Vintage Pink Floyd Interview – Part 1
Coming to you in celebration of our Classic Rock Presents…Prog special that is on sale now, we bring you part one of our Pink Floyd feature from ten years ago with Mr Roger Waters!
PINK FLOYD – THE SHOW MUST GO ON…
Or must it? Twenty years on, PINK FLOYD are releasing ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’, an anniversary live double album of their conceptual masterpiece ‘The Wall’. Besides being the brainchild of bassist ROGER WATERS, ‘The Wall’ transpired to be the culmination of years of internal friction. During its creating, power struggles and skulduggery abounded as members were sacked, opinions raged and egos imploded. JERRY EWING speaks to Waters, guitarist DAVID GILMOUR and drummer NICK MASON and hears a tale that has everything from low self-esteem and bust-ups with movie producers to shifty calls from phone boxes…
In the early part of 1979, the four members of Pink Floyd convened in Miraval in the south of France. They had spent much of ’78 working on different projects having completed a world tour for the previous years ‘Animals’ album. Drummer Nick Mason was busy producing such polar opposites as The Damned and Steve Hillage. Keyboard player Rick Wright was working on ‘Wet Dreams’, his debut solo release, and guitarist David Gilmour issued his own eponymous solo album. Only bassist Roger Waters was conspicuous by his absence.
The reasons for this would soon become apparent as the four hit the Riviera. Although justifiably on of the rock bands of the ‘70s; their last three albums, 1973’s ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’, ‘75’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and the aforementioned ‘Animals’ all cemented the band’s position as true greats, they had never quite tackled a project of the enormity that Waters would present to them.
Like their work throughout the decade, ‘The Wall’ was a conceptual piece. Using a central character by the name of Pink Floyd, it was a loosely based autobiographical tale by Waters in which he railed against the establishment and painted a bleak picture of rock stardom.
Released in November 1979, it was reported to have shifted 1.2 million copies by the following January, and rightly so. Perhaps the greatest Floyd album of all time, it is a fascinating double set that, despite its themes of isolation and alienation, draws the listener in with some stunning rock music, not least the menacing ‘Comfortably Numb’. As a result, ‘The Wall’ rocketed Floyd to the forefront of rock, placing them at the dawn of a new decade. It was also the last time these four particular superstars would ever work together as a fully functioning unit.
What the success of ‘The Wall’ did was avert attention from the fractious nature of the band that had clearly existed since ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’. Ruminations had already begun to filter through to the press. Never the most communicative of bands with the media and public (“The less one is recognised the better as far as I’m concerned,” Roger Waters says), the friction that existed was overshadowed by their massive commercial success, gargantuan tours and the public belief that all bands are mates together.
During the making of ‘The Wall’, Roger Waters increased his hands-on approach to the band’s work – indeed Gilmour gets just three co-writing credits, mason and Wright none – and the frayed ends finally began to split. Rick Wright was sacked, although not inn a blaze of publicity. He toured as a hired hand and the absence of his name from 1983’s ‘The Final Cut’ alerted the fans that something strange was going on behind the scenes. Yet the publicity-shy Floyd animal ensured that the myth of Pink Floyd would remain intact – for the time being, at least.
Even press assertion that ‘The Final Cut’ was more of a Waters solo project than a fully-blown Floyd album did little to dampen fans’ enthusiasm. In a burst of typical post-album Floydian activity, Gilmour subsequently offered his own ‘About Face’ record; Wright joined forces with ex-Fashion member Dee Harris for the ill-advised Zee; and Waters released ‘The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking’ featuring Eric Clapton on guitar. Then, in December 1985, the news filtered through that Waters had actually quit the band.
Not so the rest. Less than a year later, on 11th November, an official statement revealed that although Waters quit ‘the group have no intention of disbanding. On the contrary, David Gilmour and Nick Mason with Rick Wright and Bob Ezrin, are currently recording a new album.’
Since then we’ve had ‘87’s ‘A Momentary Lapse Of Reason’ (pretty good) and ‘94’s ‘The Division Bell’ (very good), a couple of live albums and some spectacularly successful world tours from Pink Floyd. We’ve had ‘87’s ‘Radio KAOS’ (great), ‘90’s ‘The Wall – Live In Berlin’ (not great) and ‘93’s ‘Amused To death’ (jury still out) from Roger Waters. We’ve had a bitter war of words, recriminations flying, sullying the band’s name with insinuations that all was definitely not as it seemed.
