Melody Maker 1970.
(Transcript thanks to Natalie Lyons)
TROUBLED WATERS – By Michael Watts
New North Road is a long busy thoroughfare stretching from London’s Islington to Shoreditch – one of those drab, treeless roads where the heavy lorries and the commercial vans trundle past the bright, faceless laundrettes and the greasy transport cafes.
It’s a bit of a depressing area, and one wonders why a pop star like Roger Waters would want to live there. Maybe it’s the anonymity of it that appeals to him, the deliberate contrast it presents to all the tinsel and trendiness of the showbiz world. Anyhow, apart from the clean white paint on the outside, there is little to distinguish it from the other Victorian buildings that tire the eyes with their uniformity as one drives down from Shoreditch.
Inside, though, all is modernity, that fashionable Spartan kind, with bare polished wooden floors and the Scandinavian furniture that immediately hits the eye because of its clean, spare lines. Mr. Waters used to study architecture and he has got taste, you see.
He opens the white front door himself and immediately launches into a monologue about how he has just bought the wrong part for some piece of equipment he is building in his studio. Incidentally, would we like to see the studio, he interrupts himself? Indeed we would, and he leads the way to the top of his back garden where a garage-cum-toolshed has been concerted for the purpose. Actually, it has not been completely re-done yet, and one half of it is full of the most amazing jumble of objects – bike tyres and tins of paint, dried pods, a pottery kiln and numerous unglazed earthenware vessels, which are there because his wife, who is a teacher, practises pottery.
So back we go to the house, and we sit around the table by the window and talk, while his Burmese cats prowl along the window ledge and stare narrow-eyed at the starlings on the lawn outside.
How is the work on the ballet for Roland Petit progressing?
We haven’t started work on it yet.
But you’ve got basic ideas for it?
No. None at all. I’m madly reading all Proust, because that’s the basic idea, so they tell me. That’s Roland’s idea, the choreographer and producer of the thing. It’s based on the 20 volumes of his “A La Recherche Du Temps.” Roland things there’s some good gear in that, which there undoubtedly is, so very loosely the ballet will be based on certain episodes.
How difficult do you think it will be for the band to do the score, inasmuch as The Floyd’s music does not often have a broad theme, but contains large areas of improvisation?
You see, they don’t really rely to a large extent on improvisation, but I know what you mean. In fact, it won’t necessarily have to be not for note, as long as the timing is the same every night. The melody isn’t as important as the timing of the thing, because they all dance to counts, right? I can’t see that it should provide any problem, really, because people who play music without reading do it constantly all the time. All rock and roll groups do it, it’s just that we tend to do it less than most. And all this thing about improvisation is a bit of a joke, anyway, because people tend to have certain riffs and phrases and ideas which they use, and they string them together.
When you first began playing the music was broadly melodic, what with numbers like “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”, but now the emphasis is on streams of musical consciousness.
Originally, you see, I wasn’t doing anything apart from being a student of architecture and spending money on buying bass guitars, but in terms of music I wasn’t doing anything at all. “See Emily Play” and “Arnold Layne” are Syd Barrett’s songs, right, and it wouldn’t matter who it was who played the bass of did this or that, it’s irrelevant. They’re very strong songs and you just do it. It’s nothing to do with music, playing that stuff, it has to do with writing songs, and that was Syd who wrote those songs. I don’t think we were doing anything then, if you see what I mean.
It was Syd Barrett and The Pink Floyd?
Right. But I wasn’t thinking about musical policy in those days – not that I think much about it now. Most of the stuff on the first album was Syd’s. The only thing on that album that was much like what the group was going to do later was the thing that we did together – “Interstellar Overdrive”, which we don’t like playing much now.
Are you bored with it?
Yeah, I’m bored with most of the stuff we’ve done. I’m bored with most of the stuff we play.
Even the new stuff?
