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Image Courtesy of The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains

Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains

16 May 2017 Will Rathbone

We visited the V+A to view their latest blockbuster exhibition, which charts the success of Pink Floyd through their music, the ever-increasing majesty of the stage shows and their iconic artwork.

In typical Bowie-like fashion, a trend began at the V+A with 2013’s David Bowie is… exhibition. It charted Bowie’s career, influences and myriad personas via a combination of artwork, hand-written lyrics, instruments and interviews all accompanied by a shifting soundtrack – courtesy of Sennheiser headphones – that changed as you moved through the gallery.


Image Courtesy of The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains
 
Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains follows hot on the heels of the 60s-themed You Say You Want a Revolution? and follows a similar format. If you haven’t experienced either of the aforementioned exhibitions then it cannot be overstated just how good this format is. It takes you on a journey through Pink Floyd’s inception, and the early Syd Barrett era, through to the dawn of the album – culminating in Dark Side of The Moon – and climaxing with the epic stagecraft of the Animals and The Wall tours. Sections on post-Roger Waters Floyd follow - taking in the equally gargantuan The Division Bell tour and, briefly, 2015’s The Endless River – before the final room. Here, in a 360° sound and screen experience, you witness Floyd’s Live 8 reunion and an emotional performance of Comfortably Numb.
 
In and amongst the story of Pink Floyd there are rooms giving context and background to the band, beginning with a section on the 60s counter-culture movement and LSD-fuelled happenings at London’s Roundhouse. You learn about Floyd’s many collaborators: Storm Thorgerson – responsible for some of Floyd’s most iconic album covers – and his company Hipgnosis (named after a piece of Barrett graffiti combining ‘hip’, meaning modern and cool, and ‘gnostic’ – an ancient word meaning knowledge); illustrators Ian Emes and Gerald Scarfe – responsible for the Time and The Wall graphics respectively; and Mark Fisher and Jonathan Park who, together with Waters, almost single-handedly invented the stadium rock stage show.


Image Credit: Pink Floyd Music Ltd. Courtesy of The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains
 
The exhibition is littered throughout with artwork, concept sketches, original synthesisers and guitars used by the band, handwritten lyrics and letters, press cuttings from magazines, video interviews with the band and other luminaries, costumes, photography and so much memorabilia that you could spend hours taking it all in. That’s if you can tear yourself away from the live footage of concerts and recording sessions. A section dedicated to Dark Side features a light display of a rotating prism with refracted light – à la the iconic cover – and music from the album alongside the lyrics from Eclipse. You could stay and watch for hours. The exhibition immerses you in their world and enhances the unadulterated pleasure gained by listening to music from one of the greatest rock groups in history. It’s wonderful.
 
There are fascinating nuggets of trivia to be found hidden amongst the overwhelming wealth of information and visual/aural stimulation.  Letters from Syd Barrett to his girlfriend Jenny Spires show his playful, creative side whilst a rare photograph of an unrecognisable Barrett, taken after he unexpectedly visited Abbey Road as the group recorded Wish You Were Here, has a poignancy that resonates. Richard Wright explains how a Miles Davis chord from Kind of Blue inspired the introduction to Breathe, whilst examples of early Floyd’s TV and film soundtrack work show how they developed their symphonic mid-70s sound. From the difficulty of flying a giant inflatable pig over Battersea Power Station to the enormous twin heads of The Division Bell, the balance of overall scope and minute detail is finely tuned and well honed. The V+A curators are now seasoned hands in this format and it shows.


Image Courtesy of The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains
 
Throughout the show, the sense of Pink Floyd’s isolation in the face of their increasing success is a recurring theme. The Wall itself stemmed from Water’s feeling of complete separation between band and crowd, and the final video of their relatively stripped back 2005 Live 8 performance makes for a nice comparison with John Peel’s opening quote about the near-anonymity of the group.
 
This exhibition is a celebration of one of rock music’s most influential and iconic groups. For die-hard fans there is much to pore over, whilst anyone who is less familiar will undoubtedly leave eager to hear more. The music permeates, and leaves you with a greater understanding of the identity of the band and an appreciation of just how much they changed rock music.
 
Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains is at the Victoria and Albert Museum until October 1. Tickets start at £20.
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