Love them or loath them, Pink Floyd are a cornerstone of the 1960s zeitgeist and yet in the secular onrush of the era, they weirdly found themselves entwined with the church quite often. That being said, they were audiophiles by nature and many churches were designed with acoustics specifically in mind so perhaps they provide a befitting place for The Floyd to play after all.
In a few short years, the whitewash of pop culture became flushed with a tie-dye swirl of colour. On October 14th, 1966, Pink Floyd earmarked themselves as figurative red socks with an underground show that boldly led the way towards the rabbit hole. A run of shows held in the belly of All Saints Church Hall opened up a new bohemian window for the young rock fans in attendance, and the rest, as they say, is ancient history.
They had previously played the venue in September at a School Fare, but it was the christening show in the basement that marked the start of their residency that truly proved the moment that Floyd found a home. From their they blossomed into the band they were destined to become. With a space in which to experiment night after night and a grapevine gathering fanbase, they quickly trailblazed a new organic craze from the heart of Notting Hill.
One of the attendees at the first show was Peter Mercier. He was a photographic student at the Ealing School of Photography in 1966. “We were having a lecture about fashion photography,” he recalls. “We were being assisted in this exercise by a young model who at the end of the afternoon invited me along ‘to a gig in a church hall where one of the new psychedelic bands will be playing’.”
“Believe me it was another time and another place, for it turned out to be a very early Pink Floyd gig, featuring Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright,” he adds. Beyond the music, the alternate time and place that the band created was a photographer’s dream.
During their ensuing residency in the church hall, the band took to mixing coloured oils on a projector slide above a light which heated the whole thing to create fluid movement. As Nick Mason explains in his book, this practice was highly dangerous, but the kaleidoscopic explosion it created on stage proved to be a mesmeric accompaniment to their ground-breaking music. But pushing the boundaries proved dangerous in another sense and soon Syd Barrett couldn’t go on as their frontman.
Thus, by the time that they were next in a church in 1971 they were performing with a shuffled pack but no less vigour. The Abbaye de Royaumont is a former Cistercian Abbey located 30km north of Paris and built between 1228 and 1235 and it compliments Gilmour’s chanted vocals as well as the call of any old monk.
The song ‘Cymbaline’ likewise feels right at home in the awe-inspiring venue. The song from the album Soundtrack from the Film More soars right to the rafters just as Louis IX had intended when he set about getting the abbey erected centuries ago.