It might be fair to say that in most Floyd fans’ eyes, Gilmour is the good guy, Waters the bad. Mason and Wright the other two. This is certainly the general feeling one gets from the way the Floyd saga has been played out over the last few years. But what is the real story?
With ‘Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live’ set for release in February – 20 years after the first of the 28 shows of ‘The Wall’ that took place at Nassau Coliseum, in New York – the time seems right to explore this most engaging, infuriating and, ultimately, self-mythologising of all English rock bands.
Was Roger Waters really the megalomaniac that so many have painted him as? Is Gilmour the affable, laid back nice guy, or does a steelier, ruthless streak run through him? And what of Mason and Wright? What indeed? The interviews that follow were all conducted over two weeks in November this year. Waters, in Paris, was an intense, thoughtful interviewee who answered everything that was thrown at him, often at length. Gilmour a blend of relaxed cool and edgy tetchiness; and Mason one of the most charming and humorous men once could have the good fortune to speak to.
As for Rick Wright, well, once more when it comes to ‘The Wall’ he was not around. A polite:”I think he’s somewhere in France” met our requests to talk to him. Whether the fact that he was removed from the band during the making of the original album mean that Pink Floyd Music Ltd., the company that administers all pre-Waters departure Pink Floyd business, decided he should keep a low profile this time around is something that we’ll have to wait for him to tell us one day.
Old wounds still evidently cause certain members some discomfort. Waters can barely comprehend the commercial failure of ‘Amused To death and his bitterness is still evident. Gilmour and Mason are certainly diplomatic about their ex-colleague whilst vague about their own future. Ladies and gentlemen, some 20 years after the curtain rose on ‘The Wall’, we are back in the land of Pink Floyd.
This may not be the final cut…
How did your solo tour of the US go this year?
It was immensely energising. It all started when I did one gig in 1992 for Don Henley’s Walden Woods Project and we did an evening at the Universal Amphitheatre in LA. There were four of us, I did some tunes, Don did some tunes [Henley supplied the vocals for ‘Comfortably Numb’], Neil Young and John Fogerty did some tunes. The atmosphere was wonderful and the response I got to my few tunes was very gratifying.
I just really enjoyed the contact with an audience again and thought maybe I should have another go at it.
I’m going to do some dates next summer and possibly in the Autumn come to Europe.
It was your first full-blown tour for 12 years. Were you nervous?
No. It’s much smaller than most of the things I’ve done. I had a certain trepidation as to whether anybody would come or not. My last experience of touring was with ‘Radio KAOS’ and was very much in the shadow of my past in that Gilmour and the boys were doing football stadiums at the same time. That was quite character forming. But this is what I do, and I know how to do this and I’m good at it.
What involvement have you had with the live version of ‘The Wall’?
I didn’t even know about it until around six weeks ago. Having found out that it was coming out I have had some input. For instance, James Guthrie, who’s mixing it, is sending me the mixes. We’ve had discussions about the title. If it was going to be called anything other than ‘Pink Floyd – The Wall Live’ then it was ‘Is There Anybody Out There…’.
I’ve only heard the first four mixes and they sound pretty good. They’re very different to the record. It will turn out to be not only an interesting document for the longstanding fans, but a valid performance.
Gerald Scarfe’s artwork was so synonymous with ‘The Wall’ yet Storm Thorgerson handles ‘Is There Anybody Out There…’. Why?
Much against my better judgement. But my judgement isn’t often taken into consideration on these matters because I tend to get out-voted by the board of Pink Floyd Music Ltd. Storm is technically proficient, but I don’t personally like the work he’s done recently at all.
But I am happy to say that I’m being consulted to a large extent about that as well so I’m trying to trim the worst of his excesses. Trying to leave as much of a) what Gerry did alone and b) to use as much of the photos of the shows from which the record comes. There are millions of photos and some of them are stunning.
You and Thorgerson fell out, did you not?
