Uncut Magazine June 2004.
(Transcript thanks to Natalie Lyons)
The Last Days of Pink Floyd
By Roger Waters
They called it The Final Cut, and that’s what it was for Pink Floyd – The last album they would make with Roger Waters. For the prog-rock Fab Four, with band relations deteriorating fast, this signalled the end: Rick Wright had already departed and Dave Gilmour and Nick Mason were reduced to supporting roles as their creative figurehead wrestled with his anti-war opus. Twenty years on, talking exclusively to Uncut, Waters recalls the Fall of the Floyd Empire.
Interview: Carol Clerk.
At the end of 1979, when Pink Floyd released The Wall, they were at the height of their fame and glory. A double album, it smashed into the Top 3 in the UK, going on to sell more than eight million copies in America, where it remained at No 1 for 15 weeks.
The first single, “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)”, topped the British and US charts for five and four weeks respectively, bringing home audiences a surprising and unusually serious Christmas bestseller.
The band took the album out on tour in 1980 with one of the most memorable, ambitious and expensive stage shows in rock history. Dramatising the central story of Pink, a rock star who had become alienated from his fans, the theatrics involved the building, and subsequent demolition, of a wall, 30-feet high, between the Floyd and their audience.
They followed this with a movie version of The Wall. Released in 1982, it was directed by Alan Parker with Bob Geldof cast in the role of Pink. There seemed no limit to what the Floyd could achieve.
But even as The Wall was being packed into racks in record shops across the world in its week of release, the Floyd empire was beginning to crumble. Less than four years later, it was all over bar the shouting – and there was a lot of shouting – for the four-piece that had so dominated the previous decade.
Keyboard player Rick Wright left the band in 1980 amid claims that he had been forced to quit by Roger Waters – who, in addition to his bass and vocal duties, had become the primary songwriter. Meanwhile, the already shaky relationship between Waters and guitarist/vocalist Dave Gilmour was deteriorating. They had never been the best of friends, but their musical visions for the Floyd had been conflicting sharply since Dark Side of the Moon. For a long time, they had been able to fight their way to a compromise, but the gulf was widening. It would soon be impassable.
Drummer Nick Mason was caught, unhappily, in the middle of the hostilities, telling Uncut last year that “I’ve always been well known for my fence-sitting.”
By the time of The Wall, Waters was largely in control. And The Final Cut, released in the spring of 1983, was almost entirely his own work, a full-scale anti-war protest, with Gilmour and Mason turning out simply to play their designated parts – and subsequently dumping Waters.
It was, indeed, the ‘final cut’. The Wall had taken Pink Floyd to the top of the world, but The Final Cut, another No 1 album, saw their future about to go up – or rather down – in flames.
Gilmour, Mason and Wright would together achieve commercial success with A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) and the chart-topping The Division Bell (1994), but neither album could hope to recapture the magic and enduring mass appeal that the three had created with Waters, the John Lennon of the group.
On the eve of EMI’s remastered re-release of The Final Cut in April 2004, Waters rings Uncut from his home in New York to talk in his usual forthright manner about the fateful period from 1979-1983, which saw Pink Floyd in decline, fated to plummet from a seemingly unassailable greatness to an ordinary and relatively unproductive rock stardom.
Uncut: The Wall was, mostly, written by you. Did its success confirm to you that you could effectively take charge of the group’s music and direction, or had you been working towards this anyway with confidence?
Waters: Let’s see. At the time, I had started to work very much on my own. I’d moved to the countryside in England and I did drafts of both The Pros and Cons of Hitch-Hiking [his 1984 solo album] and The Wall concurrently. I presented both pieces to the band in the studios in Britannia Row. I said, “I’m going to make one of these as a solo record and the other as a band record.”
So they had to choose which would be recorded as the next Floyd album?
They were all in favour of The Wall except for the late Steve O’Rourke [band manager], who preferred The Pros and Cons… As history, it’s well known that I objected to a couple of chord sequences during the making of the record, and [producer] Bob Ezrin wrote some pieces for “The Trial”, and I wrote some new songs.
I’d sort of dragged us kicking and screaming into new ways of doing things since Dark Side of the Moon. With Wish You Were Here, there was the first big divergence – Dave wanted us to put “Raving and Drooling” [the original title of Animals track “Sheep”) on Wish You Were Here, and I had a very strong sense of the record. I had a pretty clear vision, I think.
Were the rest of the band sidelined during The Wall?
