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Pink Floyd

From 1965 to 1994 and a little beyond, the effervescent PINK FLOYD (in all its shapes and sizes) were the epitome of psychedelic space-rock and prog-rock, masters of everything they reaped and sowed, and instrumentally adept and neo-classically astute. Some would call them grandiose and self-indulgent (a tag most progsters had to endure), but the ‘Floyd were plucked from some time machine, creators of a neo-rock sound and always conceptual in approach. Next to The BEATLES, the greatest rock act of all time.
Roger Waters (guitar), Richard Wright (keyboards) and Nick Mason (drums) initially formed the group in London, England, 1965 as the Abdabs; other members at the time were Clive Metcalfe (bass), Keith Noble and Juliette Gale (vocals). After a few gigs, the latter trio were dismissed when the band enlisted singer/guitarist Syd Barrett, adopting “The Pink Floyd” moniker (from bluesman Pink Anderson and the Floyd Council); Waters was now on bass.
In March ‘66, the revised PF secured a residency at the Marquee Club, where their Sunday afternoon gigs were described as “spontaneous underground”. Having played the UFO club later that year, Barrett and Co were subsequently signed to EMI’s fledgling Columbia Records, helped by their new management team of Peter Jenner and Andrew King. PINK FLOYD’s March ‘67 debut outing `Arnold Layne’ (about a pervy washing-line thief), surprisingly escaped a BBC ban. One of the first missives from the psychedelic underground movement to reach the UK Top 20, it was characterised by Syd’s whimsically affected vocals.
On the 29th of April, they were top of the bill at Alexandria Palace’s 14-hour Technicolour Dream, one of the psychedelic era’s most infamous events. The Pink Floyd’s follow-up single `See Emily Play’ (originally titled “Games For May”), climbed to No.6 in the charts and preceding their classic debut album THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN (1967) {*10} – a pioneering work in the sense that it contained none of the aforementioned singles. The LP was dominated by Barrett’s eccentric songwriting, highlights being the cosmic `Astronomy Domine’ alongside the acid-fuelled, space-rock of `Interstellar Overdrive’. These gems were contrasted with idiosyncratic ramblings like `Bike’, `Matilda Mother’ and `Scarecrow’.
The quartet’s third 45 `Apples And Oranges’ surprisingly flopped late in 1967, while Barrett’s mental condition deteriorated rapidly due to his excessive use of the drug lsd. This led to missed shows and studio sessions, resulting in PINK FLOYD bringing in guitarist David Gilmour (an old school friend of Syd’s) to compensate.
In April ‘68, BARRETT was asked to leave the group, retreating to a life of reclusiveness in his mother’s Cambridge home. It was widely speculated that PINK FLOYD would be creatively bankrupt without Syd, especially after a further single `It Would Be So Nice’ bombed. However, Waters and Wright took up the reins on the bulk of the songwriting duties and the band soon unleashed their second, more percussive effort, A SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS (1968) {*9}.
Released to ecstatic reviews, the transitional album repeated the band’s debut success. Undisputed highlights included `Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’, `Let There Be More Light’, `See-Saw’, the 12-minute new group composition title track and songwriter Barrett’s harrowing farewell, `Jugband Blues’; penned by Waters, `Corporal Clegg’ was similar in many respects to PF Mk.I.
On the 29th of June, PINK FLOYD played their first free concert at London’s Hyde Park alongside the likes of JETHRO TULL and ROY HARPER. They subsequently finished the year with a third consecutive flop single `Point Me At The Sky’. Now concentrating solely on albums, the quartet released the under-par soundtrack score to a Barbet Schroeder-directed movie, MORE (1969) {*6}. The record was basically an instrumental set and one of the least written about and most underrated entries in the PINK FLOYD canon. The record manifested itself in deceptively bucolic fragments like `Cirrus Minor’ and the gorgeous `Green Is The Colour’. In `Nile Song’, the record also featured one of Floyd’s heaviest freak-outs, a proto-grunge monster well before its time. Mason/Wright and Gilmour also get their solo turns on `Up The Khyber’ (a decent jazz-rock excursion) and `A Spanish Piece’ (a fun flamenco romp) respectively, while the instrumental `Main Theme’ is `Floyd at their most elemental, a kinetic whirlpool of eddying electronics and spidery keyboards.
