Interview By Daryl Easlea
Transcribed by Thanasis
Rock historians have a problem with David Gilmour because he is, well, so very balanced. Displaying little of the madness or angst of Pink Floyds major writers, the two Rogers (Barrett and Waters), he acted as a midwife to many of their ideas, writing some of the most haunting guitar figures of 20th Century pop music, and, after Syds sing-song and before Waters increasingly maniacal sprechtspiel, he added that sweet voice atop many a Floyd classic.
Despite the fact that he was one fifth, quarter, third, or even all of one of the most mythologised bands of all time, Gilmour in person is charming, urbane, and a gentleman through and through. There is a real sense that he is comfortable with his past and delighted with his present, viewing Pink Floyd from a healthy distance, and is genuinely excited by the reviews for his RFH show last year and that concert films release on DVD. His marshalling of a small band freed him from the weight of expectations of the brand name, and, as a result, he freely experimented with his catalogue.
In a room in his Sussex farmhouse, surrounded by instruments such as his Wish You Were Here lap-steel, and Dark Side Of The Moons showcase state-of-the-art synthesiser, the VCS3 its interesting to reflect that a chip the size of a thumbnail can now perform more trickery than this great wood-and-silver-slab Gilmour discussed Floyd and beyond with RC.
RC: What is the secret behind Pink Floyds pan-generational appeal?
Quality. Universal themes. I can understand it. Its good stuff. People listen to Neil Young and Joni Mitchell the same way. Were in a fine, select group its great for every new generation to investigate. Im happy to be considered part of it.
RC: Whats your view of the mystical side of it? You’ve always seemed to keep a respectful distance.
Our music has depth, and attempts philosophical thought and meaning with discussions of infinity, eternity and mortality. There is a line which people cross that turns it into some magical, mystical realm, for which I don’t claim responsibility and don’t hold any great truck with.
RC: So youve never tried to play Dark Side Of The Moon over The Wizard of Oz, so that your music is apparently in sync with the film?
Of course not! That’s one of the most ludicrous things that’s come out, and it just runs and runs and runs. I mean, were obviously to blame for some of these stupid things ourselves, but that one God knows where that one came from. Oh alright, I did try it once, actually. It didnt seem to make any sense whatsoever. I wouldn’t bother. It’s better to listen to the words rather thsn to find out about little Dorothy and her red shoes!
RC: Lets go back to Jokers Wild. What do you recall about the one-sided LP and single you cut with this band?
It was a vanity project. I booked Regend Sound in Denmark Street. We all headed off to London in our van, did five songs, all having absolutely no idea what we were doing. The songs were all covers from our live set Dont Ask Me Why, Thats How Strong My Love, Beautiful Delilah, Why Do Fools Fall In Love, You Don’t Know What I Know. We had 50 five-track albums (RSLP 007) and 50 two-track singles (RSR 0031) made. We had a bit of a following around Cambridge and sold them to friends. Ive still got the original stereo mastertape somewhere in my stores.
RC: Do you ever plan to do anything with it?
RC: Not even for that ultimate retrospective?
I havent really thought about it. I suppose one day I could give it to Colin Miles or one of those people.
RC: Are you amazed at the number of people who have such interest in your earliest recordings?
It doesn’t surprise me that there are people who want to know about that sort of stuff, but I have to confess thats not very me. We were a bunch of teenage lads and thought it would be a bit of fun for our followers and then promptly forgot about it. And that’s where it belongs.
RC: Before your call-up to the Floyd and after Jokers Wild, you headed off to France.
I initially went to Marbella, Spain, for three months in the summer of 66. Then I came back and went to a club in St. Etienne in France. I moved to Paris and did three months residence in a club called the Bilberquay and then spent a period just gigging all over France.
RC: How did male modelling fit into all this?
I was hanging about in London for moments in the mid-60s. I was getting a little bored with Cambridge. Being in a band, gigging two to five times a week, there wasn’t much money around. Wed get an average of A320 to A325 a gig, to share between six or seven people. Every once a while, someone I knew would say that they wanted someone to go up to Santa Pod Raceway next week and sit in a stupid motor with stupid clothes on and have your photo taken. It was A350 for a day. Fifty quid a day! I was in. I was never a model at an agency or anything like that, but if you could get a job like that, the equivalent of three weeks gigging, you jumped at it. That said, I probably only did three days like that in my life. So, its not strictly accurate when I’m described as a male model.
RC: So, there are no pictures of you with a pipe or your hat at a jaunty angle?
No! None of that sort of stuff!
