“No Flaming Gongs!”: Pink Floyd’s Nick Mason Discusses Upcoming V&A Exhibition ‘Their Mortal Remains’

Flying pigs, inflatable teachers, legendary prisms and marching hammers – the ephemera of Pink Floyd is amongst the most iconic, inventive and plain massive in rock. Come May 2017, it’s all due to be squeezed into the V&A museum in London as part of ‘Their Mortal Remains’, the first major exhibition of objects from the band’s five decade history and the first time the remaining three members of the band have collaborated since Live 8.

Following the V&A’s celebrated ‘David Bowie Is…’ exhibition, and curated and designed by the same team, the show will cram over 350 artefacts from the band’s career into the museum’s hallowed halls to mark fifty years since the release of their debut single ‘Arnold Layne’. It promises to be full of must-see objects, from the large-scale inflatable versions of Gerald Scarfe’s illustrations of teachers, mothers and judges used during their tours for 1979’s ‘The Wall’ and the gigantic pig they would fly around stadiums, to smaller objects such as the Azimuth Co-ordinator, the quadrophonic speaker system they had designed in the 60’s to sweep sound effects around venues.

“The show will feature and chronicle the music, visuals and staging of the band,” says exhibition curator Victoria Broackes, “from children’s literature that inspired the psychedelic scene in 1960’s London through the underground to the present day, illustrating their ground-breaking use of special effects, sonic experimentation, imagery and social commentary.”

Broackes describes the exhibtion as an “immersive, multi-sensory and theatrical journey that pushes the boundaries of exhibition design.” “One of the world’s most pioneering and influential bands… Pink Floyd occupied a distinctive experimental space and have, through their career, pushed artistic boundaries,” she continues. “They produced some of the most iconic imagery in popular culture through their album visuals and their stage shows, which relate to their architectural and art school training. They’re a great fit for the V&A.”

Strangely, it’s not the first time Pink Floyd have been involved with the V&A. “When I started at Regents Street Polytechnic, studying architecture with Roger Waters and Richard Wright,” Floyd drummer Nick Mason explains, “our very first assignment in 1962 was to do something with the V&A. It was an exhibition of ironwork, we were all tasked with designing a set of screens to show this artwork and we all got rather poor marks for our work, so I hope we do better this time.”

NME caught up with Mason at the launch today (August 31) to discuss collaborating with the band’s long-estranged bassist and singer Roger Waters and the challenges of fitting the Floyd in a museum…

Is it a great mark of respect to be following Bowie into the V&A?
Nick Mason: “Absolutely, it has to be. You could say ‘it’s recognition by the establishment, who’d have thought it?’ but after fifty years, one’s integrated. The David Bowie exhibition was something that anyone who saw realised was ground-breaking and changed how this sort of exhibition would work, and I hope we’ll be able to do things that have hopefully never been seen or heard before.”

How has it been collaborating with Roger Waters again?
“It’s not that different. We do stay in touch to some extent. I haven’t seen much of him recently but I’m still in touch with Roger and David [Gilmour, guitarist] occasionally, so it’s not difficult. We seem to be quite capable of working together where there’s common interest and no-one has to argue about who’s in charge.”

Have any of the exhibition items stirred up particular memories?
“Everything stirs up memories. I remember from collecting material for a book, all it takes is one photograph and you go ‘oh yeah’, particularly where there’s a photograph of us with other people who’ve worked with us over the years. It’s actually rather nice, an opportunity to think ‘oh yeah, they were good’ or ‘what an idiot!’. I’ve not felt really emotional – the thing with the music is it’s always been ‘what are we gonna do next?’ To some extent one is always more excited about – even if it’s a relatively small thing – the next recording is always going to be that bit more interesting than what you did yesterday.”

What’s been your favourite piece for the exhibition you’ve come across?
“It’s really odd stuff that turns up. One interesting thing was finding an old cymbal case, opening it up and finding all the drum fronts that I had in the very early 70’s that were painted for me by different people. I’d forgotten about then, so to find them was absolutely lovely, these really curious painted works from the period.”

Is there anything you’re worried will be too big to get through the door?
“No, because one of the things that we’ve always been good at is moving stuff around. Most rock bands are now very good at that. It can either be taken to piece or ideally we can get one of those big military helicopters and drop it in! Or it’s a helium teacher or something.”

Will you be recreating the flying beds or Pompeii?
“I think health and safety might put a stop to that. No flaming gongs!”

The exhibition’s called ‘Their Mortal Remains’ – is it marking the end of the band?
“It is slightly gloomy, but not really. It was felt to be a decently gothic title for a retrospective.”