August 1996, by Mark Blake
It was while we were recording the last Floyd Album, The Division Bell. The idea for this record was inspired, sadly, by my personal experiences with a close friend whi was suffering from depression. I wanted to express my feelings about what I was seeing. It wasn't a healing process, as such, as I wasn't the person suffering, but it made me come to terms with my own feelings about what I was witnessing. When we made The Division Bell, I was part of the whole creative process again because I was writing again rather than just playing on the material; but I felt that it wasn't going in the right direction all the time. I like the record, but it was also frustrating. As a writer you can always end up disagreeing with the people you're working with about certain things, and I felt that it was time I did something for myself. I very much enjoyed playing live on The Division Bell tour so when I came home, the last thing I wanted to do was sit around and do nothing. As I had been gathering ideas for my own album, I made arrangements to go into my studio and start writing.
Was Anthony Moore an obvious choice to work with?
Definitely. Initially I asked him to help me out in my studio. I'd bought some computer equipment - which I wasn't entirely familiar with and I knew that Anthony could help me. But the main reason for getting him involved was remembering how well we'd worked together on Wearing The Inside Out. I really didn't want to do this album completely on my own, because I don't consider myself a lyricist. It was also easy for Anthony to understand the theme of the album, because he sympathised with the feelings that my friend and I were experiencing.
You've already mentioned that you were frustrated by some aspects of The Division Bell, did you experience a real sense of freedom working on an album that was exclusively your own?
The word ‘freedom’ has been mentioned a few times and with the Floyd, I would always go away, write a song and bring it to the rest of the band as a demo. They would always say that if they liked it, they'd use it and if they didn't they wouldn't. With Broken China it was completely different: I didn't have any music written before Anthony came and worked with me. The album was mapped out: the different structures - whether one section was going to be made up of, for example symphonic music and another one of rock. But we never went through a demo stage. We put the whole thing together in my studio in France.
How did you decide which musicians you were going to use on the project? (Featured players include Floyd guitarist Tim Renwick, guitarist Dominic Miller, bassist Pino Palladino, drummer Manu Katche and vocalist Sinead O'Conner).
I saw Peter Gabriel's world tour early in 1994. Manu Katche was playing drums and I had already formulated the idea of doing an album. As soon as I heard him, I knew that I wanted him to play on Broken China, so I sent him the music and, although is schedule was very tight, he called to say that he would like to play, on the understanding that Pino Palladino would play bass, as they work together very much as a team. Pino was already my main choice anyway and it was a joy to see them playing together and to experience how quickly they laid down the tracks. Eight tracks in six days - amazing ! Tim Renwick was naturally my first choice, because of our association with the Floyd tours and also, besides being a close friend, he gives you whatever sound and feel you suggest. Afterwards, when I was looking for someone to play some atmospheric guitars, Laurie Latham, who engineered the overdubs, suggested Dominic Miller, who, although working with Sting at the time, took time off to work with me. The extraordinary thing is that all the musicians I wanted to work with, found the time to come and play on Broken China.
Why did you choose Sinead O'Conner to sing on two tracks?
Again, Sinead was my first choice. However, getting your favourite sessions players to perform is one thing, asking an established artist, is another. I was thrilled when she agreed. I had always known that I would need a girl to sing Reaching for the Rail and Breakthrough, as these songs are the spoken words of the person of whom I am writing. For me, the quality of her voice was absolutely perfect for the two songs.
Do you feel more comfortable about singing lead vocals now?
Certainly. Initially I was thinking of getting somebody else in to sing all the male vocals - I didn't know who - but I quickly realised that doing that would take the album away from me. It wouldn't be so personal. Being able to record in my own studio made it easy. I would go there by myself and sing whatever came into my head - improvising and sometimes making up complete lyrical nonsense. Then I'd listen back, find out what worked and what didn't, and gradually I built up my confidence from there. Listening back now, I like the sound of my own voice, because I found a style that I felt very confident with.
How do you view you last two solo records?
The last one (Identity recorded with Fashion's Dave Harris, under the collective name Zee in 1894) I always describe as an "experimental mistake". We made the whole record on the Fairlight, which was an amazing machine at the time; but which now seems rather dated. Wet Dream (my first solo album released in 1978) was rather amateurish. It wasn't very well produced and the lyrics weren't very strong, but at the end of the day, I think there's something rather quaint about it. I actually like it now.
You've talked about suffering from writer's block in the past. How long did that situation last?
I don't know if it was writer's block, but I became very lazy. After Identity in 1984 I went off to live in Greece, in an environment that was not very conducive to playing music. I lost touch, if you like. I was happy sailing my yacht around the Greek islands (laughs), but now I look back and think "Perhaps it was a bit of a waste of time".
You were no longer involved with Pink Floyd at this time (having quit the band during the recording of The Wall). Did you feel a real need at that time to get away from the music business?
