Get Into the Rhythm With These London Exhibitions

The capital's music culture is on show with iconic new exhibitions and events—just the place for a musical pilgrimage.

If you ever need proof of the power of music, just visit Abbey Road Studios in North London. On any given day you’ll find people of all ages and nationalities, holding up traffic to walk over a pedestrian crossing made famous by The Beatles in 1969. For music lovers, London isn’t just a destination, it’s a pilgrimage—a place to explore locations related to the greatest musicians of all time.

You’ll find the homes, recording studios and live music venues once occupied by gods like David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Freddie Mercury and Amy Winehouse. For rock ‘n’ roll fans it’s the Saatchi Gallery from April, as The Rolling Stones take over the building for their first-ever exhibition.

The Stones on Show

More than 500 artifacts from the band’s personal archives and private collections are on display in Exhibitionism (5 Apr–4 Sep), including rare guitars, outrageous costumes, backstage paraphernalia and original stage designs. "We've been thinking about this for quite a long time but we wanted it to be just right and on a large scale," says Mick Jagger, who began curating the exhibition with his fellow band members three years ago. "The process has been like planning our touring concert productions and I think that right now it’s an interesting time to do it."

It’s quite astounding when you consider the band’s achievements to date. Since forming in 1962, they’ve sold over 250 million albums and performed more than 2,000 concerts, grossing almost £500 million in five decades. Needless to say, they’ve acquired a lot of stuff along the way. "It’s hard to believe that it's more than fifty years since we began and it is wonderful to look back to the start of our careers and bring everything up to date at this exhibition," says Charlie Watts.

Rolling Stones poster for Exhibitionism
Get under the skin of The Rolling Stones in this major exhibition, taking over the Saatchi Gallery for five months. (Courtesy The Rolling Stones)

Split into nine galleries over two floors in the Saatchi, there’s a broad range of material whether you’re a hardcore Stones fan or not. Fashionistas, for example, will love the Style and Fashion Gallery housing more than 90 original outfits by designers including Prada, Dior, Gucci and the late L’Wren Scott. In the Art and Design Gallery, you can get up close to original works by Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and David Bailey.

Interactive Music

Budding musicians will be in their element inside the Recording and Song Writing Gallery, a semi-interactive zone with touch screens, lyric books and 75 original instruments. "While this is about The Rolling Stones, it's not necessarily only just about the members of the band," explains Keith Richards. "It’s also about all the paraphernalia and technology associated with a group like us."

See the saxophone played by sideman Bobby Keys, described by Richards as the "epitome of the rock and roll sax-playing man", and the piano played by Ian Stewart, who was, in the early days, the sixth member of the band. In the Edith Grove Gallery, you can experience life in 1960s London or more specifically, life in the band’s first flat. Located just 20 minutes’ walk down the King’s Road from the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, 102 Edith Grove is where Brian Jones, Jagger and Richards lived from 1962 to 1963 in beautiful squalor.

The Rolling Stones
The band shows that age is no bar for a fantastic performance. (©Rankin)

"The scene was great down the King’s Road in the 1960s," remembers Ronnie Wood. One of London’s major roads, this was the epicentre of ‘Swinging London’ thanks to shops like Bazaar by Mary Quant. It remained at the cutting edge of fashion into 1970s with boutiques like SEX by Vivienne Westwood, famously staffed by a young Chrissie Hynde and Sid Vicious. You can still find the shop at 430 King’s Road, now called Vivienne Westwood World’s End.

With most members of the Stones now in their 70s, it’s only natural to wonder if this exhibition is something of a swansong. "We’re not stopping," Jagger said in a recent interview while planning the exhibition. "We’re still on the road."

Will they be making an appearance in the gallery, though? Maybe not, but as they taught us in 1969: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”

Punks in London
Mohawks at the Trafalgar Square lions, circa 1976 (©Chris Parker)

The Art of Music: Three More London Shows

Punk London—Celebrate 40 years of subversive culture in Punk London. This year-long festival throughout 2016 incorporates events, gigs, films, talks and exhibitions at some of London’s top venues including the Roundhouse, British Library and Museum of London. More than a music genre, punk was a movement that grew in popularity thanks to bands like the Sex Pistols and The Ramones in the 1970s.

Rehearsal room at Handel's former home, London, UK
The great composer used to rehearse here—and there are still occasional concerts at the Handel & Hendrix in London, former home of both musicians (©James Mortimer/Handel House Trust Ltd)

Handel & Hendrix In London—Formerly known as the Handel House Museum, this popular attraction was renamed in February to Handel & Hendrix in London, following the opening of Jimi Hendrix’s former flat next door. Now the museum acts as dual attraction where you can see the homes of both musicians who, separated by a wall and 200 years, changed the face of music. There are plenty of special exhibitions and events related to both musicians.

Illustrated artwork at exhibition at V&A, London, UK
The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics Iconic Images, one of many exhibits at the V&A's exhibition (©Alan Aldridge)

You Say You Want A Revolution—Explore the psychedelic sounds of the 1960s in a major exhibition at the V&A Museum later this year. You Say You Want a Revolution: Records & Rebels 1966-70 (10 Sep–26 Feb 2017) explores the optimism and ideals expressed through music, fashion, film and design during those five revolutionary years. Prepare for a ‘musical odyssey’ through some of the most iconic performances of the 20th century, from Sam Cook’s A Change is Gonna Come, to The Who’s My Generation and Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock festival.