Classic Rock Magazine – Summer 2005.
(Transcript thanks to Natalie Lyons)

Pink Floyd: The Road To Re-Formation

The road to Pink Floyd’s Live 8 reunion with Roger Waters was paved with lawsuits, vitriol and egomania. Classic Rock looks back at how it came together.

Shortly before the re-grouped Pink Floyd played the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, guitarist David Gilmour tried to explain to an incredulous music press why he was once again sharing a stage with the band’s founder member/bassist (and long-time nemesis) Roger Waters. Gilmour’s reasoning was both noble and fairly predictable: he was doing this in the hope it might persuade leaders at the G8 summit to “make commitments to the relief of poverty and increased aid to the third world.” He added: “Any squabbles Roger and the band have had in the past are so petty in this context”.

Petty or not, the arguments that Gilmour, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Rick Wright have had with Waters (a solo artist since 1984) have now been raging for nearly 25 years. During that time, when pushed on the subject of a reunion, both parties have expressed the same sentiment time and again: wild horses couldn’t drag them back into a studio together. For his part, Gilmour has always poured cold water on hope of a truce, while as recently as 2004 Waters told Q magazine that he “didn’t miss” his former bandmate. Only Mason has offered hits that Pink Floyd’s blockbusting line-up could ever shake hands, first by him playing drums on Waters’ 2002 solo tour, and then via prophetic comments made to Q last year: “We wouldn’t do it for an anniversary and I don’t think we’d do it for money,” Mason insisted. “It would be fantastic if we could do it for something like another Live Aid. A significant event of that nature would justify it.”

When the split came – following the release of The Final Cut in 1983 – it had the whiff of a foregone conclusion. “The Final Cut?” Gilmour chuckled some years later. “We should have called it The Final Straw.” Depending on who you believe, the recording of The Final Cut had seen Waters’ creative stranglehold over the group tighten, with his deeply personal concept for the album (an attack on human conflict, inspired by his father’s death in combat) leaving little room for contributions from the other members of the band.

As Mason told Word, this was a group dynamic that had established itself during the recording of the albums Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall (furious clashes; the ‘shattering’ of Mason’s confidence; after the latter album Rick Wright was sacked at Waters’ instigation). “There is a tendency for the songwriter to have the main say in the music,” Mason recalls, “and I think that became more and more prevalent. It was a case of ‘This is how I think it should be’, rather than ‘What do you think it should be?’. But that’s the way Roger was heading anyway, which was more and more his vision of what to do and how to do it.”

The band’s tactics for dealing with Waters at the time were, Mason said, to “avoid confrontation and don’t rock the boat, because if we did, everything might explode and the band would disappear, which was not what I wanted.”

Waters has never entirely denied the charges of megalomania – indeed he insists it strengthened the band’s music. “I suppose we did four albums like that,” he concedes, “though for the last album we were so far apart that it was really all over by that point. When you’re in a band and someone’s writing great material, you’re just fucking grateful. So I think they were thrilled.”

Of Nick Mason’s recently published ‘personal history’ of the band, Waters says it’s “complete bollocks. You can’t have it both ways. Half the time I’m this bastard dictator who won’t let anybody write songs and insists on doing everything himself, then it’s ‘we did that’ and ‘we decided that’. He’s not lying, he just invented it.”

And so, in 1984, began the parallel careers of Roger Waters, and the Waters-less Pink Floyd; a decade-long period of sparring that veered between the playful and the vindictive; album releases and touring schedules overlapped with suspicious regularity; technicians were fought over [The Wall producer Bob Ezrin was caught in a tug-of-war]; both sides made no secret of their desire to stick it to the other. “We did want to be world-conquering,” Gilmour admits. “All sorts of reasons and emotions drove us.”