Later in ‘69, the band issued the very unique part live, part solo, double album UMMA GUMMA {*8}. Each member contributed a piece of individually credited material, the best being Waters’ bizarre long-winded creation `Several Species Of Small Furry Animals…’ and the delightful `Grantchester Meadows’. The live disc (recorded in Manchester and Birmingham) combined the cream of their sprawling stage improvisations; `Careful With That Axe, Eugene’ making its first album appearance.
In the autumn of 1970, PINK FLOYD released their fifth album, the chart-topping ATOM HEART MOTHER {*9}, a record consisting of one patchy, experimental side of more conventionally structured songs (the 13-minute `Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast’ apart), the other a side-long collage with wind man RON GEESIN performing on the excellent 23-minute title track. The said trumpeter was also to collaborate with ROGER WATERS on a soundtrack for the Roy Battersby documentary film `The Body’ released the same year.
On the 15th of May ‘71, PINK FLOYD played at the Crystal Palace Garden Party, introducing a new piece of music “Return To The Sun Of Nothing”, which, six months on became `Echoes’. This epic 23-minute composition subsequently took up a whole side of the band’s UK Top 3 album MEDDLE (1971) {*9}, which also featured group compositions `One Of These Days’, `A Pillow Of Winds’, `Fearless’ (notable for its interpolation of Liverpool FC’s Anfield Kop chants and Rodgers-Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone”) and their “dog-duet” `Seamus’.
The following year, their most recent recordings were used on another Schroeder film La Vallee (aka OBSCURED BY CLOUDS (1972) {*6}). More lucid and generally more cohesive – if less interesting or alluring – than either `More’ or a previous part-soundtrack work `Zabriskie Point’ from 1970), this was pretty much the final link in the band’s occasionally messy transition from post-psychedelic pioneers to sleek prog-rock craftsmen. `Mudmen’, with its spiralling sheets of Gilmour-patented sound, predicted countless moments of `Floyd-ian majesty, while the same man’s `Childhood’s End’ would find a claustrophobic echo pre-`Dark Side…’. The stoned incongruity of a title like `Wot’s… Uh The Deal’ actually disguised a ballad of aching poignancy. Waters’ only solo credit is `Free Four’, a galumphing death’s head in jester’s clothing and an unlikely US single release. While the lyrics of `Obscured By Clouds’ at least suggest a linear sense of the movie’s Heart Of Darkness-esque quest, closer `Absolutely Curtains’ is the only track to make its Papua New Guinean setting explicit, with disembodied keyboards and drum rolls ushering in a troupe of indigenous voices. The same year, PF premiered their own performance film `Live At Pompeii’ in Edinburgh. The gong was out again for the ecliptic `Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ – Pompeii’s ghosts looked to have been awakened by FLOYD’s eerie sojourn into timeless space.
In March 1973, after its spectacular January showing at the Planetarium, their glorious masterpiece THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON {*10}, was unveiled. A meticulous concept set which the band had worked on for over a year, it dealt with such taboo themes as lunacy, depression and death. These cosmic subjects were approached with sonic psyche on such compelling tracks as `Us And Them’, `Breathe’, `The Great Gig In The Sky’, `Time’ and the funky US Top 20 hit `Money’. Scaling both the UK and US charts, the album went on to amass sales of over 10 million, incredibly residing in the chart for nearly 300 consecutive weeks. It has subsequently become regarded by many as the greatest album of all time, breathing new life into stereo headphones (example for oneself via `On The Run’).
PINK FLOYD returned to London’s Earl’s Court for a spectacular laser show, featuring the album’s all-girl backing singers The Blackberries. In 1974, they did a benefit gig, raising £10,000 for their recently disabled friend ROBERT WYATT (Nick Mason also producing the one-time SOFT MACHINE drummer’s `Rock Bottom’ album).
