An in­flat­able pig and other iconic Pink Floyd art­work at London's V&A Mu­seum

Vocable (All English) - - Culture - ALEXIS PETRIDIS

Fifty years ago, Pink Floyd re­leased their first mu­sic track. Since then the Bri­tish group has be­come a rock and roll leg­end. The Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum in London is mount­ing a ma­jor ret­ro­spec­tive, with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of group mem­bers, to ex­plore their fas­ci­nat­ing and in­trigu­ing uni­verse.

Vir­tu­ally the first thing the vis­i­tor to Their Mor­tal Re­mains sees is a quote from the late John Peel re­gard­ing Pink Floyd’s leg­endary anonymity: “They could have joined the au­di­ence at one of their own gigs with­out be­ing recog­nised.” On the face of it, that should pre­clude Pink Floyd as a band on which to base a V& A ex­hi­bi­tion in the block­bust­ing vein of 2013’s David Bowie Is, 250m al­bums sold or not. Then again, as the ex­hi­bi­tion makes clear, few bands in rock his­tory have ever been as cre­ative in their at­tempts to dis­tract at­ten­tion from them­selves.


2. In truth, a cer­tain anonymity seems to have clung to Pink Floyd from the start, even when they were fronted by Syd Bar­rett, a man as pho­to­genic and pop-star pretty as he was tal­ented: an early cover fea­ture on the band in Town mag­a­zine doesn’t fea­ture them on the cover at all, opt­ing in­stead for a fe­male model with the band’s psy­che­delic light show pro­jected over her face.

3. Nev­er­the­less, they en­dured a brief mo­ment of old-fash­ioned pop stardom in the sum­mer of 1967, re­plete with ap­pear­ances on Top of the Pops and in the teen magazines (“Syd is 5 foot 11 inches tall, with black hair and green eyes – the mys­tery man of the group and a gypsy at heart”). By all ac­counts – in­clud­ing the tes­ti­monies from band­mates and friends fea­tured in a heart­break­ing ex­hi­bi­tion video – it was an ex­pe­ri­ence that seemed to wreak al­most as much havoc on Bar­rett’s frag­ile psy­che as the vast quan­ti­ties of LSD he con­sumed, has­ten­ing his de­cline.

4. After Bar­rett’s ir­rev­o­ca­ble de­scent into men­tal ill­ness, a com­bi­na­tion of sur­vivors’

guilt, English ret­i­cence and bloody-mind­ed­ness forged in the af­ter­math of their front­man’s de­par­ture – when al­most ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing their own man­agers, ap­peared to give Pink Floyd up as a lost cause – seemed to drive the band’s re­treat from the lime­light. Bar­rett’s re­place­ment, gui­tarist and vo­cal­ist David Gil­mour, had all the right in­gre­di­ents for rock god sta­tus ex­cept the char­ac­ter: for all his bril­liance as a gui­tarist, he seemed even more re­served than his new band­mates.


5. Pink Floyd never ap­peared on one of their own al­bum cov­ers again after 1969’s Um­magumma, and seem to have spent al­most as much time de­vis­ing ways of di­vert­ing their au­di­ence’s gaze as they did mak­ing mu­sic. A ground­break­ing quadro­phonic sound sys­tem built at their be­hest got al­most equal billing on their gig posters, although Their Mor­tal Re­mains re­veals that the grandly ti­tled Az­imuth Co-or­di­na­tor looked sus­pi­ciously like some­thing knocked to­gether in some­one’s shed.

6. At one show, a roadie was obliged to ap­pear on stage dressed as a Tar Mon­ster, com­plete with a pe­nis fash­ioned from a wash­ing-up liq­uid bot­tle that squirted black fluid over the front rows. The 1972 tour on which they de-

buted a nascent ver­sion of The Dark Side of the Moon was pro­moted in the press with a photo of the band with their backs to the cam­era. Come and see us live, but don’t look at us: that seemed to be the mes­sage.

7. Their mas­ter­stroke came with The Dark Side of the Moon’s re­lease the fol­low­ing year. Early 70s rock was filled with strik­ing im­ages, from Bowie’s light­ning flash makeup to Led Zep­pelin’s mys­ti­cal Zoso sym­bols, but few had quite the same last­ing im­pact as the re­fract­ing prism de­sign that Pink Floyd’s long­stand­ing vis­ual team Hipg­no­sis came up with for that al­bum’s cover.