It wasn't a decision based on music. It was more on a personal level, because I'd become involved with someone that lived in Greece and I took the decision to move there to be with her. I didn't do it with the intention of getting away from the music business. But I just woke up one day and thought. "God! what have I been doing?" So I phoned Dave (Gilmour) up and we met up in Greece and he said he was planning to do another album with the Floyd (A Momentary Lapse Of Reason). I told him that if he needed anyone to play keyboards, that I'd love to do it. I came in halfway through the record and then went out on tour with them.
Are you now officially a member of Pink Floyd?
Yes. It was good to be able to contribute to The Division Bell from the beginning, rather than come in halfway through, as I did on A Momentary Lapse Of Reason.
How did it feel watching Floyd continue as a band without you, having been involved since the very beginning?
It felt horrible. The whole point about my leaving the band in the first place, was because Roger (Waters) was assuming control. He had written the whole of The Wall. It was his piece and he had the right to withdraw it and that was what he was threatening to do unless I left the band. There was this big personality clash between me and Roger, and at the end of the day I realised that I couldn't work with this person anyway - so I left
What did you think of The Final Cut (Floyd's first album without Wright)?
I didn't like it, but I knew that I could be quite prejudiced about it, considering my situation. But I think that if you ask Dave or Nick (Mason) about it they don't think it's a very good album either. The thing is, during The Final Cut, the three of them had huge fights which culminated in Roger leaving the band. He had the misguided belief that he was the band, which is why his ego was shattered when Dave eventually decided to carry on without him.
You've mentioned earlier that you were frustrated by some aspects of The Division Bell, What exactly?
I think we could have gone further towards making a Floyd album as we used to: more thematic, with all the music having a logical link. That's something I think a lot of the band's fans like and it was something I wanted to achieve with my own record. There are a lot of other aspects of the record that I was very happy about, such as being able to contribute to the writing. My influence can be heard on tracks like Marooned and Cluster One. Those were the kind of things that I gave the Floyd in the past and it was good that they were now getting used again.
You obviously have a really affection for what might be called the "classic" Pink Floyd sound?
Well, a lot of people have said that you can't listen to just a few songs on Broken China, you have to listen to the whole thing. I think that was true about Pink Floyd. That's what I liked about the albums and I think that's what a lot of people liked about the Floyd. I like playing that type of music and its also the kind of music I like creating. I'm not a songwriter as such - I don't like the idea of just writing 12 songs and sticking them on an album.
Would you agree that there are parallels between Broken China and film soundtrack music?
Yes. When Floyd wrote music for films like Zabriskie Point and More, they were still just a collection of songs and instrumental pieces. It's very hard to get into film soundtracks, but I am putting out the word that I would like to do them. Music and picture together fascinates me and how music can affect a film so completely. I'd love to have the chance to write for a major film.
Do you feel baffled by the mystique that still surrounds Pink Floyd and especially Syd Barrett, even now?
I think I can understand it. If you listen to The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn there are some extraordinary songs in there - and that's what Syd did. He was an amazing person, and they were the kind of songs that no one had ever written before - childlike, but wonderful stuff. Of course we developed and changed completely over the years. But I can understand why people still want to know about Syd and the music we did then.
How do you feel about subsequent generations listening to those records?
I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. In some ways it's great. It's interesting that the music created in the 60's and 70's is still listened to so much today. On the last tour, it was incredible to be playing music to people who had not been born when it was written, yet knew it so well.
How do you view those early Pink Floyd records?
I cringe at some of my songs - such as Remember A Day. We were pretty amateurish at the time, but I don't think it was just my stuff that doesn't sound so good now. Something like Corporal Clegg, which was one of Roger's songs, is just as bad. Syd was the songwriter and then we came in and had to take over the song writing and it was a lot of responsibility to assume. We could never write like Syd, we never had the imagination to come out with the kind of lyrics he did.
What memories do you have of that early '70s period in the band's history - making records like Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here?
The late 60's was a purely experimental time in the band's history. But it was a learning process. By the 70's we'd consolidated ourselves and we knew what we could do: what we could write, what we could play. Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here was a very enjoyable time. Looking back now, though, it was also a very busy time, so I don't think we ever had much chance to sit back and think about what we were doing. Throughout the whole of the early '70s, we were either on the road or in a recording studio. That's all I can remember.
What do you think of Animals, nearly 20 years on?
It was difficult. It was 1977 and that was when Roger really began to start believing that he was the sole writer of the band. With regards to that album, it was partly my fault, because I didn't have much to offer. Dave, who did have something to offer, only managed to get a couple of things on there. I like my playing on the album, but it wasn't a fun record to make. Compared to, say, Wish You Were Here, where we were really pulling together as a band - we had our disagreements but it was still a nice creative process - Animals was a slog. But I didn't have anything to offer, material wise, so I was in a difficult situation.
Floyd were always lumped in with that whole '70s prog rock scene. Could you relate to those bands?
I always felt we were on our own, but I was aware of the bands that were around at this time: groups like Genesis, Yes and Led Zeppelin. I listened to all of those groups and I liked some of them. I always liked Genesis with Peter Gabriel, but I rather lost interest when he left.
Did punk make much difference to you?
