Pink Floyd exhibition at the V&A review ***

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Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains

V and A, 4th August 2017

Now I have always been slightly suspicious of Pink Floyd. I was only a nipper for the first few “psychedelic” albums pre and post Sid and whilst the classic trio of Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and Animals, could and should have featured in the musical palette of me and my friends in the mid to late 1970’s, they just didn’t really. That is not to say we didn’t have diverse musical tastes with, I seem to remember, champions of Genesis, Yes, Hawkwind, Kiss, ELP, Rory Gallagher, Todd Rundgren, and even, through my mate Sparky who always exhibited the most developed musical taste, Krautrock. but the thing that held us together was heavy rock, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple (and the various offshoots) and, best of all, Led Zeppelin. No namby pamby pop or disco for us, or any of that suspicious androgynous stuff like Bowie, and certainly nothing bang-on cool like the Velvets.

As for me, well I was even more devoid of taste. Lank, long greasy hair, velvet loons, cheesecloth shirts and a penchant for the likes of Rush, the Eagles, Barclay James Harvest and Wishbone Ash, with the only saving grace a bit of reggae and soul. Now, of course, in the late 1970’s our salvation came along in the form of Punk and Peel and I was able to selectively erase this woeful past and successfully complete a course of cultural re-education. So, whilst I can’t pretend that some of the 1970s excesses haven’t found their way back into the CD collection, (yes kids, I know, CDs – what are you thinking granddad), I have also filled all the canonic gaps from first time around. Which includes those three classic Floyd albums.

Yet I still don’t really listen to them, nor do I particularly like them. Which is strange as I have a moderate passion for the likes of Porcupine Tree whose architect Steven Wilson has drawn on Floyd in the past, a developing interest in psychedelia from the late 60s and I get fairly excited when I play Genesis (obviously avec Gabriel not the novelty outfit they became after he left) who I couldn’t bear first time around. But Floyd, no, not really.

One more anecdote before some comments on this exhibition. It is August 1980. I seem to remember it was pretty warm. Me and some of the aforementioned mates have come up to London from our lairs in Yokeland. I think by now I am sporting a passable haircut and have ditched the flares but I might still be guilty of re-writing history to hide my shame. Anyway, we have been to a giant record shop (only vinyl kids though obviously you know all about that now). I have purchased two albums, Joy Division’s Closer and Echo and the Bunnymen’s Crocodiles. These will literally change my life. I cling to the bag all through the afternoon and into the evening. As we go to ….. would you believe it, Earl’s Court to see Pink Floyd as part of the Wall Tour. I probably enjoyed it, though the footage from this very exhibition of the start of these very gigs suggest it was all a bit daft what with the inflatables and the like. But I know that the future is in the carrier bag and not the old hippies droning on on the stage.

Please Tourist, enough of the cut price Salinger and tell us about the exhibition. Well it follows the well-tested V&A formula used in the marvellous David Bowie Is from 2013 and the You Say You Want A Revolution which ended earlier this year. Slip on the headphones, hear the music, listen to the interviews and then soak up a wealth of material, posters, album covers, artworks and the like. And in this case an awful lot of instruments and technology and, as the pomposity ramped up, a lot of stuff explaining how the certifiably over the top live performances were created.

Things are, unsurprisingly arranged in rigid chronology and tied to the official albums, studio and live. Now I have to say the first seven albums, the poppy, psychedelic stuff, was of most interest, firstly because I don’t really know it, and secondly because the mythology of Syd Barrett is just so powerful. The period of the three classic albums along with The Wall is given all due ceremony though it does all feel a bit grandiose. The last few albums are as dire as I thought they were so I upped the pace here. It is a mystery to me why progressive rock groups, who were at the forefront of electronic music technology in the 1970s, with Pink Floyd right in the vanguard, then went on to balls it up in so spectacular a fashion when this very technology became more mainstream in the 1980s. Think Genesis, Yes, even Rush as well as Floyd. Especially surprising in their case as, unlike many of their peers, they disdained shifting units (though they certainly possessed that knack. TDSOTM still sells several thousand copies a week even now).

Now to be fair my chum TMBOAD who came with me put in a lot more effort, as is his wont given his intellectual curiosity, but he formed broadly the same opinion with the first part holding his attention more than the rest. There is no doubt that this exhibition gives a comprehensive view of what, when and how PF produced their music though there is a little less insight into the why. And they do come across as anally retentive and sententious as received wisdom demands. If there is one thing I love about all these ancient old bands, it is their ability to hold a grudge. It’s just work lads. You will fall out. Lighten up eh.

