibitions

Review: ‘Their Mortal Remains’ Pink Floyd Exhibition at the V&A

I was raving about the Rolling Stones exhibition last year, saying they have utterly rewritten the template for what a successful rock memorabilia exhibition should look like and set a new global standard. So when a Pink Floyd exhibition was announced at the V&A I was expecting something really creative. Surely, an arty band like Floyd, and one that has always loved spectacle and grand statements, wouldn’t allow themselves to be outdone by the Stones?

The Pink Floyd exhibition is meticulously curated and a fascinating insight into the band’s history but for the most part I found it very, very traditional. Whereas, the Stones went for breathtaking recreations of their squalid Edith Grove flat, of the studio where many Jagger/Richards classics were laid down and of the very private world of the Stones’ backstage area, Floyd have gone for things displayed neatly in glass cases in chronological order. Don’t get me wrong I loved seeing these items but an exact recreation of the interior of the UFO Club in 1967 or a mock-up of the studio where Dark Side Of The Moon was recorded there was none.

Towards the end of the tour we did get some 3D installations of images from The Wall and Battersea Power Station – and the room devoted to the sculpture from the Division Bell album cover was particularly poignant. Overall, however, while I felt with The Stones I was being taken on a very personal journey through the life of the band, with Pink Floyd I never really felt much more than a visitor to a museum looking at some artefacts, albeit very, very interesting ones.

https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/pink-floyd

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Review: The Hendrix Flat at 23 Brook Street, London

One of the things that has long frustrated me about London is how little effort it puts into celebrating it’s rock ‘n’ roll heritage (certainly compared to Liverpool). This is in spite of London being (after Memphis the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll) probably the most important city on the entire planet in terms of rock history when one considers the number of globally influential bands who either formed in this city, built their reputation in this city or recorded in this city.

Hopefully, things are starting to change and that’s why, I was delighted to see Jimi Hendrix’s flat at 23 Brook Street, where he lived between July 1968 and March 1969, being restored and opened to the public this year.

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By a quirk of fate it’s right next door to the home of George Frideric Handel who live here between 1723 and 1759 . Fr years the old Hendrix flat had just been used as a storage annexe but now both homes are open to the public as part of a single visitor attraction.

The first part of the tour is the Handel house. It was interesting to find out more about the man, his music and his home.

I confess to not knowing a huge amount about Handel, prior to this visit. In fact, this quote from Hendrix in the later part of the exhibition sums it up nicely for me:

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The second part of the tour starts with an exhibition, devoted to Hendrix, on the third floor of number 25 which includes his acoustic guitar, stage-wear and other displays. It was really fascinating to learn more about his early career in the segregation-era US, prior to being discovered and brought to London for his big breakthrough by manager Chas Chandler (who would go on to manage some more heroes of mine: Slade).

After the initial exhibition you then walk through into number 23 and enter the Hendrix flat itself. In the modest sized flat the largest room which was Hendrix’s living room-cum bedroom has been lovingly restored with exact replicas of furniture, soft furnishings and a whole bundle of belongings he had in the flat at the time, including all the records Hendrix had in his collection there.

The website for the house gives some useful background:

The flat on the upper floors of 23 Brook Street was found by Jimi’s girlfriend Kathy Etchingham from an advert in one of the London evening newspapers in June 1968 while he was in New York. He moved in briefly in July before returning to the United States for an extensive tour. He spent some time decorating the flat to his own taste, including purchasing curtains and cushions from the nearby John Lewis department store, as well as ornaments and knickknacks from Portobello Road market and elsewhere. He told Kathy that this was ‘my first real home of my own’.

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It really felt like walking straight into a slice of late 60s life and because so many photos exist of Hendrix in that flat, they have been able to do an amazing job on recreating it exactly as it was. It was a weekday and wasn’t hugely busy when I visited and the experience was made all the more fascinating by a lovely and amazingly helpful and informative guide. She was one of those rare people who seem to confound the old saying about the 60s by both remembering them (in great detail) and being there. She had loads of information to share, both on the recent challenge of restoring the flat and of Hendrix’s day to day life in it back in the late 60s, not to mention talking me through his life on the road and his many musical influences as we knelt on the floor and flipped through his recreated record collection together: Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, lots of old American blues recordings and many more.

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For anyone interested in rock history who wants to get that bit closer to the life of Mr James Marshall Hendrix then the Hendrix flat is a must-see on any visit to London.

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Visit the Handel and Hendrix House website here

Review: ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970’ Exhibition at the V&A

The Victoria & Albert Museum’s ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records & Rebels’ covers the period 1966-1970, a time I recall as one of starting nursery school, learning to ride a red plastic motorbike and amassing a collection of soft toys. The music I probably took in by osmosis while still in the womb but the rest of it, I’m obviously grateful for exhibitions like this to show me what else I missed.

On first entering I’m slightly underwhelmed: displays of LP covers many of which I have in my collection and posters I’d seen many times before. Moving on, there’s numerous displays of Carnaby Street-era swinging sixties (that famous pink mirrored mini-dress that Sandie Shaw wore, a life-size re-enactment of the Sgt. Pepper’s album cover – with the actual fluorescent suits that John and George wore for the photo-shoot) and the exhibition begins to widen it’s scope. As well as fashion and music we get snapshots of the US civil rights and UK gay liberation campaigns as well as students in Paris in 1968 and the moon landing in 1969.

