'Eeeer we gooo-wa'...For years they do nothing, keeping a profile lower than a member of Anonaholics Anonymus. Then suddenly, they're back, world's biggest band, record outselling allcomers. Now comes the globe-gobbling sell-out tour, where Pink Floyd, baroque'n'roll animals, 24-minute party people, get up to their traditional low jinks. How have they survived nearly 30 traumatic and triumphant years? John Walsh discovers that 'Dave is the quiet one...so is Nick...and so is Rick.'
ON THE CORNER OF OLD TOWN Square in downtown Prague stands a young woman, fashioning lengths of silver wire into brooches in the names of loved ones: 'Mom', 'Suzie', 'Darren'. Since mid-morning she has done a brisk trade in 'Pink Floyd'. Down a side-street, the Bailo fashion emporium has daubed a version of The Division Bell's minatory cover art on its front window and is using the injunction 'Think Pink' to shift a consignment of cerise underwear.
In Wenceslas Square, two six-foot-tall plaster mock-ups of the LP's elongated faces advertise the sale of iffy programmes and bootleg T-shirts. The Czech capital, which until the Velvet Revolution of 1989 was a stranger to Western rock shows, is fairly quivering with anticipation. Tonight the Floyd play the vast Strahov Stadium. All tickets were sold months ago.
David Gilmour walks purposefully through all the Floydian paraphernalia, hoping no-one will recognise him as the author of this commercial carnival. 'Yeah, a few people do, but I walk swiftly on. If you see a group of people walking towards you, you stop and look in a shop window or duck your head. You have these automatic responses if you want to walk around anonymously, which not everyone in my position does. I know that if I had a slightly different attitude, I'd look different. I'd start strutting...'
Perish the tought. The paradox of the diffident rock star, the incognito guitar hero, the surreptitious milion-decibel front man, reaches its apotheosis in Gilmour. Though it is almost entirely through his energetic bullying that old muckers, Nick Mason and Rick Wright got together in his Thameside houseboat in the Spring of 1993 to put together The Division Bell, and though he was masterminded the biggest travelling roadshow in the world on a six-month, E150 milion-grossing planetary tour taking six venues in America and Europe, he remains scrupulously different about the claims of the world on himself and his band. No television plugs, no press conferences, no interviews, until a seven- month nagging campaign by Q finally grinds down their resistance. Even the local sponsorship of Volkswagen causes Gilmour mild heatburn.
The band are at an interesting point in their history. Twenty-seven years after they introduced the underground pop fraternity to lengthy, spaced-out improvisations, frazzled discords, maverick bleeps and waily-woo psychodramas, they are arguably the biggest mainstream rock phenomenon in the world. The Division Bell has been at the top of the bestseller charts on both sides of the Atlantic all summer. Their current tour has broke attendance records in half a dozen European cities. Their London concerts - 14 nights at Earls Court, yet another record - were instant sell-outs. But at the heart of all this grandiosity is a simple gamble: that three veteran musicians - old associates but hardly friends - could reconstitute themselves from the ashes of umpteen epic rows and wilderness years, and conquer the globe.
Meeting them one by one, you're struck by their differences. One of their
entourage told the Daily Mirror earlier this year, 'Dave is the quiet one, Nick is
the quiet one and Rick is the quiet one,' but it's not as simple as that. Nick Mason
is rumpled, sleepy-looking and terribly polite. There's an admirable directness
about him, however. Interrupted in the hotel suite for the fifth time by a ringing
telephone, he lies on his back like a car mechanic, squirms under the dresser
follows the phone wire to its jack-plug and yanks it out of the wall; 'Learned this
in the KGB.' he says in muffled tones.
Rick Wright is a ferrety, furtive and rather melancholy man, like an ex-champion jockey down on his luck. The main feature of his gaunt physiognomy is the unearthly length of his soft, dark eyelashes: when he blinks it's as if two tropical moths have briefly settled on his cheeks. David Gilmour, once as handsome as Adonis, has settled, at 48, for the look of a malevolent giant cherub, his close- cropped head like a ham basketball, his smile wide but dangerously thin. His delivery has a studied relentlessness that could be mistaken, by the unsympathetic, for raging pomposity; but a curious behavioural tic of constantly fingering bits of his face, suggests he is somewhat uncomfortable talking about himself.
