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ProgBlog catches King Crimson on an auspicious date at the beginning of their 2018 UK tour

By ProgBlog, May 29 2017 08:47AM

I began listening to Pink Floyd bootlegs, loaned by a school friend, in 1973. It was probably John Bull who also lent me his copy of The Dark Side of the Moon before I went out to buy it, shared with my brother Tony for the princely sum of £1 each, and then I began to probe the Floyd back catalogue starting with the 1971 retrospective Relics and the compilation A Nice Pair. That I loved and was influenced by Dark Side, to the extent that I copied the lyrical motifs when asked to write some poetry for a piece of English Language at school, is undeniable. At the time I wasn’t aware that Dark Side was going to be a massive, record-breaking hit album or that it was the almost perfect realisation of all the Floydian experimentation that had gone before. It may have been one of the closest records to straightforward rock that I owned for many years but it oozed exquisitely tasteful guitar and keyboard work and superlative production values; the between-track segues that render it a nightmare to convert to mp3 bestow a grand concept feel and, last but not least, the package is completed by a simple sleeve design that has become an icon in its own right, enhanced by the posters and stickers that came with the album that graced my walls for many years. The exotic and mysterious pyramids captured my imagination as a 14 year old schoolboy and the prism motif tapped into my love of physics, even appearing as a mandala in the centre of the vinyl, the first time I’d seen a thematic device used in this way.


Record Store Day 2017 release of Interstellar Overdrive
Record Store Day 2017 release of Interstellar Overdrive

But I also liked the Barrett-era Floyd; the psychedelic whimsy tinged with a darker edge and the sonic exploration best exemplified by Interstellar Overdrive. This was unconventional rock territory, setting the Floyd in the vanguard of bands wishing to move away from the formulaic constraints of the three minute single, not simply by extended jamming but incorporating ideas such as musique concrète. Unfortunately, the diametrically opposed wishes of Barrett and record label EMI (and the other band members who at the time wanted more hit singles), resulting in the recruitment of David Gilmour as guitarist while Barrett was expected to continue to write but not perform was a short-lived idea and Barrett was dropped, though their second album A Saucerful of Secrets was something of a hybrid album between the Barrett- and Gilmour eras. The space-rock Floyd, best preserved on the live half of Ummagumma and the film Live in Pompeii, displays an evolution from the track A Saucerful of Secrets through the Atom Heart Mother suite and Echoes (from Meddle) to Dark Side, where their vision was fully realised. I’m rather dismissive of the soundtrack work for More and Obscured by Clouds and I’m not particularly a fan of the short tracks on the second side of Atom Heart Mother or the first side Meddle (apart from One of These Days.) I think Wish You Were Here is an admirable follow-up to Dark Side, but even as early as 1975 I can detect the seeds of the descent from progressive visionaries to mainstream rock that in my opinion, and I may be a solitary voice here, is of lesser artistic merit. The instrument of change was the strummed acoustic guitar and from a solitary track on Wish You Were Here, it took more of a central role on Animals, bookending the three main tracks as Pigs on the Wing parts 1 and 2 but also appearing in Dogs; simplistic acoustic guitar riffs formed an integral part of The Wall, The Final Cut and, inevitably, the first Roger Waters solo album The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking.



Ticket stubs, 1980, 1988 and 1994
Ticket stubs, 1980, 1988 and 1994

I was exceptionally pleased with the reformation of the band in 1987 and the Momentary Lapse of Reason album, believing it to be worthy of the Pink Floyd canon. Even if, as some critics argue, it was initially conceived as a David Gilmour solo project and however brief the input from Mason and Wright, the vision was far removed from any other material released under Gilmour’s own name such that the assembled cast, with progressive credentials bolstered by Tony Levin on bass and Chapman Stick, created a well balanced album that returned the group to the prog fold. I’d seen the Floyd perform The Wall during its first outing at Earls Court in 1980 and though it was an incredible piece of musical theatre, I was never overwhelmed with the music itself. On a hot summer’s day within 24 hours of being exactly eight years later, I saw Pink Floyd on the Delicate Sound of Thunder tour at Wembley Stadium and was totally blown away because both the staging and the set were brilliant. 1994’s The Division Bell crept up on me because at that time I wasn’t closely watching the music press, relying more on a nascent internet but particularly concentrating on all things Crimson. Back as a member of the band, Rick Wright’s input was more evident though apart from Cluster One which harked back to the soundscapes of Wish You Were Here, the instrumental Marooned, the Stephen Hawking-voiced Keep Talking and the epic, grandiose High Hopes, I don’t think it reached the heights of its studio predecessor. However, the Earls Court gig in October that year was another excellent show.

