"Like a Rolling Stone": digging for the Stones in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

The Orange Vélodrome stadium in Marseille is hosting “The Rolling Stones |UNZIPPED” exhibition this year from June 10th to September 15th. A unique venue for an equally exceptional event and the perfect opportunity to return to the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur locations that marked the (very) long existence of this mythical rock band formed in 1962.


Rock‘n’roll is here to stay!

Marseille and the Rolling Stones… A story that kicked off in defiantly rock’n’roll style! In March 1966, after a gig in Paris, the Stones went on the road to Marseille. It was their first concert in France outside the capital. At the time, the band were rising stars, but not yet a legend. The organisation that day left much to be desired. The Stones were playing at Salle Vallier, where two concerts were scheduled one after the other. But after the first concert, many of the rowdy up fans didn’t leave as planned. The room was packed solid. Result: the bay windows were smashed and the venue trashed. And the cherry on the cake, Mick Jagger, the group’s iconic singer, was hit in the face with a chair and taken to hospital to have stitches in his brow bone. Welcome to Marseille!



Music and revelry at Villa Nellcote

The Rolling Stones set up home in France in 1971. Now at the height of their success, the band, which was fleeing Britain’s inland revenue, was also keen to turn the page on some painful events. Two years earlier, Brian Jones had been found drowned in his pool. A year later, four concert-goers were killed when a concert at the Altamont festival (California) got out of hand. Their guitarist, Keith Richards, found a Belle Epoque villa – Villa Nellcote – to rent in Villefranche-sur-Mer, on the Côte d’Azur, featuring an impressive 16 bedrooms! Every night, the band got together in the cellar to record until dawn. Despite resembling a paradise on earth, the atmosphere at the villa was heavy: Richards was an alcoholic and heroin addict and his relationship with Jagger was tumultuous. Despite everything, the Rolling Stones’ time on the Côte d’Azur gave birth to their finest album, “Exile on Main Street”. Their stay at Villa Nellcote was immortalized by the great photographer Dominique Tarlé, who has just published “The Rolling Stones & Nellcote, the true story of a mythical villa” (Editions Le Mot Et Le Reste), written in conjunction with Benoît Jarry and Florence Viard.

Saint-Jean-Cap Ferrat, Arles, Grasse, Mougins…

A Rolling Stone gathers no moss…

The Rolling Stones also explored other parts of the South of France during the Villa Nellcote era. In addition to Villefranche-sur-Mer (where Keith Richards’ boat was moored), the band explored the Côte d’Azur and Provence. Richards and his wife Anita Pallenberg were often seen on the beaches and café terraces of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Drummer Charlie Watts bought a farm in Arles, where his wife bred horses. Bass player Bill Wyman stayed in Grasse for a while, before settling down in Vence. Meanwhile, guitarist Mick Taylor took root at a gorgeous villa on the heights of Grasse. Mick Jagger preferred Mougins. The band’s front man was already familiar with the Côte d’Azur as he had spent holidays at Camping du Pylône in Antibes with his parents as a child.



A wedding in the fast lane

The Rolling Stones time on the Côte d’Azur didn’t just mark their career. On May 12th, 1971, bad boy Mick Jagger married Bianca Perez Morena de Macias in Saint-Tropez, a hub of glitz, glamour and jet-set lifestyle. The couple had met a few months earlier at a party thrown after a Stones concert. After the ceremony at the town hall, the newly-weds stopped off at Chapelle Sainte-Anne, on the heights of Saint-Tropez. The evening ended at the Café des Arts, a trendy meeting place for the gilded youth at the time. The event was a resounding success but the marriage not so much: Bianca filed for a divorce in 1978.


Return to Marseille

Tripe & trotters and strolls in the Panier quarter

The Rolling Stones returned to Marseille in 1990 for their “Urban Jungle” tour, when the 1966 concert fiasco was just a distant memory… This time there was no fighting in a packed room: the band headlined at the Orange Vélodrome – the mythical stadium of the Olympique de Marseille football team. They returned to the same venue thirteen years later for the “Licks World Tour”. Nice, the Côte d’Azur‘s capital city, has also pulsated to the sound of the Stones – they played at Palais Nikaïa in July 1982 and August 2006. But their last French concert took place in Marseille in June 2018, when Mick Jagger also took time to wander around the historic Panier quarter, famed for its little old lanes and street art. With a white cap perched on his head and dark shades perched on his nose, he posed at the heart of “Marseille’s old town” and posted the pic to his Instagram account. Later that evening, on stage, he told thousands of fans that he had “spent the afternoon in a bistro watching the France football match and eating tripe & trotters”. Not quite as rock’n’roll as a chair in the face, but a lot tastier!

“The Rolling Stones Unzipped” exhibition

Marseille loves the Stones!

After a track record spanning nearly 60 years, the Rolling Stones are paying tribute to their very special ties with Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Marseille – a freedom-loving, rebellious and exuberant city after their own heart. Based on the personal memories of Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ronnie Wood, “The Rolling Stones |UNZIPPED” exhibition is staged exclusively at the Orange Vélodrome stadium and features an exciting line-up of objects, recordings, videos and mock-ups. You’ll also discover reconstructions of their former places of stay and legendary studios where they recorded their masterpieces, together with immersive concert experiences. Satisfaction!