I thought punk was good because it bought me back to the UFO Club days. At last I thought there was something that had come along and was really pushing the boundaries. Unfortunately, I didn't like the music, but I liked the whole movement and people like Malcom McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. I was quite flattered when the Floyd were criticised by some of the punk band (laughs), but it didn't bother me. Now look at the Sex Pistols. They've reformed!
So much of the Floyd's back catalogue is perceived as almost "untouchable". Do you fancy shattering any illusions and revealing whether there's anything you'd like to change about those records?
I think it's more in terms of the mixing and the sound we had, rather than the songs. I think we all wish some of the lyrics had been a bit better, especially on the earlier songs, and that the quality of the recording of the drums and bass, for example, was a bit better. But in terms on the whole essence of the songs, I don't think I'd want to go back and change anything, because that was how it was at the time. That was us.
Have the rest of Floyd heard Broken China?
Dave has certainly heard some of it, because I asked him to play on it. He did play on one track, but we then decided to use a different approach to the song later on, so we didn't use his guitar. He's heard the album and I think his comment was that he thought it was very good.
Do you ever see much of the band between albums and tours?
We don't socialise much. Pink Floyd is like a marriage that's on a permanent trial separation (laughs). We all respect each other but we're not close friends. At the beginning we were friends: we were living with each other constantly, 24 hours a day. But we were young then and we weren't so serious about our relationships. These days, I think it all comes down to respect. There's a respect between us.
Was The Division Bell an easy album for the three of you to make - compared to how relations had been the last time you were in the group?
Certainly. I don't know if that is down to age. I don't know if it gets easier as you get older. It might be. Although one tends to get more stubborn with age and set in one's ways, which is one of the things I always try to be aware of.
You co-produced Syd Barrett's second album (Barrett in 1970). Could you see yourself moving into production?
Producing yourself is one thing but producing somebody else is another. Anthony (Moore) could do it and does do it. But I don't have the right sort of personality and desire, if you like. I couldn't see myself doing something like Brian Eno. Doing Syd's record was interesting, but extremely difficult. Dave and Roger did the first one (The Madcap Laughs) and Dave and myself did the second one. But by then it was just trying to help Syd any way we could, rather than worrying about getting the best guitar sound. You could forget about that! It was just going into the studio and trying to get him to sing. However, I think both of Syd albums are an interesting part of history.
Do you have any contact with Syd Barrett?
I read in a magazine, that he's now going blind because of diabetes. It's terribly sad. We don't see him, because apparently if he's ever reminded of Pink Floyd and when he was in it, he goes into a depression for weeks on end. His mother asked us to stay away a few years ago. Apparently, most of the time he's quite happy - or was - but our faces can trigger off a lapse. Would it have always happened or was it because of a huge overdose of acid ? Who knows. I suspect it was a bit of both. All I know is one week he was fine and a week later he turned up again and was completely different. It's just a terrible tragedy.
What are your views on acid now?
Syd was very influenced by a lot of people around him, who encouraged him to take trips. There are a load of acid casualties out there. He wasn't alone. Back then, we had people like Timothy Leary openly advocating it: trip our and take it every day. Wrong ? Yes. Misguided ? Yes. It was wrong for me. I took two trips in my life. The first was quite enjoyable and that was before I was in the band. Then I took one more and I didn't enjoy it at all, so I never took it again. It certainly destroyed Syd and I think it has destroyed a lot of other people.
But Floyd's music has often been described as "drug-inspired". Do you think that suggestion is wrong?
If you mean Pink Floyd took drugs - you're wrong. There is no way that I could play music and take any kind of drug at the same time.
Do you listen to a lot of other music? Are you inspired by other keyboard players?
I don't listen to as much music as I used to, because I'm so busy with my own music. I don't think of other players as competition. I have a style of the Hammond which - good or bad - is my own. I'm not technically a great pianist. I was saying to someone the other day that I wish I could play honky-tonk piano. I listen to Dr John and appreciate what he does, but then can he play the Hammond like I can ? I look at myself as more of a writer than an actual performer. I can't play the piano fast - I'm no Oscar Peterson - and I can't read music. Sometimes, I wish I could sit down and play a wonderful piano concerto.
I feel very confident about what I've done with Broken China. I'm proud of it. I like it a lot and I'm now having to live with it. There are already a few little things I might have changed, but not nearly as many as I thought there would be. This has really given me a lift. Next year I will be doing another album or possibly a film soundtrack. If the Floyd happens again, it happens, and if it doesn't, it doesn't. In the meantime, I am going to continue writing.
So you don't have any plans to record with Floyd again?
Some time in the future I'll say to Dave, "When are are going to do another record?" and then one day he'll say "I'm going into the studio to write - come along." People keep asking me when Pink Floyd are going to make another record, but I honestly don't know. We tend to record in six and seven-year cycles, so as the last album was finished in '94, who knows, the next one could be in the year 2001 ! We don't have a specific image to live up to, which makes it easier for us as we get older. With Pink Floyd we just have to insist that the lighting man hides us completely, so that no one can see us in our wheelchairs !
© 1996 EMI Records Ltd.
Taken from echoes Digest V5 #626