He wasn’t used for any Pink Floyd artwork while I was involved after :Wish You Were Here’ and I have to say I love that sleeve. They [Thorgerson’s company, Hipgnosis] came up with a load of ideas for ‘Animals’, none of which I liked, and I don’t think the rest of the boys thought they were that brilliant either. And there was a feeling of, “well, if you don’t like it, do something better.”
So I peddled round South London on my bicycle with my camera and took some photos of Battersea Power Station and then I got somebody to make a pig and got a mock up and said, “There’s my idea.”
I rather fell out with Storm when he included that sleeve in a book of their album designs, because it had nothing to do with them. Except that they called me up and said “No hard feelings, but you are going to need lots of photographers for the day when you put the balloon up in the sky, would you like us to organise the photographers for you?”
So when subsequently they tried to take the whole thing over I was kind of pissed off about that. But the cover for ‘The Wall’, after we’d made the album, was very clear to me. And I’d done a lot of work in the animation with Gerry Scarfe. I did ‘The Final Cut’ album cover as well.
Over the years, Floyd’s visual side has become almost as important as the music contained within. You must be quite proud of that.
By and large. Some of them didn’t work. Some were good ideas that came out wrong. ‘Meddle’ for instance, but that was produced in England when we were in Japan. But it’s not a big problem. Some of the, like ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, ‘Animals’, ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘The Wall’ were fantastic.
Do you think ‘The Wall’, which was panned upon release in the UK, has eventually received the critical acclaim it deserved?
I don’t know. It’s received a lot of acclaim, but how much does anything deserve? A lot of people have bought it and continue to buy it and it’s taken very seriously.
One of the things that gives me great pleasure is that it gets used a lot in the teaching of both music and English. Who are the arbiters? Where would the acclaim lie beyond what it’s had? Would it be the readers of Classic Rock? Who decides?
By and large, people know the work and have given it the attention it deserves. ‘Amused To death’, for instance, only had a tiny fraction of the acclaim it deserved, but that’s a personal view and I think maybe it will as time goes by. It will demand that people do because it’s such a stunning record. It’s the third of a trilogy of great works that I’ve been involved in, starting with ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ and ‘The Wall’.
You famously fell out with director Alan Parker during the filming of ‘The Wall’ (starring Bob Geldof). What do you think of the film now?
I once had this quite heated discussion with him, where he said that the perfect film is made up of 100 perfect minutes. That was when I realised we were having problems. There’s got to be lots of imperfect minutes to make a perfect 100. And that’s the kind of feeling I got from the movie. Every minute was trying to be so full of interest and action I find it a bit difficult to watch at a sitting. I’ve become kind of numbed by it. Having said that, a lot of what he did was really great and the work Gerry did was great as well. I’ve actually grown fond of it. I very much regretted that there’s no humour in it, but that’s my fault. I don’t think I was in a particularly jolly state.
I’ve been re-working it, in a desultory fashion, as a stage play. When I do that, there are a lot of laughs and that will be my chief motivating factor for putting it on the stage.
‘The Wall’ seems an incredibly personal statement to make. Was it a difficult project to see to fruition?
Yeah. Work like that’s always hard, but rewarding. Whether it’s autobiographical or not is beside the point. Except, I suppose, in as much as one might be fighting against the kind f demons of shame and fear of exposing oneself. I don’t remember that was in the process. I remember the energy, working with Bob Ezrin. The kind of batting to and fro of ideas.
I like working with other people in team situations. That’s why I like working with bands, although I don’t particularly like working in a committee. That was one of the problems from ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ onwards.
People tend to see ‘The Wall’ as the first major indication of you artistically overshadowing the other members of the band. Were you aware of any cracks in inter-band relations while making the album?
The whole thing had fallen to pieces during ‘Wish You Were Here’. Dave wanted to make a completely different record. So we had a struggle about that, which I won eventually. But after ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ it was always a problem. In fact, during ‘Wish You Were Here’ Nick Sedgewick and Storm Thorgerson, but mainly Nick Sedgewick – who produced ‘Wish You Were Here’ – came on tour with us and started to write the definitive book on the experience in Pink Floyd.
