London Mermaid Theatre
Mark Reed was one of the lucky ones to attend the public premiere of David Gilmour’s upcoming tour at the Mermaid in London. Here is his fantastic review for your reading pleasure.
It was like a dream.
I’ve seen it a hundred times or more. Reprinted in magazines. Webpages. DVD’s remastered from grainy VHS tapes. Documentaries and books. And now, I was seeing it with my own eyes. Though this time he wasn’t on a gantry at the top of an eighty foot polysterene wall.
Stood in front of me, no further from my eyes than my kitchen is rom where I am typing, David Gilmour was shilouetted in light, a clear cut shape of man at one with his guitar. The notes peeling out. Playing what was once voted The Best Guitar Solo In The History Of Mankind.
It was like a dream. Last week I looked at David Gilmour’s Blog. (It’s something I do often, it’s a good read). And something struck me – the website had 150 tickets to give away for the public premiere of David Gilmour’s upcoming tour at the Mermaid in London. Capacity 610 people. A far cry from his last public appearance to 200,000 at Live8.
Knowing my luck, I never win. But as my mum taught me, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”. So I chanced my arm. And won. Cometh the hour, and we queued in bitter wind and British rain outside a theatre in Blackfriars, London. Being 28th in the queue was worth it.
Once inside, ushers attempted to move us all to the bar. Those of us who had queued so we could sit near the front were – quite rightly – indignant. We hadn’t come this far, nor waited so long, to be at the back. Ushers were insistant : all to move to the bar so that those who were entering could pass. But we did not move. We reasoned that if we kicked up a stink long enough, they would open the doors anyway, and we’d get to the front. We were right. We didn’t queue for hours to sit at the back.
They opened our doors – on the right – first. Barely able to maintain my repressed British façade, we descended to the stairs. Somewhat oddly, the few in front of us chose to sit in the second row. And the first row was so inviting…
… so we sat there. Roughly equidistant from David and Rick, we sat. And about then, it started to seem real. I was sat about 14 feet from David Gilmour, about 20 feet from Rick Wright, and not much further from Pink Floyd’s touring support of Jon Carin, Guy Pratt, and Dick Parry. To my right, Phil Manzanera from Roxy Music, and Steve DiStanislao (poached from Crosby, Stills & Nash). In all but name and a drummer, this was the Pink Floyd I grew up listening to and watching on television.
I made a whole page without mentioning those two words. I think I’m doing quite well really.
So how did it feel? Unreal. Surreal. Superreal. Like I didn’t know where to look or what to do or how to act. There was too much to see, too much detail. Kurtzweil organs that I last saw in Hyde Park from the distance of a hundred metres or more, guitars I remember from old television programs. Lap steel guitars last seen on the insert to million selling live albums.
After an hour of procrastination as the BBC attempted to fill every seat (a couple had to go unfilled as cameras were sat there), a man walked on stage.’Whispering’ Bob Harris, a Radio DJ from another age, reminisced us briefly. About how he too had grown up in London. Shared an office with David’s band, been at the UFO, grown up listening to this music. Like many of us have. And then, under a shroud of darkness, Jon Carin sat at his keyboard, and the opening notes of “Castellorizon” began. A man who looked like Rick Wright – but happier – sat at the keyboard next to him. And then, from the left, the shapes of the backing band filtered on. Barely had the applause subsided when a portly sixty year old came to the stage.
To thunderous applause.
Gently and discreetly picked up a trusty black guitar, fiddled with a couple of dials. And then from nowhere, the familiar tones. The whalesong of guitar. The elegant, unfussy notes of emotion. Tapping into some long-hidden feeling that other bands can often only scratch at the surface of.
And then, as darkness turned to light, the band opened “On An Island”. And first and foremost, these songs uncurl in concert. If there are any reservations about the discreet and almost understated feel to the intimate album of the same name, then prepare to be silenced. In the flesh, these songs tower about their studio incarnations.
As I said, from the front row there was too much to see. Too much detail. The way David seemed to scratch his nose at the end of every number. The way that Rick Wright would glance at his band mates and smile to himself. The way that Jon Carin would sometimes look up and glance surreptiously at the crowd. The way that Guy would stalk the stage and catch David’s eye as they shared a moment of humour than turned into a wink and a smile. The way that Phil Manzanera would stand stock still stage left, eyes closed, transported away as he duetted notes with David during “Shine On You Crazy Diamond.”
Ah. I’m only two songs in. I haven’t even mentioned “The Blue”. These songs are too new, too fresh, for me to do anything but passively accept. I don’t know them. Unlike the other songs, burrowed into my subconscious like words through a stick of rock, an integral part of me, these songs are just getting settled. Pleased to meet you. The newer songs are smaller, more personal. Very obviously bearing the hallmarks of his former band, but also more intimate. Closer. Dealing with the personal and the individual, with emotions and with feeling, instead of the perhaps more universal, more sweeping nature of Pink Floyd’s music.
Eyes closed, lost in the moment, bathed in red and white and blue light, David Gilmour sang the songs from his heart and the rest of the world could slip away. As if nothing else existed. And then, as he spoke through his guitar – and there really is no other way to describe it than that- the guitar speaking in the language beyond words – his head turned, tilted, his mouth made that look of intense concentration and..
Sometimes there are no words. If words were enough, we wouldn’t need or want music.