I know that’s how it’s perceived by some people. The fact is, we all had the opportunity to write as much as we wanted. There was never any question of me saying, “Don’t write, I don’t want your stuff.” I was desperately keen for everybody in the band to produce as much as possible. But Nick doesn’t write at all, and Dave and Rick are not very prolific writers. They’ve written very, very little over the years. They’ve written some great stuff, but very little of it. So, you know, it fell to me as a more prolific writer to fill in the gaps, to actually produce the material, which I have done and have continued to do, clearly, since.
I tend to write almost exclusively on my own. Since I left the band, Dave has collaborated with all kinds of people to get some kind of an output, because he isn’t actually a writer. You either write or you don’t. If you do, you can’t help it. You can’t stop yourself doing it. And if you don’t write, you can’t start yourself doing it. You can’t think, “Oh, I’ll become a writer now,” and start writing. If it were as simple as that, I’m sure Dave and Rick would write. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it. But it’s not. It’s a very specific skill.
Rick Wright claimed he was given an ultimatum by Waters: if he didn’t leave the band, Waters would refuse to allow the release of The Wall. At this time, Pink Floyd were, astonishingly, in a multi-million-pound financial crisis, allegedly due to their involvement with investment managers Norton Warburg. Wright has stated that because of this, he did not want to endanger the album’s release. Gilmour and Mason, while opposing Wright’s dismissal, reluctantly agreed that they could not sacrifice the album that would go on to save them from bankruptcy.
Before his departure, Wright accompanied the band on the Wall tour, although he had been demoted from his position as full-time band member to that of hired hand, receiving a wage. Since the tour lost spectacular amounts of money, Wright joked that he was the only player who earned anything from it. He would later rejoin the line-up.
What were your particular problems with Rick Wright during the making of The Wall?
A lot of revisionist nonsense has been written about it, and certainly the history as seen from the perspective of Dave and Rick and Nick is quite different from the history as seen from my perspective. So there are no reliable witnesses to the historical events unless you’re a camera or a tape recorder. I don’t really want to document my view of Rick’s shortcomings during that period. Suffice to say, however, that my memory of events is not that I wickedly axed Rick from the band somehow managing to force Dave and Nick into a position that they weren’t happy with.
Rick was in his own space at that time and he was no longer really anything much to do with the rest of us. It just became intolerable in the end.
Is it frustrating to be portrayed as the bad guy all the time?
I’ve sort of got used to it. It doesn’t annoy me very much. My memory of what happened at the time, who did what and said what… when the other guys decided to make records after I’d left and they’d gone on tour, there was a lot of attacking of me, I think to make themselves feel stronger or whatever. A lot of it was deliberately revisionist to an extent that was pretty upsetting at the time.
Interestingly, Nick’s written his book and sent me a draft of it. I called him and said, “Nick, this is wildly revisionist and if you want my input in any way we’ll have to go through it.” He seems very happy about that. I said, “This history cannot be got right because we will all have different memories.”
It’s well known now that in the last 30 years or so, the study of neurology has advanced to the point that we know humans are capable of inventing memories for themselves that are convenient. There are no simple facts. We will all invent a history that suits us and is comfortable for us, and we may absolutely believe our version to be the truth, but the truth is that empirical data tells us an individual isn’t in a position to say what is and is not the truth about what is in his or her past. The brain will invent stuff, move stuff around, and so from 30 years ago, or 25 years ago, there’s no way any of us can actually get at the truth.
By the time of The Wall, there was increasing animosity in your relationship with Dave and Nick. What were the reasons for this?
At that point… not with Nick. Dave and I were always slightly at loggerheads. Making The Wall, there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing about the mixing of “Comfortably Numb”, with Bob Ezrin in the middle. Neck never thrust his oar with any great vigour into the stew. He was always very happy to be on board. He was a very close friend of mine as well.
The live show was extraordinary, but it was very expensive. How seriously did this add to the financial problems the band were having after the trouble with Norton Warburg?
Not at all. The album was so successful that any downside in terms of the shows was irrelevant. We always knew it couldn’t make a profit. You can’t put on a show like that for 15 performances and expect to make money.
How do you rate the movie version of The Wall now?
I think it’s an interesting film. Famously, I had divergences of opinion with various people at certain points. [Alan] Parker’s a passionate man and so am I and so is [designer and animator] Gerry Scarfe. Whether the piece suffers from that, I don’t know. The one disappointment I had – and it’s my fault more than anybody else’s – is that it gave me a chance to introduce my sense of humour to the piece, and I signally failed to do that. It’s extremely dour.
