Following ‘The Endless River’, Gilmour and Waters continued to tour. There was a new Roger Waters album ‘Is This the Life we Really Want?’, and a new Gilmour live album and DVD called ‘Live at Pompeii’ – the story continues, even with both men in their seventies. You can’t help feeling that this can’t go on much longer, but many strange things have happened over the decades…
Once upon a time, there was a rock and roll band. They were just like any band of young men; eager for fame, fortune and the attention of girls, but they were extremely fortunate to have come into existence at one of the key moments of change in popular music; just as they were ditching the name The Tea Set in favour of something a bit more interesting, they discovered that they could extend their meagre repertoire of blues-based songs by stretching the solos out and improvising madly over them, and not only did the audience not object, some of them sat down, took mind-altering substances and actually listened.
In 1967, you could do anything you liked, and as long as you appeared proficient on your instruments and seemed to have a purpose to your noise, you could swing a lengthy record contract. You could grow your hair, ditch the suits, stare intently at the floor in search of inspiration, make music with hammers and nails, and you’d still have an audience. You could put out records about cross-dressing and get in the charts; you could make an album which was half psychedelic space rock and half mind-altered English whimsy, and people would buy it in their thousands.
Most importantly, in the late 1960s, you could take three years and five albums to find your feet, and your record company would stand by you; even – in their own way – encourage you. And when that happens, and you replace your erratic lead singer with someone who appears to be on the same page as the rest of you, then you really can go on to fame and fortune and all the other things you dreamed about.
None of the band meant for it to get as big as it did. You can argue that there was no real precedent for what happened to Pink Floyd – all the bands who came before them, and sold records in comporable quantities, were singles bands first; they blazed a trail, but they were household names, and they released singles; you could mess one of those up, and bounce back a few weeks later. If the only thing you did was make albums, and you had no public face, then you pretty much had to get it right every time. No wonder it all fell apart.
There’s a moment during ‘Echoes’ when you can hear it all clicking into place; following the slightly erratic middle section, the band gradually returns to the disciplined rhythm of the beginning, the sonar ping returns, followed by that metronomic bassline and – if you’re an impressionable teenager like me – you can feel yourself being lifted out of your seat by something quite unlike anything you’ve heard before. The music gets in your head and it blocks out all other thoughts, then it settles in for a long stay – forty-five years and counting, in my case. The remarkable thing about the music of Pink Floyd is that they did that trick over and over again; they managed to get you to go back to the earlier stuff and hear the seeds of it all; they kept producing new music and making your brain do the same trick, until one day you wake up and realise that the band you thought you were listening to is gone, and in its place is something cold and hard, which doesn’t sound much like the band you loved.
Yet it doesn’t matter – there’s something about even the caustic version of Pink Floyd which retains the magic; there are moments – fewer of them, perhaps, as time goes by – when you can still hear it all pull together and make something more than the sum of its parts.
When the band reached the end of the road, not all its members agreed. They had been through the most tumultuous experience it’s possible to imagine; had created music which will endure in the way the music of Bach or Mozart has endured, and it destroyed them. We shouldn’t be too harsh; there isn’t a manual on how to behave when these things happen, and musical genius doesn’t play by everyone else’s rules, in any case. What was left of the band limped on, produced sporadically interesting music, and finally bowed to the inevitable.
Once upon a time there was a rock and roll band. They weren’t very good at first, but they lived in a time of possibilities, and their possibilities led them into realms unimagined, even by the wildest of dreamers. Of course the journey took its toll; every journey worth the name does. If friendships were broken, and fortunes made and lost, it was in the cause of creating something immortal, and that had to be worth something. At the end of every good quest, the heroes get to take a bow, and be recognised for what they have achieved; and that, for people of my generation, was what the evening of July 2nd, 2005 was about. The greatest band of our generation; the one who created so many of the paths for others to follow, and so many of the indelible memories of our youth, were getting their moment to see just what it had all meant to us, and we, in turn had one last chance to express what we felt. It felt special because it was special – everyone has ‘their band’; the one which matters more to them than all the others, for a significant portion of the world, that band was Pink Floyd.
Throughout this journey, I have probably given a false impression. Pink Floyd aren’t that band for me; I have others I love more, and whose stories and music affect me more viscerally. But there’s something epic about the Floyd story; something irresistible about the way it all happened, and – for me – the way it all happened in front of me, as I was discovering this music. I do love more of their music than most bands; I haven’t been falsely representing my feelings. But it’s a measure of the band that, even if they aren’t that band for me, I can still find so much to say about them; I can still remember when I first heard so much of their music, and I can still react so urgently to music which is getting on for 50 years old. Why does it matter so much?
Well, in some ways, it doesn’t. Who cares what I think; it’s only music – change the channel and there’ll be something else on; something new; something you’ve never heard before, and which will lift you out of your seat the way ‘Echoes’ did. And no-one’s right, and no-one’s wrong – it’s all just opinion; all just noise. Fashions come and fashions go, and today’s superstars are tomorrow’s nostalgia circuit. It’s all just noise.
Except, you know, it isn’t. It’s so much more than that.
Thanks for listening.