On Saturday May 13, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London will throw open its doors to an army of Pink Floyd fans when the long-awaited exhibition Their Mortal Remains commences. Put together by Hipgnosis founder Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell, who worked closely with Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and the estates of Richard Wright and Syd Barrett, Floyd’s entire story is played out over 350 items - instruments, artwork, letters, handwritten lyrics, lighting, props and more, some pieces hugely recognisable and iconic, many on show in public for the first time.
With paint still drying and Po buffing up corners of exhibits with a duster, Classic Rock grabbed an audio headset for a quick preview turn and found some choice gems.
1. The Dark Side Of The Moon Mixing Desk
So obvious that we walked right past it at the start, the semi-hexagonal, catchily-titled EMI TG12345 MK IV desk – “the greatest console ever constructed” – isn’t even in the exhibition but situated in the V&A’s foyer on the left, opposite the information desk. It recently sold for nearly £1.5million at auction so sadly it’s roped off and you can’t put your sweaty mitts over it to play at being Alan Parsons, but hey - it’s The Desk That Changed Rock Forever.
2. Syd Barrett’s love letter to Jenny Spires about the Floyd’s new-look van
This is the first exhibit after entering through a giant psychedelic replica of their black 1965 Bedford van. Syd pens a love letter to Jenny, urging her to write back and “tell me about Stevenage if you feel like it little one”. He then describes that the band have painted their van “with a white stripe which looks good with our name on it.” He then draws the cutest thumbnail sketch, saying “You can’t see the name because it is too small. You can’t see me because I’m in the back.”
3. David Gilmour’s first fuzz pedal
In an ‘early years’ case there’s a wealth of pop-cultural material that inspired the young band members. Clustered around Gilmour’s Hoffner Club 60 guitar is the obligatory Burt Weedon book, Apache sheet music and a primitive, 1967 black hunk of metal, the AstroTone pedal with three pots for Volume, Tone and Fuzz. This was the shape of experimentation to come.
4. Syd Barrett’s 80s bike
’I’ve got a bike, you can ride it if you like…’ Well, Syd did. Although we’re still in the first room of the exhibition, it’s such a Syd thing and so evocative of Cambridge-student innocence that the red bike (with basket) that he was seen out and about on in his later years dangles from the ceiling here. Don’t forget to look up as there’s lots more overhead in this space.
5. A letter from the BBC about a member of Floyd “freaking out” during a session
Booked to perform on July 20, 1967 for BBC Radio’s Light Programme – the only place to hear new pop music before Radio One launched a couple of months later – this letter details when a member of the group legged it during their first number. The letter informs Floyd’s management that their contract with the BBC is cancelled and could they get an explanation of who “freaked out”? The author is unfamiliar with the term, stating they’re repeating what they heard other members said in the studio. No prizes for guessing who the freaker-outer might have been.
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6. Sheet music arrangements for Atom Heart Mother
Floyd had an early interest in soundtracks and classical music from the start – one exhibit goes from Roland Petit’s Pink Floyd Ballet that they worked on in 1972 to soundtracks for More, La Vallee (Obscured By Clouds) and Zabriskie Point. Atom Heart Mother put sessions from Zabriskie session in a purely Floyd framework with the help of experimental composer-arranger Ron Geesin; here you’ll see the instrumental arrangements for the EMI Pops Orchestra and the instruction to the choir: “All singing “AH”.
7. Nick Mason’s The Wall gong
In a room called Sonic Invention you pretty much die and go to Floyd gear heaven. Just like the Rolling Stones exhibition, there are mini mixing desks to do your worst on for Money, but surrounding that are guitars (Gilmour’s black Strat and Waters’ Ovation bass), evolutionary Moogs and more. Mason’s Hokusai Wave drum kit is a real thing of beauty but look up and you’ll see his other best percussion pal, 1969’s mighty 36-inch Paiste gong, repurposed with the sinister and imposing Gerald Scarfe design of The Wall’s crossed hammers. Wow.
8. Original artwork for Never Mind The Bollocks
Hang on, Pistols artwork at a Floyd exhibition? Well, yes. Although Pistols frontman John Lydon had appeared onstage in a homemade ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ T-shirt, in 1977 Floyd were just as pissed off and disillusioned with the establishment as the snottier generation below them. So not only do we see two factions align ideologically as they release Animals, but the existence of Jamie Reid’s album artwork here – and the huge collage that became a poster insert – is quite the middle finger to anyone still banging on about ‘The Punk Wars’.
9. Teacher puppet from The Wall
In the penultimate room, Floyd go big. There’s a Battersea Power Station installation to wander around as blueprints, set pieces, props and inflatables from the tours for Animals and The Wall invade the high-ceilinged space . It’s quite breathtaking to see poor, plushy little Pink up on his ledge as a nine-metre high Teacher smashes through huge bricks just a few metres away. Look left and you’ll see the massive, illuminated harpy-head of the Wife looming at you too. This is Scarfe and Floyd’s terrifying vision, In The Flesh (coughs).
10. The Live 8 room
The final destination is a large square space sound designed in 3D by Sennheiser. Projected around the walls is the performance of Comfortably Numb from Live 8 in 2005, the last time that Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright played together in public. Just like a real gig, move to the front left and you get more David, on the right it’s more Rog. At the back we got some extra Rick as lights circled the carpet, lasers criss-crossed in a grid above and aerial shots of the show picked out instruments and effects we’d just seen on display. At this point, Classic Rock nearly got out a lighter, did a little cry and sang along. It was worth applauding at the end.
Their Mortal Remains runs from May 13 to October 1. See pinkfloydexhibition.com for details.