When you need to transport half the Rolling Stones and a pregnant woman from an all-night party in Malibu beach, what do you use? Neil Young’s hearse of course.
The rock’n’roll story of the birth of Ronnie and Krissy Wood’s son, Jesse James, will feature in an exhibition showing rare and intimate photographs of rock stars, comedians and actors from the 70s.
They were taken by Carinthia West, a model, actor and “it” girl who hung out with circles of friends that included the Stones, the Beatles guitarist George Harrison, and the actors Eric Idle, Helen Mirren, Shelly Duvall and Anjelica Huston. And West always had a camera.
“It has always seemed such a natural thing to do,” she said. “It was like an accessory on my arm all the time, just there. I’m even quite surprised when I look at all my photographs … I think, ‘I don’t remember taking that!’”
They document many mad stories, perhaps none madder than the story of Wood’s birth in California in 1976, which she captured in a series of photographs titled The Long Night.
West recalled being upstairs with Krissy Wood when she went into labour. Downstairs partying were Ronnie Wood and Mick Jagger and assorted actor and musician friends including Neil Young, Warren Beatty, Rick Danko, David Carradine, Linda Ronstadt and the California state governor, Jerry Brown.
Young offered the hearse he used for transporting his guitars as an ambulance. Jagger, the Woods and West piled in but were delayed by Beatty, Ronstadt and Brown asking for a 2am lift home.
“I had to take charge because everyone was too scared to say anything,” said West. “I said: ‘You must be joking, we’ve got to go straight to the hospital. Your houses are only about 100 yards away! What are you talking about?’”
The labour was a long one, so people slept in the hospital waiting room. Once the baby was born, it was off for lunch at La Scala restaurant, where the actor David Janssen sent over a magnum of champagne. And then to the Kit Kat club for more mid-afternoon partying. “It was a long, wonderful night … mad,” said West. “But it resulted in the lovely Jesse.”
The exhibition, at the American Museum & Gardens in Bath, includes photographs that have not been seen before. “I keep finding things,” said West. “I promise you I’ve still got four or five thousand negatives to go through that might have something interesting.”
The show has images from film sets, parties and events such as the 1976 album shoot for Pink Floyd’s Animals, when a huge inflatable pig broke free from its moorings at Battersea Power Station. As it drifted over London, flights from Heathrow were delayed and an RAF helicopter dispatched. The pig eventually landed in a farmer’s field in Kent.
Almost everyone in West’s photographs is smiling. One shows Jagger with a diamond in his teeth and markedly dilated pupils. “I’m not saying a word,” said West. “I expect we all had them in those days.”
The show’s curator, Steven Parissien, said West’s photographs showed familiar faces “as real people, rather than a polished version of themselves”, adding: “They show a simpler time when people were less self-aware and obsessed with the way they looked on camera.”
Curators also asked West to dig through her wardrobe for 70s clothes which they plan to display. “I can’t tell you the hot pants I’ve found, that I’d embroidered and patched, the Moroccan belts, the chiffon blouses – and they’re all tiny of course. People are going to go: ‘Did you really get into that?’”
One of her favourites is an Afghan coat that she painted and beaded with Egyptian hieroglyphs. “How on earth?” she said. “I think one had the time to do it because you weren’t doing Instagram and emails. I found it in the back of a cupboard. I remember Lemmy [Motörhead frontman Ian ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister] saying I’ll give you a fiver for that coat, ‘I love it.’ I said I wouldn’t give it you for £500!”