When about the first 50 minutes read was available, we all sat down and read it, and it was fascinating because it was the story of the English tour we’d just finished. Dave read it and went “Yeah”, and then a couple of days later he just exploded. “If this is true” – and it was true – “then I might as well not be in the band”. Because it didn’t fit with how he thought of himself and his role in the band. It described me as the leader and so it was suppressed. That was 25 years ago and nothing’s changed! [Laughs.]
You sacked Rick Wright during the making of ‘The Wall’. Why?
The real beginning of the end was when I brought in Bob Ezrin in as producer. I needed help to produce this record, it was a big project. Up until then we’d always had ‘produced by Pink Floyd’, and most of the work in production had been by me and Dave. So I put it to Nick and Rick that Bob Ezrin would be producing the record with me and Dave, but with all due respect to those guys they wouldn’t because they never had. We thought it was fair that we got a point, one per cent, and that would come off the top and then we’d divvy up the rest of the deal four ways. Nick went “Fine, no problem”. But Rick went “But I can produce the record, I can help.” “I don’t think you can Rick, you never have in the past.” “Yes I have.” So I said “Okay, let’s do this. Let’s make the record and if you’re seen to be producing the record you can have a point too. We’ll split it four ways. Is that fair?”
So after we’d been working for a few weeks, Rick would be in the studio all the time, from the moment we’d start in the morning to when we’d finish at night. This was not unusual. One day Bob Ezrin asked me why. And I said “Don’t you get it? He thinks he’s producing the record.” He replied, “Don’t be ridiculous,” and I said, “He does, he wants the point. Have you noticed how he occasionally goes…” and Rick’s not hugely articulate – “Uh, uh, uh, I don’t like that.” Ezrin says “Yes, it’s rather irritating.” I said “He thinks that’s record producing, you ask him.” He came back and said, “You’re absolutely right. Well I told him he’s not.” And after that Rick never came in, unless we needed a keyboard part.
He’d got the hump. He played less and less and less and generally wasn’t interested, really. If he thought he’d written a god keyboard part he’d hoard it and put it on one of his awful solo albums. He didn’t want to share anything with anybody, he just got really anal. Anyway, we were in the South of France making the record and I’d re-negotiated a deal with Sony to get a few more points, but their end of the deal was that they’d definitely get the record at the end of October. We all took a holiday in August, I wrote a schedule for when we reconvened on September 5. I realised that it was impossible. I asked Ezrin if he’d be in to do the rest of the keyboard parts for the week starting August 28. He went, “Oh my God, okay.” I got [Floyd manager] Steve O’Rourke to call Rick. A couple of days later, O’Rourke found Rick in Greece. The message was, “Tell Roger to fuck off!” So I gave him an ultimatum to do as he was told and finish the record, keep your full share and leave quietly afterwards, or I’d see him in court. He very wisely accepted the former proposal. In any event, I wasn’t working with him anymore. And it was at that point that I had a meeting with Dave where he famously – or infamously – said “Why don’t we get rid of Nick too?” And I was like “Dave, Nick’s my mate.”
Why did you get Jeff Porcaro to play on ‘Mother’?
It’s got 5/4 bars in it. Nick, to his great credit, has no pretence about that, it was clear that he could not play it. He said “I can’t play that.” Or maybe somebody said to him, “Nick, maybe you should get somebody else to play this because you’re struggling” It was the same thing with ‘Two Suns In The Sunset’. It was in 5/4 so [former Sly Stone and David Bowie drummer] Andy Newmark played that.
Was ‘The Final Cut’ essentially a Roger Waters solo album?
Yes> And I spent a number of occasions whilst making that album thinking it was becoming ridiculous and saying “Look why don’t I just make this a solo album?” The answer would always be no, despite the fact that they were never there. Rick had gone by that time and Dave wasn’t interested.
But as individuals none of you were particularly busy on other things. So why not all get involved?
Absolutely, but if you want to be a band, to go on making the money and being superstars, you have to have the songs. Go back to 1970 and you’ll find that almost all of the songs came from me. I wrote lots of albums during this period of time, lots and lots of songs, so you can see that it’s very difficult for them to say, “Yeah, okay, we don’t like this. Why don’t you go ahead and make it as a solo album?” People that have been in rock’n’roll bands absolutely understand that without a writer you’re fucked basically.
