Their Mortal Remains is the title of the huge Pink Floyd exhibition at the V&A Museum in London, which we went to see last weekend.
I’d been excited about the trip for weeks, and it didn’t disappoint. It was huge, it was stuffed with material ranging from personal letters to the band’s own instruments to huge models of album covers and/or special effects. There were things to look at, things to read, and things to watch and listen to. Everyone was given an audio headset on the way in, which played a variety of Floyd’s music and/or interviews with the band, roadies, and various other connected folk, depending on where you were amongst the exhibits. And at the end, past a collection of vast replica inflatables from Animals and The Wall concerts (not least the floating pig!), there was a big interactive space where you were surrounded on all four sides by film footage and walls of sound, so that it felt as though you had prime seats at a Floyd concert.
There was also a wider interest in terms of the cover art, designed by the British company Hipgnosis, and critical acclaim for both the music and the lyrics of Floyd’s work. One expert said that in his opinion, Roger Waters should be ‘up there on the podium’ with Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, a sentiment I totally agree with.
I found the whole experience incredibly moving, and as well as the sheer scale it also provided smaller items of note, like a handwritten letter describing the band’s first ever tour bus (you enter the exhibition through a larger-than-life version of it), and an explanation of where some of the album names came from. Atom Heart Mother, for instance, was inspired by a newspaper headline about a woman who’d had a radioactive-powered pacemaker fitted, in the late 1960s.
A couple of small gripes – it was very hot, and very, very crowded. There’s not a lot the V&A can do about the latter because this is turning out to be their most popular exhibition ever, and the queues just keep on building up. However, the twisty layout did create a few bottlenecks and as some of the fans wanted to read Every. Last. Word. on every label on every item, progress was slow and I kept getting elbowed out. It was also pretty dark, which added to the overall atmosphere but made some of the exhibits and labelling hard to pick out.
However, this is an exhibition on the grand scale, entirely appropriate given some of Floyd’s own, dare I say, excessive set pieces. But in amongst the replica aircraft, animals, and giant puppets, there are also small, intimate reminders that this was, first and foremost, a group of friends who gathered together to make the sort of music they loved. And the interview about the inflatable pig breaking loose over London and getting into Heathrow airspace is just hysterical.
Their Mortal Remains was originally slated to end at the beginning of October, but it’s been so popular the V&A have extended it until the 15th. So if you’re a fan of Pink Floyd, prog rock or the history of music, do think about going along. It’s not cheap and it’s not a quiet ride, but it’s more than worth both the cost and the effort to see it.
(To give you some idea of scale, the model of the Division Bell cover at the top was over 20 feet tall; Battersea Power Station (below) probably larger still. But then Pink Floyd never did anything, well, small!)