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Fables of the reconstruction

Outside, an audience _in extremis_. Inside, strange things are happening. David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright relive the creative ferment of the 12 Floyd studio albums.

 

 The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn

     Along with Sgt Papper, the Floyd's debut album was Britain's enduring contribution to the Summer Of Love. In early 1967, Pink Floyd went into EMI's Abbey Road studios with a stack of whimsical tunes about gnomes, scarecrows and bikes, psychedelic ditties that bore only a passing resemblance to the protracted spacey jams they were then famous for. Norman Smith, who had engineered for The Beatles, was the producer.

    NM (Nick Mason): We were given Norman Smith by EMI, no arguments. So, Joe Boyd, our original producer, got written out of the thing. Norman was more interested in making us sound like a classical rock band. It was a bit like the George Martin thing, a useful influence to have. However, I think Joe would have given Syd his head, let him run in a freer way. We spent three months recording it, which was quite a long time in those days. Bands used to have to finish albums in a week, with session players brought in to play the difficult bits. However, because The Beatles were taking their time recording Sgt Pepper in the studio next door, EMI thought this was the way people now made records. We were taken in to meet them once, while they were recording Lovely Rita. It was a bit like meeting the Royal family.

    PJ (former manager Peter Jenner): Norman was being the perfect A&R man. He realised Syd could write great pop songs. If we'd put out what we were playing live, it wouldn't have sold fuck at all. The one song here that was like the live shows was Interstellar Overdrive. They played it twice, one version recorded straight on top of the other. They double tracked the whole track. Why? Well it sounds pretty fucking weird doesn't it? That big sound and all those hammering drums.

 

A Saucerful Of Secrets

 

    Pink Floyd Mark 1 was already on the skids by early 1968 when work began on their second album. During the course of the recording, Syd Barrett was eased aside in favour of the new boy, Dave Gilmour. Incorrectly sensing the end, managers Peter Jenner and Andrew King jumped ship.

    PJ: It was really stressful waiting for Syd to come up with the songs for the second album. Everybody was looking at him, and he couldn't do it. Jugband Blues is a really sad song, the portrait of a nervous breakdown. The last Floyd song Syd wrote, Vegetable Man, was done for those sessions, though it never came out. He wrote it round at my house; it's just a description of what he's wearing. It's very disturbing. Roger took it off the album because it was too dark, and it is. It's like psychological flashing.

    RW (Rick Wright): I did the title track and I remember Norman saying, You just can't do this, it's too long. You have to write three-minute songs. We were pretty cocky by now and told him, If you don't wanna produce it, just go away. A good attitude I think. The same reason why we'd never play See Emily Play in concert.

    DG (David Gilmour): I remember Nick and Roger drawing out A Saucerful Of Secrets as an architectural diagram, in dynamic forms rather than in any sort of musical form, with peaks and troughs. That's what is was about. It wasn't music for beauty's sake, or for emotion's sake. It never had a story line. Though for years afterwards we used to get letters from people saying what they thought it meant. Scripts for movies sometimes, too.

 

Ummagumma

 

     A 1969 double album of transitional character, Ummagumma was half live recordings, half individual solo pieces. The Hypgnosis-designed cover was more striking than much of the music, which mainly noodles inconsequentially along, coming to life only on the spooky, lights-out classic Careful With That Axe, Eugene, the first of many Floyd tracks about insanity.

    NM (Nick Mason): This was absolutely not a band album. The live stuff sounds incredibly antiquated now, although the fact of Pink Floyd playing at Mothers in Birmingham was considered a bit of an event at the time. We were looking for new ways of constructing an album, although I think what this demonstrates is that our sum is always better than the parts. EMI was very hidebound in those days. It was still run by guys in white coats. I was prevented from editing my own tapes by a studio manager who told me I wasn't a union member.

    DG: I'd never written anything before. I just went into the studio and started waffling about, tacking bits and pieces together. I rang up Roger at one point to ask him to write me some lyrics. He just said, No.

    

     Atom Heart Mother

 

    Up to their ears in avant-garde experimental ideas, the Floyd teamed up with the electronic composer Ron Geesin to create the 23-minute title piece which fills all of Side 1. The album's title was randomly taken from a newspaper headline. By now the group were producing themselves.

