FOUR THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT PINK FLOYD
1 They initially wanted to become architects
Most people know Regent Street as a shopper’s paradise, but since the 1830s it’s also been a place of academia and home to the first polytechnic institution in the UK (now the University of Westminster). It was here that in 1963 Pink Floyd’s founding members – Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright – met while studying architecture. Together they formed a group called Sigma 6 and performed at private functions and in a tearoom underneath their classrooms.
‘I could have been an architect, but I don’t think I’d have been very happy,’ said bassist Waters. ‘Nearly all modern architecture is a silly game as far as I can see.’
If you’re curious to see their first flat, visit 39 Stanhope Gardens in Highgate. ‘[ The flat] made a real difference to our musical activities,’ Mason wrote in his autobiography. ‘We had our own permanent rehearsal facility, thanks to an indulgent landlord.’
Die-hard fans might even be tempted to stay there while in London, which you can do for about £2,000 a week – although we should warn you that now it’s a six-bedroom rented property, the interiors are a little less rock ‘n’ roll than they used to be.
2 They only had one hit single
‘We don’t do singles,’ Waters is alleged to have told his producer Bob Ezrin in 1979 when asked to extend the song
Another Brick in the Wall past its original run time of one minute and 20 seconds. Like everything they wrote, the song was always meant to be part of a bigger whole, in this case The Wall, a soaring rock opera released as a double record and now widely thought to be one of the best albums of all time. But Ezrin, convinced of the song’s potential, went behind Waters’ back, adding a disco beat, doubling the instrumentals and recruiting a local school choir to sing a verse and chorus. ‘I called Roger into the room,’ Ezrin told Guitar
World in 2009, ‘and when the kids came in on the second verse there was a total softening of his face, and you just knew that he knew it was going to be an important record.’
‘Important’ is putting it mildly when you consider the impact their only hit single has had on the world. On its release, it topped the charts in the UK, US, Germany, Canada, Norway, Portugal, New Zealand, Sweden, Israel and Belgium. It was banned in South Africa after black schoolchildren took to chanting the lyrics to condemn the educational apartheid. Even today, it continues to resonate with people of all ages.
‘ The song is meant to be a rebellion against errant government, against people who have power over you, who are wrong,’ explains Waters.
Half a century may have passed since Pink Floyd blazed their way into popular culture, but they continue to shine on, like the crazy diamonds that they are.
3 Most of the band preferred beer to LSD
Given their fondness for psychedelic lights, philosophical lyrics and lengthy instrumentals, it’s only natural that most people assumed Pink Floyd were all addicted to acid. But in reality, it was just their first lead singer, Syd Barrett, who took LSD regularly – so regularly, in fact, that within a year of their debut album release, he was on the verge of a psychotic breakdown and forced to leave the band.
‘He was our friend, but most of the time we wanted to strangle him,’ Waters admitted years later.
With Barrett out by 1968, and David Gilmour in, Pink Floyd began their world domination – but they never forgot their London links. Over the past five decades the capital has been both home and muse to the group.
Relive some of the band’s most iconic moments at locations across the city, including Battersea Power Station (as seen on the album cover for Animals); Alexandra Palace (used for The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream concert); Abbey Road Studios (where the band recorded at the same time as The Beatles); Islington Green (where a group of local schoolchildren sang on Another Brick in the Wall); and David Gilmour’s houseboat recording studio Astoria (it was first built in 1911 for theatre producer Fred Karno, who wanted the deck to accommodate a 90-piece orchestra).
4 Their concerts were always a multimedia spectacle
When Iron Maiden, Ariana Grande and KISS take to the stage at London’s O2 arena this month, it’s safe to assume there will be light shows and video projections as part of their performances. But long before it became the standard for concerts, Pink Floyd pioneered the use of visuals in their live shows. As early as 1966, they projected psychedelic lights on to a backdrop while they played, and even appeared on British television to show off their lighting skills while improvising music. As their popularity (and budgets) grew, so did their audio-visual ambitions. Before long, giant inflatables, 35mm films, lavish pyrotechnics and ‘intelligent’ lights were part of the fabric of Pink Floyd shows, leading to a spate of venue bans. One of their most famous concerts at Earls Court saw a 40ft wall placed between them and the audience. They were also the first to champion live surround sound, with the help of the Azimuth Co-ordinator quadrophonic sound system – on display as part of the V&A’s exhibition. ‘Alongside creating extraordinary music, they have for over five decades been pioneers in uniting sound and vision,’ says former V&A director Martin Roth, ‘from their earliest 1960s performances with experimental light shows, through their spectacular stadium rock shows, to their consistently iconic album covers.’ The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains. From 13 May. V&A, Cromwell Rd, SW7 2RL. T: 020-7942 2000. www.vam.ac.uk
FOR OVER FIVE DECADES HAVE BEEN PIONEERS IN UNITING SOUND AND VISION
Clockwise from main image: Pink Floyd in 1971; Abbey Road Studios; The Dark Side of the Moon and Atom Heart Mother albums
Clockwise from top left: David Gilmour; light projector used in the band’s concerts; Pink Floyd in 1971; The Wall and The Division Bell album covers; Pink Floyd for The Division Bell; the launch of the V&A exhibition; Animals and Wish You Were Here...