By P. Erskine
David Gilmour – DG
“Hi Dave, have you washed your hair?”
“No.” Gilmour flashes a thin-lipped grin as he takes his seat.
And if *he* can find any split ends in here (lifting clump of hair) then…”The what, DAVE?”
But he’s already scanning the menu and doesn’t hear. His free hand, however, is worrying over a plastic teaspoon. Unconsciously, he gradually crushes it, letting the pieces slip through his fingers and fall onto the table top. Gilmour is nothing if not self-controlled. Placid, even. But not quite. His anger is of the sullen, smoldering variety and yet the weird thing is that even during such moments he’ll often make way for a broad smile which can be utterly disarming because it might, just might, be a harbinger of doom, the herald for a personal close-up of one of the robust Gilmour flails. Although I can’t imagine it ever happening. He is angry, though. He told me so on the phone a couple of minutes after he’d read the piece.
“I’ve just read the piece,” he said, “and I’m very angry about it.” The ‘piece’ in question – an action replay for those who missed it – appeared in the 23/11/74 NME issue, written by myself and Mr. Kent in direct response to our witnessing the Floyd on the first two nights of their four-day residency at Wembley. I’m afraid we were a little rude about them. Mr. Kent wrote an extended review-cum-critique, and I, through the back door, managed to secure an audience with Gilmour in which I confronted him with the accusations to be aired in the piece. The overall intention, see, had been, in the words of the introductory blurb, ‘to get Floyd back into perspective’, a sentiment which Gilmour himself says he thoroughly condones. It was the approach that riled him.
Ultimately the phone call resulted in myself inviting Gilmour for lunch – partly as a placatory gesture, partly to prove that Kent and myself could, and would, stand by what’d been written and mainly because a re-match might prove to be interesting. The axis of the criticism in the piece lay upon the fact (self-confessed by Gilmour) that on two consecutive nights the Pink Floyd made music of such low quality that it cast rather anvil-like aspersions on (a) their motivations (b) their overall musicianship (c) the feeling engendered by them in their audiences (both short and long term) and admirers – one of whom, Sunday Times critic Derek Jewell, pulled out some florid prose in an appraisal of the debut Thursday night gig (described subsequently by Gilmour as “probably the worst we’ve done on the whole tour”).
Jewell wrote: “Richly they merit their place among the symphonic overlords of today’s popular hierarchy…they reeled off, apparently effortlessly, a performance with musical textures so ravishing and visual accompaniment so surprising that, for once, the thunderous standing ovation was completely justified.” Such bland acceptance irritates the band, says Gilmour, equally, if not more so than its denigrators. “I don’t think anyone on our level feels deserving of that kind of superhuman adulation number,’ he claims, hacking at a piece of steak.”
“But then a lot of them probably dig it. Sure, I’m cynical of our position. I don’t think we deserve it. But I’m no more cynical of our position than I am of anyone else’s on our level. I mean…to try and maintain your perspective on what you are is totally different.”
The lyrics of “Gotta Be Crazy” – as Nick Kent pointed out – reveal a very great deal of cynicism, particularly the line ‘Gotta keep people buying this shit’, which is tantamount to a sneer at the audience.
” Mmm. Yeah. It is possibly a sneer…but not at the audience as a whole, but at the type of adulation bands like us get. I mean I think there is something wrong with that…people needing hero figures like that, thinking that rock musicians have all the answers.” [DG]
But don’t you think that while not really being responsible for that element, the fact that it hasn’t been challenged means that bands like the Floyd, through neglect, are helping compound it?
“Yes. Probably. But I think we’re less guilty than most. I mean, we’ve made conscious attempts at fighting it.” [DG] Such as?
“In things we’ve said in interviews and things like that. We’ve always said that we don’t believe in that whole number, but it’s very hard to get away from the image people put on you.” [DG]
How large a proportion of record buyers and concert goers buy music papers though? A question in fact neglect to add. Still seems a bit lame, though, eh? One would’ve thought that a couple of really fined honed satires would at least help… but then, really, how concerned are bands about these kinds of things? Motives-schmotives. It helps sell records. And you don’t gnaw the digits that feed you.
