Stormtroopers In Stilettos Press Night: The QOL Review
“Will you guys come along to the opening night of the exhibition and write a report on it?” came the invitation.
“If we can’t find something better to do,” was our initial response.
Closely followed by “Are you mad??? Of course we will!!!”
So, collective train journeys later, QOL members Kes, JLP, WeeMann and Elessar arrived together at the Old Truman Brewery in London’s East End to witness the opening of the Stormtroopers In Stilettos exhibition.
Following a scrum to get in we were met by the sight of a gold Red Special, prize in a competition, sat behind a desk. We also get to meet the first of several people at the exhibition who have worked with and around the band, video director Dave Mallet.
From here we enter the first room in the tour, a room centred around Smile and the band’s early days. Familiar photos of Brian and Roger sit framed on a wall decorated to resemble Brian’s lounge of the time, a half completed Red Special leaning against the fireplace.
In a case are some letters from Freddie for various jobs, along with a comment written to his Mum, “I hope I don’t get these.” It seems he was already decided on where he wanted to go professionally. Of greater interest, however, are the framed drawings and paintings of one Freddie Bulsara mounted on a wall to our right.
Moving on we come to a video screen showing the recently rediscovered footage of the band’s TOTP appearance for Seven Seas Of Rhye, featuring DJ Dave Lee Travis sweeping up and using his broom to spar with Brian in a scene reminiscent of the later video for Princes Of The Universe. Mp3 players around the wall play the Golders Green gig, interviews and the 5th session for the BBC in crystal clear quality.
Behind a glass wall to our left are Roger’s first drum kit, a Musicman Stingray bass and Guild Red Special, surrounded by miles of discarded 2” audio tape in a mock up of the Rockfield Studios, home to the recording of Bo Rhap.
Moving on we get to the room based on the band’s first album. A wall to the right is covered with familiar images – the variations on the album cover and full sized versions of some of the photos used on the rear. It’s here, behind Freddie's winged catsuit, that we encountered the first of many laptops placed around the exhibition, set up to play tracks from the new 2011 remasters. This first one is playing the De Lane Lea demo of Great King Rat as we put the headphones on. The sound quality is everything you'd expect from this band and sits alongside the original album very well indeed.
Queen II is next, with the iconic 4 heads image taking up a full wall. Further interviews play on a video screen over clips from the SSOR video and a laptop announces four versions of SSOR. Sadly we missed this during the evening and the laptops weren’t working during our return trip on the Saturday… More costumes are on show in a case, familiar to anyone who has the Rainbow concert on video.
Moving on to the next room we are met with a hospital bed with text describing Brian’s brush with hepatitis. Surrounding the bed are images from the Sheer Heart attack album. As we stand there, we realise the man next to us is Tim Staffell. A quick chat and he suddenly exclaims “Blimey, it’s Dave Dilloway! He’s aged!” We take this as a cue to move on as we let the old friends catch up. As JLP and WeeMann are meeting Tim, Elessar and Kes have moved farther on and met Mrs Mercury herself, Jer Bulsara, and her daughter, Kash Cooke.
On the wall behind us is a video screen showing rare and unseen footage. As we arrive it’s the TOTP performance of Now I’m Here, with Brian sporting a Gibson Les Paul. Other screens around the exhibition show footage of Bob Harris interviewing the band and various unreleased gigs – wanna see the inner cover of ANATO come to life? Here’s the place.
We move on to the next laptop to listen to an instrumental version of Tie Your Mother Down before moving into the room about A Day At The Races. Freddie’s harlequin catsuit hangs in one corner.
We don’t get any further. At this point, Elessar comes bursting back into the room. “Back the way you came, quick!” he shouts, running past us. We work our way back to the doors to the Smile room to see Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters walk through ahead of a scrum of photographers all scrabbling to get pics of Roger Taylor. He walks right up to us, ushering his young daughter, who points incredulously to an image of her father as a teenager behind his first drum kit. “Yeah, they’re very old photos!” he laughs, before turning to be pounced on by WeeMann, Elessar and JLP who all shake his hand whilst thanking him for his musical contributions over many years. Roger is clearly relaxed and enjoying himself, happy to take time to talk to us, all the while keeping a protective hand on a daughter who obviously struggles to believe her Dad was once young!
As Roger moves on, through comes Dr Brian May, escorted by Jim Beach. He also takes time to shake our hands and listen as we gibber embarrassingly, hoping to sound cool and in control in front of one of the most famous faces on the planet and failing dismally…
A little further round, Brian is joined by his wife, Anita Dobson, and they sit for a few moments on the hospital bed to allow people to photograph them.
At this point Kes introduces us to Jen, webmaster of Brian’s website. As we’re chatting, in comes Taylor Hawkins. As Jen is having her photo taken with him we ask about his involvement in the Deep Cuts tracklisting. “Why no White Queen or You & I?” we ask.
Bemused, he looks at us and says “But You & I is on there, isn’t it?” We’re not the only ones who think it’s a gross omission…
A quick photo op with Dave Grohl as he races through and we then spot Dave Clark, writer of the musical Time (oh, and he may have been in a band in the sixties too!).
It’s here that we bump into the enigmatic G, at last. “Are you behaving yourselves?” he asks nervously. “Is my job still safe tomorrow?”
Greg Brookes also puts in an appearance at this point and we are all introduced.
The next to last room of the exhibition is dedicated to the famous free concert in Hyde Park, with a number of video screens showing various clips and the end wall filled with a huge list of the gigs the band played during their formative years.
One final room is showing 3D footage of the band – adaptations of the Bohemian Rhapsody and Somebody To Love videos – work in progress based on the current de-rigour technology. Hardly surprising knowing Brian’s love of the medium!
From here we are ushered into the bar as the exhibition is closed. A DJ is playing music interspersed with Queen tracks as the bar serves cocktails – vodka and gin based cocktails named A Day At The Races (vodka, apple juice, elderflower and lime), A Night At The Opera (vodka, ginger beer and lime) and A Sheer Heart Attack (gin, apple, blackberry and pomegranate). Security sport Fairy Feller shirts and tall bared chested men walk among the throng.
A VIP area is roped off and this is where Brian and Roger stay for the rest of the evening, to be joined by Kerry Ellis, Ronnie Wood and various other friends. At this point the evening descends into (surprisingly!) unsuccessful drunken attempts to get past security into the VIP area, Elessar’s charms clearly not as great as he thinks…
All too soon the evening is over, goodbyes are made and we go our separate ways. A return visit the next morning allows us to fill in the gaps in areas we missed the previous evening, the queue for the opening stretching for 200 yards around the corner.
All in all an interesting exhibition with familiar items on show, unreleased audio being played, unseen video being shown. It’s agreed that much of this needs to see release, but whether it will ever become available only time will tell. Grab it while it’s hot – you may never get the chance again!