One overcast autumn morning we packed the car and headed North, towards Ely, in search of the Division Bell. From our home in Suffolk it would take less than 90 minutes to reach the flat wide-open space of the Fens from which the majestic Ely Cathedral rises like a giant light ship, marooned after the retreating waters.
For Pink Floyd’s penultimate studio album, the legendary album designers Hipgnosis had decided that Ely Cathedral would be the cover focus. Two giant heads (or is it one?) were built and stood in a field, with Ely Cathedral between them.
And so we were in search of the album sleeve’s location, not the actual Division Bell that can be found in the Houses of Parliament, but the physical location of the heads that had been placed strategically in a field to ensure the Cathedral was in the mouth.
The overall theme for the album is about communication and as Nick Mason suggests, people making choices – the ‘yays or the nays.’ What choices these are is unclear although it wouldn’t take much speculation for it to be about the remaining band member’s fractured relationship with Roger Waters.
So there we were driving round the flat, featureless landscape of the fens trying to work out just where these heads had been. Despite much searching on Google maps, we were none the wiser as to the exact location, instead getting sidetracked by evocative landscape names like the Hundred Foot Drain.
But why were we driving around the fens? What is so special about this cover that it would require packing the whole family for a day trip to nowhere?
One part of the quest was my desire to be a musical tourist, to seek out the cover location. The iconic cover has been a firm favourite of mine since the album’s release in 1994, I had the Division Bell on CD, on Vinyl, on Postcards and since the Cambridge Wakes exhibition, album prints on my wall.
The second part was an attempt to find meaning or answers in my head for the personal challenges I faced. Like my trip to Solsbury Hill earlier that same year, could this trip help me come to terms with the choices I had made?
Coming Back to Life
In the end we didn’t find the correct field, or even get pictures of the Cathedral rising from the fens. I didn’t get resolution on my thoughts, but we got memories of time spent together, which will live forever.
Watch the video to see making of this iconic album cover.