Right I can see that sarcasm has got the better of me. Despite my snarkiness there is no doubt you should get along to this if you have any interest in the band or indeed the history of popular music. There is much excellent material to digest and the curation is off the scale superb. It is bloody crowded though, as the other similar exhibitions have been, which can be frustrating. We tried the early evening Friday slot but that didn’t seem to help. I personally think the aforementioned Bowie exhibition (GRHS) was better because he was a way more interesting bloke, as too was the Say You Want A Revolution just because they was way more social and political context to chew than here. Music and performance alone, which is what was being documented here, can only go so far in terms of enlightenment.

One day I am sure the V&A will get round to something major on Punk and its descendants (I don’t think this has happened yet). Then I suspect I really will wet myself with excitement. I note there were a couple of twats jigging around to the music here and generally getting in the way. It would get a bit tasty if we had some “silent disco” pogoists at any future punk retrospective !!

My Top 10 progressive rock albums

Just for a bit of fun and in the spirit of the exhibition I thought I would list my favourites from the genre. Not sure there is anything here (with one exception) that should surprise. This is ranked but only one entry per band/artist. See what you think. If anything.

1. Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

There was a time when when I wouldn’t have been caught dead saying this, but it turns out that Genesis are my favourite progressive rock band. Well at least the Genesis that genuinely were a prog band. Which means Messrs Gabriel and Hackett still alongside Collins, Banks and Rutherford. And The Lamb is Gabriel at his bonkers best with its “conceptual” story of Raul in NYC, plainly made up as Gabriel went along. No matter. Everything about this is terrific, with some tight arrangements, banging tunes, and the minimum of meandering, the classic tic of prog rockers everyone.

2. Rush – A Farewell to Kings

I was terribly keen on Rush when I was a nipper. No one else I knew was. Never fashionable but never properly unfashionable, and one of those outfits labelled “the world’s biggest cult band” of which there are now thousands. They have matured into grand old rockers and ambassadors for Canada and I own, but don’t really care for, quite a lot of the 1980s and 1990s stuff when the synths got too involved. For me though the quartet of 2112, A Farewell To Kings, Hemispheres and Permanent Waves, represent the sine qua non of the boy’s oeuvre with Farewell the best. Obviously Geddy Lee’s squeaky voice takes a bit of getting used to and Neil Peart’s lyrics are very, very dodgy, (all those Ayn Rand references), but his drumming and Alex Lifeson’s guitar playing are about as good as it gets. I know all this muso stuff about just how technically proficient they are is another prog rock tic but it still amazes me just how much sound three badly dressed, dodgy haircutted Canadians can rustle up.

3. Supertramp – Crime of the Century

It would seem I am determined to embarrass myself further for Supertramp, like Rush, were a big favourite before Punk came along and set me on the path to righteousness. It took many years before I allowed them back into my ears and heart but I am glad I did for, at their best, when Rick Davies and Rodger Hodgson weren’t at each others throats (another prog rock tic – the personality clash – true of other pop/rock genres but prog turns it up to 11), they were wonderful. Probably not definitively prog. In fact dangerously close to pop. No matter, just great songs. Once again the mid/late 1970s quartet of this album, Crisis What Crisis, Even in the Quietest Moments, and, just about, Breakfast in America, mark the high point. After that they really did balls it up.

4. Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet

Most middle aged blokes with poor dress sense and questionable grooming habits will be all over Porcupine Tree and the brains behind it all, Steven Wilson. Self taught, genius, carrying the British flag for prog for more than three decades with PT and other projects and now his solo work, he is hugely important but largely unknown outside his field. And all kicked off by his listening to Dark Side of the Moon in his bedroom. If you happen to read this because you went to the Floyd exhibition, and are not up to speed on PT, please seek out Fear of a Blank Planet. I guarantee you will love it.

5. Soft Machine – Third

Now I don’t really know what all those bearded, Shoreditch hipster types listen to. But if they really want to impress their mates they should learn to fall in love with Soft Machine. At first all the alarming shifts in texture and doodling around, with the permanent threat or actuality of some jazz jamming, takes a bit of getting used to. You might even be tempted to laugh. It is well hippy. But it will get under your skin and I warn you that repeated listening will eventually lead to a permanent love-in. And it will make you feel so cool. Third is normally taken to be the best of the bunch but there is something in most everything they recorded. Now there have been multiple line-up changes and the latest line is soldiering on but the reality is that Soft Machine proper needs the mighty Robert Wyatt in the band to be the real deal.

6. Robert Wyatt – Rock Bottom

Robert Wyatt is just about the only rock/pop performer I will see live these days. Most music is just too loud so its classical for me now all the way. I don’t believe in God but Robert Wyatt is the closest thing to what I imagine people who do believe think God is. He lies right at the beating heart of prog. Though frankly his music is entirely his own. Just try it. It may take a few listens but once you get it you will never look back.

