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"Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains" (exhibition official catalogue) book review Print E-mail
Written by Marty Yawnick   
Friday, 04 August 2017
Pink Floyd Their Mortal Remains official exhibition catalogue

Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains
By Aubrey "Po" Powell, Mark Blake, Joe Boyd, Victoria Broackes, Anna Landreth Strong, Howard Goodall, Jon Savage, Rob Young
- Published May 13th 2017 as the English language edition, July 6th 2017 the German edition, and October 19th 2017 for the French edition

A big, beautiful well-illustrated book that leaves you wanting more...

I'm in Dallas with virtually no chance of seeing the exhibition “Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains” live in London before it closes this October. My hope was that Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains the book of the exhibition (V&A Publishing, 2017) would act as sort of a surrogate to help give me an idea, a sense of the history displayed in this outstanding and once-in-a-lifetime retrospective of the 50 years of Pink Floyd.

The book Their Mortal Remains is written and designed to be the official catalogue of the exhibit and less of a standalone history of Pink Floyd. A good exhibit catalogue should not only contain lots of photographs that act as a memento for the exhibit, it should also contain additional materials that help you explore the subject of the exhibit in greater depth. For the most part, this book does both well.

The book itself is big and gorgeous -- beautifully designed and printed. At just over 300 pages, most of them photographs, there's plenty here for all types of Pink Floyd fans to ogle over, especially for those unable to see the exhibition in person.

There are two editions. Both covers show the iconic refracting prism from Pink Floyd’s classic Dark Side of the Moon album cover. The hardcover edition also has a really spiffy lenticular cover where the prism shatters as you open the book. It’s a pretty cool effect and worth considering the upgrade from the soft-cover edition.

The book is organized into two sections and a coda. The first section contains six essays covering history of the band, excellent snapshots and recollections of the times surrounding the psychedelic era of which Pink Floyd was a huge influencer, as well as firsthand stories and insights of the three eras of the band – the Syd Barrett era, the Roger Waters era, and the David Gilmour era. These essays were written by friends of the band, critics, scholars, and curators of the V&A Museum.

Each essay focuses on a different facet of the band’s history, starting with their backgrounds and upbringings in Cambridge after the war. To me, they are reminiscent of Nick Mason’s and Gerald Scarfe's excellent first-person books.

Pink Floyd Their Mortal Remains official exhibition catalogue

Topics extensively cover the formation of the band and the underground scene that allowed it to find its sound in those early days, how and why the band’s music and sound evolved throughout the years, the evolution of their live shows and more. Combined, they provide an excellent overall picture of London's underground in the 1960s -- the unique time and scene of which Pink Floyd would become the torchbearer, as well as how Pink Floyd would mature and evolve to do what so few bands of the era were able to do – survive the 1960’s and go on to even greater heights.

The essays read like a college textbook. And each individual voice varies somewhat. They span the gamut of styles ranging from conversational and storytelling to digging into details and minutia of the construction of the music. Consequently, your enjoyment of each essay may depend on which facet of Pink Floyd history you personally find most interesting.

I found my favorite parts of the book to be the first few essays, especially those from Hipgnosis cofounder (and exhibit co-curator) Aubrey “Po” Powell and The UFO Club cofounder Joe Boyd -- both longtime friends of the band -- which open the section. Where my initial expectations were that the photography would be my favorite part of the book, I found myself enjoying these excellent firsthand recollections and insights a little more.

In typical Floyd fashion, Aubrey Powell opens and closes the book like the cycles of so many Pink Floyd albums. As part of the design team that created most of Pink Floyd iconic album artwork, his recollections are a treat to read and give us yet another inside behind the wall of what made Pink Floyd tick. His recollections of Storm Thorgerson, cofounder and partner at Hipgnosis, which close the book are funny, insightful, and touching. They help illustrate the ebb and flow of some of the relationships that intertwined with the band over the years.

Joe Boyd was there at the beginning of both the London underground scene of the 1960’s and Pink Floyd; his essay and its photographs really bring to life all the parts that had to come together for there to even be a Pink Floyd. Here he goes into much greater depth than he was able to in his limited screen time in Behind the Wall, the excellent 2011 documentary about Pink Floyd.

Pink Floyd Their Mortal Remains official exhibition catalogue

These essays provide excellent personal and historical insights into the history of Pink Floyd and contain a lot to interest even the most hard-core Floydian.

Their Mortal Remains’ second section is an album-by-album discography of Pink Floyd's 15 studio albums and was written by noted historian Mark Blake, author of his own excellent book Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd. Blake's work is always engaging and excellent. Here, his text about each album is relatively brief with only a couple of pages dedicated to each album. It feels like it's included only to give context to each chapter’s accompanying photos from the exhibition.

In addition to Blake’s recaps of the discography, there are also plenty of photographic outtakes, contact sheets, sketches of artwork and stage productions which Floyd fans will find fascinating.

In fact, the biggest highlights of Their Mortal Remains are the pictures throughout. Many of these photographs, notes, memorabilia and illustrations come from the personal collections of people closely associated with the band over the years. Many have rarely if ever been publicly displayed before. Many of the photographs and memorabilia also come from the extensive collections of Vernon Fitch and The Pink Floyd Archive. I've never seen those photographs look sharper or better than they do in this book. To say this book is lavishly illustrated would be an understatement.