On October 31, 1986, things got more serious. Waters had approached the High Court in London in an attempt to stop Gilmour and Mason ‘sullying’ the Pink Floyd name for further recordings and tours. He declared them a “spent force creatively” and poured scorn on his former bandmates’ supposed cynicism: “In the best of all possible worlds, my public, the Pink Floyd public, will simply turn around and say: ‘No, this is not Pink Floyd. No, it shouldn’t just be a kind of franchise.’”

Gilmour responded to Waters’ comments by telling The Financial Times that he wanted to hit him. Waters later accepted a settlement [giving him, bizarrely, an $800-per-show fee whenever the band toured with inflatable pigs], but he was far from satisfied. The simple truth was that Gilmour’s Floyd were outselling Waters the solo artist material by a substantial margin, leaving the bassist spitting bile from the sidelines. “If it said Pink Floyd on it, it’d sell 10 million,” he seethed when his Amused To Death album stalled, and he dismissed Pink Floyd’s 1987 album A Momentary Lapse Of Reason as a “pretty fair forgery”.

Other attacks were more personal. Waters suggested that Gilmour had run out of ideas, that Mason couldn’t drum, that the band had only recruited Rick Wright for the sake of authenticity. “Gilmour only got Rick back because it looked better,” Waters said recently. “He told me so, to my face!” In the same interview the bassist also ridiculed the fact that Gilmour turned to his wife for help on 1994’s The Division Bell. “His new wife writes the bloody lyrics,” Waters scoffed. “It’s so Spinal Tap!”

With their reserves of vitriol lasting well into the new millennium, the chances of Waters shuffling back into Gilmour’s Pink Floyd for Live 8 seemed remote. The usual rumours continued to buzz on chat rooms, of course, but it wasn’t until the reunion was formally announced in June that anyone started to take them seriously.

According to LD Publicity, the PR agency that represented Live 8, the process began with Bob Geldof lobbying both Waters and Gilmour; the guitarist apparently was not entirely keen on the idea of a reunion, despite his sympathy for the cause. Tentative contact was made between the two men, an agreement was reached, and Floyd’s classic line-up knuckled down for three days of rehearsals (although Mason claimed that “it’s sort of assumed that we’ll all remember how they go”).

Contrary to reports that this period saw old grudges resurface – and Gilmour’s comment that getting back with Waters was like “sleeping with your ex-wife” – our source described the atmosphere throughout as ‘congenial’.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Pink Floyd’s Live 8 reunion is the suspicion that we have seen Waters, Gilmour, Mason and Wright on the same stage for the last time. In the aftermath of their triumphant performance, the re-formed band were reported to have been offered $150 million to play a tour of the US. But any hopes that may have sparked were quickly doused by Gilmour when he told the Sun: “It’s completely mad and we won’t do it. The idea for Live 8 was a one-off.”

Indeed, money is unlikely to prove a motivating factor in any further reunions. Gilmour has already stressed that he will donate all royalties from the reported 1,300% rise in Floyd album sales to charity, and has encouraged other artists on the Live 8 bill to do the same. The implication is clear: as they have always claimed, Pink Floyd played Live 8 because it was a good cause that put their arguments in to context. Any repeat performances will only happen if the context allows it.

All of which leaves us with Pink Floyd’s performance at Hyde Park – a four-song set that reminded why any of us cared about any of this in the first place. The hugs between band members appeared genuine, the musicians (just the four of them; no ‘extras’) relaxed, and Waters easily slotted back into the groove for Money, Comfortably Numb, Breathe and Wish You Were Here (“It’s great to be playing again with these three guys,” Waters said, introducing the latter. “this is for the people who can’t be here – especially Syd.”).

It came as no surprise, of course, that the four songs were from albums recorded with Waters – The Wall, Dark Side Of The Moon, and Wish You Were Here. There even seemed to be thought given to the lyrical content of their choices, both in Money’s critique of avarice, and the absence of their 1979 hit Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) – presumably because of its negative message.

So that’s it then: four songs, and a dazzling reminder of just how good a band Pink Floyd were.