Review :: AC/DC – Scotland’s Family Jewels Exhibition

“The best present your mother will receive this Christmas”

Celebrating a band who are almost forty years old is not something that can and is taken lightly. In fact there are very few groups who have a) lasted as long, b) stand the sight of each other after so long, c) have a career that justifies such a celebration and d) still has the captivation of the paying public. But that is exactly what AC/DC have done in the form of AC/DC: Scotland’s Family Jewels.

Arriving on the cusp of the world infamous Scottish Winter, the exhibition comes to an end this weekend, February 12th. But rather than a review, M&B will take a look at the evocative nature and tribute of the exhibition that, like the band themselves, came and conquered quietly without hype or fuss.

Featuring everything from ticket stubs to glossy photographs. Rare LP covers to cardboard cutouts and beyond, the exhibition, aptly titles Scotland’s Family Jewels is a no nonsense, balls to the wall effort that has become synonymous with the group since their initial success right through to their world domination. Charting the rise and rise of the band from humble beginning through an intricate web of photos, letters and paraphernalia, viewers are given access all areas to exhibits in an approachable and hands on fashion.

Of course the exhibition is Bon Scott intensive. As fitting a tribute as any could be made to one of the most instantly recognizable, sadly missed figures in rock and roll. Few have embedded themselves more within the rock collective consciousness than Scott did in the short time we got to know him but of that there is a wealth of enjoyment and pleasure to be found.

Making up the majority of sampled work on display are private letters to family members, postcards, clothing and previously unreleased photographs of the singer. Touching messages to his sister and others reveal what has always been known about Bon. That he was a caring, conscious and genuine human being who lived and loved the way he wanted, when he wanted and with who he wanted. That the world saw the brash and bold, charismatic lout who loved all things sleazy and down right rotten was an epitome of what he was as a person. As has been written many, many times both before and since his untimely death in 1980, Bon was a man people could not help but like and love. As comfortable in front of ten people down the pub as he was before 10,000 at Wembley Stadium through this unique insight, fans get the opportunity to be vindicated in the adulation and praise.

However, there is a darker side to this glorification. When walking through the gallery’s aptly dark, dingy and overtly branded exhibit halls, the pictures of Bon and co stare back with all the guile and sheen of record label produced gloss. The personal objects of Bon’s, his jacket, sweater, private photographs and his passport are tokens of the other side of the fence that hit home he was just another man like those who worship at his alter.

To be given a look at the personal items that belonged to a man dead 32 years has a strangely prophetic and almost eerie quality. Suddenly the boldness and machismo are gone and the day-to-day hum drummery of a larger than life character is laid bare in a Perspex cabinet. Suddenly the toll of his death becomes that little bit more real and the stark honesty and bitterness of what might have been become all together apparent. To see his items, his handwriting, a window into his thoughts makes the loss altogether more tragic and terrifying.

Journalism and endless tributes can only conjure up as good an image as their creator to describe the man but his possessions make for a grim but sobering reality. It is therefore any wonder that the rest of the band are able to speak about his passing and further compliments their creative driving force that continued. The exhibition brings a whole new appreciation to Back in Black the album designed and conceived as a tribute to him and further promotes how brilliant a job Brian Johnson did in, as he would always say, “filling in” for the irreplaceable.

As maudlin as all this may be, the exhibition is, if nothing else an extraordinarily thorough shrine to the exalted masters of rock. Comprising of multiple projector screens throughout the exhibit that feature rare concert footage along with more recognized gigs such as the Monster of Rock 1991 headline and the Black Ice World Tour. A myriad of posters, album covers, collectables, backstage passes, Angus Bucks and guitars, the exhibition offers hardcore fans of the group an intriguing insight beyond the blazing cannons and inflatable women but also offers more casual listeners and viewers a genuinely inviting chance to see the amassed work of one of the most instantly recognizable bands and brands on the planet.

From Glasgow the exhibition moves on to Seattle, Washington where North American fans will be able to ogle until their hearts are content.

Jonathan Whitelaw

The exhibition ran from September 2011 – February 2012 at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Highlights can be found on the exhibition’s official website

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