I’m happy to say I’m being given an opportunity to redress that problem. I’m just on the verge of signing a deal with Miramax to rewrite the whole thing as a Broadway show. I’ve written the first 10 pages. That’s why I’ve been very keen on, and have thought about, rewriting it at some point – to get my humour into it. My humour is an extremely important part of my life. It’s a challenge, and something I’m really looking forward to.
Is there any possibility that the show might travel to the UK?
It might well open in London. We’ll see.
Would it be accurate to say that if The Wall was the last great Pink Floyd album then The Final Cut was essentially the first Roger Waters solo album?
I suppose you could say that. I mean, The Wall was quite different. It was conceived as a theatrical event. The Final Cut wasn’t.
The Final Cut is described as “a requiem for the post-war dream”. Is the post-war dream the same thing as “The Gunner’s Dream”, where he hopes that the world can one day become a safe and peaceful and compassionate place for everyone?
That’s exactly what it is. The post-war dream… we experienced the beginning of the Welfare State in 1946. The government introduced all that new legislation. At the point where I wrote The Final Cut, I’d seen all that chiselled away, and I’d seen a return to an almost Dickensian view of society under Margaret Thatcher.
The album opposes war in general, and is specifically fired by your feelings about World War II. To what extent were your lyrics driven by other conflicts such as the Falklands?
I felt then, and I still feel today, that the British Government should have pursued diplomatic avenues more vigorously than they did, rather than steaming in the moment the Task Force arrived in the South Atlantic. Some kind of compromise could have been effected, and lots of lives would have been saved. It was politically convenient for Margaret Thatcher to wham Galtieri because there’s no way she would have survived another six months without the invasion of the Falkland Islands.
Some critics have said that your references to Thatcher, Reagan and other world leaders have dated the work. But it could be argued that, although the names have been changed, it remains relevant today. Would you agree?
Absolutely, yeah, in the face of the invasion of Iraq. I wrote some songs last April which I haven’t managed to release yet, and maybe they will date in some way. I’ve mentioned Blair by name. One song refers to a short story I wrote many years ago about one night in my life when I was 19 years old, hitch-hiking back to London from Beirut. On my first night on the road, I was taken in by an Arab couple with a small child. They treated me with extraordinary hospitality and kindness. I’ve never forgotten them. It’s so easy for us to develop enmities for people in other countries whom we know nothing about, people we can identify as a potential threat. Most of them are just ordinary people. Most people over the world are moderate, and our lives get destroyed by extremists of one kind or another. My theory has always been that the problem is exacerbated because of the demands of commerce.
As we saw with the invasion if Iraq.
The jingoism and colonial ambition that you rail against on The Final Cut is probably more appalling now than it ever was.
It seems to be. It seems to have got worse and it’s terrifying. I’m living in New York at the moment, and it’s absolutely terrifying what a slight grasp of foreign politics and of the facts the American public has in the face of the onslaught of the Murdoch media, Fox News and CNN. It seems to amount to a conspiracy in the media to defraud the population. It’s quite terrifying out here. What happened in the aftermath of 9/11 was absolutely frightening and still is, although it’s just beginning to change now.
Is it changing because of the information emerging about military intelligence and so on?
Exactly. Also, people are beginning to see a little bit more. Bush’s domestic policy is fleecing the poor to pay for the rich, and people are just beginning to get that as well.
Would you say that the American public is more gullible than the British?
There’s a solid Tory vote in the working class based on an attachment to the jingoism of the past and the empire and the flag. It’s true in Republican America as well, particularly in the Midwest, where they’re very God-fearing. In the Bible belt, even if you’re working class, blue-collar, a farmer or whatever, there’s about half the population who are prepared to believe that if you’re successful you must have got something right – “Oh look, they’re rich and they’re powerful, they obviously know what they’re doing, so let’s vote for them,” rather than, “They’re rich and powerful, they’re stealing all our money and spending it on themselves, so let’s vote against them.” Democracy seems to be the best chance we have at the moment, but it’s by no means a perfect instrument.
There was no freedom of speech about 9/11, no habeus corpus. They’d thrown away a lot of their motions of civil liberties – arresting Muslims and imprisoning them without trial, with no access to lawyers. Everybody was saying, “Hey, so what? Kill a few, torture a few, so what?” I don’t think they realise just how dangerous, just how slippery that slope is.
Just after 9/11, there was one interesting guy who had a talk show. It was pretty open, at least as far as they can be. After 9/11, on his show, this guy said, “You can call [suicide pilot] Mohammed Atta and the others anything you want, but you can’t call them cowards.”
There was a big thing about this attack. It’s an oxymoron to suggest somebody in the cockpit of a plane, flying it into a building, is guilty of an act of cowardice. This presenter was fired, and the next day the show was cancelled. You could not say that in America, even something patently obvious.