Has ‘The Final Cut’ been assessed fairly?
Well its biggest critic is Gilmour. He didn’t like its politics. He didn’t like this, he didn’t like that. All he liked abut it was his extra percentage for pretending to be a producer on it. Maybe that’s being a bit unkind [ponders for a moment] – no it’s not. That’s the way it was. If he’d have had any kind of integrity then he’d have said “I don’t want to have anything to do with this record, I don’t like it”. But he needed to compromise because he didn’t have any songs of his own! Not one. And so what do you do? Unless you write the songs, you can’t make the record. And that’s what most bands flounder on, they run out of creative energy.
Clearly, after I’d left, they got in as many people as they could to write the material as quietly as possible. But it wasn’t that quiet if you look at the list of writing credits. Then, having got other people to write the songs they tried to copy the style that I had created when I was still in the band as much as they could without me being there. I know for a fact that they used to sit around and go, “Well, what would Roger do now?” then try and do it. That’s why those records have that kind of ersatz feel. Though having said that, there are a few tracks on “A Momentary Lapse Of Reason’ that I rather like, but ‘The Division Bell’ is just crap.
Was quitting the band a difficult decision for you?
It was. Because I’d much have preferred that we stopped. I was forced to quit because they were threatening me with all sorts of things. The ensuing debacle was very painful for quite some time. But in retrospect it was the right thing to do. I can view those times now without rancour.
You said ‘A Momentary Lapse Of Reason’ was a pretty fair forgery. Do you still view Floyd like that?
Yeah. They got half way through it and then scrapped it because the record company said “You can’t get away with this. You’ve got to make something that at least sounds like a Pink Floyd record.” So they started again. And that’s exactly what they were doing, trying to forge a Pink Floyd record.
Do you have to attend business meetings with the others?
I don’t attend meetings. But yes, Pink Floyd Music is a limited company. And it administers part of the catalogue that I was involved in. They have another company that administers the stuff after I left. But I don’t have anything to do with the company because I can be out-voted on the board.
That must be annoying?
From time to time. But so what? There was a hell of a lot of good things and we did some good work together, of which I’m very proud. Everybody had a part in it, and so you could say that it’s a shame we weren’t all St. Francis of Assisi, but maybe if we had been we’d have had a home for sick animals somewhere and not made any records.
Do you have any kind of relationship with any of the members of Pink Floyd?
No. Strangely enough Rick came to one of the shows on the last tour. I think he’d had a couple of drinks. He was all sorts of smiles and a bit nervous. But he was much more mealy mouthed out the front apparently, which has been reported by people that met him. In front of the stage he was still finding ways to criticise me.
Have you been painted as the bad guy in this?
No question. I’ve always not co-operated with anyone who was writing a book because I don’t want to authorise anything. As soon as you start to co-operate, a lot of the vision starts to come from other people. By and large I think they’ve all got it completely wrong. I did an interview with David Fricke of Rolling Stone when I was on the road and he interviewed Dave Gilmour as well. They printed this kind of Floyd-wars article without a single word of anything Id told him. A decision had obviously been made not print any word of story about ‘A Momentary Lapse Of Reason’ and how it was made and what was actually going on.
You can’t have been happy that ‘Amused To Death’ was not received well by the critics?
It’s a stunning piece of work, but there we are. It’s not something I feel bitter about or have sleepless nights over. The work is there and it stands by itself and I can prop it in the corner of the room and look at it and know that Pat Leonard and I and all the other people that worked on it did a great job. It’s a really wonderful piece of work.
Dave Gilmour recently said he’d invited you to play ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ with the band at Earls Court and you declined?
Yeah, I don’t think get through the first half an hour of rehearsal. I know if I stood on a stage I’d feel “Ugh, I don’t like this. I don’t want to be here doing this, it does not feel good.” There’s too much history. We’ve made our decisions, gone our separate paths. If I’m going to be on stage playing music, even ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’, I want t to be with people that I love.
What would you say is your finest musical achievement so far?
To date, I would have to say ‘The Wall’.
Come back soon for David Gilmour’s portion of the feature next Thursday.