In the summer of ‘75, their majestic Knebworth Festival performance previewed another best-selling album and subsequent chart-topper WISH YOU WERE HERE {*10}. The record featured some of PINK FLOYD’s most enduring songs including the space-jazz ode to Syd, `Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, the oppressive futurism of `Welcome To The Machine’, the ROY HARPER-sung `Have A Cigar’ and the wistful melancholy of the title track. It was rounded off by a reprised version of `Shine On’, the recording sessions blessed with a rare visit by the song’s subject and absent friend (in more ways than one), SYD BARRETT.
Late in 1976, Floyd let loose their 40-foot inflatable pig after a promotional session for their forthcoming ANIMALS (1977) {*9} album sleeve shot. The Civil Aviation Authority was alerted to warn pilots of the danger, but it was never found. But there were a handful of `Pigs (Three Different Ones)’ – opening side two – found on the album itself, and a few more if one could count bookend vignettes `Pigs On The Wing’ (“1” & “2”). Nihilistic and almost Orwellian in nature – pardon the pun – Waters was behind over half the set, including `Sheep’, Gilmour’s part contribution came by way of PF’s trademark lengthy construction `Dogs’; the barking ghost “Seamus” was indeed laid to rest.
While MASON had produced albums for The DAMNED (`Music For Pleasure’) and STEVE HILLAGE (`Green’), GILMOUR and WRIGHT released their own respective solo albums in 1978, namely `David Gilmour’ and `Wet Dream’.
PINK FLOYD returned with a bang towards the fall of 1979 courtesy of a new Roger Waters-penned concept THE WALL {*9}, a narcissistic double-set which spawned a decidedly un-festive Christmas chart-topper in the lugubrious `Another Brick In The Wall (Part II)’ – a playground anthem like ALICE COOPER’s `School’s Out’.
The album was another unrelentingly cynical concept piece, centring on the life of Pink, a disillusioned and disgruntled rock star, emotionally detached and in the throes of insanity. Brick by brick, Waters, Gilmour (who co-penned three cuts namely `Young Lust’, the sublime `Comfortably Numb’ and `Run Like Hell’), Wright and Mason examined and then deconstructed life through the eyes of Pink. With all the hallmarks of The WHO’s “Tommy” or indeed “Quadrophenia”, PINK FLOYD’s theatrical rock opera was miles away from prog-rock and psychedelia, the sad Thatcher-ite 80s were just around the corner and `The Wall’ predicted the gloom and despair it one fell swoop. From `In The Flesh?’ to `Goodbye Cruel World’ on disc one, to `Hey You’ and `The Trial’ (a theatrical-ish showpiece) on disc two, the record was hailed in nearly all quarters of the music media. With the aid of cartoonist/animator Gerald Scarfe, the next few years were spent making the piece into a film. Directed by Alan Parker and issued in 1982, The BOOMTOWN RATS’ Bob Geldof played the main character of Pink.
By the time of the movie’s release, Wright had already left the band after quarrelling with Waters, while MASON delivered his solo debut, `Fictitious Sports’ (1981).
When a fresh PF set arrived in the spring of 1983, THE FINAL CUT {*6} was a bit of a damp squib by PINK FLOYD standards, mainmain Waters was fully responsible for its failings and misgivings and it was found overbearingly depressing, derided by critics as a poor “son of The Wall”; the pain of the loss of his father to World War II and his condemnation of Old Blighty’s recent Maggie Thatcher/Queen-and-Country invasion of the faraway (and futile) Falkland conflict with the Argies was a comparison probably best served up by politicians (or indeed) footballers rather than musicians; with the exception of `Not Now John’, `The Hero’s Return’ and the dour `Fletcher Memorial Home’. In complete contrast to the work of Waters and his take of the new dour PF sound, early ’84 saw the sophomore venture of DAVID GILMOUR (`About Face’) hit the shops.
Meanwhile, WATERS recording his own solo album, `The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking’, which was released in May ’84, as he duly went into his own judicial battle with Messrs Gilmour and Mason for the use of the PINK FLOYD moniker; it fashioned more than just a rift with all and sundry – the musical divorce being settled in 1986 when Roger lost out.
Old Floyd-ians were rather spoilt for choice in the midst of all the upheavals in the mid-80s, although the jury was out on two collaborative expeditions by way of RICK WRIGHT’s Zee (a pop-rock project with Dave Harris of FASHION) and the LP `Identity’ (1984), or for that matter MASON’s set, `Profiles’ (1985), alongside another outsider Rick Fenn. With Waters finally out of the PINK FLOYD picture, Wright returned a year later to boost their ever-impressive live shows (a venture which more or less helped the remaining trio – two originals and a stalwart of nearly two decades – win the court battle against their one-time “boss”).