    NM: It's an averagely recorded album but a very interesting idea, working with Ron Geesin, an orchestra and the Roger Aldiss choir. Roger and I were quite friendly with Ron. I think I met him through Robert Wyatt. The thing that Ron taught us most about was recording techniques, and tricks done on the cheap. We learned how to get round the men-in-white-coats and do things at home, like editing. Ron taught us how to use two tape recorders to create an endless build up of echo. It was all very relevant to things we did later. Now I listen to it with acute embarrassment because the backing track was put down by Roger and me, beginning to end, in one pass. Consequently the tempo goes up and down. It was a 20-minute piece and we just staggered through it.

     On the other side, Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast was another great idea -- gas fires popping, kettles boiling, that didn't really work on record but was great fun live. I've never heard Roger lay claim to it, which makes me think it must have been a group idea.

    DG: At the time we felt Atom Heart Mother, like Ummagumma, was step towards something or other. Now I think they were both just a blundering about in the dark. Meddle

    This was the album which streamlined and established the hallmark of the Floyd's mature style: a dense and colourful weave of actuality sounds (notably the football chant on Fearless) original electronic textures, and more conventional rock instrumentation. It was recorded at Abbey Road and at Air London in 1971.

    DG: We did loads of bits of demos which we then pieced together, and for the first time, it worked. This album was a clear forerunner for Dark Side Of The Moon, the point when we first got our focus.

    NM: We spent a long time starting the record. We'd worked through the Sounds Of Household Objects project, which we never finished. The idea was always to create a continuous piece of music that went through various moods and this was the album that established that. Rick was the guy who got it off the ground with that one note at the beginning.

    RW: I was playing around on the piano in the studio but it was actually Roger who said, Would it be possible to put that note through a microphone and then through the Leslie? That's what started it. That's how all the best Floyd tracks start, I believe.

 

 Dark Side Of The Moon

 

    The future began here. Recorded at Abbey Road on the new 16-track desk, seamlessly constructed and employing a thematic 'concept' to link the songs, Dark Side was the album which swiftly projected the Floyd from cult band to cornerstones of rock culture. A Quadrophonic mix by Alan Parsons, authorised by EMI and launched at the London Planetarium, caused a rumpus, with the band refusing to attend. This aside, the album was a huge success, and is still their biggest in commercial terms, with 28m copies sold worldwide.

    NM: Dark Side started as a sequence called Eclipse. Most of it was developed in rehearsals for live shows, and we played it live at the Rainbow in London and opened shows with it in America in 1972. The concept grew out of group discussions about the pressures of real life, like travel or money, but then Roger broadened it into a meditation on the causes of insanity. The linkinhg of all the sounds and the voices was very well done, I think, and we introduced an early synthesizer, the DCS3 [VCS3???], right at the end. The recording was lengthly but not fraught, not agonised over at all. We were working really well as a band, But it wasn't only the music that made it such a success. EMI/Capitol had cleaned up their act in America. They put money behind promoting us for the first time. And that changed everything.

    DG: The big difference for me with this album was the fact that we'd played it live before we recorded it. You could't do that now of course, you'd be bootlegged out of existence. But when we went into the studio we all knew the material. The playing was very good. It had a natural feel. And it was a bloody good package. The music, the concept, the cover, all came together. For me it was the first time we'd had great lyrics. The others were satisfactory, or perfunctory or just plain bad. On Dark Side, Roger decided he didn't want anyone else writing lyrics.

 

 Wish You Were Here

 

    The starkly elegiac mood of this album is in striking contrast to the more dispassionate brooding of its predecessor. By 1975, Roger was missing Syd; the busines was getting to him ("And by the way, which one's Pink?" from Welcome To The Machine [NOT! from Have a Cigar!] was an actual quote by an American record exec). The album also shows Gilmour making his strongest individual contribution yet, with several fine extended guitar solos and some of the most heartfelt vocals the Floyd have ever committed to disc.

    DG: After Dark Side we were really floundering around. I wanted to make the next album more musical, because I felt some of these tracks had been just vehicles for the words. We were working in 1974 in this horrible little rehearsal room in Kings Cross without windows, putting together what became the next two albums. There were three long tracks, including Shine On You Crazy Diamond, which I wanted to record, and Roger said, No, let's take Shine On, divide it into two, and put in other material around the same theme. And he was right, I was wrong.

