During a Pink Floyd tour of New Zealand, guitarist David Gilmour bumped into a busker on a street corner doing Floyd songs. Gilmour asked him if he wanted to play at a party that night. It was going to be Floyd’s official after-gig party, but he didn’t say so.
"I can’t do it, I’m going to the Floyd concert tonight," said the busker, clearly unaware whom he was speaking to. Replied Gilmour genially, "Well, I’ll be at the Floyd concert too, so I won’t get to the party until after that." You can be in one of rock’s biggest bands for 30 years, and you’re still anonymous. Which is exactly how Floyd like it.
Gilmour is a multi-millionaire, who like the boys from Led Zep, Yes and Genesis went through a period of collecting vintage and sports cars. He flies his own plane. There’s a Sussex farmhouse with horses, tennis court and large fields. There’s a place in Hampton, with a huge garden which leads to the Thames River, where his large houseboat is tied. It used to belong to a music hall promoter who used it as a floating sex-room although Gilmour has turned it into a studio.
He’s also got one of the biggest guitar collections in the world. But on record, he tends to usually use modern ‘57 reissue Strats with EMG pickups, a black Gretsch DuoSonic for rhythm guitar, and a number of acoustic guitars.
Despite this, he has no rock star affectations, although journalists who interview him are told by his publicist to refer to him as David, and not Dave.
In June 2001, at a solo show in London he wore T-shirt and jeans, with "demeanour of a truculent roadie" said a reviewer. He did acoustic and electric versions of Floyd classics, and startled everyone with a touch of opera which he sang in French. Inevitably someone yelled out, "Where’s Roger Waters?" To which Gilmour replied, "You want him, you can have him."
Gilmour and Waters have not spoken to each other or been in the same room since Waters’ turbulent departure from Floyd in 1987. They didn’t take the opportunity to get together when the current 2-CD "Echoes - Best Of" was being put together. "He would have wanted six tracks from ‘The Final Cut’, an album I remember as a nightmare because Roger was impossible to work with."
Gilmour didn’t even get together with the other two members, drummer Nick Mason and keyboard player Rick Wright. "There was no sitting around barnstorming a set list, although I guess the list pretty much drew itself up," says Gilmour, who admits he wanted "Fat Old Sun" but was out-voted. "Occasionally we’d ring each other up. But ‘Echoes’ was coordinated through our engineer James Guthrie who lives in Lake Tahoe in America."
Pink Floyd haven’t broke up, but then again, there are no long term plans for a new record or a tour. Mason, who races in his 1962 Ferrari GTO Le Mans and is considering some film projects, is willing, as is Wright who is recording a solo album. Mason told one writer: "It’s always there on the backburner as a possibility. But I think Dave particularly wants to do some other things at the moment. He’s doing some solo stuff, which I think he’s really caught up in. My experience is that if people want to do solo stuff, that has to be got out of their systems before they’ll ever get around to working in a band again."
"Echoes" includes five tracks from pre-Gilmour days, including the 1967 hits "See Emily Play" and "Arnold Layne", about a transvestite. At the time they were called The Pink Floyd and emerged from the college town of Cambridge. Their leader was a genius called Syd Barrett. But too much LSD made Barrett one of rock’s earliest casualties. In February 1968, Waters asked Gilmour, a high school friend, to join. For seven weeks, Floyd were a five-piece. Then one day when they were going to a gig in Southampton and the limo was picking up all the members from their individual homes, someone whispered, "Oh let’s not bother to pick Syd up" and Barrett was out.
Gilmour: "Simply we didn’t think we needed him any more. Given his state of mind at the time, there was no indication he was going to do a turn around."
Barrett has been a hermit since, although he’s released three solo albums. Gilmour last spoke to him in 1975, sends him Christmas cards, and invited the man who inspired "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" to his 50th birthday although he never showed.
Although hired to basically recreate Barrett’s parts onstage, Gilmour’s guitar played an essential part as Floyd tried to find its new direction. Gilmour’s style is old fashioned. He learned to play off the "Pete Seeger Teaches Guitar" album, then went on to Leadbelly, Hank Marvin and Jeff Beck.
Gilmour’s recollection of the early ‘70s: "It was a joyful time, although a lot of what we did on record was crap! It was a time when everyone wanted to break out of the confines of the three-minute pop format. Floyd were particularly good at it. We were good live, but couldn’t translate that onto record. I hear something like that long piece on ‘Atom Heart Mother’ and it’s quite dreadful!"
The track ‘Saucerful Of Secrets’ was the start of the new direction. Roger and Nick drew weird shapes on a piece of paper and they composed the music from that. Gilmour got the guitar sound in the middle section by unscrewing one of the legs from a mic stand, and rubbing it up and down the neck.
"Saucerful", "Atom Heart Mother" and "Echoes" from the "Meddle" album (1971) lead directly to "Dark Side Of The Moon".
Gilmour experimented with the Binson, an Italian-made delay unit which didn’t use tape loops but a metal recording wheel. It’s on "One Of These Days". The opening section is Gilmour and Waters double-tracking on bass. It also sees Gilmour use one of his two cheap Jensen lap steels customised with Fender pickups for slide parts. The one used on "These Days" is tuned to an open E minor chord. The other lap, tuned to an open G chord, is on "The Great Gig In The Sky".
Waters came in with "Money" more or less finished. The rest of Floyd added solos and invented new riffs, with a 4/4 progression for the guitar solo while the sax played in 7/4. The first two guitar solos are double-tracked on a Fender Stratocaster. The third was on a Lewis made for him by a manufacturer in Vancouver which had a whole two octaves on the neck, allowing Gilmour to get up on notes he couldn’t on the Strat. He used a Hiwatt amp, with effects including a Fuzzface fuzz box and the Binson echo/delay.
"Dark Side" also is supposed to be a double for "The Wizard Of Oz" movie, provided you start the CD and the move on the third roar of the MGM lion. Gilmour says that it's nonsense. "Well Roger never let me in on it."
Waters and Gilmour started to clash on "Dark Side" (Waters wanted a dry sounding album, Gilmour wanted it to be like a swamp), and tensions grew on "Wish You Were Here", although Gilmour says it is his favourite Floyd album. He admits that "The Wall" was technically their best. Lyrically too it struck a chord with a global generation of kids who saw it as a personal diary. Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails remembers growing up on a farm in nowhere Pennsylvania and seeing hearing the album as a turning point. "I was in high school at the time, and I remember that music had always been my friend - a companion, the brother I didn’t have. I came from a broken home, I was alone a lot as a child."
But there was no healing process within Floyd by then the tensions were boiling over, leading to the pair have a shouting match in a LA restaurant over dinner with producer Bob Ezrin. "A Momentary Lapse Of Reason" was their first without Waters.
Waters too reactivates the Floyd legacy when he plays two shows here - Sydney Entertainment Centre on April 5 and the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne on April 8 - using the best sound system ever in a rock show that immersed the audience in a 3D world. Waters says that many of the songs like "Wish You Were Here" which were written as personal songs now have a universal connotation for him.