RC: Your path to the Floyd was strewn with bands with 60s names like Bullitt, Flowers and Tintern Abbey, for whom it is said you auditioned.
No. I was already in Pink Floyd when I knew Tintern Abbey. If you thought I was going to leave Pink Floyd and join them, you’ve got another think coming! We were Bullitt first. Our manager at the time, Jean Paul Salavatore, fancied himself a bit as an Andrew Loog Oldham svengali rocknroll manager. He was always suggesting new things. He said we had to have a name that was tough and hard, so we became Buillitt. Then he said (adopts cockney accent) It’s all flower power now, so from now on, you’re Flowers. These things are all far more prosaic than you’d like to imagine.
RC: What sort of material did you delight your audience with at this point?
We did a lot of soul: Wilson Pickett, the Four Tops and one or two Beach Boys-type-things. We had some mics stolen in France and I had to zoom back to London to buy some new ones. I went to a club called Blaises in South Kensington and saw Hendrix by chance, jamming with the Brian Auger Trinity it was amazing. So we waited for that first record to come out and we started to do Hendrix things as well. We did nearly all of Are You Experienced? in our French set.
RC: Youve always had an ability to turn your hand to many different styles.
Im a real jack of all trades. I’m completely the anti-purist. I was never going to dedicate my life to being BB King. My influences were Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, Bob Dylan, Hank Marvin, all the blues guys and everything. It was all a complete hotchpotch, a mass of different styles and influences. I saw no reason why all these influences could not co-habit reasonably and I still don’t!
RC: You went into Floyd to augment the line-up in 68. What are your memories of that very brief period when you were a five-piece with Syd?
Syd would gradually phase out of live performance and stick around and write songs for us. He obviously wasn’t up to playing live very much, so they asked me to join, and for him to be the Brian Wilson backroom boy figure. It could have felt very uncomfortable, but it didn’t really. After five gigs, it obviously wasnt working. We went off to do the gig in Southampton and didnt bother picking him up. It’s a well trotted-out story. We certainly didnt know they would be the last gigs we played together. I dont think we were ever in the studio at the same time. I worked on one or two of the tracks that were already recorded. We didn’t record whole new tracks until after hed left. All five of us are certainly on Set the Controls.
RC: You were Syd’s producer on his solo albums. Were the sessions as bad as they’ve been painted?
They were pretty tortuous and very rushed. We had very little time, particularly with The Madcap Laughs. Syd was very difficult, we got that very frustrated feeling: Look, its your f ucking career, mate. Why don’t you get your finger out and do something? The guy was in trouble, and was a close friend for many years before then, so it really was the least one could do.
RC: In those immediate post-Syd years it seemed as if you were always on tour. Do you ever get nostalgic for some of the places that you used to play?
No thank you! Times change. You move on. The Festival Hall is great to play but I dont view any of the others with that sort of nostalgia. Mothers in Erdington in Birmingham can be viewed with a certain amount of pleasure. Every time we played there it was great. Between 68 and 72, we gigged three or four times a week all the time. It wasn’t defined as a tour in those days. Later, most of them became sheds all over the country and Europe, which Im extremely happy to forget.
RC: All of your best-known material was honed on the road, wasnt it?
Thats slightly a myth. Dark Side was fashioned out on the road, because we started playing and honing it, but it wasnt that common. Things like Echoes we had done live, and later, with the Animals stuff, we had done the two tracks on the 74 tour. They were part of the oeuvre before being unleashed officially, but Dark Side Of The Moon was the one where the belief comes from and it did help make it better, as we were pretty well conversant with the music.
RC: In the middle of all that honing, you made Obscured by Clouds. What do you make of it now?
Good fun. Chateau de Herouville. We never categorised film soundtracks in the same way, thats why they never make it onto collections.
RC: So how do you feel about the 30th birthday of Dark Side Of The Moon now?
Dont be silly, records dont have birthdays! Its just a gramophone record. There’s so many bloody different versions of it out now.
RC: Does it amaze you that there is an insatiable appetite for things you did 30 years ago?
Im happier with the fans insatiable appetite for silly old rubbish than I am with the attitude of people closer to me foisting that stuff on people.
RC: Do you ever have an urge to do anything with the unreleased Floyd stuff?
I have no objection to putting these things out. If they’re going to have really bad bootlegs, they might as well have something a little better, and closer to the original. I just don’t have the energy to persuade everybody else to release them. Things like Vegetable Man and Scream Thy Last Scream are really interesting, but as they’re from before my time I don’t see myself as having any rights to comment or say whether they should come out or not. Its up to the other guys. Our archives are very thin: we would jam with something, use it or throw it away. By the time we got into a studio, we knew what we were going to do and we worked on it until it was right.
