Wish You Were Here: Fun Facts About Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd do not know what people mean by psychedelic pop and are not trying to cause hallucinatory effects on their audience,’ announced their record company in 1967 as London’s radio stations raced to ban their debut single. In fact, it was just the kind of publicity that most bands of the Sixties could only dream of and, within a year, the little-known English rock group were on course to becoming one of the greatest bands of all time. Fifty years and more than 250 million record sales later they’re back in the headlines, this time for their first major retrospective, The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains at the V&A (from 13 May). And just like their legendary live shows, it’s a multi-sensory spectacle that is sure to blow your mind.
Devised in collaboration with the remaining members of the band, and featuring more than 350 objects and artefacts, including instruments, handwritten lyrics, posters, a laser light show and unseen concert footage, this immersive and theatrical exhibition celebrates all that made Pink Floyd unique.
Not yet a fan? Take a trip to The Dark Side of the Moon – their extraordinary 1973 album exploring the human condition. As one of the best-selling records of all time, it’s thought that one in 12 people owns a copy. Not bad for a group of boys from Cambridge, whose sound was originally dismissed by some critics as ‘not even music’.
Here are four things you should know about Pink Floyd
The band members all 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, 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, Richard Wright and Nick Mason – 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 near Highgate. ‘[The flat] made a real difference to our musical activities,’ wrote Mason 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 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.
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. Ezrin, convinced of the song’s potential, went behind Waters’ back, adding a disco beat, doubling the instrumentals and recruiting a 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 school children took to chanting ‘we don’t need no education’ 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 first blazed their way into popular culture, but they continue to shine on, like the crazy diamonds that they are.
Their concerts are 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 Pink Floyd pioneered the use of visuals in live shows. As early as 1966, they projected psychedelic lights on to a backdrop while they played, and even appeared on British TV to show off their light 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 in the V&A.‘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 shows to their consistently iconic album covers.’
They preferred beer to LSD
Given the psychedelic lights, lengthy instrumentals and philosophical lyrics, many people assumed Pink Floyd were all heavy acid users. 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 nervous breakdown and forced to leave the band. ‘He was our friend, but most of the time we wanted to strangle him,’ said Waters years later.
With Barrett out by 1968, and David Gilmour in, Pink Floyd began their world domination – but the capital remained a home and muse to the group. Relive some of their iconic moments 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); and Islington Green (where a group of local school children sang on Another Brick in the Wall).
The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains. From 13 May. Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Rd, SW7 2RL. T: 020-7942 2000. www.vam.ac.uk