Their Mortal Remains
Pink Floyd Exhibition
V&A until October 15th
There are two hugely revealing photographs in the Pink Floyd exhibition 'Their Mortal Remains' at the Victoria & Albert Museum. The first is from 1967 and shows the original incarnation of the band, seemingly disinterested and refusing to look directly at the camera, wearing psychedelic scarves and shades, the image is splattered with oil as if they're hidden behind a giant lava lamp. This is the counterculture that our parents warned us about, and the rest if the room is filled with examples of those dangerous times: articles from International Times, a documentary on the use of LSD and clips of Jonathan Miller's controversial interpretation of Alice in Wonderland. All sound tracked by the band's sonic psych-out ‘Interstellar Overdrive’.
The second photograph appears towards the end of the show, taken by David Bailey, it shows Gilmour, Mason and Wright in the late 80's, dressed in expensively casual suits, middle aged, with, satisfied grins, it looks like an shot from a business awards ceremony than from of a rock band. This is Pink Floyd as a global brand, and something inside me dies whenever I see it.
What happened to Pink Floyd between these two images is fascinatingly explored in ‘Their Mortal Remains’. There are handwritten lyrics, filmed interviews with the band, contributions from those involved in the sleeve designs and stage shows as well as a sprinkling of cultural commentators. There's also some splendid live footage, including the ‘Live at Pompeii’ concert (1973) and a performance of ‘The Wall’ at Earls Court (1980).
The interviews with the band offer the greatest insight, although there are moments where Gilmour, with shirt collar displayed over the neckline of his sweater that make him look like an obsessive OU lecturer, whilst Waters veers from over analysing his lyrics and cultural worth to bordering on his trademark venom, all depending on who pissed him off that day.
For a band with such a dour reputation, there's humour to be had with the recollections of the story of how the inflatable pig that was hoisted above Battersea Power Station for the front sleeve of the ‘Animals’ album, came loose during the photo shoot, floating above London and nearly causing a major air collision.
It would be dispiriting if the Pink Floyd story ended with the underwhelming albums that they made without Waters. But that's where the exhibition achieves its most glorious moment of fan pleasing wonderment. On the four large walls in the final room there is a 360 degree screening of the moment the four members put their sizeable acrimony to one side to play live at the ‘Live 8’ concert in Hyde Park in 2008. It's a remarkable performance and much of the audience are visibly moved by the experience. Most bands don't get to write their final chapter with such grace, but their ‘Live 8 performance allowed Pink Floyd to do just that.
Although much of the audience filed out after the screening, there was a further treat in store with the showing of the band's debut single 'Arnold Layne' (1967), thus bookending their unique, occasionally frustrating, but always intriguing legacy. It’s a fitting finale which ensures that ‘Their Mortal Remains’ remain intact.
Their Mortal Remains has been extended at the V&A until October 15 2017, tickets available at www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/pink-floyd