The reunited PINK FLOYD returned with an extended Gilmour-led line-up in 1987 on Top 3 set, A MOMENTARY LAPSE OF REASON {*5}, a record which produced a couple of minor hit singles through `Learning To Fly’ and `On The Turning Away’ (both Gilmour and Anthony Moore compositions) plus `One Slip’ (penned with Phil Manzanera). It lacked substance and the atmosphere from their early WATERS-works and needless to say it disappointed many of their loyal fanbase. A live double album DELICATE SOUND OF THUNDER (1988) {*6}, was thought to be the answer, but ironically enough, even though more PINK FLOYD than ever before, tracks chosen favoured the post-1973 route – bar `One Of These Days’.
A seven-year studio hiatus was broken with the release of chart-topper THE DIVISION BELL (1994) {*7}, regarded by long-time fans as a return to form, to others merely another brick out the wall for the WATERS-less PINK FLOYD and their session backers. On reflection (as Gilmour, Wright and co-scriber Polly Samson took on the bulk of the material), the chimes were rang best on hit tracks like `Take It Back’, `Keep Talking’ (with brainbox Stephen Hawking in tow) and `High Hopes’.
Following this swansong set (and a decent RICHARD WRIGHT solo effort, `Broken China’ (1996), PINK FLOYD continued to keep their name alive purely on the back of concert and compilation sets. The huge transatlantic success of PULSE (1995) {*4} – yet another double-disc live update! – was followed five years later by IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE? THE WALL: LIVE 1980-1981 (2000) {*6}, a belated document of the band’s live performances inspired by their famous 1979 album. ECHOES: THE BEST OF PINK FLOYD (2001) {*8}, meanwhile, attempted a more broad overview of the band’s long and complex career. Marking a belated reunion appearance by a reluctant Gilmour, Mason, Wright and their old mucker Waters at the Live8 benefit in London’s Hyde Park in July 2005, the rift was eased ever so slightly – many fans would be in tears at the end. They were even more emotional (at least the fans that could remember the man in his heyday), when that “Crazy Diamond” SYD BARRETT passed away on the 7th July the following year.
Given the man’s open-ended approach to recording, a DAVID GILMOUR solo album was almost as much of an event as new ‘Floyd material, and `On An Island’ (2006) was effectively a follow-up to PF’s final studio set; sadly, it was to be RICHARD WRIGHT’s swansong as he died on 15th September 2008.
As a mark of respect to the keyboard man, Messrs Gilmour and Mason – adding Guy Pratt, Bob Ezrin, Youth, Andy Jackson, PHIL MANZANERA along the way – put together some pre-“Division Bell” tapes, once under the name “The Big Spliff”, updated them alongside new pieces, and released them as THE ENDLESS RIVER (2014) {*8}. Sculpting and projecting mostly every poignant period from PF’s classic, kaleidoscopic canon, the 50-minute set fulfilled its “Dark Side Of The River” soundscape. From the opening cloudy cuts, `Things Left Unsaid’ and `It’s What We Do’, to the reflective pieces `Talkin’ Hawkin’ (a leftover from the previous “Division B” with Stephen Hawking) and `Anisina’, to the folky `Louder Than Words’, the aural waves swell without breaking the much surf. While one can ear obvious signs of Atom Heart Mother and Animals on board the record’s sea of tranquillity, Mason was allowed to excel on his “Saucerful Of Secrets”-type `Skins’. Unpaid-up members of the Floyd fanclub might baulk at its nocturnal pace but, with Gilmore’s guitar glissandos, time could stand still for true aficionados. Almost as an addendum to the set itself, the deluxe edition saw David duelling somewhat with a Vini Reilly-esque piece, `TBS14’, while some hair was let down on the metallic, `Nervana’. A fitting end to a fine work, while the world of classic, avant-rock will soon wish you were here again.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/GRD/LCS-MCS+BG / rev-up Mar2012-Oct2014

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