The book is filled with band promo shots which you may have seen before but probably not reproduced as well as they are here. Artwork is sharp, vibrant, and crisp. I would be surprised if most of the photos were reproduced from the original prints (or at least very early generation prints from the photographers themselves). These 40 and 50-year-old photographs that have been copied ad infinitum across the internet look spectacular here. The quality of the reproductions enhances the reading experience and helps to provide more clarity to the historical narratives.

There are plenty of candid and backstage photographs from all eras of the band. Considering how much weight is given to Syd Barrett’s contributions at the beginning of the book, there are surprisingly few candid photographs of him included.

The book contains photos of live shows spanning the band’s entire career and includes several from their earliest UFO club and early festival appearances. When we think of Pink Floyd performances today, usually we think of the huge, spectacular shows of The Division Bell tour, the theatre of the limited The Wall Live shows, possibly even the stadium tours of 1977’s In The Flesh stadium tour. Especially towards the front, the book is filled with old posters, handbills and artwork promoting the band’s live shows as well as photos, and notes from the band and crew. This helps to trace the evolution of Pink Floyd's live performances from the old underground raves to the huge over-the-top spectacles they would become. For those who remember the 1960s and 70s, this is a nice trip down memory lane to see such good quality reproductions of the artwork. For those who discovered Pink Floyd in later years, these promo pieces help give perspective to the historical times in which the band formed and evolved.

And the gear! There are plenty of photographs of the band’s gear throughout the years. There are plenty of excellent pictures and stories of David Gilmour's guitars, pedals, and amps. Photos of Richard Wright’s keyboards are accompanied with short anecdotes about each instrument. Ever wonder about the Azimuth Coordinator -- the custom-built controller used for surround sound in the band’s early live shows? It's in the exhibition and the book has a picture and a little bit about the device!

Don't overlook the photo captions. Many of them contain great bits of information and are as informative as the text of the book. I suspect that most of them are the text of the information cards on the displays at the exhibition.

It's not a perfect book. And by no means is it a comprehensive book. Several other books available present a far more thorough and less fragmented timeline of the history of the band (including Blake’s). For an overall history of the band and the recordings, there are plenty of better resources available.

Pink Floyd Their Mortal Remains official exhibition catalogue

As a catalog of the exhibit, the book is incomplete. Although I'm not able to attend the exhibition in person, I have enviously poured over hundreds of photographs visitors have taken throughout the exhibition. It turns out that many items on display in the exhibition are missing from the book. This includes plenty of items from the band’s and other personal collections where copyright issues would not be a problem. For example, many of the handwritten notes and lyrics on display throughout the exhibition are missing from the book. Many of the items from The Wall gallery are not included here such as the masks of the surrogate band, most of Roger’s handwritten notes and drawings for the work, the life-size Pink figure, and the re-creation of the “Nobody Home” stage from The Wall Live shows. Very few of Hipgnosis' A Momentary Lapse of Reason’s exhibits are displayed such as the bed or the suit of lights from A Delicate Sound of Thunder – both of which are prominently on display in the exhibition. What about the huge Division Bell heads? Both sets are on display and there is almost nothing in this book about their very interesting story. Syd Barrett’s bike? Not here. To some of us, these are important Pink Floyd artifacts worth experiencing even if through a book.

Like the band’s Immersion box sets, Their Mortal Remains the book contains a lot of cool stuff and juicy tidbits -- mainly new-to-us photographs and memorabilia -- for the Floyd obsessed. However like the box sets, the book leaves one scratching their head as to why certain items were excluded when they were displayed in the exhibition and clearly relevant to the story.

Similar to how I felt with the Immersion sets, overall I'm happy with the new materials and information we get in this book. Anything is better than nothing. And despite my whinging, there's really quite a bit here to keep you exploring this book for weeks.

Their Mortal Remains is an excellent addition to a Pink Floyd library for what it contains -- excellent and unique photography and memorabilia as well as first-hand recollections and histories from people who were there. It's not a complete exhibition experience. It's not a detailed comprehensive history of the band. Despite its omissions, it's still a large part of an essential record of this important, once-in-a-lifetime exhibition (important for music geeks anyway…) as well as the documented story of the band.

Their Mortal Remains is a broad, often insightful, visual record of the 50 years of Pink Floyd. Because of its access to materials from those in the band’s inner circle as well as the band itself, it's a unique, accurate and welcome book that is an important contribution to the written history of Pink Floyd.

Marty Yawnick is a graphic designer, writer, and recovering DJ who is also a lifelong Pink Floyd fan and remembers the album release of Dark Side of the Moon. He hails from Dallas, Texas. He currently writes and publishes TheWallComplete.com, the story of all the bits that were cut from The Wall album before its release. Follow him on Twitter @TheWallComplete. Our thanks to Marty for the review!

ORDERING INFORMATION
Orders placed through our Amazon links really help with the ongoing running costs of the site, and are really appreciated!

You can order the English language edition of Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains book through the following links: Amazon UK, Amazon.com, Amazon Canada, Amazon France, Amazon Germany, Amazon Spain and Amazon Italy.

For the German language edition of the book, order directly from Amazon Germany.

Finally, the French language edition of the book can be ordered directly from Amazon France for despatch on publication later this year. For this edition, you'll be covered by Amazon's pre-order price guarantee, ensuring they charge you the lowest price it has been offered for, between the date you order, and the date it comes out.

 
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