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45 Years Ago: Pink Floyd Stage Legendary Performance at Pompeii

As far as exotic or unusual venues go, the ancient Roman amphitheater in Pompeii ranks right up there. Destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., the once-active city near Naples, Italy was laid to waste. In 1971, Pink Floyd decided to film a special performance in the still-standing amphitheater there, with no audience in attendance.

“It’s a fantastic building,” Floyd guitarist David Gilmour told Rolling Stone in 2016 as he was gearing up for a return visit to give a concert of his own. “It’s an extraordinary place to be because it was preserved exactly as it was. There are many other sites. If you visit any other antiquity-type sites throughout the world, they’re very damaged with what’s gone on over the centuries since they were abandoned. But this one was just, like, sealed, so you’re looking at rock surfaces and the carving of letters and names in the stones looks like it was done yesterday.”

The original idea for a Pink Floyd film, however, was quite different according to director Adrian Maben. “The original idea was to make a film using modern paintings by de Chirico, Delvaux, Magritte or Christo as some kind of surrealistic décor,” Maben told the Pink Floyd fan website Brain Damage. “I naively thought it would be possible to combine good art with Pink Floyd music. I had a meeting with [Floyd’s] manager Steve O’Rourke and David Gilmour where I cautiously produced a few books and some photos of paintings. They were very polite and totally unconvinced.”

The performances were filmed between Oct. 4 and 7, 1971. The band performed six songs in front of an audience that consisted of film crew, road crew and some children from the area. “Echoes,” “Mademoiselle Nobs,” and “One of These Days,” all from the soon-to-be-released Meddle were aired along with “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and “A Saucerful of Secrets” from the album of the same name. Rounding out the short set was “Careful With That Axe, Eugene.”

The final version of the film would mix in footage of the band in the studio and elsewhere, with the focal point remaining the setting of the ancient amphitheater. The unusual choice of venue added to the band’s mystery and history and was ultimately seen as a smart choice by the band.

“It turned out to be a surprisingly good attempt to film our live set,” drummer Nick Mason told Prog in 2016. “We had been approached by the director Adrian Maben, whose idea was to shoot us playing in the empty amphitheater beneath Vesuvius,” he recalls. “At a time when other rock films were either straight concert footage or attempts to copy [the Beatles’] A Hard Day’s Night, the idea was appealing.”

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