There’s definitely some fascinating exhibits but I’m still not exactly clear what the overall story is at this stage, other than lots of different and exciting things happened in this period of history: musically, culturally, technologically and politically. When I compared it to my experience of, say, visiting the Stax Studio museum in Memphis (where the interconnectedness of the fight for civil rights and the vision for making great music emanates from every single fibre of every single exhibit) or, say, the Rolling Stones exhibition where many of these issues are addressed through the eyes of a single band, I wasn’t experiencing the same visceral feeling in my gut.

That changed, towards the end of the exhibition, however, which looked at the festival culture of the era: specifically the gallery devoted to Woodstock with its huge screens showing clips of the festival, decked out in fake grass on the floor and even beanbags so you could lie back, soak it all in and be transported back to the fields of a New York State dairy farm in August 1969. Seeing scenes of Country Joe MacDonald singing the ‘Fixing to Die Rag’ and the hope, joy and genuine optimism of the young people in the crowd and comparing it to the scenes of utter despair among America’s youthful protesters this very week as they contemplate a future with Donald Trump as President was the moment the exhibition moved from being interesting to being genuinely moving and bitingly culturally relevant. I left with a lump in my throat.

https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/you-say-you-want-a-revolution-records-and-rebels-1966-70
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Related reviews:
Rolling Stones “Exhibitionism”
Sun Studios tour

Review: Sun Studio tour, Memphis

In the history of rock ‘n’ roll there can’t be many more important places on the planet than this modestly-sized building on the outskirts of Memphis. 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee is the home of Sun Studio, where Sam Phillips established his Memphis Recording Service back in 1950 with the aim of giving a recording outlet to black blues musicians like Howlin’ Wolf and BB King; where Ike Turner and others recorded what is now commonly held up to be the first rock ‘n’ roll record: ‘Rocket 88’ in 1951; where a young Elvis Presley walked in to cut a one-off disc, supposedly for his mother; where Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash all recorded their early singles; and the place which indisputably can proudly claim to be the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll.

Sam Phillips moved the Sun operation to a larger nearby facility in 1959, which somehow never quite managed to repeat the pioneering and magical success of the original, and by the 1970s 706 Union Avenue was being used as a hairdressers. In 1987, though, the building, along with the next- door diner, was reopened as a studio and tourist attraction and is now listed as a historic national landmark.

Sun studio run daily tours and a free shuttle bus service can ferry you between downtown Memphis, Elvis Presley’s Graceland and Sun Studio. The old diner is now a gift shop-cum-cafe and the tour first takes you upstairs to a compact but magical display of period artefacts; including studio equipment, instruments and other historic memorabilia. A tour guide talks you through the history and plays snatches of music, including that very first Elvis recording: ‘My Happiness’.

And then it’s down to the actual studio, first passing the reception area, once staffed by Sam Phillips’ assistant, Marion Keisker: a pivotal figure in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, and the one who first spotted Elvis’s talent. But like too many women in the music business, one who’s name often doesn’t not get the recognition it deserves.

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The studio, itself, has been recreated using authentic equipment and instruments from the era and, in spite of it’s post-Sun uses as a hairdressing salon and everything else, the original studio soundproofing that Phillips and Keisker applied by hand is still there to this day.

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The tour guide ends the tour by bringing out an original studio microphone from the control room, one that Elvis and Jerry Lee and Johnny had all sung into at the start of their careers. He tells us it was donated by Sam Phillips on condition that it wasn’t just locked away in a glass case but that visitors could pose and have their photographs taken with it. You can’t get a better photo-opportunity than that and it’s a great end to a magical tour of a historic site.

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Related review: Jerry Lee Lewis at London Palladium

Review: The Rolling Stones ‘Exhibitionism’ at The Saatchi Gallery

I’ve been to a few rock music archive exhibitions over the years and thought I knew the score. A room or two of old programmes, concert posters and record covers, a few old stage costumes here and there, perhaps a guitar or two and then you’re ushered into a room to watch an video that you could probably have found at home doing a quick search on Youtube.

With Exhibitionism, however, The Stones have set the bar extremely high and in the process of taking over The Saatchi Gallery have utterly rewritten the template for what a successful rock memorabilia exhibition should look like. At £24 per ticket it’s not exactly cheap but for any Stones fan, or indeed any follower of rock history, it represents excellent value for money. Room after room after room is laid out with absolutely fascinating archives that go way beyond the old “concert posters and record sleeves in glasses cases” approach. It’s beautifully themed and gives a fascinating insight into the life of one of the world’s most iconic rock n roll bands over the past five and a bit decades. There’s a recreation of the Edith Grove flat that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones shared in the early days, gloriously capturing all the hideous squalor of sixties bedsit-land. There’s a recreation of the recording studio where they recorded some of their classics and there are huge and extensive displays of guitars and other instruments, meticulously archived original recording contracts and legal documentation and a fascinating display of stage costumes through the decades. I was struck by how pristine and smart the bands sixties suits still look compared to how bedraggled and tatty some of Mick Jagger’s nineties stage outfits now appear. Clearly, they don’t make em like they used to.

For me, however, one of the most poignant moments was walking into the room set out as an exact replica of the Stones backstage area: the admin, the technical gizmos, Mick Jagger’s make-up tent… For a minute it really felt like you had walked in on something very, very private that few get to see.

Allow at least ninety minutes to properly take in all of the exhibition. If you are so inclined you can then spend an exorbitant amount of money in the gift shop but I consoled myself with a £3.99 branded re-usable Exhibitionism shopping bag. A little souvenir of an exhibition that has set a new global standard in rock ‘n’ roll archives.

http://www.saatchigallery.com/current/rolling_stones.php

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