    RW: The whole album sprang from that one four-note guitar phrase of Dave's in Shine On. We heard it went, That's a really nice phrase. The wine came out, and that led to what I think is our best album, the most colourful, the most feelingful. Shine On was in the process of being recorded, the lyrics about Syd were written. I walked into the studio at Abbey Road, Roger was sitting, mixing at the desk, and I saw this big bald guy sitting on the couch behind. About 16 stone. And I didn't think anything of it. In those days it was quite normal for strangers to wander into our sessions. Then Roger said, You don't know who that guy is, do you? It's Syd. It was a huge shock, because I hadn't seen him for about six years. He kept standing up and brushing his teeth, putting his toothbrush away and sitting down. Then at one point he stood up and said, Right, when do I put the guitar on? And of course he didn't have a guitar with him. And we said, Sorry Syd, the guitar's all done."

    NM: This was much a more difficult record to make. Roger was getting crosser. We were all getting older. We had children. There was much more drama between us, people turning up to the studio late, which we generally hate. There was more pressure on me to make the drumming more accurate and less flowery. But I think as an album it flows really well. It's like a descedant of Meddle in terms of the use of repeating themes, and the pacing.

 

 Animals

 

    The concept belonged to Waters, but two of the four beasts here had been heard before under different names: Sheep was a re-working of Raving And Drooling. Dogs was a makeover of You Gotta Be Crazy. Waters and Gilmour were beginning to tussle for control, sharing production credits and engaging in a lengthy wrangle over the album's publishing royalties which wasn't settled for 10 years.

    NM: This was a bit of a return to the group feel, quite a cheerful session as I remember. We did it in our own studio, which we'd just built. By now Roger was in full flow with the ideas, but he was also really kepping Dave down, and frustrating him deliberately.

    RW: I didn't like a lot of the writing on Animals, but unfortunately I didn't have anything to offer. I think I played well but I remember feeling not very happy or creative, partly because of problems with my marriage. This was the beginning of my writer's block.

    DG: On Animals I was the prime musical force. Roger was the motivator and lyric writer.

 

 The Wall

 

    The loss of 2m [pounds] in investments led the band into tax exile in the South Of France in 1978, to record a double concept album which proved to be their Rogerest project yet. While there, the Pink Floyd Mark 2 partnership finally started to dissolve.

    DG: I still think some of the music is incredibly naff, but The Wall is conceptually brilliant. At the time I thought it was Roger listing all the things that can turn a person into an isolated human being. I came to see it as one of the luckiest people in the world issuing a catalogue of abuse and bile against people who'd never done anything to him. Roger was taking more and more of the credits. In the songbook for this album against Comfortably Numb it says Music by Gilmour and Waters. It shouldn't. He did the lyrics. I did the music. I kept finding hundreds of little things like that. Shouldn't bitch, but one does feel unjustly done.

    NM: The recording was very tense, mainly because Roger was starting to go a bit mad. This was the record when he fell out badly with Rick. Rick has a natural style, a very specific piano style, but he doesn't come up with pieces easily, or to order. Which is a problem when other people are worrying about who did what and who should get the credit. There was even talk of Roger and Dave elbowing me out and carrying on as a duo. There were points during The Wall when Roger and Dave were really carrying the thing. Rick was useless, and I wasn't very much help to anyone either.

    DG: Generally Nick worked hard and played well on The Wall. He even worked out a way of reading music for the drums. But there was one track called Mother which he really didn't get. So I hired Jeff Porcaro to do it. And Roger latched on to this idea, the way he always did with my ideas, and began to think, is Nick really necessary?

    RW: Roger came up with the whole album on a demo, which everyone felt was potentially very good but musically very weak. Very weak indeed. Bob [Ezrin], Dave and myself worked on it to make it more interesting. But Roger was going through a big ego thing at the time, saying that I wasn't putting enough in, although he was making it impossible for me to do anything. The crunch came when we all went off on holiday towards the end of the recording. A week before the holiday was up I got a call from Roger in America, saying come over immediately. Then there was this band meeting in which Roger told me he wanted me to leave the band. At first I refused. So Roger stood up and said that if I didn't agree to leave after the album was finished, he would walk out then and there and take the tapes with him. There would be no album, and no money to pay off our huge debts. So I agreed to go. I had two young kids to support. I was terrified. Now I think I made a mistake. It was Roger's bluff. But I really didn't want to work with this guy anymore.