On The Final Cut, you empathise with the victims, the dead and their relatives, but you also show great sympathy for the demobbed soldiers. Do you think they all felt haunted, betrayed and isolated?
Clearly, one can’t generalise. Different people respond to things in different ways. As a general rule, they suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. When I was growing up, the men who’d been in the war… they were really, by and large, very quiet about it all. My Uncle Jimmy was married to my father’s sister, Auntie Verna. He was a driver in North Africa, and his Bedford truck was hit by a shell. All of his mates were killed. He was injured but he survived. Obviously, you’re never the same. Those of us who haven’t been exposed to it can never properly understand it. You get desensitised to it by all the violence on TV. You never sense the actual trauma involved.
Two characters on the album come to mind – the man in the pub who laughs with his friends but is really hiding “behind petrified eyes”, and the homecoming hero who can’t forget the dying words of the gunner crackling over the intercom. Presumably they are demobbed soldiers?
Yeah. They’re both the same character. They’re both the teacher [from The Wall]. We learn a bit more of his past history – “When you’re one of the few to land on your feet/what do you do to make ends meet?/Teach.” So many of the teachers at the Cambridgeshire School for Boys, the school I went to, had gone into teaching after the war. They couldn’t think of anything else to do.
Have you met many such former soldiers?
Nobody that I can be specific about apart from Uncle Jimmy. I tend to experience them as we all do, through television documentaries and through listening to people, their responses to things. It’s like those American veterans who appear on TV. After 20 years, they go back to Asia again. “Too Much Rope” from [1992 solo album] Amused to Death – all of that song came directly from me watching a programme about Americans going back to Vietnam and bursting into tears as they went into hospital wards and saw women dying of cancer that they got from Agent Orange and all the deformed kids, again from Agent Orange. You see these men in tears, faced with the aftermath of the hideous reality that they had to go through, because we were incorrectly devoted to the ‘domino theory’.
The military themes of The Final Cut are echoed in both the arrangements, with all the brass, and the trademark sound effects. Do you still use these devices to consolidate the lyrics?
I’m using sound effects in this opera I’ve been working on. That’s what I do every day. I put sound effects on my opera. It’s about the history of the French Revolution.
When The Final Cut was released, there were various criticisms. Some people felt it was too depressing. Was that the reaction you wanted?
You always hope that by moving people you will get them to connect, either just with the music or with some of the ideas or with each other.
It did hit a nerve. People seem either to love it or hate it.
That’s been my experience, talking to people. It’s remarkable how many people I meet, as I potter round the world, who adore The Final Cut. It has a resonance. There are certain people with certain histories, and they’re not all people who were affected by World War II.
Some complained that it was all too quiet, and that despite the big swells and outbursts and musical variety within certain songs, “Not Now John” was the only track with any bollocks. How would you answer that?
They may be right. I was in a pretty sorry state when I was making this record. If I made it now, I’d do things differently. There was so much conflict in my professional life. It wasn’t easy making a record in the face of all the goings-on between me and Dave particularly.
What would you do differently now?
I think I would probably work the songs up with a band so there would be more flow. I would veer away from the over-dramatic use of the drum kit. Some of it I find difficult to listen to. A specific example is “Your Possible Pasts”, which is this quite melodic thing and then the drums come in really loud, and I find that slightly irritating now. I’d probably put in some kind of rhythm section that carries you through the song more smoothly. [The sudden outbursts], they’d be toned down. I’d bring the verses up and take the choruses down to the point where you could listen to the song from beginning to end without leaping out of the chair.
The last track, “Two Suns in the Sunset”, has a very simple conclusion – “We were all equal in the end”. It gives a sense of the album having been a journey. Was this what you intended?
With that final song, yeah. There was something strange about it. Obviously, it describes a nuclear war – the remnants of all that paranoia about nuclear war from the ‘60s – and it’s that idea that it may be at the end of life, one may have that kind of realisation that you could have when you’re alive, and you go, “Hold on a minute, maybe this is what I should do.”
The song says, “I think of all the good things that we have left undone.” So you’re urging that we should do them now and not wait until we’re heading towards the “big truck” with the brakes locked?
We’ve gotta try and think every day. Every single day. I’m not talking about being heavy. I’m talking about living you life. Don’t be scared to live it. Don’t be scared to take risks. Particularly, don’t be scared to take the risk of touching people, or to be vulnerable.
Was that the problem with the guy in the title track, the “kid who had a big hallucination making love to girls in magazines”?