They had spent the previous evening with Vaclav Havel, the Czech premier.
'Usual rock star thing,' says Mason. 'Drift into town, have dinner with the president...'
'He was great,' says Gilmour. 'He showed us his office and round the palace, and we had some food at a waterside restaurant. It was very sweet. He's a big rock'n'roll fan. Half his staff seem to be rock critics.' They started the tour, it seems, with the best of intentions, determined to check the scenic bits, the museums and art galleries. 'You set yourself these little objectives,' says Gilmour, 'but after a few months on the road you tend to just sit in you hotel room, suffering from tour overload.'
Prague is their eighty-second show; they've done 59 in America, 22 in Europe, to four and a half million people. Do they retain any sense of their audiences or do the crowds just become a vast, amorphous blur? 'The main difference is that in America they have seating and in Europe they don't,' says Mason. 'When they're sitting down, it's easier to realte to them. The first 20 rows or so are visible they tend to be either people who've paid a lot of money, or the most crazed of the fans. I've got to recognise the really weird ones, who get there at six o'clock, grab their place at the front, take all the drugs and then, just as we start playing, they keel over...'
'Lisbon was amusing,' muses Rick Wright. 'It was our first European gig and right
from the start they had their hands over their heads, clapping time to the music,
including moments when there *is* no time. It's very hard to keep going when
you've got 80,000 people clapping to the wrong rhythm...'
And so the Floyd leviathan has now reached Prague. In two days' time, it will be Strasbourg, then Lyon. Soon after meeting the band, you wonder about the nature of the beast. Is it a travelling circus? A mobile army? 'I don't *feel* like a field marshal,' says Gilmour, who actually resembles a stiff-lipped squadron leader.
'We have several little generals wandering around who've taken on that role.'
'What's remarkable,' says Mason, 'is the amount of time you spend talking about
the people you're touring with, rather than about, say, politics, art, cars, music
or whatever. Your frame of reference becomes tiny. It's very like being back at
Ah yes. Enter Polly Samson, aka Mrs David Gilmour (they married at the end of July). At the court of King Dave, Polly is a disgruntled Queen in a hotbed of Machiavellian intrigue. 'Lot's of us think we're the power behind the throne,' confides a lady tour-member, 'but Polly's the power *on* the throne, so she gets all the flak.'
Polly Samson is, it could be argued, both the whole point of the tour and its
most implacable enemy. She is generally credited with stemming the flow of
temptations in the direction of her beloved, but she is hardly a party-pooper. A
hyper-adrenalised, quarter-Chinese early-thirtysomething, she made her name in
publishing. Also a serial heartbreaker, she became embroiled with one of her
writerly charges, whale-fancier Heathcote Williams; he left her with a son,
Charlie, now four. It's Charlie's voice that can be heard at the end of The Division
Bell, failing to respond to the charm of the band's manager, Steve O'Rourke (this
is, apparently, the band's amusing response to O'Rourke's persistent demands that
he be allowed to contribute a few notes to the album).
Ms. Samson was encouraged to start writing lyrics while on holiday with her guitarist husband. 'I started writing things and looking to her for an opinion,' recalls Gilmour, 'and gradually, as a writer herself and an intelligent person, she started putting her oar in and I encouraged her.'
The songwriting team of Gilmour/Samson turns up on seven of the current album's 11 tracks, and their realtionship infuses the whole enterprise with a passionate glow that's rare for the earnestly unsmiling face the Floyd has generally turned to the world.
Though it purports to deal with non-communication, The Division Bell is actually
the most heartwarming of song-cycles: 80 per cent of the songs are about new
beginnings, sunlight, spring-in-the-soul optimism: 'Turn and face the light'; 'the
years and all the sadness fell away from me'; 'I woke to the sound of drums'; 'the
morning sun streamed in'; 'I'm creeping back to life'; 'her love rains down on me';
'I knew the moment had arrived/For killing the past and coming back to life'. By the
time you get to the last track, entitled High Hopes, you half expect it to be a
cover version of the old Bing Crosby hit about ants trying to move rubber-tree
'I hadn't thought about it from that perspective,' says Gilmour. 'It's about all these things, the good and the bad. Maybe it's the combination that puts the point across.'