Well, there isn’t very much new stuff, is there, if you look at it? I’m not bored with doing “Atom Heart Mother” when we get the brass and choir together, because it’s so weird doing it. It always comes out as so odd because of the problems of rehearsing musicians, it’s like everybody throwing their lump of clay at the wall, and seeing what it looks like when it’s happened. It depends on so many other things as well. It depends on how it mixes, you know, and we’re working with this ludicrous situation where we don’t have anybody out mixing the sound in the audience, which we obviously ought to. I’m beginning to come to a position now where I don’t think we ought to play any more on a kind of Heath Robinson level – go and do it, play the numbers, do the stuff, get the money and go home. We should not go along and play a whole load of numbers, most of them old and some of then new, with things patently wrong, like with some people balancing from the side of the stage. I think we, and a hell of a lot of other groups, are in a position now to start raising standards a bit, but we don’t – well, we haven’t, but we’re always intending to. The reason that they haven’t is that the money’s there, and people are prepared to spend it on them doing what they’re doing now, so they go on schlapping around the country, doing it all, and maybe they get a new and wonderful buzz out of it, communicating with the audience every night, but I don’t believe it. It’s a job, a fucking well-paid job, with all the ego-boosting and stuff and everything, and I think it becomes very mechanical. I’m going on a ten-day tour tomorrow night – Frankfurt, Vienna, Montreux – but why am I going? To spread the gospel, to make people happy by playing them wonderful music? No, it’s not true. I’m going to make bread. I’m going because I’m caught up in the whole pop machinery business and so are the majority.
The band, therefore, does not exist totally for the music? In fact, I understand that at one time you all possessed E-type Jaguars.
Yes, but some of us are trying to fight it. I had mine for two months and I’ve just got a Mini now. But I think there’s a great danger in getting into that sports car bit. It’s all very, very, very tricky and hard, and we had great arguments in the band about it, because I proclaim vaguely socialist principles, and I sit there spouting a lot of crap about how having a lot of bread worries me – and we are earning a lot of bread now. I couldn’t feel happy in an E-type Jaguar, because it just seems all wrong, somehow. I mean, who needs four point two litres, and a big shiny bonnet, and whatever else it is! I know the answers to all the questions – like, who needs hi-fi and just look at your house, with all the tapestries on the wall. OK, I take that point, but I have all these feelings. I do… all about it; I don’t rush around helping people desperately and I don’t give away all my bread to everybody, but the argument we are constantly coming up against is that you can’t have the luxury of socialist principles and compassionate feelings about people who are less well off than you are, you can’t sincerely have feelings for them, and you can’t sincerely feel the system’s wrong, and wish there was some kind of a socialist system here and elsewhere, and still have five grand in the band, or whatever, which is an argument we’re constantly having.
Then why don’t you give all your bread away, apart from what is needed to make ends meet?
Because I’m the same as everybody else. Everybody, except for Christ and Gandhi and one or two others, has got the acquisitive instinct to a certain extent. The tragedy of the whole thing is that it’s multiplied. The interesting thing is if we are born with it. If we’re not born with it, that means that it’s foisted upon us by the system, and that by the time we grow up and start leaving home, or get pocket money, we have developed it. The possibility exists – even if it’s only a possibility – that we’re not born with it, and that, given a different kind of environment, the kids might grow up in to people who get their kicks in another way. I mean, it’s impossible in our society, because you’re pumped full of personal acquisitions.
Do you intend to intensify the theatrical element in the group’s performances?
That is what I was saying earlier on. I want to stop going out and playing the numbers. I personally would like to stop doing that now, today. I would like to be creating tapes, songs, material, writing, sketches of sets – whatever is necessary to put on a complete theatrical show in a theatre in London… some time and see if the people dig it. They may not. They may come on and say, well, it’s alright, but it’s not rock and roll, it it? They won’t do that, because they’re all terribly well spoken students, all our fans, so they tell me. But it’s quite possible that the whole thing could fail horribly. I don’t think it will. I have great faith in giving the audiences more than music. There is just so much more that you can do to make it a complete experience than watching four long-haired youths leaping up and down beating their banjos. Not that I’m saying that’s wrong, but why not try and push yourself a bit further, why just go on doing the same thing night after night? And believe me, groups are bored with it, whether they’ll admit it or not. It is boring to them. It’s not quite as boring to the audience because the audience probably only see it once a year.