That’s just about me and my sense of sexual shame.
You’ve said that you insisted on starting work on The Final Cut as quickly as possible. Why?
I wanted to do the record. Dave had shown no sign of writing any songs in the previous three years, and I didn’t see it was likely if we hung around another year or two. What I did do at the time was say to all of the band, as things became more and more difficult and uncomfortable: “If you guys don’t want to go on with this, I’ll make it as a solo record. I don’t want to force anything down anyone’s throat. I’m quite prepared to take this on myself”. As anybody in any pop group knows, you live or die by material. Dave was unhappy. He thought it was too political. He didn’t like the attacks on Margaret Thatcher. He thought it was way too personal and way too political.
Dave has accused you of manipulating a situation with The Final Cut where the rest of the band couldn’t do any writing. How do you react to that?
How could that be? How on earth could I possibly stop Dave Gilmour writing? What would I do? Go round to their house and when they pick up a guitar say, “Put that down”? The idea is absolutely ludicrous. It may be that within the context of the prolific nature of my own writing… I don’t know.
Rick used to write. He would write odd bits. He secreted them away and put them on those solo albums he made and were never heard. He never shared them. It was unbelievably stupid. I never understood why he did that. I’m sure there were two or three decent chord sequences. If he’d given them to me, I would have been very, very happy to make something with them. One of my collaborations with Rick was “Us and Them” [from Dark Side of the Moon], which was a fabulous song. This idea that I somehow stopped them writing is so patently ludicrous, I just don’t get how they could say that.
What were the contributions of Dave and Nick to The Final Cut? Did they give them willingly?
Oh absolutely. Nick played drums and Dave played guitars.
There have been reports that you took on session players in place of Dave and Nick.
Only on “Two Suns in the Sunset”. Andy Newmark played drums on that. Rhythmically, there are some 5/4 timings thrown in so the downbeat changes from bar to bar and it’s confusing for Nick. His brain doesn’t work that way. That’s why he didn’t play on “Mother” on The Wall. There are other session players on the record, but no guitar players.
And then there were rumours that you and Dave were never actually in the studio at the same time.
That’s just not true. I have vivid memories of sitting in the back of the room playing Donkey Kong for hour after hour. After we’d got into it a bit, he didn’t come in very much. The big argument was whether he’d be getting a production credit and a point off the top for producing the record. He didn’t produce it. He didn’t want it to be made. He was disinterested in the album. He didn’t get the production credit. He did, however, insist on taking the point off the top.
How did he manage that?
Just by being obdurate. That was when we really fell out, over all that. He and I faced off about it, and Nick… I had this one telephone conversation with Nick about that. He said “I think you’re completely right about this, but I’m going to side with Dave cos that’s where my bread’s buttered.”
Obviously I was a bit hurt because we were friends, but, I mean, if I’d got my way and the band had all disappeared and gone, that would have been probably pretty much the end of it for Nick in terms of rock’n’roll. He likes playing and he likes the attention and he likes the money and he got a lot more years – from 1984 or whenever we split up until 1994. That’s another 10 years and a lot of cash and a lot of attention.
Could he not have hoped to find a place with you?
I don’t think so. If I’m honest, my idea was that we should go our separate ways. What actually happened was, the reason that I finally left, signed the letter saying, “I’m leaving the band”, evoking my “leaving member” clause, was because they threatened me with the fact that we had a contract with CBS Records and that part of the contract could be construed to mean that we had a product commitment with CBS and if we didn’t go on producing product, they could (a) sue us and (b) withhold royalties on that product if we didn’t make any more records. I said, “That’s ridiculous. We’d never have signed a contract like that”.
They showed me the clause, and it was ambivalent. So they said, “That’s what the record company are going to do and the rest of the band are going to sue you for their legal expenses and any loss of earnings because you’re the one that’s preventing the band from making more records.” They forced me to resign from the band because, if I hadn’t, the financial repercussions would have wiped me out completely.
Were you preventing the band from making more records?
They were right about that, because I was not going to write any more records or make any more records for the band. I had decided the band had run its course as a creative unit. That was my belief, rightly or wrongly. I thought we’d finished. I thought we were done. Rick had gone, and Dave and I were absolutely at loggerheads. I said, “Let’s just stop; let’s retire gracefully.” They decided they wanted to continue and eventually they did, and I left. I bowed to the threat and wrote a legal document resigning from the group.
How did you feel when you left Pink Floyd? Was there any sense of loss or did you feel liberated or both?
