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Sunday, 8 May 2016

"Money For Nothing"

On Wednesday my mate Peter and I were where the beautiful people hang out: King's Road, Chelsea.

We met at the entrance to Sloane Square tube station. The air was heavy with "Creed" eau de parfum and the crinkle of expensive cotton. We were dressed to kill and on our way to the Satchi Gallery to visit The Rolling Stones exhibition. Peter wore his faux leather jacket, I wore my hipster outfit: we looked pretty young but we were just backdated.

Walking through Duke of York's Square we experienced the thrill of not being able to afford anything in even the cheapest boutique there: not a Poundland in sight. This sense of the unaffordable was reinforced when we had a quiet coffee before the exhibition. Little change out of a tenner: but we had to wait to be shown to a table.

The exhibit was approached along a set of barriers - installed no doubt to filter out us plebs from the VIPs who had their own queue. Before entering we were scrutinised by two huge Russians in black suits. Unsmiling would not adequately describe their demeanour: deadly would be more appropriate.

You knew you were in a "Rolling Stones" exhibition the moment you entered as "Brown Sugar" alerted one to that fact. We learnt about the Stones early days, how they met up, the flat in "unfashionable Chelsea" they shared in the early days, which the exhibition recreated. Food encrusted plates in the sink; ancient gas cooker and gas meter on the wall. Unmade beds, beer bottles everywhere and discarded clothes. Made me quite wistful for my student days.

Keith Richard's diaries - tiny writing on tiny sheets of paper. Their first contract, their first demo. Masses of posters of their early gigs at "The Odeon", "The Gaumont", supporting "Gerry and the Pacemakers", sharing the bill with Brian Auger and Julie Dirscoll. God, the memories came flooding back.

...And then liftoff. They are discovered by America. There was a novel display; an airport departure board showing all the gigs they did in those early years: They must have earned enough "Air Miles" to fly to Pluto and back.

I liked the early black and white photographs the best. There's a real beauty in many of them as well as depicting the post war dirt of London which was still around in the early '60's. There was the multiscreen display of concerts, shots of screaming fans as well as action shots of Jagger: very reminiscent of the multiscreen shots in the film "Woodstock".

Lots of loaned paraphernalia: Guitars by the dozen with notes on whose they were, when bought, on which tracks they were played. A mock up of an early recording studio with original equipment - massive reel to reel tape recorders and mixing decks. The recording studio was set up to look as if they'd just finished a set with their instruments placed on their stands. Quite effective I thought.

As we progressed thro' the 70's, 80's and 90's everything got bigger, more extravagant, more indulgent. This was a small corner shop which had grown into a worldwide mega brand.

The exhibit rooms reflected that with architectural models of the stage settings for their concerts and a room full of their stage costumes - now many looking extremely cheesy or cheap. But what the heck: it's only Rock and Roll.

The tour was rounded off with a 3 D experience of a excerpt from one of their recent concerts. We waited "backstage" in their dressing room. It was really quite authentic - or at least it was what I imagined it would be like - except I missed the smell of sweat, booze and pot. While we were waiting I hit upon a tour manual. It gave masses of instructions on what had to happen, who did what and where they had to be on every day of the tour. It listed the support team - I counted well over two hundred and that didn't include all the agents, press and PR people, the financial accountants and other essential persons. A giant corporation indeed.

We were handed our 3 D glasses, to be returned when we left, and shepherded into the dark room when the concert started. Most people sat on the floor, but Peter and I thought it best to stand as we'd have trouble getting up. Having a 73 year old Mike Jagger strutting his stuff on the stage like a two year old didn't help, but I was reassured to see that Keith Richards had a very pronounced beer gut. Charlie Watts looked worryingly healthy while Ronnie Wood looked, well like Ronnie Wood.

And that was that: save for the obligatory trip to the souvenir shop. We bought nothing: not with the souvenir catalogue costing £30 in paper back and £50 for the hard cover. A pair of Rolling Stones themed pyjama would set you back £250.

We re-joined the beautiful people of Chelsea, had a pub lunch and thence to Oxford Street for a personal demonstration of a Saga Heston coffee maker that had been arranged for Peter. I won't embarrass him by quoting its price.

Home to up and coming Walthamstow for me and to quietly dignified St Albans for Peter. Both of us, no doubt, reflecting on our youth and those long off days of summer.

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