RC: Is there much of Household Objects (the aborted follow-up to Dark Side which was recorded with you guessed it- household objects) in the can?
There are all sorts of bits and pieces but nothing complete. We salvaged a little bit the main drone at the beginning of Wish You Were Here was made with wine glasses which we recorded on 16-track, with a glass on each track at a semitone interval, so we could do chords and play it like a keyboard. It was a hugely difficult sampling system. A few other bits were salvaged. I remember spending an inordinately long time stretching rubber bands across match-boxes to get a bass sound which just ended up sounding like a bass guitar!
RC: Whose idea was it?
Oh, probably Rogers it certainly wasn’t mine. We spent an awful lot of hours of wasted studio time faffing around.
RC: With the success of your in-concert DVD, how long before the Floyd venture into the DVD market?
Pulse will come out. Its so over-the-top that we havent managed to do a decent test, getting the vision and visuals on to DVD. Pompeii is not owned by us, we have no control over it, but its being turned into a new, groovier version. Adrian Maben, the director, said he’d find lots of extra footage, but hes lost it. So he’s making up footage of ludicrous architectural designs of what Pompeii might have looked like. Just stick with the original! This new form is not approved by me. There is lots of stuff we’d love to get our hands on, sitting in some tin can somewhere in a vault. We shot the original in Italy, did cutaway shots and sound mixing in France, and then did the extra shooting while we were at Abbey Road and the company that originally made it was German. No one has idea where the f uck it is!
There is quite a fair bit of footage in the studio during the making of Dark Side. Its a bit of a con it wasnt the real recording. Its me sitting on a stool re-doing an overdub to Eclipse, with the same guitar, but when the record was actually finished. And those bits of Roger pretending to do On the run where he hadn’t done it in the first place!
RC: After the worldwide success of The Wall, was The Final Cut as grim to make as it is to listen to?
RC: Were you thinking What has happened to my band? at that point?
I knew what had happened to my band at that point, and I was just trying to get through it. It wasn’t pleasant at all. If it was that unpleasant but the results had been worth it, then I might think about it in a different way. I wouldn’t actually. I don’t the results are an awful lot I mean (there are) a couple of reasonable tracks, at best. I did vote for The Fletcher Memorial Home to be on Echoes. I like that. Fletcher, The Gunner Dream and the title track are the three reasonable tracks on that. The rest of The Final Cut is dross.
RC: With the band in limbo, the 80s were characterised by you being a gun for hire, popping up on a lot of sessions.
I did a lot of things. I was bored and flattered to be asked. Some of the things I don’t have a lot of affection for, and some I’ve never even heard. I can become a perfectionist when Im with Pink Floyd, but going in, doing a guitar solo and then leaving is great.
RC: You were on recordings by Propaganda and Grace Jones.
Trevor Horn asked me to do Grace Jones. That was very funny. He was very ill. He was lying on the floor, throwing up, trying to produce it. I can’t really hear myself on it Im on one version of Slave To The Rhythm. I expect he was trying to get a decent sample line out of me.
RC: Do you ever have to pinch yourself because youre playing next to people like Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend and Bryan Ferry?
Im a kid, really. You get into Studio Two at Abbey Road, you’re sitting there with Paul McCartney and your guitar is plugged in. You think thats an ordinary days works, but of course it isn’t its magical! Managing to persuade him to sing I Saw Her Standing There at the Cavern, with me doing the John Lennon parts, was absolutely fantastic. I’ve been in The Who, I’ve been in The Beatles and I’ve been in Pink Floyd! Top that, motherfucker!
RC: Why have you recorded so few solo albums?
The first one was just a quick blast. It was all Rick and Willie Wilson encouraging me to get going. We congregated down in the south of France, knocked out a few jams. It was really off the top of our heads, it was fun comparatively, compared to Pink Floyd. The last solo album (About Face) in 1984 was at a time when we knew Roger wasn’t going to be part of anything we did, but before hed officially left. He had us trapped in limbo. I was putting my toe in the water. Then he left and I was unencumbered and carried on doing Pink Floyd. There didnt seem to be any reason to do a solo project.
Now Im trying to simplify my life and have a little less responsibility. This current project is a way of doing that. One could almost be spontaneous! Its a nice option. A lightweight version!
RC: How did you feel about the Echoes collection?
I was delighted with the whole package. Its pretty near the perfect Pink Floyd primer. I mostly put it all together and got my way 99% of the time. Its a very good career overview. Im surprised that these things sell, as I think just about everyone who would want it has already got it in its proper place. There are people who sit at computers all day and make their own best ofs, as I do with other peoples stuff. I made a great Beach Boys one, so its nice for me to do it for others.