Nowhere more so than in Poles Apart, a song of remembrance about a former colleague who has lost 'that light in your eyes', and who is therefore...Syd Barrett?
'Who knows?' asks Gilmour, irritatingly. 'I like to let the lyrics speak for themselves.'
'It's about Syd in the first verse and Roger in the second,' Polly later briskly states. But the music rides along on a gorgeous upward cadence and ends with a veritable gavotte of frisky rhythm. It does not take a genious to infer that, freed from Roger Waters's malign influence, Gilmour and co. are celebrating the liberty to indulge as they please, rather than to try and prove anything.
Water's shadow is a constant topic in their conversation: his legacy, his role as
a co-ordinating force, his skill as a writer. But alongside the tributes come some
querulous memories, some silken putdowns. Rick Wright, whom Waters
effectively fired from the band during the making of The Wall, claims, 'We never
really got on from the beginning, even in architecture school, though we respected
each other - and I respect him still. But he used to have a go at me, and I used to
have a go at him. One example: I think I was the first of the band to buy a country
house. At the time, Roger was an armchair socialist. He told me, You've really sold
out; you've become such a capitalist; you're doing what every other rock star
does... I said, Roger, we did it for the kids and you'll be doing the same thing in
a few years. It took him, I think, a year and a half to buy his own country seat. I
said Roger, You're hypocrite, and he said, Oh, I didn't want it, my wife wanted it...'
'What we miss of Roger,' continues Gilmour, 'is his drive, his focus, his lyrical brilliance, oh many things. But I don't think any of us would say that *music* was one of the main ones. He was great as a conceptualist and lyricist, as a pusher. But he's not a great musician, our Rog, God bless him. He just isn't...'
But do they get on, these three portly musketeers, this business-like troika, these throwbacks to the '60s playground? They talk about each other in oddly dispassionate, guardedly civil tones: 'I'd *like* to be a mate of David's,' says Wright, 'but he's a hard person to get to know, and I am too. We're not buddies who'll sit in a pub and have a laugh and a chat; we're not that close. We're very professional on stage...'
Was there ever a time when the band behaved like other rock bands? Horseplay,
'Oh yes, of course. In the summer of '68, there were groupies everywhere; they'd come and look after you like a personal maid, do your washing, sleep with you and leave with a dose of the clap.'
Horseplay? '*Thousands* of incidents. I remember one night, we gave our sound engineer a lot of sleeping pills and put him on a mattress in the lift, and every time the guests in the hotel called it, they'd find him sleeping there and hastily choose another one...And the time Dave drove a motorbike into a restaurant and out again, in a very straight bit of America, and most of the diners pretended it wasn't happening...'
The Strahov Stadium, the biggest in Europe. When full, it can
accommodate 200,000 seated football enthusiasts. Now that the voluptuous steel
womb of the Floyd stage is squatting on it, half the seats have become redundant;
but the milling throng on the sandy pitch brings the attendance number up to
Across this massive arena, the PA is playing Doctor John classics to the uncomprehending multitude. Over in the Volkswagen sponsors' VIP tent, there is no sign of confusion as well-heeled, day-tripping Germans liberate flutes of Freixnet fizz from the free bar. The lucky ones clutch raffle tickets for a one-off Volkswagen Golf 'Pink Floyd'.
Weird scenes in the band tent: the place is overrun with senior citizens.
David Gilmour's parents are here, and Nick Mason's and Polly Samson's. The ladies
are camped in immovable gossip-session on the black leather sofa which is the
only sign of elegance in this prefabricated shack. 'It's by no means what we're
used to in hospitality terms,' says Rick Wright sadly. 'Not the usual backstage
He indicates a cubicle marked 'Sanctuary' - 'That's strictly for the band only, if you have to go into deep conclave about something just before the show. Or, of course, if you just want to be alone...'
Mrs Gilmour Senior is a curly-haired, sweetfaced and chatty rock fan of 72. A one-time actress and Cambridge lecturer, she confides 'I introduced David to Bob Dylan, y'know.'