Anyway, we’re messing around here. To the specifics. Gilmour is raking through the apposite issue as he eats. He’s inclined towards the John Peel reaction (thinly disguised in his mildly self-congratulatory ‘Diary of the Domestic’ unfolded each week in Sounds) that the piece was ‘hysterical’, overly personal and laced with supposed inaccuracies. The first eleven of Kent’s opening paragraphs make Gilmour particularly mad. He claims that description of his personal appearance and that of a member of the audience (and his attitudes) is totally superfluous…
“I don’t see any of it being in any way relevant,” says Gilmour in that sullen/placid tone of voice that could be either. Or both. “So there’s a guy like that in the audience. So what? There were probably others like him, but you find people like that at any concert – but then Kent probably set out to find one and he did.”
I assure him that our approach was in no way premeditated. There was no question of a pre-planned axe-job on anyone’s part.
‘Well, I just don’t believe it of Nick Kent. I really don’t. He’s still involved with Syd Barrett and the whole 1967 thing. I don’t even know if he ever saw the Floyd with Syd.’
“He goes on about Syd too much and yet, as far as I can see, there’s no relevance in talking about Syd in reviewing one of our concerts.”
‘But one of the new songs is about him.’
“Yes, but that’s all. In the beginning the songs were all his and they were brilliant. No one disputes that. But I don’t think the actual sound of the whole band stems from Syd. I think it stems just as much from Rick. I mean, Syd’s thing was short songs.”
As for hair-washing. Well, the subject got short shrift. I think, though, that dressing especially for a gig is something that Gilmour subconsciously associates with ‘showbusiness’ – about which more later. Meanwhile subsequent conversation with Carlena Williams, one of the Blackberries, the two black back-up chicks they hired for the tour, Carlena expressed delight at the opening paras. ‘Sheeut!’ she observed daintily. ‘When Ah saw that bit about Dave’s hair, Ah jus’ cracked up. Ah had t’read it y’know?’ Back to Syd.
“The band just before Syd departed had got into a totally impossible situation. No one wanted to book them. After the success of the summer of ’67 the band sank like a stone; the gigs they were doing at the time were all empty because they were so bad. The only way out was to get rid of Syd, so they asked me to join and got rid of Syd…” This, by the way, is also Gilmour’s comeback to my assertion that: ‘It’s almost as if the Floyd, having loafed about half-seriously as the Architectural Abdabs [sic], garnered their personae from Barrett and, when he dropped out, for want of anything better to do, clung on to the momentum he provided.’
Says Gilmour: “By the time Syd left the ball had definitely stopped rolling. We had to start it all over again. Saucerful of Secrets, the first album without him, was the start back on the road to some kind of return. It was the album we began building from. The whole conception of Saucerful of Secrets has nothing to do with what Syd believed in or liked. We continued playing some of his songs because none of us was getting good enough material fast enough to be able to do without them –which also, therefore, meant that I had to fit in with his style to an extent because his songs were so rigidly structured around it.” “Oh, and by the way, the band, when I joined, never ever said, “Play like Syd Barrett…that was the very last thing they wanted.”
This had been part of a quote I’d happened across while writing up the original interview. It came courtesy of former Floyd manager Pete Jenner. It had appeared as part of M. Kent’s epic Syd Barrett piece last March and, to my knowledge, hasn’t been contested then. I presumed it to be accurate. Another part of the same quote had claimed that Syd’s guitar technique of using slide and echo boxes was of his own invention. My quote had been ‘the familiar slide and echo boxes were purely of Syd’s invention’ which, in retrospect, was, perhaps, a bit strong. Gilmour, anyway, hotly denies this. “Why didn’t you ask me about things like that during the interview?” he asks, righteously indignant.
“The facts of the matter are that I was using an echo box years before Syd was. I also used slide. I also taught Syd quite a lot about guitar. I mean, people saying that I pinched his style, when our backgrounds are so similar…yet we spent a lot of times as teenagers listening to the same music. Our influences are pretty much the same – and I was a couple of streets ahead of him at the time and was teaching him to play Stones riffs every lunchtime for a year at technical college. That kind of thing’s bound to get my back up – especially if you don’t check it.”
