#FeelFree: The Vault at Hard Rock Cafe

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The second in our #FeelFree (to be creative) series comes from Blog Editor Jo Furnival. Don’t forget to tell us what you do to feel free when you’re stuck in a creative rut. We’re on Twitter @allabouttheidea and Facebook:

Growing up, Hard Rock Café was not a name that was well known in our household. After a teenage music diet of Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, Mum got married and became mother to 2 children, moving into a period of her life that had, for the most part, closed the door on rock music and, as it appeared to me, much of popular culture in general. As Head of History at a local school, this new phase of her life was all about absorbing what remained of times that had gone before; the petrified people of Pompeii, the rich hues of Medieval stained glass and tapestry, the somber tones of monastic music.

But as my colleague and I finished up our local legendary burgers and crispy American fries – the foodie legacy of Hard Rock Café founders Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton’s 1970s vision – surrounded by rock relics from the likes of Eric Clapton, BB King and Thin Lizzy, I couldn’t help but think of Mum.

“So the story goes,” our waitress Kat said, “Eric loved it so much here, he asked for a plaque to be put up, reserving his seat.” But Hard Rock Café didn’t do plaques, at least not like that. Instead, the ‘democratic diner’ displayed Eric Clapton’s guitar on the wall, the first in what is now a seriously impressive and eclectic collection. And of course, 40 years later, there is a plaque; the place is full of them. With information pertaining to this drum kit or that album cover, Hard Rock Café is in fact a museum. And there’s no better place to experience it than in The Vault.

Across the road from the café, in the bowels of the Hard Rock shop, is where you’ll find Madonna’s conical bra’d body, Black Sabbath’s drum kit, John Lennon’s army surplus shirt, Gene Simmons’ bass and even Elton John’s personalised credit card. But it’s not just the high concentration of music memorabilia contained within the tiny former Coutts vault that makes it culturally significant. The space used to house many of the Royal Family’s most precious possessions and also bore witness to Princess Diana trying on her wedding dress.

But unlike most, Hard Rock Café is a museum that has life. Living legends, including Zakk Wylde, have been known to pitch up and demand their possessions be returned. What a thing it would be if Leonardo da Vinci stormed The Louvre on a mission to retrieve Mona Lisa!

Mum appreciates the importance of looking back (as a former Head of History should): “The great thing about history”, she would say “is that there’s always a story in hi-story.” And she’s right of course. I recall one particularly dreary childhood outing around a ruined-beyond-recognition Abbey being saved by the captivating tales recounted via the accompanying audio guide. I was moved and, seeing this, Mum expressed with glee that I had, what she called, ‘a feeling for history’.

But the other thing about history is that it was once the present, even the future, so it should never be valued more than what is happening right now. Roman markings on a wall in Herculaneum are as much vulgar graffiti as tags sprayed on a railway arch are future archaeological findings; one cannot venerate one and condemn the other. Both are part of the ever evolving tapestry of culture, popular or otherwise. So, take a trip to the Hard Rock Café and visit The Vault; grab a burger and immerse yourself in music history, ask the staff questions and request your favourite song. At the very least, it might help you to get in touch with your inner rock star. And if you’re very lucky, you’ll bump into an actual rock star.

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