You mean, you stood there at some cocktail party and said, Dave, come and meet Mr Dylan. Mr Dylan, have you met my son, the guitarist...?
'No, no,' says Dave benignly. 'She just sent me his first LP from New York when I was at school in Cambridge.'
Did he suffer dreadfully from the absence of his mother and father, who worked in America?
'Not at all,' says Gilmour. 'I can't remember having any objection to being parked on some other people. I could sneak out of my room and go to pubs and do God knows what. It was great.'
Mrs G. veers off at a tangent about her early love for Hendrix.
'Showtime', as the band tent's agenda calls it, is 30 minutes away. The atmosphere tightens. Security men turn away any would-be tent-crashers. Mobile phones are urgently pressed to ears. The senior citizens and record company bigwigs are advised that the route to their VIP seats is jeopardised by the swell of the crowd. An emergency-issue ambulance inches its way across the arena's teeming throng, heading for the mixing desk. A rumour surfaces, that it is merely President Havel in search of a decent vantage-point. Outside the sky is terminally threatening, liquified Kafka.
'Come on,' says David Gilmour.
We cross the gummy sand to the sawn-off aircraft-hangar of the stage. Crazed by the tantalising electronic bleeps from the PA that announce the Floyd's imminent arrival, the crowd is alternately cheering and mutinously impatient. Overhead in the rank sky, a helicopter hovers, its headlights dipping down like the eyes of the inflatable warthogs that will later clamber over the tower of speakers during One of These Days. Heartbeats accelerating...How nervous is Dave Gilmour? 'Oh, I'm not nervous,' he says cheerily, 'not consciously, anyway.'
Backstage, or rather *under*-stage, the inner sanctum is a trench-like hell, 40 feet long but only about five feet wide. There's no room for fluster or fidget. But the trench image is wrong: this is more like being in a submarine, more precisely the doomed one in Das Boot. Gilmour's guitars - 14 at a rapid count - are ranged against the wall like a gun-rack.
If you clamber on to the stage, the audience, 120,000-strong, rises before you. Only it's not 'a sea of faces' at all. No sea ever looked so variegated, so full of individual expressions - it's like the audience turned to you at a wedding speech multiplied by a million, smiling in anticipation but likely to turn on you in unstoppable force, should you fail to amuse. A sight to chill the blood. Nick Mason appears: 'Bit of an emergency, I'm afraid Tim Renwick's been taken ill. You're on second guitar tonight. We're on in three minutes...'
Sensory meltdown. Opening with Wright's spreading organ cloud and Gilmour's languorous, yearning, four-note riff that introduces Shine On You Crazy Diamond, moving through huge tracts of The Division Bell, to a selection, in the second half, of rousingly-reinvented greatest hits - Money, Another Brick In The Wall, Wish You Were Here - the biggest musical spectacle Czechoslovakia has ever seen has fulfilled its promise. Everywhere, saturnine faces have turned to ecstasy, despite the rain which has fallen relentlessly, like some percussive torture, from the first note. The senior citizens initially seated to one side of the audience in plastic chairs, have gone back to sip champagne in the dry bliss of the Band Tent. But the audience has managed to shrug off the elements with Slavic stoicism. The lasers, the front-of-stage explosions, the wobbling giant warthogs and, most especially, the huge circular video screen has the Prague groovers yelling and slam-dancing in the sandy sludge of the arena.
As Gilmour sings the rhapsodic litany that climaxes High Hopes ('The grass was
*greener*/The light was *brighter*/The taste was *sweeter*'), a voice in my ear
whispers, 'The rain was *soaking*.' It is Polly Samson, who has every right to
muck about with the lyrics since she wrote the song. She has, she confides, been
more than usually hacked off of late ('I've seen the concert a hundred times. I love
the songs. I just can't stand the lifestyle') because, last night, she was introduced
to Vaclav Havel as a kind of also-ran. She and Dave are, for the moment, not on
speakers. How could she resist him, after having Coming Back To Life, Gilmour's
self-composed love note to her ('Becauce the things you say and the things you do
surround me'), belted out in front of scores of thousands every night? 'Well the
things I say and do will not surround him *tonight*,' she says severely.
