I popped back to London for a day, from Cambridge on my way to Cannes, to make a must-do stop at the V & A Museum for their Pink Floyd exhibition, wonderfully titled Their Mortal Remains. It opened on Saturday, and will run until the end of October.
Let me start by saying that there are many things I do not know about Pink Floyd. But I know enough to know Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Richard Wright – and of course, Syd Barrett – are the stuff legends are made of: audacious, strong-willed, visionary musicians, who are responsible for some of the most impressive songs ever written. As a child of the 80s, and growing up in South Africa, I never had the chance to see them live, and only ever really knew of the band on records my parents owned.
So, going in, there was much I stood to learn from the exhibition – and Their Mortal Remains does them so much justice.
It outlines the band’s collective trajectory – with a section dedicated to founding frontman, the late Barrett, before mental illness caused him to leave the band. Each album is given careful consideration, with large sections for albums like The Dark Side of the Moon, Animals, The Wall and The Endless River. And all the while, song snippets and interviews play over the Sennheiser headphones you are given upon entering.
The beauty of this exhibition is relayed in the words of Storm Thorgerson, one of the graphic designers who was so important in the visual representation of the band, that’s written next to a blown up image still from the Learning to Fly music video.
“We often stage these things for real and don’t do them [on] a computer because the reality has its own attributes. What you see is what you get. If you were to do it as a drawing or an illustration, or on the computer, it would always remain a fantasy, not the real thing. And it’s really fun to do the real thing, let me tell you.”
Well, let me tell you how much fun it is to see the “things” that make up Pink Floyd “for real.” The poster for their first show at the UFO, the handwritten lyrics for Another Brick in The Wall, and hilarious rider notes calling for a key to lock away all their food and drink while they were performing – indeed all of these are fun to see. But even more so to stand in front of the animatronic puppets, based on Gerard Scarfe drawings, used in their massive stage shows and feel them tower above you. To see the original clipping from the newspaper about the day a pig flew over Battersea Power Station, down to Kent, scaring the cows on a farm there. Or beds stuck to the ceiling and walls, used to recreate the music video for The Endless River. Or a 3-D rendering of the famous Dark Side cover art. Or a life-size replica of The Division Bell cover, with the two faces, I’ve come to now learn, representing the absence of members Barrett and Waters, in a later-era of Pink.
All of this is superb, a real treat, to be sure, but actually, upon walking into the last room of the exhibition, I found my most jaw-dropping experience of the band in reality, so to speak. A multi-camera, multi-angle, guitar/drums/bass/voice enveloping, wall-to-wall rendition of my favourite song, and one of music history’s best guitar solos, Comfortably Numb, performed in all its glory.
I came away from this exhibition, not only with a greater sense of appreciation for the band itself, but for Thorgerson and Hipgnosis, the duo he formed with Aubrey Powell, that gave Pink, among so many things, their iconic Dark Side of the Moon cover. And I came away, more in love than ever, with the epic beauty of this thing called music.