As far as Gilmour and Mason were concerned, the Pink Floyd story didn’t end with the death of Rick Wright in 2008 so The Endless River, largely comprised of sessions recorded with the keyboard player was constructed and released in 2014, an album as eagerly anticipated as Wish You Were Here in 1975. This owed as much to early-Gilmour era Floyd as it did to rehearsals for Lapse and Division Bell, including a portion of Wright playing the Royal Albert Hall organ, some Shine on you Crazy Diamond-like synthesizer noodling and a near reprise of Mason’s solo track from Ummagumma, The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party.


With the 50th anniversary of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn looming and a successful David Bowie exhibition under their belt, the Victoria & Albert museum planned a Pink Floyd exhibition which opened earlier this month. I went along in the first week with long-time friend Jim Knipe and came away very impressed. Towards the end of last year I’d persuaded my family to visit the V&A You Say You Want A Revolution, Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 which featured the Floyd and indicated how well-thought out their special exhibitions were, so I was looking forward to the event. The recent trawl through the archives that allowed the band to put out the 27 disc The Early Years 1965 – 72 box set unearthed some previously unseen footage and unreleased music, some of which was premiered in an hour-long BBC TV documentary Pink Floyd Beginnings 1967 – 1972, must have coincided with the gestation of Their Mortal Remains. A must for any Floyd fan, the exhibition whose title is adapted from a line in Nobody Home (from The Wall): “Got a grand piano to prop up my mortal remains” follows the Floydian timeline from their student days in London (when they called themselves The Tea Set and Sigma Six) to The Endless River, with each album presented in association with video footage, commentary, personal memorabilia, instruments and effects and props.


Visitors are bathed in an early Pink Floyd light show
Visitors are bathed in an early Pink Floyd light show

The timeline is indicated by socially relevant books, magazines and words set inside red telephone boxes; the red telephone box was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the architect of Battersea Power Station which is associated with Animals. We tend to think of Pink Floyd as being fairly anonymous; they graced the cover of Piper in 1967, appeared on the cover of Ummagumma in 1969 and again on the inner gatefold of Meddle in 1971, one of my favourite photos of the band, then there wasn’t another picture until David Bailey’s portrait of Gilmour and Mason, looking very much of the zeitgeist, on Lapse in 1987; some might find it strange for a major London museum to put on a special exhibition dedicated to the output of a core of five attention-avoiding musicians but actually, Pink Floyd have now shaken off their relative reserve and are now a cultural touchstone with 50 years of creativity under their belt. There’s even a commemorative set of Royal Mail postage stamps celebrating their albums. This sonic legacy is almost unparalleled so it’s neither unexpected nor unreasonable that their mark on the musical landscape has acquired an establishment-like acceptance and the Johnny Rotten ‘I hate Pink Floyd’ T-shirt simply a curated memento from the 70s.


The Delicate Sound of Thunder room
The Delicate Sound of Thunder room

My youth was spent poring over musical instrument catalogues and instrumentation listings on album sleeves so I was delighted by the array of original equipment on display. If Rick Wright’s Minimoog is for sale after the exhibition closes, I’d be interested in putting in a bid! I’d always associated the Floyd echo effect with the WEM Copycat but the Barratt-era band used the almost industrial Binson Echorec, a number of which were present along with an array of VCS3 synthesizers; there is a neat hands-on exhibit in the Dark Side section where you can pretend to be Alan Parsons and mix your own version of Money. It wasn’t only the hardware that grabbed my attention; early on was a technical drawing by Roger Waters of Cambridge railway station from the time he was an Architecture student (along with Mason and Wright) at Regent Street Poly and though there were a few references to architecture, I thought there may have been more or better-argued links. I think that the structural element to some of their early post-Barrett compositions demonstrate a form of architectural thinking and one of my son’s friends from university submitted his degree project on Pink Floyd stage shows.


The Division Bell room
The Division Bell room

The lack of a tour of The Final Cut may explain the relative paucity of material relating to the album on display though the suddenness of the split in the band may itself be reason enough. The law suits and differences between the two camps was largely ignored, Waters seemingly being abruptly cut out of the exhibition from that point, forgotten in the rooms dedicated to Lapse, Division Bell and Endless River however, the final room was a large space dedicated to a presentation of the 2005 Live 8 reunion footage, a nice touch showing an end to the internecine feuding, though not pronouncing on any warming of relations.



The experience is well organised and presented where the strong bond between the band and Hipgnosis, Storm Thorgerson, Aubrey Powell and Peter Curzon is key to the sucess of the concept. The headsets delivering the audio feed are hands free so that when you walk from exhibit to exhibit or room to room, the equipment automatically picks up either ambient feed (Floyd music) or a piece of commentary. I had feared that there would be queues at some of the installations but it was easy to shuffle around without being held up or waiting too long or having to miss something. The whole of Dark Side was played in one room, featuring a rotating 360o view of a beam of light being diffracted through a prism, making it easy to spend three hours at the show. And I plan to return.











By ProgBlog, Mar 20 2016 11:29PM


Pink Floyd The Wall – Earls Court, London, 14 June 1981


Well they say “better late than never”, but almost 35 years after this seminal event may be pushing

it a bit. This show is probably the best known live show to prog fans the world over, although some

don’t consider The Wall to be prog, and there are no less than THREE officially released (different)

live shows on CD (from 1980/1, 1990 and 2010-13) and two different DVD releases. So I probably

don’t really need to tell you much about the show itself, who played what, track listing etc but let

me tell you about the experience of three fourteen year olds marking a rite of passage with their

first gig, because that was something really special.

I’ve often thought about this show, and I didn’t realise how big a deal it was at the time, nor how

significant it would be afterwards. My gig debut was the fourth from last gig the Roger Waters’

Floyd played, notwithstanding their fleeting and triumphant swansong at Live 8 some 24 years

later. Of course we didn’t know that at the time, nor of the enmity in the band, and we thought

seeing PF may become a regular event. Since this show there’s only been one gig in amongst the

hundreds of shows I’ve seen that can compare for the sheer spectacle – and that was the Wall tour

that Waters brought to the UK in 2011! When you consider the technology and the money available

for all the mega tours undertaken since 1981 I guess that’s quite something.

My first introduction to this live show was when my brothers and some friends (including your blog

host Gareth) went to London to see the first round of Wall gigs in August 1980. The very next day I

became the proud owner of an official tour T Shirt, costing about £4, which I barely took off for the

next couple of years. There was excited talk of building a wall on stage, then demolishing it and

lots of inflatables, projections, crashing planes, flying pigs and the like. About a month later I

bought a triple album bootleg from the ‘tour’ (if you could call 4 cities - New York, LA, London and

Dortmund - a tour) and immediately became aware of the audio treat that I’d missed out on,

including the great track “What Shall We Do Now?” which was missed off the studio album, but

tantalisingly had the lyrics printed on the inner sleeve. I remember being really struck by the guitar

solo on Comfortably Numb, which was just out of this world. It still makes the hairs on my neck

stand up even now, and is probably (well almost) the only song I will play air guitar to in the privacy

of my own home.


It all went a bit wrong for Floyd soon after those original shows, and they lost a lot of money when

a company they’d heavily invested in (Norton Warburg) went into receivership. The rumours at the

time were that the set of Wall shows in June 1981 were arranged to recover some of their lost

millions. I can’t see they were ever facing a life on the streets, and in hindsight the cost of re-

convening for just five more shows in London to 90,000 people (at £8.50 a throw, so about

£750,000 of ticket sales) was unlikely to fix it, but it seemed vaguely plausible at the time. It’s well

known now that the only band member to make any money from The Wall tours was Rick Wright,

and that’s only because he’d been sacked and was paid a fixed fee.

So, back to summer 1981. Derek at Earthquake records in Barrow sticks the hand scrawled piece

of paper in the window “Pink Floyd, London, £20 coach and ticket”. My friends and I discuss it and

decide we want in, then I recall lengthy discussions with mums and dads and a few days of

deliberation. I must give credit to my folks, because I doubt that I’d have let my 14 year old son and

two of his mates go on a 600 mile round trip on a bus to London, but finally we were given the go

ahead.

