Opening this Saturday (May 13) at the V&A in London, 'Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains', aims to do for Pink Floyd what the same curators so excellently did for David Bowie with 2013’s 'David Bowie Is'.
We took a sneak preview at the breathtaking exhibition and found that, yes, it’s brilliant, yes, they’ve done it again and, yes, you’ll like it even if you think Pink Floyd are only for parents and stoners. Here are 14 things we learned.
It starts at the very beginning
You enter the exhibition through a grand-scale recreation of the band’s old black Bedford van, which used to ferry them to early gigs. It was purchased for £20 and decorated with a white stripe.
Peter Wynne-Willson had some crazy ideas
An early associate of the band, Peter Wynne Willson was the one who helped early Floyd shows achieve psychedelic nirvana – he was responsible for the swirling coloured projections of paint and oil that formed their backdrop, sometimes achieved, we learn, by stretching a condom over a projector’s lens and spattering it with the aforementioned. Also on display are his ‘cosmocles’, a pair of psychedelic goggles allowing the wearer to see the world through prisms and coloured lenses. Groovy.
There’s not a lot of Syd Barrett
From 1965 to 1968, Pink Floyd were fronted by Syd Barrett, a cult figure who spent the best part of the next 40 years a recluse and died in 2002. A letter from the producer of the BBC’s Saturday Club asking to be informed which member of the band “freaked out” on set gives you some idea why the rock star lifestyle wasn’t for him.
Just as in life, Syd does a disappearing act in the exhibition – he’s barely mentioned after the first few rooms, in which there’s a portrait of him and a video paying tribute. “We wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for him,” says Roger Water in the latter.
You can watch footage of the “anti-Woodstock”
One of the rooms in the exhibition has displays related to each of the band’s late ‘60s and early ‘70s albums, including their performance album ‘Live At Pompeii’, which was conceived as the “anti-Woodstock”. How so? It was in a deserted Roman city and there was absolutely no audience.
You can learn how to drink Floyd
A mid-‘70s rider reveals their tastes: Southern Comfort, Scotch, brandy, tequila, Beaujolais, beer, soft drinks.
You will wish you were stoned in the ‘Dark Side…’ corridor
It’s pitch black except for a spinning hologram of the prism, with the album playing loudly on loop. Duuuuuude.
You can mix your own version of ‘Money’
Waltz over to the mixing desk wearing your Sennheiser headset and push the sliders marked ‘drums’, ‘vocals’, ‘bass’, ‘guitar’, ‘cash desk’ to have a go at mixing ‘Dark Side Of The Moon”s opening track. If you’ve ever fancied yourself as a producer, now’s your chance.
There’s synth porn everywhere
If you have a thing for space age technology, vintage synths and pedal boards well, boy, you are in for a treat. One room in particular has cabinets and cabinets of Floyd kit.
There’s social context
One part of the exhibition looks at where Pink Floyd fit into the changing cultural tide in the late ’70s, even featuring a facsimile of Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten’s “I HATE Pink Floyd” T-shirt. Until the inevitable Pistols exhibition, consider Floyd to be having the last laugh.
There are more inflatables than an episode of Total Wipeout
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Arguably the most stunning room in the exhibition has a selection of inflatables from Roger Waters’ recent recreation of the live version of //The Wall//, including a fridge with what look like worms bursting out.
There’s a mini Battersea Power Station
The disused Battersea Power Station was immortalised on the cover of 1977’s ‘Animals’, which pictured a giant pig (which subsequently escaped and landed on a farm in Kent) flying above the iconic London structure. The power station – located mere miles from the V&A – is recreated in the exhibition, complete with a small flying pig. Wondering why the real porker isn’t there? “The actual pig is enormous,” explains curator Victoria Broackes. “It would have filled this room.”
The band’s stage sets were epic
Tying together their past as architecture students and their present as rock giants, Pink Floyd’s stage sets were nothing short of astonishing – and the exhibition has designs, models and props from each of their major tours.
You don’t really get to know the band
Pink Floyd may have given off an air of quiet, public school restraint, but we know that resentments burned deep under the surface. This, if anything, is the exhibition’s big failing – we learn little of the human dramas and tensions within the band. According to curator Broackes, that’s intentional. “One of the interesting things about Pink Floyd is they’re not particularly well known as individuals. They presented themselves through their music, performance, animation and art, which is why they’re ideal for an exhibition like this.”
It ends at the very end
That’d be Live 8 in Hyde Park, London, on July 2, 2005 – the band’s final ever show. The performance chamber features wraparound video screens and 3D AMBEO sound, and it’s like taking a shower in ‘Comfortably Numb’. Heaven.
Tickets cost between £20 and £24 and are available here