Opened in December, I’ve finally had the opportunity to visit ‘Elvis At The O2’, a Graceland-authorised exhibition of Elvis memorabilia and outfits which chronicles his life from humble beginnings in Tupelo, Mississippi to his final years and the excesses of Las Vegas.
This is the biggest Elvis retrospective ever put on show in Europe. In fact, the exhibition brings together over 300 items in all. A visit starts almost sedately – there are pictures and records of Elvis’ earliest years, when his family were scraping together a living on the margins in Mississippi. It’s only when you reach the room focusing on Memphis that you get the first real taste of his fame – early recordings of gospel numbers that echo his first encounters with music in the Evangelical church movement.
While much of the exhibition focuses on the wilder and more gaudy aspects of Elvis’ musical career – the sequined jumpsuits, jewelled shades, big rings and fast cars – there’s also a lot of very personal and intimate material to discover that reminds you that while he may have been a King, he was also a man. Talking about the exhibition, Angie Marchese, Graceland’s Director of Archives said that:
“These artefacts represent the most intimate picture ever seen in public of Elvis’ journey from teen idol to movie star to rock icon.”
I couldn’t agree with Angie more – I was particularly taken by the large amount of space given over to his time in the military, a point in his life where music was forced to take a back seat. There’s also a small section dedicated to one of his particular passions – karate, which features several gis and a certificate marking his status as a eighth dan black belt. Also very moving was the display featuring a statue of Christ, which used to grace his bedside at Graceland.
One room of Elvis At The O2 features a rotating series of outfits which are set to change throughout the run. Right now this special display is showing off the full black leather suit worn by Elvis during the NBC 1968 Comeback Special, which relaunched his career and led to his return to the charts with hits ‘Suspicious Minds’ and ‘The Wonder of You’. Not only can you examine the outfit up close, but you can also sit back and watch the full recording of the concert itself on a bank of TV screens set around the room.
Elvis At The O2 continues until 31 August, so there’s plenty of time left to see it – you’ll find the exhibition past the restaurants and cinema and at the top of the escalators above the bowling alley. Tickets are priced at between £10 and £20 – well worth it for all fans of rock and roll.
Oh, I almost forgot – my favourite Elvis number is this one. What’s yours?