“I don’t want to go into print saying that I taught Syd Barrett everything he knows, ‘cos it’s patently untrue, but there are one or two things in Syd’s style that I know came from me.” In the original, I had prefaced these suggestions by intimating that as a guitarist Gilmour appears to lack any immediately identifiable personality. The word I used was ‘malleable’. He says he actually feels that such a word applied to his style(s) is a compliment. Most guitarists, he claims, are pretty narrow -minded, restricting their possible range of operations. In that case, he could be accused of spreading himself too thinly – i.e., capable of most things, but not particularly outstanding at any one thing. Or is that the way he’s intending it? “No. But I work within my limitations. But then whether I’m a good or bad guitarist isn’t really relevant. I mean, I try my damnedest to do my best, although certainly for the first half of the tour I was, well – rusty. I hadn’t played for a long time and my fingers were really stiff. But also I would say that I got very good by the time we were halfway through.”
And the accusation that from where you all stand it’s impossible for you to relate any more to the thoughts of the average punter? “If you’re referring to that bit which says something about our “desperately bourgeois existence’s…Well, I mean, how do you or he know how we live our lives? Apart from you – marginally – about me? Do you? Does Nick? [Kent, who wrote the original article] He hasn’t been to one of our houses. He’s got absolutely no idea of how I spend my life apart from what you might have told him – and you don’t know how the others live. Do you think my life is so desperately bourgeois? My house is not particularly grand. Have you seen Roger’s house? He lives in a five grand terraced house in Islington. So I really can’t see how Kent can sit there and say things like that. He’s no idea of what he’s talking about.” He does admit to a kind of laziness in the band, though. He’s also realistic about their individual instrumental prowess.
“In terms of musical virtuosity we’re really not anywhere I think; individual musicianship is well below par.” And no, they’re not ‘bereft of ideas’ – just resting. And worrying about a follow-up to Dark Side which has, he claims, ‘trapped us creatively’. In passing, he says the lyrics are obvious intentionally.
“We tried to make them as simple and direct as possible and yet, as we were writing them, we knew they’d be misunderstood. We still get people coming up to us who think that “Money – it’s a gas” is a direct and literal statement that “we like money”.” The point – a good one I thought – about the appeal of Floyd (and similar bands) being in some way associated with the rapid sophistication in stereo equipment is tossed out entirely. “Six years ago,’ says Gilmour impatiently, “we still sold albums and yet hardly anyone in this country had a stereo. It was all Dansettes then…”
And yet from casual random sampling of friends with Floyd albums, invariably the first thing said is, ‘Oh, such and such track sounds great on my stereo.’ Surely this is a case of packaging to some extent taking priority over contents? “No. That’s ridiculous. I suppose the same criticism would then apply to Stevie Wonder records?” Well, as it happens… To Kent’s rather brilliant summing-up. “Personally,” Gilmour states stoically, “I don’t believe any of that rubbish about Nineteen Eighty-Four.” I really do.
“But I mean what difference is there between our sort of music and anyone else’s, apart from the fact that maybe most of the other bands just play music for the body? And they’re hardly progressive at all. Not that I think we’re wildly progressive either.”
But at it’s worst, a stage show like the Floyd’s only dulls an audience’s sensibilities even to the extent of sending them to sleep. Nothing is left for them to project their imagination into – it’s the difference between the holding power of a radio play and a TV play. And in any case, how does it feel to be part of a show where the audience doesn’t even give you a ripple for a good solo, yet applauds a bucket of dry ice every time? “Yeah. That’s all part of the dramatic effect, isn’t it?” And that’s a lame comeback.
“We went through a period where we blew out our entire light show for two years and there was no real difference. I personally know for a fact that it wouldn’t make any difference if we did it again. We’ve never been hyped. There’s been no great publicity campaign. It’s built up purely on the strength of gigs. I don’t think we’re remotely close to that thing about tapes, do you?”
On the strength of the Wembley things, yes. You looked bored and dispirited.
“Not bored. Definitely dispirited. It gets very depressing when you’re fighting against odds like dud equipment. Energy soon flags. We weren’t pleased to do an encore because we didn’t deserve it.” Why didn’t they say so, then? You know, don the olde showbiz Batcape? “I’m not interested in disguising my feelings on stage with showbiz devices. I’ve seen hundreds of bands do that. Does anybody respect them? From what he writes, Nick Kent seems to believe in it all – the old idea of The Show Must Go On, Never Let The Public See Your Feelings and things like that.”
Wouldn’t the discipline of forcing just a little of that attitude on yourselves help in situations like that?
“No. When I’m standing there I’m conscious of trying to give the most I can,” sez Gilmour emphatically. “And I don’t need to have clean hair for that.”