More than two years in the making, Pink Floyd’s Their Mortal Remains exhibition has launched in London and it’s an all-consuming sensory spectacular that’s truly as essential as a heartbeat.
Planet Rock attended a preview at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London this week desperately hoping that the career-spanning retrospective would do justice to Floyd’s legendary musical arsenal, their rollercoaster of a back story and ultimately their profound impact on pushing music into new previously unexplored realms. Fortunately, it ticks all these boxes and more.
An in-depth chronological journey into the world of Pink Floyd spanning half a century, entering the first room you’re immediately confronted with a gargantuan two times scale replica of their beloved Bedford van that they started touring with in the early sixties.
Walking inside the van, the innovative Sennheiser audio guide system you’re handed upon entrance bursts into life delivering automatically triggered stereo feeds (from music snippets to audio interviews and later on three mixing desks you can manipulate to the sounds of ‘Money’) through your HD headphones as you take in the exhibits.
Early highlights include a letter from a young Syd Barrett to his girlfriend Jenny Spires, drawings by Roger Waters and Nick Mason from Regent Street Polytechnic where they met Richard Wright, a mind-bending psychedelic room inspired by artist Bridget Riley featuring a ‘groovy’ telephone box (the first of many in the exhibition), early photos, tour posters and an eye-catching 2016 portrait of Syd by Duggie Fields.
Journeying on, Floyd’s embryonic years are explored via vintage record players, Syd’s Piedmont Blues records by musicians Pink Anderson and Floyd Council who the band took their name from, a smorgasbord of instruments, rare footage of a 19-year-old David Gilmour being interviewed, Roger Water’s handwritten lyrics and a letter to Pink Floyd’s management from the BBC demanding to know why an unnamed band member (Syd) “freaked out” during a session at their studios resulting in it being cancelled.
Voyaging from Pink Floyd’s early psychedelia through to their pioneering experimentation of the early seventies, the backstory of ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ is explored in detail via video installations and Hipgnosis sketches of its artwork before you enter a completely black room that centres on a rotating 3D prism from the iconic album cover.
A treasure trove for tech aficionados, the vast Musicology Room features 23 bays holding 50 of Pink Floyd’s instruments from Richard Wright’s Mini Moog synthesisers to David Gilmour’s black Strat and Nick Mason's 'Hokusai Wave' drum kit, while video displays feature interviews with band members explaining how they utilised their instruments to create their oft futuristic sounds.
Elsewhere, there are cartoons from Pink Floyd’s 1974 tour programme including a Viz-esque Richard Wright sketch depicting the keyboardist surrounded by topless ladies, an exploration into how the ‘Wish You Were Here’ bowler hat man was inspired by Rene Magritte, and you can see the actual Pink Floyd life masks eventually used on the ‘Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980–81.’
Wide-ranging and unflinching in its subject matter, after earlier dealing with Syd’s LSD fuelled mental breakdown candidly, the exhibition also explores the late-seventies punk backlash against the band including a replica of John Lydon’s infamous ‘I Hate Pink Floyd’ t-shirt.
With Hipgnosis’ Storm Thorgerson and close exhibition collaborator Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell often taking centre stage, where Their Mortal Remains truly excels is its sheer ambition and scale in bringing the band’s visuals to life.
The highest exhibit ever displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the colossal replica Battersea Power station stands at a monumental nine metres tall – in fact, it’s so vast, it was too big to transport so had to constructed in the museum. At the other side of the room, a teacher inflatable based on Gerald Scarfe’s famous sketches straddles over the top of The Wall with a signature Pink Floyd pig floating nearby.
Also packing the wow factor are the imposing six-metre high metallic heads from the cover of 1994’s ‘The Division Bell’, flower petal mirror balls from the accompanying tour, a handful of the many beds from the ‘A Momentary Lapse of Reason’ sleeve (a cover that the late Storm Thorgerson describes as “unbelievably expensive” in an accompanying video), the lightbulb suits depicted on 1988’s ‘Delicate Sound of Thunder’ live album, and a life-sized model of the British soldier from 1983’s ‘The Final Cut’.
Nearing its conclusion, the penultimate room reflects upon the late-great Richard Wright and ‘The Endless River’ before the umpteenth red telephone box signals the (almost) finale with the words ‘No Turning Back’.
Their Mortal Remains ends emphatically with the spine-tingling rendition of ‘Comfortably Numb’ at Pink Floyd’s final performance at Live 8 back in 2005. Projected onto four screens surrounding the Performance Zone room, the track was mixed using Sennheiser’s innovative AMBEO 3D audio technology and sounds incredible reverberating out of the voluminous speakers. A fitting end to a vital exhibition.
Their Mortal Remains opens at the Victoria and Albert Museum this Saturday (13th May) Tickets are on sale from Planet Rock Tickets now.