On stage, Gilmour has moved on to Us And Them. For all the vaunted anonymity of
the band's corporate image, this is very much The Gilmour Show. A controlled
passion in his voice, echo-chambered to Paradise, has the audience reaching for
the Czech equivalent of their Zippos. Doesn't she think he was, um, rather
spectacular at these moments?
'Yes, of course,' she says, 'but I'm not going to let *him* know that.
'The next one,' Ms Samson confides, 'he does this hilarious falsetto. So *sweet* ...'
One suspects their daggers-dawn spat is only temporary.
The band have decamped en masse to the Intercontinental Hotel, for a
party. A mile away, at the Palace Hotel, Gilmour is winding down after the gig in
characteristically aloof splendour. The only others in his pink suite are Polly,
parodically nursing a mug of Horlicks on a chair, and her brother Joe, who acts at
Gilmour's personal assistant and factotum.
'It went very well, I think,' says Gilmour, lying on the fuschia duvet like a Kismet pasha. 'In the top five-to-10 per cent'. I remark that I'd never seen him playing pedal steel guitar before, sitting on stage with the apocalypse crashing and zooming around his head, as unconcerned as a dowager with a knitting machine. 'That's what it all comes down to, all this, doesn't it?' he asks rhetorically. 'One old person - one *young* person - sitting playing a guitar.'
The talk turns to the various bitchings and disagreements among the court hierarchy. Why did he think there was such a toxic atmosphere?
'It's that stage of the tour. Lots of pretty resentments reverberating around this small chamber, this goldfish bowl we're in, and they keep bouncing back at you. It's like a work environment in which nobody is ever allowed to leave the room for six months. Too many late nights, too many drinks...'
Does he, Polly asks, facy going to the party? After all, tomorrow is a day off. 'I have absolutely no desire to go partying,' he replies. 'I'm a little past the stage of worrying whether I'm seen turning up at parties...' But eventually, wearily, the master agrees to hit the streets.
The party at the Intercontinental is a little thinned out. Rick Wright has
gone to bed, but the rump of the band is made of sterner stuff. The backing babes
- Durga, Sam and Claudia - are the centre of attention. Sam Brown (daughter of
Joe), who knocked the Czechs into a loop by her arm-pumping wail in The Great
Gig In The Sky, reveals that her mother used to sign for the Floyd in the '60s. It's
not the only baroque family connection: Guy Pratt, the absurdly youthful bassist,
turns out to be the son of the chap who played Randall in Randall And Hopkirk
(Deceased), the '70s TV series, and now goes out with Rick Wright's daughter,
Gala. A passing hack asks Ronnie, the production maestro, what he thinks Gilmour
meant by 'this dangerous but irresistible pastime' in the song Coming Back To Life
('Oh it's sex, obviously,' Gilmour grudgingly tells me, 'sex and procreation') and
is torn off a strip by the band's publicist, Jane Sen: You're asking a production man
about *lyrics*?' Gilmour raises an eyebrow: Yup, it's that time of the tour.
So tell us, David: what *is* it that Pink Floyd have been up to for the last three decades?
'All I've ever tried to do is play music that I like listening to. Some of it now, like Atom Heart Mother, strikes me as absolute crap, but I no longer want or have to play stuff I don't enjoy. I don't know...' his fingers twitch round his nose once more, betokening a final desire to disappear, 'All we've been trying to do is make music that will move people. Simple as that.'
A final word with Nick Mason, the sort of decent chap towards whom one gravitates at such moments. Tell me, Nick, rock stars often say they keep on doing this for fun. What kond of fun is all this? 'Fun is the wrong word,' he replies. 'What you're dealing with are *performers*, people with a pathological need to show off. The chances of actually growing out of it are, I now see, remote. If it hasn't gone by the time you're 50, I wouldn't hold your breath...'
And, just when the Floyd thought they'd got through a whole article without Roger Waters having his say...
<'I Won't Be Drawn On That.'>
Roger Waters: flogging the Floyd frame by frame.
SO, WHILE PINK FLOYD ARE TAKING THE Division Bell around the world's stadia,
trundling from strength to strength, what of Roger Waters, the man who wrote or
co-wrote a good deal of the material Floyd are touring with?
He is, in fact, busily engaged in exhibiting and selling animation cells of The Wall film - an animated cell being, in effect, one of the actual drawings used in the creation of cartoons.