RC: What do you make of the Floyd tribute band industry?
Ive seen the Australian lot a couple of times. I booked a box at Fairfield Hall once. We had a jolly entertaining evening they took my picture afterwards, which theyre still using in their advertising ever since as a seal of approval. They were jolly good fun. I booked them for our last post-gig party and then I booked them for my 50th birthday party in 1996 along with the Bootleg Beatles. Ive never seen Pink Floyd, you see. So its great to me to see that. Its a step up from Karaoke though.
RC: Theres one called Pink Fraud, with Nick Heywards brother as you. Their ambition is huge they did the full Atom Heart Mother as a four-piece with tapes.
Fantastic! Some American country and western acts do a C&W version of The Wall! Good luck to them.
RC: Could you, Rick Wright and Dick Parry onstage at the Royal Festival Hall be constituted as a mini-reunion?
I have great respect for Rick Wrights musical ability he can turn up a good chord sequence at the drop of a hat and he makes you work very hard. Although he can be a pain in the arse sometimes, he’s a great musician with soul. I would not hesitate to work with him again. Dick Parry was my friend long before Pink Floyd.
RC: Could the revolving door of guest vocalists when you perform Comfortably numb live ever be filled by Roger himself at some point?
Funnily enough, we did invite him to come and play on Dark Side at Earls Court in 1994. His agent said he was too busy. I don’t suppose I’d ask him. The guys left. Hes gone. Seventeen years ago. Hes gone to feel free and pursue his own projects and freedom is what one should have.
RC: Can it be said that your previous group is over, or can it ever really be over?
You know, Im busy. I dont think about it. Its not anywhere in my list of things I ought to think about. It just isnt relevant at this stage and I have no inclination to think about it. Im not being coy or evasive it isn’t clogging up my brain.
After signing my inner sleeve of Meddle and looking wistfully at the picture of the four of them, shot separately the very picture that made my father wonder if they were criminals in the 70s Gilmour commented simply, Rogers got this fabulous dimple in his chin that only shows under stress.
As we conclude, Gilmour talks of his current musical habits. He is particularly, if surprisingly, fond of the Streets. One of his children is into nu-metal, while his eldest girls play him things that he played them when they were young, thinking that they’ve just discovered artists like Rickie Lee Jones for the first time. We talk of how Pink Floyd’s music is handed down now by parents.
Gilmour recalls that his own parents sent him the first Bob Dylan album while they were in America (his father, Doug, was a doctor in genetics who moved to the US as part of the famous brain drain) in 1962. This actually meant he heard it before many in Britain. Had he met Bob? A few times, he smiled. Was he aware of who you are and what you do? Yes. The second time we met was around the time of The Delicate Sound Of Thunder. He said (adopts perfect Dylan accent) hey, I love your record, The Dogs, man. I was so thrilled. Not many Pink Floyd fans like this track, but Bob does, so it was OK with me.
When people wish to chill out, many reach for a Pink Floyd album. What would David Gilmours equivalent be? An album called Classics For Beginners. And Leonard Cohens The Future is a stunning album. The Lemonheads were a tremendous act, before it all went a bit too druggy.
On the train back, it takes a while to process that this contented family man was the person who stood atop the Wall playing Comfortably Numb; that this was the man with his shirt off playing Echoes at Pompeii; this was the man who kept Syd together. As the train glides into Victoria, you pass by Battersea Power Station. You cannot help but look up for a flying pig. That is how far Gilmour and his band are buried in the public psyche.
David on Tommy Cooper:
I once went to see Tommy Cooper live in Southend On Sea. It was one of the funniest nights I can remember in all my life. It was fantastic. He had a picket fence down the stage from the centre of the back to the front with a little gate in it. When he walked across the stage and talked to different halves of the audience, he had to walk through the gate and then close it. That was the joke. And it just doesnt sound funny. To see it was just hilarious. As the show went on, every time he walked toward the gate, the laughs got bigger and bigger. Just walking through a fucking gate. Baffling.
David on Marc Bolan:
Bolan used to hang around in our office and sit on the floor, strumming his guitar, flirting with our secretary, June, who, of course, he later married. He was a great Syd fan. I was quite fond of him. He was a big pain in the arse, of course, very full of himself. I always liked that thing where he called himself the Bolan child, this magical, mythical name. It was really from his doorbell in Ladbroke Grove. It had his name, and our secretarys surname, Child, so it read Bolan Child and fans used to think, wow, he is the Bolan Child!