I’d had precious little contact with David Gilmour since returning to Australia after the Earls Court seating mishap. So you could imagine my surprise when I was once again invited to meet with him aboard Astoria recently.
I was picked up at the airport by Nick Mason, which of course sent my brain into overdrive with thoughts of a new Pink Floyd album in the pipeline. But all the way to David’s houseboat Nick remained evasive and non-committal as to the purpose of this get-together.
We arrived at Astoria, and David welcomed me aboard very warmly. I couldn’t help notice how happy he looked, which was quite a relief to me. Over recent years it seemed any time I’d seen David in photos or interviews, he always appeared to be somewhat sad – even grumpy. Not today, though. Today he was positively beaming.
As I entered the lounge area another treat awaited me. Reclining on the couch was Rick Wright. With my brain hurtling towards total meltdown Rick stood and thrust out his hand. We shook hands, then he put his left arm around my shoulder and said, “Magoolie, it’s so good to see you again.”
I stood there, numb with excitement and anticipation. I turned to David Gilmour, awaiting an announcement of the new Pink Floyd project. But the three dapper English gentlemen just stood and smiled.
“So,” I enquired impatiently, “what is it? A new album? A new tour? Put me out of my misery, please!” David looked at Rick and said “Should we tell him?” “Better wait for the coffees,” Rick replied. “Yes, the coffees,” said Nick, “I wonder what the holdup is?” David headed for the kitchen, and said “Perhaps I should go and check.”
“Take a seat, Magoolie,” Rick suggested, motioning to the couch. “Yes, you might want to do that,” Nick added, rather suspiciously. He looked across to Rick and grinned, just as a voice called out from the kitchen, “Five coffees was it?” It wasn’t David Gilmour’s voice, but it was a voice I recognised. I spun around and looked towards the kitchen. There, to my utter astonishment and disbelief, was none other than Roger Waters.
The smile on his face made it clear that he wasn’t going to punch my head in, so I stood up. He put the tray down on the coffee table and stepped towards me. Then suddenly he thrust both hands towards my neck as if he was going to strangle me. I almost fell over the coffee table. Roger cracked up laughing, and instead of choking me, embraced me with a surprisingly affectionate bear hug. Relieved, I hugged him back, then we shook hands. “Fancy that cretin Mark Fenwick not replying to your letters,” Roger said, his voice laced with sarcasm. “I should get myself a new manager.”
Sensing Roger’s invitation to break the ice with a bit of verbal jousting, I looked out the window of the houseboat and up along the riverbank. Knowing that a wisecrack was on its way, Roger said “Ok, ok, what are you looking for?” I smiled and said, “I’m just wondering where you parked your sled this time!”
The room erupted into laughter. Then Roger said “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.” More laughter. Then he added “But I gotta tell you, that water was *&^%$ cold!”
I looked around the room and tried to come to grips with what I was witnessing. Here I was, for the first time in so many years, in the same room with all four members of Pink Floyd, laughing and chatting like we did back in the days when the band were really, truly a band.
There were so many questions I knew I should ask about how this reconciliation had come about, but to be perfectly honest I really didn’t care.
It was clear that David had opened his door to his enemy, and the slate had been wiped clean. Roger had managed to embrace and ultimately express his much-vaunted feelings of compassion, empathy, humanity and “genuine love”. For Nick Mason the planets had finally aligned, and for Rick Wright the darkness was gone like a distant road.
A million thoughts were buzzing through my brain. But as I pondered the situation before me, there were no more wisecracks in my head. There was no slapstick idea or sight gag that came to mind. This was not the time for any of that. Then as I lingered in silence it occurred to me that there was something else which felt quite inappropriate right now. Funnily enough it was the very thought of Pink Floyd.
I was suddenly struck by how little the idea of Pink Floyd re-forming meant to me. At the same time the thought of what the media might do if they knew what was happening here sent a chill down my spine. I could imagine the headlines, the frenzy, the frothing at the mouth, the hounding of the band members. Not even I wanted that.
This gathering had so little to do with music that I almost forgot they ever were a rock outfit. Simply seeing them all together, getting along so well, was giving me as much pleasure as their music ever had. This, to me, right here and now was their Great Gig.
I must have been off on a trip to Cirrus Minor for a moment there, as I was snapped from my deep contemplations by Roger clicking his fingers in front of my face. When I “came round” the guys were having a chuckle at me. They were obviously aware of how difficult it must have been for me to get my head around what was confronting me here.
The conversation continued. But as the chatting went on I noticed David Gilmour was becoming a little distracted. He glanced at his watch a few times, then out the window towards his landing. I was starting to wonder whether he was concerned about reporters, or indeed whether he may have actually invited someone from the press to attend. This made me a little uneasy, and I crossed the room to a less conspicuous corner just in case.
I heard a car door close outside. Suddenly David stood, took a few steps towards the door, then asked to be excused for just a moment. He went outside, then reappeared in the doorway about a minute later. He cleared his throat, then politely asked to have everyone’s attention.
The room fell silent, and David began to speak. “You know, I had this fantastic speech all worked out.” His voice was filling with emotion, and he paused to compose himself. “But as we all know…. I’m not that great with words anyway.” A few more moments passed. Roger, Nick and Rick sat tense, almost statuesque. “But today,” continued Gilmour, “A friend of ours has happily accepted the invitation to join us.” He stepped back to usher the visitor inside. With his voice trailing off, all David could manage was, “Gentlemen…”
Into the room stepped a neatly dressed, quaint and gently smiling fellow. He’d changed a lot since I’d last seen him. But I recognised him instantly, as a twinkle had returned at last to the eyes of Roger Keith Barrett.
Nick, Roger and Rick were on their feet, and fighting back tears as they moved forward to greet him. As each shook his hand the tears flowed. Only Barrett himself was able to remain composed. I looked back at David Gilmour and his eyes also were awash with tears. I could only imagine what they were feeling at this moment. I thought of the line from Poles Apart which goes, “I thought of you, and the years and all the sadness fell away from me”.
It brought to mind the first time that I really listened to that song. That particular line caused me to burst into tears and I wept for ages. And for the next half a dozen times I played it it kept happening, and I couldn’t put my finger on why. Was it some kind of premonition or a longing for this moment? I don’t know. But nothing else could possibly have fitted those lyrics any more significantly.
From my discreet vantage point in the corner I watched as the five men joyfully renewed acquaintences. You could almost feel the weight lifting off the shoulders of Mason, Gilmour, Waters and Wright as they conversed with Barrett. Each referred respectfully to him as “Roger”, but the mood was lightened appreciably when he said, “It’s fine if you want to call me Syd. Really it is. We’ve so much talking to do that having two Rogers around is going to be way too confusing, don’t you think?” All agreed, heartily. And none failed to notice Syd’s eyes. I saw Rick, Roger and Nick all look at each other, then at David, in unspoken recognition of the magic sparkle that was once again evident when Syd smiled.
I meanwhile stayed out of sight. This moment was way too big for me. Throughout Floyd’s career I may have been seen by the guys as something of a fly in the ointment, but right now I was happy to be a fly on the wall. I could think of nothing I could add here. All I could do was try to capture something of this moment for Pink Floyd fans. So I pulled out my camera and took one picture.
Then I waved goodbye to David Gilmour, and quietly left Astoria….
as if I was never really there.
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Followers of Albert Magoolie will be delighted to learn that Albert was mentioned on ABC radio on Friday 19 Nov 2004 on the second day of the Australia V’s New Zealand test.