    DG: We had a studio in the south of France where Rick was staying. There rest of us had rented houses 20 miles away. We'd all go home at night, and we'd say to Rick, Do what you like, here all these tracks, write something, play a solo, put some stuff down. You've got all evening every evening to do it. All the time we were there, which was several months, he did nothing. He just wasn't capable of playing anything.

 

The Final Cut

 

    The closest thing to a Roger Waters solo album that ever went out under the name of Pink Floyd. The material had been written for The Wall and rejected at the time by the rest of the group. Now effectively reduced to a duo of Waters and Gilmour, the sessions featured long arguments between the two which resulted in Gilmour removing his name from the production credits.

    DG: I said to Roger, If these songs weren't good enough for The Wall, why are they good enough for now? We had the most awful time of my life. Roger had got Rick out, Nick wasn't around much and now he was starting on me. A most unpleasant and humiliating experience.

 

 A Momentary Lapse of Reason

 

    After the departure of Waters in 1985 and a tense period of well-published wrangling over rights to the group name, Gilmour began to put together a new Pink Floyd album in 1987 using the American producer of The Wall, Bob Ezrin, and working on songs with a squad of assistants, including Phil Manzanera. Like its predecessor, A Momentary Lapse Of Reason eventually turned out to be a solo album in all but name.

    DG: Both Nick and Rick were catatonic in terms of their playing ability at the beginning. Neither of them played on this at all really. In my view, they'd been destroyed by Roger. Nick played a few tom-toms on one track, but for the rest I had to get in other drummers. Rick played some tiny little parts. For a lot of it, I played the keyboards and pretended it was him. The record was basically made by me, and other people and God knows what. I didn't think it was the best Pink Floyd album ever made, but I gave it the best damn shot I could.

    NM: Dave was under a lot of pressure to come up with songs and he looked for help where he could find it. It was fun recording on the boat (Gilmour's floating studio at Hampton-on-Thames) but then we went to America and hired all these sessions musicians who could knock things off quickly. At the time it seemed like a reasonable route to go but that was quite alarming for me.

    RW: I wasn't a member of the band. By now they didn't know me. We hadn't played together for years. I was paid a wage on the sessions. I did get royalties on the album. Not as many as Dave and Nick though.

 

Delicate Sound Of Thunder

 

    Only the second live album of their career, and one that features eight musicians in addition to the three Floydian principals, this document of the Floyd's longest ever tour was recorded in various European stadia in August 1988.

    DG: At the beginning of the Momentary Lapse Of Reason tour Gary Wallis was playing all the drums, because Nick couldn't, and I got Jon Carin to play the keyboards, because he can do Rick Wright better than Rick Wright can. But then I encouraged them both, and by the end of the first three-month leg Nick and Rick were playing great. Their confidence was restored. That tour brought them back to being functioning musicians. Or you could say I did.

 

 The Division Bell

 

    The brand new back-to-basics album, which took a year to record on and off Gilmour's boat, painstakingly attempts to re-constitute the group as something more than a one-man brand name with a famous repertoire. While not breaking any significant new ground musically, the sound here is more cohesive and delicately textured than anything the Floyd have recorded since the glory days of the 1970s. The tone is quieter, the guitar playing features Gilmour in lyrical, rather than screaming, mode. Wright, now a junior partner rather than paid employee, is heard more clearly here than he has been for the last 15 years. Gilmour's search for a lyricist has ended for the time being, with many tracks co-written by his new-ish girlfriend, journalist Polly Samson. Bob Ezrin has again helped out with the production.

    NM: There's more of the feel of Meddle here than anything else. This started as a group album, with the three of us spending a fortnight together just jamming. We put down over 40 sketches in two weeks, then things moved on. Some of those initial ideas might actually end up on a satellite album. [Yes! Yes!]

    RW: I've written on it. I'm singing on it. I think it's a much better album than the last one. it's got more of the old Floydian feel. I think we could have gone further, but we are now operating as a band. Only Nick has played the drums, and my Hammond organ is back on most tracks.

    DG: On this album both Nick and Rick are playing all the stuff that they should be playing. Which is why it sounds much more like a genuine Pink Floyd record to me than anything since Wish You Were Here. It has a sort of theme about non-communication, but we're not trying to bash anybody over the head with it. We went out last time with the intention of showing the world, Look we're still here, which is why we were so loud and crash bang-y. This is a much more reflective album.

  ROBERT SANDALL