7. King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King

The granddaddys of prog. No list would be complete without this. Still going, still experimenting. Robert Fripp is probably the cleverest man in the history of popular music since the 1950s.

8. Can – Future Days

I saw this in a list of progressive rock best of albums. Obviously it isn’t prog. But I am taking some dodgy punter’s opinion on the web as qualification, so here it is. Without Can and Kraftwerk most modern popular music would be even worse than it is. Simples.

9. Pink Floyd – Dark Side of the Moon

See above. I am still not entirely persuaded but it would be extremely churlish not to include this. And generally I am not churlish. Rude, misanthropic, curmudgeonly, opinionated, yes. But churlish, no.

10. Yes – Close to the Edge

So the final piece of the jigsaw. Once again this appears more because of Yes’s reputation than any real passion on my part. Don’t get me wrong, there are passages of Yes that are wonderful (from the first few albums up to Relayer – after that you take your chances), but equally there is some grim stuff with all those overworked time signature changes. Still it would be churlish once again not to see them on this list and this is my fave of their albums.

 

 

 

My top 10 greatest ever albums

Right. My cursory examination of the world wide web suggests that there are probably more top 10 album lists than there are certain kinds of sub-atomic particles. It seems that any bloke of a certain age, with too much time and access to Amazon and/or I Tunes, will have attempted to impose/show off his taste in music. and it’s obviously always 10 until he gets greedy, with 25 seemingly the next most popular integer.

Still undeterred by the utter pointlessness of the exercise, and keen to really show off my taste and knowledge, I am determined to add to the digital trash-heap.

Now regular readers will be aware that I am a) getting on a bit and b) fancy myself as a bit cultured. This will therefore colour what follows and the keen-eyed will notice there is a quite constrained chronology in my choices. This is because, in my view, the music that stays with you is the music that hits you in your most formative years when you have most time and when your are most selfish which surely is late teens/early adulthood.

Now I am talking about proper pop/rock/indie music not the chart shite that is an unfortunate by/waste product which has been there since the 1950s. I am also, in this blog, focussed solely on my pop/rock/indie identity. The classical side of my nature has been there from a fairly early age but has expanded apace in recent years. I am now pretty clear on the boundaries here and therefore continue to go deeper not broader into the classical world. And the only live music I listen to is classical. There are very infrequent gigs but it is all a bit loud for me now I fear.

Anyway back to today’s sermon. So the period of deepest engagement for me coincided with the rise of post-punk which happily for me produced most of the greatest pop/rock/indie music ever made and the best bands, a few of which soldier on to this day. I am not accepting any argument here – it is a simple fact. When it comes to musical taste I simply will not permit any collapse into some sort of hopeless, wishy-washy relativism. From this starting point I will no doubt bore you in future with stuff prior to these fertile period (it is called the 1960s and 1970s kids). But, having set my entrenched boundaries, it does mean that from the late 1980s through to the last few years I don’t really know what I am talking about, and have wandered around aimlessly trying to find exciting new stuff. And to be fair there have been some successes. Still I am grateful for any tips.

Right I have rambled on enough ahead of something no-one will ever read anyway. So with thanks to John Peel, the NME in its heyday and assorted independent record labels, here goes.

1. Echo and the Bunnymen – Heaven Up Here – 1981

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So Echo and the Bunnymen are the greatest ever band. Period. There are other contenders; Joy Division but there just isn’t enough material to draw on, the Fall, obviously, but there might just be too much (and it is impossible to draw out one album for this list), Wire, but maybe a bit too clever by half, the Wedding Present, but even I accept if you’ve heard one of theirs you’ve heard them all. and other contenders from other periods which will be revealed in time. But the reality is the Bunnies were, and remain, my first love, and the first 4 albums, Crocodiles, Porcupine, Ocean Rain and this, their masterpiece, are just what I know best.

I will keep buying anything the Bunnies create as there are still nuggets to be found and I will still try to see them on very rare occasions where I can tolerate the noise. But I know they will never again create the uplifting maelstrom of the heyday as Les’s loopy basslines and Pete’s (RIP) magnificently creative drumming propped up Will’s shards of guitar genius and Mac’s preposterous but utterly convincing lyrics (last night he played in a local theatre in Henley on Thames – mind-boggling).

It is therefore fortunate that I can listen to this – not every day but nary a week passes without a happy reminder. Thanks lads.

