It’s Sunday afternoon; I’m supposed to be doing some other writing / getting my website back in shape, but instead, here’s a special bonus post:
I thought I’d take a quick look at what happened to ‘The Wall’ after its release, as it turned into a bit of a beast with a life of its own:
‘The Wall’ as a performance piece has really been staged three times in total: the original tour, by the whole band (featuring Rick Wright as hired musician); the one-off concert in Berlin, and then as full-scale tour by Roger Waters starting in 2010.
The original tour played in only four locations – LA, New York, London and Dusseldorf, for a total of 31 shows. It was ruinously expensive to stage, and none of the band was talking to each other throughout the whole experience. In spite of that, the shows themselves have become the stuff of legend, and rather in the manner of the early Sex Pistols shows, pretty much half the population of the earth claims to have been at one of the dates. I was an impoverished student, and lived too far away, but at least one person I went to school with saw one of the Earls’ Court shows – he proclaimed it to be spectacular, but whether that was the music or the show, I can’t recall at this distance.
Several shows were filmed, nothing properly official has ever been released of the recordings, mainly because the quality is reported to be awful. Apparently, Waters has most of the footage, and has been considering what to do with it for about half his life now. If the stuff that’s on YouTube is anything to go by, I wouldn’t bother if I was him:
The concept of the show is that the wall is built in front of the band through the first half, coming to completion at the end of ‘Goodbye Cruel World’. Thereafter, the show is staged through various openings in the completed wall (or by the ‘surrogate band’ in front of the wall), until it is all torn down at the end. This was not without its problems, including on the opening night, when something managed to set fire to the curtains and the whole thing came to a grinding halt until the fire was put out.
There is an album of the live show, released in 2000, which was recorded at the Earls’ Court shows. It includes ‘What Shall We Do Now’, which I posted earlier, and the one “new” piece of material – a short instrumental which accompanied the crew putting the last few bricks in place. It never had a name, but on the album version, it’s called ‘The Last Few Bricks’, and isn’t exactly new, as such:
The album was played in full as a complete show and there was no encore. On June 17th 1981, the four members of Pink Floyd walked offstage at the end of the show at Earls’ Court. It was the last time they would perform together until 2005.
Those of you too young to remember (or possibly not even born yet) may not fully appreciate how significant the fall of the Berlin Wall felt at the time – it was as if we were suddenly living in an entirely new world. Obviously, the best way to celebrate this feeling of freedom and release from oppression would be to stage a performance of a Pink Floyd album about alienation and isolation. To be fair, the wall does come down at the end, which is pretty much all anybody cared about. The whole thing was done for charity, and featured a frankly astounding set of performers, from The Scorpions to James Galway, various members of The Band, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Sinead O’Connor, whose performance of ‘Mother’ was lost to various technical problems – the one on the video release comes from the rehearsal, as she refused to do it all again. Of course, none of the other members of Pink Floyd were there – there’s another whole book to be written about what did or didn’t happen while the various lawyers tried to figure out whether it would be possible. In the end, it was a Roger Waters show.
It was broadcast around the world (memory says it was shown live, but it probably wasn’t; I remember watching it in a hotel in Rickmansworth). Various technical gremlins meant that chunks of the early songs were patchy; all that was fixed for the subsequent video release.
A couple of excerpts:
Van Morrison and The Band on ‘Comfortably Numb’:
Sinead doing ‘Mother’ (as I understand it, the video is from the rehearsal, the audio from the live performance):
Oh, and Cyndi Lauper:
‘The Trial’ was fully staged, with Albert Finney as the judge, and the whole thing was rounded off with a plug for Roger’s latest album in the form of ‘The Tide is Turning’:
(imaginary prizes will be available if you can identify everyone in that clip)
The whole thing should have been a bit corny and cartoonish, but in that place and at that time, the sight of the wall coming down at the end was genuinely moving. I still love that version of the show.
In 2010, Waters took The Wall out on the road one last time. This was a polished, 21st century spectacular, and I will forever be sorry that I was not able to see it – it was in Vancouver the week I was in Scotland.
This version of the show included a significant reinterpretation of the message – the videos and slogans around the performance relate more to global concerns than the tribulations of a late seventies rockstar – and a new song in ‘The Ballad of Jean Charles de Menezes’, which extends ‘Another Brick’ into an angry tirade about the death of Menezes following the 7/7 attacks in London in 2007:
Waters released a concert film of this version, interspersed with clips of him moodily driving his car through the fields of France and walking around the Anzio beaches in search of the graves of his grandfather and father; in spite of the fact that we may feel like he’s milked this for all it’s worth, it is moving and even enlightening. Waters is Waters, his regard for himself knows no bounds, but this version of The Wall perhaps shows that he’s actually really bloody good at this stuff after all these years.
With the right sound, and the highest definition visuals you can muster, it’s a fucking masterpiece. