Monday 18 June 2018

Pink Floyd: Landmark Concerts and Key Cover Versions

You can now buy 'Remember A Day - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of Pink Floyd' in e-book form by clicking here!

I don't know about you, dear reader, but so far this book/website has seemed awfully studio-bound: yes there are the odd live albums dotted round in the discographies but a touring life was usually as important if not more so to our AAA artists. Even we can't go through every gig they ever played however, so what we've decided to do instead is bring you five particularly important gigs with a run-down of what was played, where and when and why we consider these gigs so important. Think of these as a sort of 'highlights' covering from first to last, to whet your appetite and to avoid ignoring a band's live work completely! Pink Floyd’s live shows are pretty much unique: flying pigs, blow-up teachers, ginormous walls – there have been whole books written about The Wall live show, so we haven’t bothered. Instead we’ve gone for five gigs that stand out for more personal reasons than the theatrics from key moments in the life of a band that always seemed to be changing…

1)  Where: Homerton College, Cambridge When: May 22nd 1965 Why: First Gig? Setlist: Unknown

Pink Floyd had been playing as a five-piece known as ‘The Tea Set’ across 1964, but it was in May 1965 that they got more serious about things, shedding their name in favour of ‘The Pink Floyd Sound’ and playing a gig outside their usual haunts. The band have just parted company with rhythm guitarist Bob Klose and are celebrating the end of the academic year with their first tentative steps to worldwide domination at a rival college back home in Cambridge, posher than their own at London’s Polytechnic where they played a summer dance. The name-change came about because, unbelievably, another London band were calling themselves ‘The Tea-Set: I’ve often wondered if ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’ was name in tribute to these early days? Pink Floyd were still largely and R and B covers band, though they had already made a name for themselves with their extended sets – necessary after being hired earlier in the year to play three separate ninety minute shows per night to the same punters in Kensington at a time when the band only new a few songs. Nobody seems to remember what the band played at their first gig under their new name: some ‘Searchers’ covers seems likely given that the band were big fans, more so than they were The Beatles embarrassingly when they became labelmates with the fab four in 1967  (‘Goodbye My Love’ had just come out and has a very Floydian air to it), while we know the band were playing their own versions of ‘Louie Louie’ and ‘Roadrunner’ into 1966.Maybe some of the ix songs from the band’s first recordings at the very start of the year were also being played on stage? The band’s next gig came a month later when they played a competition run by the melody Maker to discover Britain’s next talented beat group – which they lost! The Floyd will bounce back – in a huge way – with their ‘Games For May’ show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in May 1967 where the audience was swamped with bubbles and flowers – the former left stains that can still be seen to this day and saw the band banned for fifty years (they lifted it so Nick Mason could return for a photoshoot about the show’s 50th anniversary in 2017!)

2)  Where: University of Aston, Birmingham When: January 12th 1968 Why: Syd and David Crossover Setlist: [12] Astronomy Domine [15] Flaming [17] Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk [31] Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun [7] Interstellar Overdrive

Details are sketchy, but it seems likely this gig – the first after a weeks’ break as the support act on a Jimi Hendrix tour – was the first one attempted with David Gilmour in the band. At this stage Syd was still there too, though he was acting most oddly – putting bryl cream in his hair so it would melt under the studio lights and staring at both audience and band like a zombie. Gilmour was brought in not so much as a replacement just yet but as a friend who knew Syd and could help him out but Syd reportedly didn’t even recognise his former close mate. Syd will stay out another five gigs (his last being at Leicester College on January 27th) before the band simply decide it isn’t worth the hassle picking him up anymore, his departure being announced (quietly) in April, officially to ‘help the band explore new instruments and add further experimental dimensions’ rather than to replace Syd. In the meantime Rick plays more organ to cover up the lack of a guitarist who really knew what they were doing just yet. Perhaps surprisingly, the audience reaction seems to have been muted: Syd was relatively more self-aware than he had been in December and David mainly his in the shadows playing Syd’s music so nobody really noticed anything wrong – as per usual with major life events, the Floyd themselves never announced who their newest member was or why he was there. The Floyd were particularly that week as they’d only started recording ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’ on the 10th (given that Syd only appears on [30] ‘Remember A Day’ and [31] ‘Set The Controls For the Heart Of The Sun’ it seems likely one of these two was recorded then). The listing given above is a ‘probably’ setlist based on what the Floyd performed before and after, while fans recall ‘Flaming’ ‘Set The Controls’ and ‘Interstellar’ as having been definitely played at this gig while [19] ‘Careful With That Axe Eugene’ was introduced by Roger somewhere on this tour as something Dave could learn quickly and Syd wouldn’t have to play much on.

3)  Where: Royal Festival Hall, London When: April 14th 1969 Why: Prestigious Gig Setlist: The Man: [57] Grantchester Meadows ‘Work’ [61] ‘Teabreak’ (Biding My Time) [46] Up The Khyber [53] Quicksilver [48] Cymbaline ‘Daybreak’ The Journey: [47] ‘Green Is The Colour’ [39] ‘Beset By Creatures Of The Deep (Careful With That Axe Eugene’) [59] ‘The Narrow Way (Part Three)’ [16] Pow R Toc H (The Pink Jungle) [29] Let There Be More Light [33] ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’ ‘Behold The Temple Of The Light’ [7] Interstellar Overdrive

Rehearsal footage exists of this gig – billed as ‘more furious madness from Pink Floyd’ – and it finds the band rather animated (well, comparatively!) Roger’s impatient, Dave is combative, Nick is choosing his moments to argue nicely and Rick is trying to pretend the others don’t exist. Which is interesting because when the gig arrived (sadly the Festival Hall wouldn’t allow cameras into their precious auditorium) the band were more unified than they had ever been and put on a wondrous show that’s still being talked about to this day for various reasons. One is the debut of not one new work but two: ‘The Man’ and ‘The Journey’ were song cycles that death with both the day to day activities of man (much like The Moody Blues’ ‘Days Of Future Passed’ but more cynical than spiritual) and a scary journey into the depths of the unknown. Admittedly many of these tracks had been heard before and some had even been released on album, but they had never been strung together quite as cleverly as this. A second is the debut appearance by what the band nicknamed their ‘Asimuth Coordinator’ (after the sci-fi writer Isaac Asimoov as it seemed quite ‘futuristic’ and whom apparently none of them knew how to spell). The technique allowed Rick to control how the audience heard the sound, as with a flick of the wrist he could change it from stereo panning all over the left hand side to the right and back again or moving it somewhere towards the middle. ‘The Man’ started with footsteps echoing around the hall, getting nearer and nearer, which creeped a few fans out  and various sound effects would play through the tape as the two suites progressed. I’ve always been intrigued why Rick was given this much power: you’d think it would be more of a Roger ‘thing’, while you wonder how Wright had time given how central he was to the sound of many of these songs. Thirdly is the venue itself: two years after being laughed at by hans Keller on national TV for their ‘regression to childhood’ here the band are selling out one of the two must-see classical venues, wowing audience who now took their music to be on a deeper intellectual level than ever before. The Hall even let Rick play their own precious organ for the finale of [33] ‘Saucerful’! The agreement of the Royal Festival Hall bosses to have the Floyd there at all is a real boon for manager Steve O’Rourke. You sense, too, that the Festival Hall organisers are just glad that the band didn’t bring their other new ‘toy’ from 1971 as they did when they appeared at Crystal Palace Gardens – a giant inflatable octopus! Alas the band also added some dry ice for good measure, which caused all of the fish in the surrounding lake to die and saw the Floyd banned for life…

4)  Where: The Dome, Brighton When: January 20th 1972 Why: First Performance of ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ Setlist: [98] Speak To Me [99] Breathe [100] On The Run [101] Time [102] The Great Gig In The Sky [103] Money [66] Atom Heart Mother [39] Careful With That Axe Eugene [82] One Of Thee Days [87] Echoes [33] A Saucerful Of Secrets

At last, after weeks of preparation, Pink Floyd are back with a new project: ‘A Piece For Assorted Lunatics’ according to the concert posters. Those lucky enough to be in the audience don’t know yet that they are going to be the first people in the world to hear ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. However, this is a very different ‘Dark Side’ to the one most fans will get to know fourteen months later on album. [98] ‘On The Run’ is for now a trippy instrumental jam more like [105] ‘Any Colour You Like’ and [102] ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ is a religious piece that features a pre-taped Vicar preaching behind Rick’s piano chords and no Clare Torry improvisations as yet (chapter five, verses 15-17 from the Book of Athenians for anyone who wants to preach along!) Side two may well have been different too…only unfortunately we don’t know, because the tape broke down a few bars into [103] ‘Money’. ‘Oh dear, that wasn’t pretty’ Roger broke off to comment to a bemused crowd. ‘Can we fix that?....Due to severe mechanical and electric horror we can’t do any more of that bit – we’ll have to do something else!’ Later analysis revealed that not only had the pre-prepared tape stopped working but the Floyd’s lighting system had got too close to the sound and ‘over-ruled’ it, causing it to surge like the mother of all feedbacking guitars. Besieged by technical hitches all night long ([87] ‘Echoes’ is interrupted by multiple yells to the sound crew to get their act together), the Floyd’s new magnum opus was off to a depressingly ramshackle start and most people in the audience were underwhelmed, wishing the band would go back to their concert favourites as seen in the ‘Pompeii’ movie. How times will change: ‘Dark Side’ will be the backbone of the band’s live sets right up to 1977 and again between 1987 and 1994.

5)  Where: Live 8, Hyde Park, London When: July 1st 2005 Why: Last Gig? Setlist: [99] Breathe [103] Money [113] Wish You Were Here  [134] Comfortably Numb

We end – where else? – but the ending. Though Dave and Nick have since guest-appeared at Roger’s concerts and Nick has appeared at Dave’s it seems likely that this gig was the last time the ‘classic’ Floyd were back together – and the last given the sad death of Rick just three years later. ‘Live 8’ was a special show, my generation’s ‘Live Aid’ even if it was held to raise awareness of poverty and climate change rather than funds for a disaster (and thus never did quite as much good) and even if all the best bands on it (The Who, Paul McCartney) were around the first time too. Bob Geldof thought that getting a band together again who were so far apart you could put an ocean between them would be perfect for his project, get the media talking and show that good things can happen if you campaign hard enough. Pink Floyd were an obvious band to ask given his close association with them during ‘The Wall’ and their own slow thawing of old dramas and hurts across the past twenty years (almost exactly since ‘Live Aid’ in 1985 in fact). He asked Nick first, who was enthusiastic but figured Roger and Dave would never work together. Then he phoned Roger, who said he’d love to do it but there’s no way Dave would say yes. Bob phoned Dave, who was enthusiastic but figured that Roger would never do it really. Rick found himself on board without really knowing what was happening (and even though he was privately fighting off throat cancer). Somehow all four Floyds found themselves in the same rehearsal hall, nervously making small talk and all four talking without lawyers in the room for the first time since ‘The Wall’. It was agreed to use some of the spare musicians the recent Floyd had used but that the core four would be there in the middle, solidly together. Enthusiastic talk about an hour or two hour show slowly got whittled down as Roger hated Dave’s song selection and Dave hated Roger’s. The tension backstage became so bad that everyone assumed the gig would never happen and Bob began looking for an alternative to end his show (probably why The Who ended up really closing the show on the night, a bit of an anticlimax after this however brilliant they were). In the event, though, everything worked a treat. Gilmour started the show with [99] ‘Breathe’, his pedal steel clutched in his gnarled hands. Roger made a moving improvised gesture at the start of [113] ‘Wish You Were Here’ to all the crowds about what was possible and everyone who was no longer ‘including Syd’, making sure their founder go this moment in the spotlight too. [134] ‘Comfortably Numb’ featured Roger and Dave trading verses and choruses for the first time since 1980 (though Dave wasn’t on top of a wall this time!) Gilmour grumpily slunk off after the gig was over, adamant that the reunion was a bad idea – but Roger caught him by the arm, embraced him with a hug he wasn’t expecting and suddenly four men who had hated each other and slagged each other off for two decades were embracing, putting the years of missed opportunities to one side and reuniting once more. Given the circumstances – demanding that world leaders stop being stubborn and work together to solve poverty and climate change for the sake of the people – it was perfect and all the better for being spontaneous. Sometimes miracles really do happen. Well not with poverty obviously – a credit crunch later our world leaders simply pretended it never happened – but for twenty minutes it seemed like anything was possible and whatever happened or didn’t happen next (ten pricey box sets as it happens and an un-necessary album of outtakes not good enough to release flipping back in 1992!) and the Pink Floyd story had it’s perfect coda. Overnight Floyd best-of ‘Echoes’ re-entered the charts with a record sales jump of 1000%. It should have jumped up even more.

Sometimes when artists pick up that musical baton they pay tribute to their heroes by covering their favourite songs. Here are three covers that we consider to be amongst the very best out of the ones we've heard (and no we haven't heard them all - do you know how many AAA albums out there are out there even without adding cover songs as well?!) There are, inevitably hundreds of the flipping things out there: sometimes singles songs, often whole albums, all featuring various different incarnations of the Floyd. The most covers of course come from the ‘Dark Side’ ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘The Wall’ trilogy including some whole covers (the reggae various artists set ‘Dub Side Of The Moon’ is particularly good, re-creating everything from the spoken voices to the steel drums replacing Nick’s own work while [100] ‘On The Run’ features crashing waves at the beach underneath the modern drum attack, [103] ‘Money’ comes with the sound of bongs where the cash registers should be and [102] ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ features a Clare Torry-style vocal over a funky reggae backing: [98] ‘Breathe’ particularly is majestic but it seemed a shame to single out anything from a mood piece that works so well together). There are additionally some Floyd ‘tribute’ records including the serious (‘Backs Against The Wall’ 2005, ‘A Tribute To Pink Floyd’ 2006) and the hilarious  (‘Discoballs’ 1978, the brainchild of a French group named Rosebud who figured that the only thing missing to make Pink Floyd bigger than they already were was a disco beat; their version of [9] ‘Arnold Layne’ where the knicker-nicker has become a singalong hero as backed by a group of female voices has to be heard to be believed – and it in fact rather good!)The list of covers out there is probably second only to the Beatles out there and I haven’t even come close to scratching the surface yet. However we’ve tried to stick with the sane and sensible for our list (well comparatively – this is the Floyd after all).

1)  [48] ‘Cymbaline’ Hubert Laws (‘Crying Song’, 1969)
Flautist Hubert Laws is basically a hip black American version of James Galway. He recorded a ridiculous amount of albums full of instrumental pieces, including many by the rock and pop bands of the day. While some of his arrangements sound a bit daft to say the least (this same album includes covers of The Bee Gees’ ‘I’ve Got To Get A Message To You’ and The Monkees’ ‘Listen To The Band’, two songs which desperately need the words), his performances are perfect for the Floyd who are much more about atmosphere than they are about actual songs. Though the album is named after a fairly non-descript version of [45] ‘Crying Song’, it’s a pretty and pretty inventive take on the sinister sleepy ‘Cymbaline’ that’s my pick of his work. Over a jazz lounge backing Laws’ flute playing bounces around the errie melody, bringing out just what a beautiful tune the original has, before there’s a sudden contrast with the chorus that goes into playful upbeat ‘Sesame Street’ territory. The two halves of the song seem to be chasing their own tail, even more than the Floyd’s, a battle between good and evil that gives lots of opportunity for some pretty mind-blowing flute-blowing.
2)  [11] ‘See Emily Play’ David Bowie (‘Pin-Ups, 1973)
We had to pick this one: a sizeable proportion of fans only discovered Pink Floyd through David Bowie and his love for Syd Barrett in particular and the band were allotted not only one of the songs featured on Bowie’s covers record but the tie-in single too. Bowie has a similar sense of eccentricity and sour-faced playfulness to Barrett so it’s a surprise to hear him pick not [21] ‘Bike’ or [12] ‘Astronomy Domine’ (so close to the Spiders from Mars it hurts) but Syd’s most happy-go-lucky moment. What’s interesting is that in this interpretation Bowie manages to make Emily sound like every other Syd song: brooding, dark, insecure, a moment of light relief before the little demons come to take you away again. This Emily is no muse but a banshee waiting in the dark to lure the poor unsuspecting narrator away. I’m less keen on the over-heavy backing which takes a beautiful and naturally psychedelic beauty and puts her in glam rock shoes, while the massed backing vocals of Bowie robots are ugliness personified. The instrumental break too is more like fingers on a blackboard that Syd’s gorgeous over-spilled excitement. However the idea is sound: Bowie’s mocking reading of the lines (‘Soon after dark, Emily cries’) are both the opposite of what Syd meant in the song and perfectly in keeping with what should be there in a Barrett song.
3)   [102] ‘Us and Them’ Doug Paisley and Garth Hudson (‘Return To The Dark Side Of The Moon’ 2011)
For my money the single best Floyd cover I’ve ever heard – and one of the best AAA ones of all – comes from a new-age-with-horns interpretation by collaborators Canadian singer-songwriter Doug Paisley and The Band’s Garth Hudson. This is an achingly beautiful song anyway, with some truly haunting Rick Wright chords, but it sounds if anything even madder and sadder in this interpretation. Glorious sounding synths sparkle, beautiful harmonies prevail so suited to the ‘pastoral’ end of the Floyd’s canon and trumpets blare out the song’s melancholic phrases with a shrug of the shoulders. Instead of repeating the words with echo and everybody sounding distant and separate, this song is all about unity, the echo drenching everything with beautiful wondrous light while the elongated words suddenly arc up to the stars (and the moon) at the end of each chorus. There’s a lot more hope in this song, without sacrificing the dark mood that inspired the original – and you can’t ask for more from a cover version than what you got from the original with an added twist. Doug even re-creates the spoken word of the original in a Canadian accent. ‘Us and Them’ was always a masterpiece. But now it’s even more of a one. Perhaps Garth was atoning for his awful appearance at Roger’s ‘Berlin Wall’ in 1990?

A Now Complete List Of Pink Floyd and Related Articles To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

‘Wish You Were Here’ (1975)

‘Animals’ (1977)

'The Wall' (1980)

'The Final Cut' (1983)

'A Momentary Lapse Of Reason' (1987)

'Amused To Death' (Waters) (1992)

The Best Unreleased Pink Floyd Recordings

Surviving TV Clips 1965-2014

Non-Album Songs 1966-2000

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part One 1965-1978

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Two 1980-1989

Live/Solo/Compilation Albums Part Three 1990-2015

Landmark Concerts and Key Cover Versions

Essay: Why Absence Makes The Sales Grow Stronger

No comments:

Post a Comment