I felt liberated. I had a lot of negative feelings later on when the boys went off marching round the world with my songs. That was problematic for me for a number of years. I’m completely over it now. I couldn’t care less, and also I feel much less bullish about the notion that I was right and they were wrong. People do what they do and they have their own lives to lead. The control of those songs… when you write songs, you don’t actually have control over them. They become public property. You just have to accept that, and you can’t be too precious about them.
I absolutely did the right thing, difficult as it was for the first few years when I was making records on my own. It was very hard to carve out a niche for myself outside the context of the band. I have accepted the fact that people have a big resistance to people in successful bands doing something on their own, and I understand that. I’ve found an audience for my solo work, which is pretty solid, and I’m happy about that. I don’t know now many albums I sell. I probably sell a million albums with each of my solo recordings. It’s perfectly all right and I’m really enjoying working with the people I work with these days.
I’m probably happier knowing that it’s my responsibility and my work, and I work with collaborators who are brilliant musicians or producers, but the buck stops with me and I make the decisions and it’s certainly easier for me than working in a group.
With that, Roger Waters politely says goodbye. There are things to do. A spot of lunch, perhaps, or some sound effects for his opera. The phone line clicks off with a decisive, final cut.
The Final Cut is out now on EMI.
The Horror, The Horror
Pink Floyd and War
Roger Waters’ pressing concerns about war, its human impact and the politically selfish reasons behind it form a familiar theme in the lyrics of Pink Floyd. It arises briefly, but unmistakably on 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon in “Us and Them”, with Waters drawing a stark contrast between the cannon fodder and the officers: “And the generals sat and the lines on the map/Moved from side to side”.
In the title track to Wish You Were Here in 1975, Waters makes oblique allusions and parallels in an ode to Floyd’s original disturbed genius, Syd Barrett: “And did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?”
With The Wall in 1979, Waters really started letting his thoughts roam free, interweaving them with the largely autobiographical story of a disaffected rock star. He directly addresses his father’s death (“Leaving just a memory, a snapshot in the family album”) in “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1)”, explores his mother’s wartime experiences and ensuing protectiveness in “Goodbye Blue Sky” and “Mother”, and challenges Vera Lynn’s sunny morale-boosting in “Vera”.
The emotional “When The Tigers Broke Free”, a 1982 single, removed any lingering doubt about the identity of the recurring father figure as Waters’ increasingly obsessive anti-war campaigning was chillingly explained: “…the Anzio beachhead was held for the price of a few hundred ordinary lives,” he laments, concluding, “and that’s how the High Command took my daddy from me.”
Final Cut? Final Straw, more like”
Roger Waters vs. Pink Floyd
The war of words between Roger Waters and his former colleagues in Pink Floyd has erupted in various interviews ever since Waters left the band. These days, Waters prefers “not to rake over” the old arguments, and his responses to questions about his former bandmates are more considered, more diplomatic than was previously the case. Equally, Gilmour, Wright and Mason have been keen to have their say:
“We’d been having these meetings in which Roger said, “I’m not working with you guys again”. He’d say to me, “Are you going to carry on?” and I’d say, quite honestly, “I don’t know. But when we’re good and ready, I’ll tell everyone what the plan is. And we’ll get on with it.” I remember meetings in which he said, “You’ll never fucking do it.” That’s precisely what was said. Exactly that term… except slightly harder.” – Dave Gilmour, Rolling Stone, November 1987.
“Roger wanted to do all the writing, he wanted to take over the whole thing. He would engineer moments to try and ensure that no one else got any writing. Certainly on The Final Cut, he engineered a situation where no one else could do any writing.” – Dave Gilmour, Creem magazine, February 1988.
“Roger was never well known for his reasonableness… I’d have to say he’s one of the world’s most unreasonable and difficult men, but I’m very fond of him” – Nick Mason, Uncut, June 2003.
“The Final Cut – we should have called it The Final Straw” – Dave Gilmour, The Guardian, 2002.
Eric Fletcher Waters 1913-1944
Roger Waters on the death of his soldier father.
The reissued version of The Final Cut contains an extra track, “When the Tigers Broke Free”. Originally included on the soundtrack The Wall (although not the original album) and released as a single in 1982, it’s a devastatingly simple first-person account of how Waters’ father died in combat in Anzio, Italy, with an appropriately poignant accompaniment. Military themes have cropped up regularly in Waters’ writing since Dark Side of the Moon. With the song, he reveals not only the roots of his distance, his separation from others, which he has also examined with Pink Floyd. “When the Tigers…” is, therefore, perfectly placed on The Final Cut, Waters’ all-out personal tirade about the iniquities of war and the self-serving motives of the politicians who unleash it.