We set off down to London at midnight, and arrived at Victoria coach station about 6.30am. After a

couple of hours surfing the tube, and then checking out the museums, we ended up sitting outside

Earls Court in the sunshine for much of the afternoon with lots of other PF fans, soaking up the

atmosphere, avoiding a lot of dodgy blokes selling bogus merchandise, and hoping for a glimpse of

the band. Actually I can’t remember if there was any atmosphere or whether it was just loads of

other travelling fans that had nothing better to do and nowhere else to go. Earls Court was a beast

of a place, and I remember looking up at this massive concrete monolith and struggling with its

scale and its 18000 capacity, a quarter of the population of my home town, and by far the biggest

indoor music venue in the country until the O2 came along.

After hours of waiting we were allowed in and promptly spent months worth of savings on T shirts

(3!), a large poster of a massive arse, programmes, postcards, badges etc – young fans well and

truly relieved of all of their cash. After taking our seats the opening bars of In The Flesh finally rang

out, and I swear the whole building shook, then it all really kicked off with smoke bombs and the

crashing Stuka. What a start. The show was immense and totally immersive, and the sound was

just wonderful, with the band allegedly spending half a million pounds perfecting it. We had pretty

reasonable seats, half way up the left hand side about a third of the way along from the stage, but

for a show of this scale it wouldn’t have mattered that much where you sat. The audience was

fascinating, a few kids like us and a lot of people five to fifteen years older and then some quite

respectable looking “old” people (around 50 – 60!) who were there to see the show as they would

any other piece of theatre. That really surprised me at the time, I was expecting a rock gig not a

west end show.



We knew the show was being filmed, but some of us were nervous about seeing our acne covered

selves at the Astra in Barrow some months down the track, ah the insecurity of youth. The Wall film

that arrived a year later in 1982 turned out to be something different to what we’d expected, so we

were spared, and so was everyone else. If you look on Youtube you can find some very low quality

footage of this tour, much to the band’s chagrin I’m sure, but there’s no pimply teens to be seen.

The show went all too quickly and the highlight for me was, of course, Comfortably Numb, during

which Dave Gilmour stood on top of the wall, heavily backlit, and drowned the place in that guitar

solo. The crowd went nuts at the end of it, so I don’t think it was just my highlight. A side and a bit

later the wall came down, looking a bit battered after being torn down almost thirty times before.

The band were cheered off and someone close by called for an encore of something from

Dark Side. Optimism beyond belief.

After that it was the long trip home on the coach, with it seemingly taking hours to get out of

London, and a return home about 6.30am. I’m pretty sure I got the day off school that day, which

after seeing the Floyd the night before was the icing on the cake.

Ten years later I met my future wife Jayne, who had also been to one of the 1981 shows. Her

experiences of the day were very similar to mine, we might have met, and it turned out that she’d

decided afterwards that the man she would eventually marry would need to have seen Pink Floyd

at least once. I’m still undecided whether that was a quest to find someone with a deep seated

synergy in life’s outlook, or just someone who is a bit cynical.

So how did it all compare to the RW tour thirty years later? That one entailed a more stylish arrival

(at the O2) by Thames Clipper. Well old Rog had certainly cheered up immeasurably by 2011 with,

and these are his words not mine, “poor sad fucked up little Roger” from last time left behind. You

could see he was bouncing and really enjoying what he was doing, free of the shackles of having

to fight anyone to be in charge and (mostly) rid of a few other demons too. The great show of 1981

had become a stratospheric $60m production, and the 32 shows of 1980-81 were eclipsed by the

219 between 2010 and 2013, grossing $458m and leaving the Norton Warburg worries a distant

memory. I was right at the back of the O2 for that one but it was the same feeling when In The

Flesh started, transported back thirty years but with the special effects cranked up an order of

magnitude from the first time, jaw dropping stuff. It didn’t disappoint. If you’ve not seen Roger’s

recent film I strongly recommend you do, ideally in your own private cinema with the volume

cranked up very loud, because your average 40” screen in the comfort of your living room isn’t

going to do this show justice.




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