Next May sees the opening of the Victoria & Albert museum’s Pink Floyd exhibition ‘Their Mortal Remains’. Drummer Nick Mason talks us through some of the iconic pieces we’d like to see included…
The Early Years
Nick: “There will inevitably be some instruments of course, but also some of the artwork – it’s the introduction of Hipgnosis. The V&A are very keen on the idea of being able to not only entertain people but show them how something works, and one of the more interesting things is the development of music technology over 50 odd years. I think we’ll try and show how we made a record in 1967 and further down the line how records are made now. The Rolling Stones exhibition [Exhibitionism] had the mixing desk where you could actually put the backing vocals in or pull something out and so on. I think that maybe we could take that a stage further.”
The Psychedelic Oil Light Show
At early Floyd shows, lighting technician Mike Leonard would heat coloured oil on projector slides, creating an entrancing psychedelic effect as the oil melted under the projector’s heat.
“We’ll certainly try and do the old heated oil. The way it would go bubble-bubble-bubble and then somewhere during the evening it would suddenly go ‘snap!’ and the glass would shatter. So you’d get the screen shape of glass and then everything would come to a grinding halt on the screen and then there’d maybe be a shout of rage and pain from the lighting operator who would only be about 20 foot away.”
The ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ Prism
Storm Thorgerson’s prism artwork for 1973’s monumentally successful ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ album has become one of the most iconic images in rock history, but where is the original now?
“God knows. Storm was not very good at archiving and also, quite often, the original artwork is actually made up of three or four different sheets and the prism itself is on a scruffy board.”
The Circular Screen
“That became almost a trademark. It was done for the first run of film that we did for ‘Dark Side…’ in ‘72 or ‘73 with the Ian Emes clocks. It wasn’t designed as a moon, it just felt so much more attractive as a stage prop rather than having a screen, but there probably was a realisation that this would work particularly well. With the early one we had a very gradual zoom in on the moon I think, and then there’s a retraction at the end. The downside to it was that you were masking off so much film, which reduced the size of what you were doing enormously. The visuals all had to be shot initially on a regular screen and then masked – they are ground-breaking because no one else wanted to do it. Rock’n’roll for virtually everyone was about follow spots on the guy you’ve come to see, and in a way we were the antithesis of that. Why didn’t we want to be seen? We did want to be seen but not as badly as everyone else.”
The Flying Pig
The original flying pig used for the cover shoot of 1977’s ‘Animals’ escaped its mooring and flew away, was spotted by the pilot of a passing airliner, chased by police helicopters and the Royal Air Force and eventually landed in Kent. Does the original still exist?
“Not the original, no. It’d be 35 years old balloon material – the worst thing about that stuff is trying to store it without it deteriorating and it would’ve been stored and it would’ve deteriorated.
After that we became pretty expert at flying pigs. I think also one escape is okay but two escapes then, goodbye.” You’d have your pig-flying licence revoked. “I don’t think I’ve got one! The inflatables came along with Jonathan Park and Mark Fisher. The main thing was finding other ways of engaging an audience in a stadium. The fact is a stadium is not a great venue; the perfect rock’n’roll place is probably a sweaty club or an arena. Then you have a controlled environment, you have a big audience but of course that’s a maximum of 15 -20 thousand people, so if you’re a promoter or a greedy band you want to be able to do the stadium of 80 thousand people and what the hell do you do? The inflatables were a bloody good idea from that point of view because they’re big and they capture the attention. The problem is the ten thousand people at the back playing frisbee and doing drugs, trying to engage them as well, and inflatables did that.”
The show became the star at that point, didn’t it?
“I think we liked that, and I think Roger certainly still does. Even David, who set off just being about music with his solo stuff, couldn’t help himself with a bit of lighting and film and whatever. It’s not like we’ve got great dance moves, so making the show work as a show is absolutely the what we favoured going. Roger did a lovely thing where he had an astronaut floated above the audience – that was really good because you could tumble it as well, it was remote controlled. There’s lots of things you can do now that you couldn’t do then.”
The Bricks In The Wall
For the tour around their 1979 magnum opus ‘The Wall’ – Roger Waters’ semi-autobiographical story of rock star Pink’s alienation from his family, his audience and ultimately his own sanity – the band performed from behind a gigantic wall which was built across the front of the stage throughout each show. What are your memories of playing behind it?
“Good really, because although as a band at the time we weren’t really talking to each other – Rick [Wright] had left the band and then he was back there able to play and so on – it was such a controlled show we were all honestly pleased with it. It made sense, the story was told, all the effects were very specific they were all part of the story – everything that happened or blew up was specific, it was really satisfying. The fact we were playing behind the wall was great because you knew other stuff was happening in front.”
Was it odd to suddenly shift from the show being the star to Roger being the focus?
“No, only because you just get on and do whatever comes up as the next thing and that happened to be ‘The Wall’. The original version of it wasn’t quite so much about one person, there was slightly less concentration on Roger compared to his later version of it. But if it’s a good idea you get on and do the good idea, you don’t go ‘hmm, this is a bit too much about one person’ or ‘this is a bit too much about a subject we don’t like’. If there’s an agreement that this is going to be a good thing you get on and do it.”
‘The Wall’ tour featured a number of new inflatables including a she-devil wife, a smothering mother and an evil headmaster with spotlights of eyes.
“For me the teacher was by far the most successful of those. I loved the way it was articulated. It was mobile, it had the stick, it could wave the stick, and it had the headlamp eyes and so on. I thought the other inflatables were nice but if I was doing it again I’d have two or three puppets rather than three inflatables.”
‘The Wall’ also featured some very fascist-looking marching hammers – how did you feel about the implications of that imagery?
“I think it’s relevant – it could be seen as going back to the Second World War but it could be seen as all sorts of different societies and armies from Russia to America. I think that sort of military thing is all encompassing.”
The Beach beds
For the front cover of their ‘1986’ album ‘A Momentary Lapse Of reason’, Storm Thorerson arranged thousands of hospital beds on a beach. A Herculean task?
“That’s a point to be made to an audience, that this was a world before Photoshop. It was done for real and the tide did come in and the weather wasn’t good enough. It all had to be packed up and taken away and put back out again for the next time. It had to be done one side of the tide.”