Here’s 10 things to marvel at if you visit the new Rolling Stones exhibition in London.
1) Cigarette butts: Early in the exhibition there is a dingy bed-cum-living room in which virtually every horizontal space - mantelpiece, floors, bedside tables - is strewn with overflowing ashtrays like miniature exploded volcanoes. A kitchen sink is piled high with dirty plates with more fag-ends stubbed out on them. Mould sprouts from blackened milk bottles. This is a reconstruction of the heroically squalid flat that Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones shared at 102 Edith Road in West London when they started the Stones in 1962. From the rank underwear lying on the beds to the lingering smell of stale fish and chips, no detail is spared. Keith says this is his favourite part of the exhibition. Thank God it was pre-Airbnb.
2) Instruments: dozens of guitars are on display, from Keith’s classic Epiphone Casino to Bill Wyman’s Framus single cutaway, semi-hollow bass along with Charlie Watts’s Ludwig Sky Blue Pearl drum kit which he used for much of the 1960s. Curiosities include Ronnie Wood’s Rickenbacker Lap Steel (given to him by Johnny Depp), Brian’s Vox electric dulcimer and an antique miniature drum kit which Charlie used on the recording of Street Fighting Man.
3) Stage clothes: frock coats, military jackets, Ossie Clark jumpsuits, Anthony Price striped sweatpants, pink satin suits, the omega-symbol T-shirt with cape, Keith’s antelope print coat and feather hat. “It got very outlandish in some periods,” Mick says. “I think most of them are better in a museum, to be honest.” Meanwhile, wandering around the exhibition has been something of a revelation for Keith as he spots various items from his wardrobe that are gone but not forgotten. “Damn, I’ve been looking for those boots,” he says.
4) Lyrics & diaries: Mick’s handwritten lyric notebooks are opened to show first-draft/work-in-progress versions of songs including Miss You, Respectable and Some Girls. Jagger describes song writing as a process of “Pulling the good stuff out of a load of ramblings”. This is where the ramblings began. Some of Keith’s diaries from 1963 are on display along with handwritten letters, early recording and publishing contracts and other historic documents. “I can’t remember keeping a diary,” Keith says, a little bewildered. “But sure enough, there’s one in there.”
5) Tongues: a whole room dedicated to different renderings of the lascivious lips and tongue that became the world’s first and still most instantly recognisable rock’n’roll logo. There are tongues with bristles, tongues stuck with pins, tongues sliced with a razor, snake tongues, tongues with every flag you can think of emblazoned on them, all lolling and slurping in that timeless expression of insolence and joy.
6) Mixing consoles: a set of control panels where you can put on a set of headphones and remix various Stones tracks to your own satisfaction. You want to hear who’s playing what on Angie, Rocks Off or Sympathy for the Devil? No problem. Fade everyone else down and boost Keith, Brian or Mick Taylor to the top of the mix and you can hear their part virtually unaccompanied – should you wish. Or crank up the bass and drums for an instant disco mix. Fun.
7) Films & videos: Footage from the notorious Cocksucker Blues, Gimme Shelter and other films. In one room every “official” promo video the band has put out - from Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow? (1966) to Gloom and Doom (2012) - is condensed into one incredible 5-minute showreel. Some of the excerpts only last a couple of seconds – others like Jumping Jack Flash and Undercover of the Night are slightly longer. Watch 50 years flash past in front of your eyes.
8) Recording studio: A mock-up of Olympic Studios in London around the late 1960s where the Stones recorded many of their greatest albums. There is a tangle of cables on the floor around Charlie’s black Gretsch drum kit; a black Les Paul leaning against a speaker stack; a vintage mixing desk in the control room behind the glass. It looks as if the band has just stepped out of the room. It’s like discovering a ghost ship where the table has been set for dinner, but the crew has disappeared.
9) 3D concert experience: You are in a typical backstage area at a Stones gig. Flight cases, racks of guitars, mirrors, changing areas, computer screens, little enclosures. “We’re ready to go when you are,” comes a message from the crew. Stick on the special specs and step out “on stage” alongside the group at one of their shows in Hyde Park in 2013. You will see the view of the runway out into the audience exactly as Jagger sees it while he runs the 50 metres or so out into the middle of the crowd. Stand shoulder to shoulder with Keith and Ronnie as they chop out the riff to Satisfaction and fireworks explode into the night sky. A breath-taking finale to the show - and the exhibition.
10) Merch: T-shirts, jackets, pyjamas, underpants, pullovers, bags, knitwear, pillows, crockery, kitchen utensils, fridge magnets, key rings, cufflinks, tie-pins, earrings… If you can stick a tongue logo and a hefty price tag on it, the Saatchi gift shop has got it.