“When the Tigers Broke Free” is about your father’s death in World War II. Do you feel that it has finally found its rightful home on The Final Cut?
I think it fits very well. James Guthrie [the original producer and engineer on the album] sent me a compilation of the record when he’d remastered it, and I was extremely confused for a while because “Tigers” kept coming up again and again. I said, “James, what the fuck are you doing?” He said, “No, no, no, dear boy, I’ve put it in lots of different places. You have to choose which place you think it works best.” It’s great that it’s found a little home on an album somewhere.
The Final Cut is dedicated to “Eric Fletcher Waters 1913 to 1944” – your father. You must have been a tiny baby when he died.
I was born in September 1943. I was five months old.
To what extent did this event at the beginning of your life shape your experience and thinking in later years?
You’d have to speak to all my psychiatrists about that. It’s pretty obvious that that sense of loss I felt extremely keenly through my infancy. As soon as I could talk, I was asking where my daddy was. And my mother’s often told me that, when I was about two-and-a-half or three years old, in ’46, it became really acute. In ’46 everybody got demobbed. Suddenly all these men appeared. There weren’t any men around in ’44, ’45. Now they were picking their kids up from nursery school and I became extremely agitated at that point. And because no body was ever found, there was always just a faint “maybe” – “Maybe he’s wandering around Italy with amnesia”. He was only ever missing, presumed dead. So through ’44 and ’45, I assume my mother went through a period of intense emotional limbo, scanning lists and hoping.
Has this loss contributed to the isolation and alienation you had been writing about in Pink Floyd since Dark Side of the Moon?
Absolutely. It’s a major contributing factor.
Probably the most scathing line on the album is when you are talking about the letter of condolence that your mother received, ostensibly from the King – “His Majesty signed with his own rubber stamp”.
That’s exactly the truth of it. I’m not really wishing to criticise George VI, but I think it might be better if somebody actually signed a letter like that on behalf of His Majesty. I understand he couldn’t sign every letter that went out to the widow of every soldier that was killed in the British forces in World War II. But there’s something slightly weird about a replica signature on a document. I remember trying on my father’s uniform and finding the letter from George VI with the rubber stamp.
Do you know and respect the reasons that your father had for being in the Army in the first place, and to what extent can you reconcile those with your own strong feelings about war?
I know them very well. If my mother’s to be believed as an honest witness to events, my father was a devout Christian in 1939 when he was called up, and so he refused to be conscripted. He was a conscientious objector. They decided he was genuine, and rather than sending him to prison, the tribunal asked if he would be prepared to do other work. So he drove an ambulance all through the Blitz in London, which is where he met my mother, and he was working in his spare time for the voluntary service.
He was in London all through ’40, ’41 and ’42, and during that time he became interested in politics, and his politics became more and more left-wing until he joined the Communist Party, at which point he had a struggle with the dialectic between his Christianity and communism. In the end, he took the view that it was necessary to fight against the Nazis. He went back to the conscription board and said, “Listen, I have changed my mind and so I would like to volunteer for the armed forces.” They went, “Oh, jolly good. Look, this chap’s got a degree, he’s obviously officer material.” So he did officer training and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers.
To have had the courage to not go – and then to change your mind and have the courage to go – is a sort of mysteriously heroic thing to have done, which my brother and I have to live with.
A Saucerful of Singles
Pink Floyd’s magnum 45s
They’d been together for 18 years, they’d conquered the world with their albums and tours, but when “Not Now John” from The Final Cut was released in May 1983, it was only their fifth Top 40 single. Pink Floyd were not, of course, a singles band, and while their early seven-inches managed to cross over to the pop audience, largely due to the widespread public fascination with psychedelia back in 1967, the Floyd became treasured as an albums act, selling millions of LPs. They didn’t worry the singles chart again until “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)” became a mega success over Christmas 1979.
Their brief history of British hit singles began in 1967 with “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”, which reached No 20 and No 6 respectively. Some 12 years later, they scored again, hitting the top with “Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)”. “When the Tigers Broke Free” just about scraped in at No 39 in the summer of 1982, and “Not Now John” peaked at No 30 in 1983.
The post-Waters incarnation of Pink Floyd chalked up another two hits with “Take it Back”, which climbed to No 23 in 1994, and “High Hopes”, No 26 in October the same year.
In America, the group’s record of hit singles is smaller. They entered the Top 40 only twice, with “Money” making No 13 in 1973 and “Another Brick in the Wall” topping the chart early in 1980.
If The Final Cut was a Roger Waters album in all but name, what were Messrs Gilmour, Mason and Wright doing during this period?