2. Joy Division – Closer – 1980

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So, if the Bunnies are ultimately a swaggering, anthemic post-punk rock band (Mac has observed that if they hadn’t been so lazy they could have beaten U2 to the prize), then Joy Division are the mournful antithesis. The father of innumerable progeny this really is music for late teenage boys to listen to in the bedroom whilst wallowing in a sea of self-pity.

The thing is though that this album goes far beyond that into some really dark places. This largely reflects Ian Curtis’s lyrics (I won’t bang on about this standing as the ultimate self epitaph – it’s nonsense) but also Martin Hamnett’s extraordinary production. The fact is that I don’t think any of the contributors to this album had any idea what they had created. No surprise really that when Curtis exited stage left the rest of the band sought sanctuary in dance rhythms.

Anyway I assume any self respecting fan of popular music of the last half-century or so owns this even if they may not always be in the mood required to listen to it. If not get on with it.

3. Kate Bush – Hounds of Love – 1985

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Right I know she is a genius. You know she is a genius. And this is still as amazing as it was on the day of release. There is not a musical idea, phrase, a note, a word, a sound that isn’t perfect. I get that Katie elsewhere very occasionally lets the side down with a misplaced idea but not here. This is Art.

“I’d make a deal with God”. Indeed. That can be the only explanation. Except there is no God. But you know what I mean.

I was too ill to stay for all of Before the Dawn so missed the Ninth Wave and A Sky of Honey. No matter. Six songs. It was enough to last a lifetime. What a sentimental old duffer I’ve become.

4. Gang of Four – Entertainment! – 1979

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The discerning reader of this blog might have guessed this was coming. Funky, arty, post-punk replete with Marxist analysis. It’s like a focus group was tasked with delivering up the perfect soundtrack for the late teens Tourist. So tap the feet, engage the brain and turn it up nice and loud.

“He fills his head with culture …..”

5. Neil Young – Harvest – 1972

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Evidence that I am not completely tied to the music of my youth.

Now most of the individual creative giants of popular music (Bowie D, Morrison V, Bush K, Mayfield C, Franklin A, Prince TAFKA, Marley B, Harvey PJ, Wyatt R) have let themselves down on occasion, none so persistently or so wilfully as the irascible Mr Young. Yet on those albums where it all came together no-one gets closer to the emotional heart of the matter.

I get why you kids today might regard this as an embarrassment. Then again you listen to Ed Sheeran. No more witnesses your honour, I rest my case.

6. Human League – Dare – 1981

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I am so glad the synthesiser has made a comeback. It has restored my faith in contemporary pop music. But none will ever come close to the pristine perfection on offer here. I daresay there will never be an 80s party without Don’t You Want Me Baby on the playlist but for once familiarity breeds joy not contempt.

Normally when a band sells out (mind you I was happy with the prior incarnation of the Human League) it spells disaster; in this case Phil Oakley’s lust for lucre was the impetus for this classic.

These are the things that dreams are made of.

7. Dexys Midnight Runners – Searching for the Young Soul Rebels – 1980

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OK so there are times when Kevin Rowland gives the impression of being one Scotch egg short of the full hamper but his musical vision, at least what there is of it, is inspired. The first three Dexys albums represent the apogee of Celtic Soul which, on and off and in a different way, has proved fertile territory for another musical genius in Van Morrison.

There are those who believe Dexys were/are a novelty outfit. They are idiots and can be safely ignored. Please own and cherish this.

8. Talking Heads – Fear of Music – 1979

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Back to 1979 and perhaps the finest example of the period when punk/new wave met the funk of the 1970s against the backdrop of the New York art scene and with lyrics of real intelligence. Fortunately there are bands today experimenting with rhythmic structure but TH remain the masters to my ears.

“This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around … ” though it sometimes sounds like it.

9. Wire – 154 – 1979

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You would think I would tire of this art punk thing. You’d be wrong. Most of my favourite bands are still making new music but Wire are probably the most vital. It is clear to me that my musical brain thrives on repetition. Wire understand this.

So stop reading about them being name-checked as a “seminal influence” on all sorts of white boys who have picked up guitars and go and actually  listen. In this case Granddad knows best.

10. Young Marble Giants – Colossal Youth – 1980

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There isn’t much of this. Alison Statton’s ethereal voice over the bass and clipped guitar of the Moxham brothers and a bit of drum machine and occasional electronic organ chords. It couldn’t be simpler. But it will get to you. I promise.

This is all they ever did. It’s all they ever needed to do.

11. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II – 1969

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Hold up Tourist. You said Top 10.

Well I did but guess what. I’ve turned it up to 11. And what better what to do that than Zeppelin. Obviously the greatest heavy rock band of all time. And this for me was their finest hour.

Anyway if you are a serious student of popular music you already know this.

Knebworth 1979. Still one of my greatest memories.