8. An en­tire room of the ex­hi­bi­tion is de­voted to it, and rightly so. In cyn­i­cal mod­ern par­lance, it was a bril­liantly sim­ple piece of cor­po­rate brand­ing; 44 years on, it re­mains the im­age that first springs to most peo­ple’s minds when the name Pink Floyd is men­tioned – although Hipg­no­sis’s de­signs for their sub­se­quent al­bums were scarcely less iconic : the pho­to­graph of two busi­ness­men shak­ing hands, one in flames, for 1975’s Wish You Were Here; the shot of a gi­ant in­flat­able pig float­ing above Bat­tersea power sta­tion for 1977’s An­i­mals, a gi­ant neon replica of which fills an­other of the ex­hi­bi­tion’s rooms.


9. The Dark Side of the Moon made Pink Floyd global su­per­stars, but the big­ger they got, the more Pink Floyd them­selves seemed to re­cede. A 1974 tour pro­gramme at­tempts to elicit in­for­ma­tion on the band mem­bers via a ques­tion­naire, to no avail: “Per­sonal likes: ‘Not much.’ ‘ Too per­sonal’.” On stage, they were dwarfed first by a gi­ant cir­cu­lar screen show­ing spe­cially com­mis­sioned films, then by enor­mous in­flat­a­bles and vast para­chutes in the shape of sheep.

10. By the time of 1979’s The Wall, they were send­ing other mu­si­cians on stage in their place, wear­ing rub­ber life-masks based on their faces, and per­form­ing be­hind 40 feet of card­board bricks onto which Ger­ald Scrarfe car­toons were pro­jected. Their Mor­tal Re­mains makes an in­trigu­ing at­tempt to link their ever-more com­plex stage de­signs with Roger Wa­ters, drum­mer Nick Ma­son and key­board player Richard Wright’s back­ground as ar­chi­tec­ture stu­dents, although oth­ers at the time took what you might de­scribe as their elab­o­rate ret­i­cence for haugh­ti­ness and pom­pos­ity: one wall of the ex­hi­bi­tion is de­voted to their one-time la­bel­mates the Sex Pis­tols, with Johnny Rot­ten’s I HATE PINK FLOYD T-shirt at its heart.


11. Wa­ters’ ac­ri­mo­nious mid-80s de­par­ture from the band is tact­fully skirted around, although keen stu­dents of Pink Floyd’s end­less icy, pas­sive-ag­gres­sive in­ter­nal strug­gles might note with in­ter­est the glar­ing dis­par­ity in space af­forded Wa­ters’ last al­bum with the band, The Fi­nal Cut, and their first with­out him, 1987’s A Mo­men­tary Lapse of Rea­son. The lat­ter gets a whole room, which seems less a re­flec­tion on its con­tents – cu­ri­ously more dat­ed­sound­ing now than the mu­sic they made in 1967 or 1973 – than on the vast, box of­fice­bust­ing tour it spawned, which tellingly saw Pink Floyd repris­ing not just their great­est hits, but their most fa­mous vis­ual ef­fects. To the ev­i­dent fury of Wa­ters, who con­sid­ered him­self the band’s cre­ative ge­nius, it didn’t seem to mat­ter to au­di­ences whether he was there or not, as long as it sounded like Pink Floyd and an in­flat­able pig floated over the crowd : such is the down­side of care­fully cul­ti­vated anonymity.

12. Or per­haps it did mat­ter. There’s some­thing touch­ing about the way Their Mor­tal Re­mains con­cludes not with The End­less River – the largely in­stru­men­tal al­bum Gil­mour and Ma­son con­structed in trib­ute to Richard Wright, who died in 2008 – but with footage of the quar­tet’s soli­tary reunion, at Live 8 in 2005. Their per­for­mance ends with a slightly un­easy group hug, which one band mem­ber has to be vis­i­bly co­erced into join­ing: Pink Floyd were awk­ward in the spot­light un­til the last.

(®Pink Floyd Mu­sic Ltd)

Pink Floyd.

) A P I S s/ er tt u h S / n se n ge or J ils N (

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