Writer Richard Bari / Photographer Sian Dixon
12 May 1972, Exile on Main Street hits the shelves. Critically panned and widely misunderstood, the decadent yet unassuming double-LP settles into the charts and awaits its turn to shine.
As Keef himself said, “if it’s good, they’ll get it sometime down the road.”
Sooner than later, the album and the fateful conditions in which it was forged amasses a reputation that precedes its material. Yet for those with their ears down to the ground, the tunes don’t go amiss. The Stones’ magnum opus chisels its mark into rock and roll history and assumes its rugged throne.
50 years and exactly three days later, musicians across three generations get together for a show that basks in unpolished realism much resemblant of the album they’re honouring.
Exile on Trinity Street, a project spearheaded by Adam Heath of High Horses, brings the greatest rock and roll album straight to Digbeth’s The Night Owl.
The band opens with ‘Rocks Off’ just as Exile does, and despite a loose start they soon get in pace. Richard Bloomer-Davies doesn’t have it easy, being the sole lead guitarist on tracks that are known for weaving multiple guitar parts. Yet, the gaps are effectively filled with mandolins and acoustics, adding a new twist to the songs.
With a cast of nine members, the frontliners swap between leading vocal parts, and supporting guitars. Becky Walker on sax and the rest of the rhythm section stay put, except for Adam who emerges from the drum kit throughout the show.
As the band warms up, moments of greatness start appearing. There’s Mark Butler’s take on ‘Torn and Frayed’, a sax solo ripping through an equally great ‘Sweet Virginia’, and a beautiful guitar tone on ‘All Down the Line’.
With 17 songs divided over three sets, Exile On Trinity Street covers a heavy part of the album. But the closing act steals the show with Adam fronting for a few tunes.
Jumping and swaying like a mad jester with a mandolin in hand, he growls through ‘Stop Breaking Down’ with the same intensity as the High Horses street performances.
Post-show, I catch up with Adam, Richard, and mandolin player Loz.
“The whole thing was originally pulled together,” says Adam, “because Maz (Mazzy Snape) put me and a few people who loved the album in a group chat – people I’ve never met before. We started talking, then put the call out and others got involved.
“The intention was to get a backing band together with all different singers but loads of us could sing, so we thought we’d just do the whole thing ourselves.
“One of the hardest things about it,” Adam adds, “is probably the same reason why the Stones didn’t play loads of these songs live, because it’s a studio album. The vocals overlap, there’s loads of overdubs, lots of stuff going on.”
Loz confirms: “Even if you’ve loved it like I have, ever since it came out and you think you know the album well, once you start playing the songs, and you listen properly, you realise they’re not as simple as you think – they’ve strange arrangements, drop beats…
“Having said that, we decided at the very beginning, that we’re not involved in reproducing stuff – we’re involved in celebrating the album, putting our own twist on it.”
“There isn’t a mandolin on Exile,” adds Richard, “but I tell you what… you’ve just seen it and it sounds awesome.
“The whole thing was serendipity anyway – I got involved because I repaired Ad’s mandolin and when he came to pick it up, he asked, ‘Do you wanna do a show? Come do three songs.’
“Then we did the whole thing, cause it’s so rare to get a bunch of strangers in one room who work so well together… The Stones themselves had loads of people around at the time, in the same way this came together very organically.”
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