At the time The Final Cut was being prepared and recorded, Dave Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright didn’t have a hell of a lot to do, at least as far as that album was concerned. However, they had other projects on the go.
Dave Gilmour had been working on his second solo album, About Face, which featured some lyrics contributed by Pete Townsend. Released in March 1984, it was solidly successful on both sides of the Atlantic, charting at No 21 in the UK and No 32 in the US. Gilmour toured the album in Europe and America as a solo act during the spring and summer of the same year, and his performances included a version of Floyd’s “Money”. He then embarked on a series of studio collaborations with artists including Bryan Ferry, Grace Jones and Duran Duran offshoot Arcadia.
Rick Wright had also been recording an album away from Pink Floyd, with former Fashion frontman Dave Harris. Operating under the name of Zee, they released the album Identity in April 1984, but it didn’t shift too many copies.
A month later came the release of Waters’ The Pros and Cons of Hitch-Hiking, which reached No 13 in Britain and No 31 in America, and which he followed with a world tour incorporating many of the songs he’d written for Pink Floyd.
Nick Mason was the last band member to emerge alone in the wake of The Final Cut. He’d been working with former 10cc guitarist Rick Fenn, and the 1985 album Profiles – Mason’s second non-Floyd album – was credited to both. It didn’t chart. He also issued a short film, Life Could be a Dream, to coincide with the release, focussing on his parallel careers as a musician and a racing driver.
I Did It My Way
The Final Cut was a Roger Waters solo album in all but name, and here are 10 other band-accredited albums shaped by a singular vision.
The Beach Boys – Pet Sounds (1966)
In the aftermath of nervous meltdown and with his bandmates on the road, 23-year-old Brian Wilson channelled all his creative energy into this grandly ambitious, sumptuously crafted riposte to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul, ushering in a new era of sophisti-pop in the process.
The Electric Prunes – Mass in F-Minor (1968)
Composer/arranger/conductor David Axelrod’s pseudo-religious concept piece was a psychedelic head-trip in Latin: heavy on organ, reverb and celestial harmonies. Though intended for the Prunes, the bulk of the music came courtesy of sessioneers and Canada’s The Collectors.
Traffic – John Barleycorn Must Die (1970)
After stints with Blind Faith and Ginger Baker’s Air Force, Steve Winwood began work on debut solo opus Mad Shadows. Realising the need for musical ballast, former Traffic colleagues Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood were drafted in, resulting in this glorious jazz-rock rekindling of Traffic a year after the split.
The Velvet Underground – Sqeeze (1973)
With the original line-up gone and Tucker off to raise a family, this was John Cale replacement Doug Yule’s baby in everything but name, despite claiming to be “produced and arranged by the Velvets”. Backed by Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice, this dud sank without a trace.
Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (1974)
Ambitiously centred on Peter Gabriel’s mystical metamorphosis of a Puerto Rican street kid in NYC, many saw this double concept album as prog-rock’s finest hour, though the gruelling 102-date tour that accompanied it signalled the end for the band’s frontman. In May ’75, Gabriel quit for a solo career.
Spirit – Future Games: A Magical-Kahuna Dream (1977)
Following the artistic success of Sprit of ’76, Randy California’s out-there space-noodling took him into a singular and wildly melodic guitar groove interspersed with sampled Star Trek static.
Big Star – Third/Sister Lovers (1978)
Having fallen apart after 1974’s Radio City, Alex Chilton – aided by drummer Jody Stephens – was left to fly the Big Star banner on this magnificently wrought, Quaalude-fuelled collection of wounded ballads and skuzzed-up rockers. Recorded in late ’74, it was four years before it was released.
Fleetwood Mac – Tusk (1979)
With Christine McVie otherwise occupied with Dennis Wilson and Stevie Nicks becoming ever more distant, Lindsey Buckingham was forced, after the monstrous success of Rumours, to reconfigure the Mac as pioneers of post-punk experimental MOR. An often beautiful double LP.
The Replacements – All Shook Down (1990)
With the ‘80s rockers utterly fragmented, leader Paul Westerberg corralled a bunch of session men (and guest John Cale) for this doom-laden love letter to the band, the booze, and his then wife. Subdued and desolate, it was to be the Mats’ last stand. They split within a year.
The Smashing Pumpkins – Adore (1998)
After the death of keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin and the sacking of drummer Jimmy Chamberlain, producer/songwriter Billy Corgan led his slimmed-down trio through a synth-soaked world of darkly elegant gothic lullabies and deeply personal ruminations, including an ode to his dying mother, “For Martha”.