“Take A Breath” is a monster. An insistent, pounding beat – magnified under the capable hands of Steve on drums – the song rolls forth like Panzers. Rick and Jon lose themselves in the moment. Live, these songs breathe and unfold their wings. Grow from acorns to big oak trees. And it all makes sense. It clicks. David stands in front of me, and the PA hypnotises me.
Yes, I am a fan. And I wouldn’t be any other way. If I wasn’t a fan, I don’t think I have as much taste as if I were. I’m sat watching one of the most talented men in the world – and seemingly the nicest – maintaining the high standards his past thirty eight years (solo and in the Floyd) have set.
As I said, too much to see. Too much detail. I don’t know where to look. Though I admit, the sight of a wheelchair driving up from backstage to the front during “Smile” – as lovely as the version on the DVD – was a tad distracting.
After some forty minutes of the new solo material, the biggest roar of the night. Lights dim, smoke issues forth, and David is haloed under a rotating tsunami of light, looking as if the reflections from the glitterball of tours past have returned. A familiar keyboard line slowly shimmers into view. Could it be?
The first live performance of the original, electric version of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” by David and Rick in twelve years. Note perfect, yet somehow turned inside out, every lick and note is played the same. But different. I can’t really explain it. The accents of the notes differ. And then, it all fades to nothing. The familiar four notes of Syd’s theme haunts the room. The lights build to a crescendo, David steps up to the mike and then –
– it all stops. The band sinks to silence. And “Shine On” becomes a song the way you’ve never heard it before. Just one man and his guitar, singing alone. Stripped of the grandoisity of the original album, at the exact moment before the band commence the vocal melody (7.17 on the “Delicate Sound Of Thunder”), it becomes a raw, beautiful moment. And then, as the vocals fade to the instrumental coda, the band pick up the baton again and roar to life, Dick Parry takes stage right, alternating between two huge but different saxophones like some kind of 80’s action hero with twin machine guns. David and Phil trade riffs and David flips between pedals so it sounds like he’s alternately playing the electric and the acoustic At The Same Time.
A standing ovation follows.
Next is the live premiere of “Wearing The Inside Out”. Rick Wright – confident and assured despite only singing lead vocal on stage once since 1994 – intones in a manner more comfortable than he’s seems to have been in years. As the song moves to the chorus, every member of the band forms a virtual wall of vocals, a duet of seven voices at once.
Next, the so called intermission. “Seen as it’s radio”, David says, “I’m going to have a quick loo break. If you want to go to the loo, now’s the perfect time to do so”. Leaving the stage to his charges, Guy Pratt plays a very brief fraction of “Money” before joking with the audience. “I’ll Get Sacked Again!”. A woman offers to get David a birthday cake. Since David’s personal taster isn’t available, according to Guy, this offer may have to lapse. Guy and the band amuse us with a very brief rendition of an old classic. Not sure what one, but it reminded me of the nursery rhymes you heard as a child.
Upon David’s return, he bats off the offer of a cake, turning sideways and asking rhetorically – “With My Figure?”
And this is what’s surreal. Almost dream like. To see Pink Floyd’s leader, David Gilmour, joking about Birthday Cakes and his waistline and going to the loo to an audience to whom he normally says no more than ‘Thank You’ and normally sees only in football stadiums. How can this seem real? These people are only human, and yet our minds make them so much so than that.
Returning to ‘The Division Bell’, the band run through a note perfect “High Hopes”. And when they do, I realise, perhaps sadly, that David doesn’t need Pink Floyd. We all seem to need them a lot more than he does now. In many ways the spectacle of years and tours past detracted from the music : this type of talent doesn’t need inflatable pigs. It doesn’t need glitterballs, flying beds, Spitfires, or giant glitterballs rising from the mixing desk. It’s about emotion. It’s about seeing moments like this : the spectacle is all that, but also, mere window dressing. Great art is about feeling. And this is all about feeling. No flash or magic tricks barring the odd dramatic lighting.
Three false starts later, Rick Wright is singing to the mike : “Hello? Is There Anybody In There?”. Which brings us round to where we began. ‘Comfortably Numb’. As good as any version the band ever released. No longer confined by the time restrictions of Hyde Park, the band let loose, and play an arrangement to rival 1994’s epic tour version. Rick nods his head and gives his all to the music.David stands 17 feet in front of me, and I see a million newspaper articles become flesh for a minute or two. The moment where what we think we have seen, and what we actually see, become one and the same.
This, clearly, is the end. It was so short, it went so fast, and yet, the past eighty minutes seem like all of a lifetime at once. Around me an ecstatic audience provides another, heartfelt-pinch-me-I-cant-believe-it-actually-happened standing ovation. I can’t see the rows behind me rise, but I can feel them.
For the purposes of technical clarity, the band reprise an encore of the opening two numbers : “On An Island” and “The Blue”. And finally, at 9.23, it was over. But yet it wasn’t. Somewhere in the crowd, a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ rings out to David on his sixtieth. Dragged back on stage, the backup band perform a brief version of ‘Happy Birthday To You’ to a smiling, reticent David. And then it’s smiles and waves and a untypical group hug. And then it really really was over.
“DIDN’T THEY DO WELL?” Guy Pratt’s t-shirt said. And was it the best gig I have ever seen? The more I think about it, the more I think so.
Thanks to Mark Reed for the wonderful review.
Set: (start 7.47pm)
On an island
Take a breath
Shine on you crazy diamond (pts 1-6)
Wearing the inside out
On an island