The exhibition, The Art Of The Wall, is to be held at Catto Animation, 41 Heath Street, London NW3, and cells will be available for purchase. The Simpsons had the same deal last year.
'Catto have a gallery which specialises in exhibitions and the sale of cells from animated films, mainly Disney,' explains Waters in an accent a minor royal might call posh. 'They are going to do the same thing with The Wall. They're doing it in London, Paris, Munich and Los Angeles.'
'What's your involvement? Did the gallery come to you?'
'Yes, they did. The rights to the cells are owned jointly by myself and Gerry Scarfe (onetime Floyd's house illustrator and currently husband of Jane Asher). We had an auction 18 months ago at Christie's which went very well and we though we'd sell some more.'
'Why are you doing this?'
'Well, the cells will either end up in boxes or on people's walls. I think they'd be better on people's walls really. People enjoy collecting them and why not?' 'How much will these cells go for?'
'The average price at the Christie's sale was L300 per cell, something like that. It's the same as with other films - a cell with Snow White and all seven dwarfs, it's more valuable than one with just Sneezy on it - with The Wall, if you get a set with marching hammers or the really beautiful ones with flowers fornicating, they're worth more than some of the others. It's like anything else in the art world, the demand creates the prices.'
'How many are you selling?'
'I haven't looked into any of that. Catto have had access to the store where these things are kept and picked out a selection. I should think they'll be selling a couple of hundred.'
'It's going to create a phenomenal amount of money isn't it?'
'I don't know. I haven't done the sums.'
'Shall we do them now? Say 200 at L300; that's L60,000. That's quite a lot of money isn't it?'
'It is a lot of money, yes.'
'You don't need it, do you? A man of your means, surely?'
'I think that's immaterial.'
'So it's really only a question of giving people something to put on their walls?'
'That's what I've just said.'
'Have you had any flak for what might be perceived as selling off the Pink Floyd legacy?
'That's a funny question to ask me.'
'No it's not. Have people said that to you?'
'The answer is no, I haven't had any flak.'
'Well, people do get quite purist and protective about these things.'
'Do they indeed? I haven't noticed a lot of that recently. I haven't noticed much purity or protectionism about the heritage of Pink Floyd.'
'How do you mean?'
'No, I won't be drawn on that.'
'Oh go on...'
'Was The Wall concert in Berlin a success? It was supposed to be a springboard to raising L50 million for charity.'
'That's true, but it isn't what this interview is supposed to be about. I have nothing to hide about any of these issues but if you have any questions about the Catto exhibition, I'll help you with those as far as I can.'
'I think we're at cross purposes here. I don't want to seem aggressive but we seem to be almost at the end.'
'So you don't want to talk about what you're doing now?'
'What I'm doing now?'
'That's another subject again. Do I want to talk about what I'm doing now? In terms of work you mean?'
'I'm doing two things. One is that I'm working on a stage presentation of The Wall and the other is some opera music I wrote about the French Revolution.'
Waters's solo career hasn't achieved Floydian proportions since his bitter
departure from the band and his disastrous decision to let the others keep the
name. His three excellent solo albums, The Pros & Cons Of Hitch Hiking, Radio
K.A.O.S. and Amused To Death, charted both here and in America, but were unfairly
treated by reviewers. His tours, particularly the one to support the Hich Hiking
album with Eric Clapton as a sideman, allegedly lost vast sums of money.
'Are you disappointed with the reaction to your solo career?'
'That's not really an area I want to delve into.'
'Oh. Presumably you don't want to say whether you've heard The Division Bell or not...'
'Whether I've heard it?'
'I have heard it. Actually, I haven't heard all of it but I've heard most of it.' 'And what do you think of it?'
(A 37-second silence where Roger appears to put down the telephone and walk about ensues.)
'I don't think I want to talk about this.'
'We seem to be at cross purposes here.'
'Look, do you understand my position?'
'Yes, of course.'
'Last time, Q printed lots of mud slinging between me and Gilmour. I'm not prepared to get involved in that again.'
'We've covered the exhibition, haven't we?'
'Yes we have.'
He hangs up.
bronvermelding maandblad Q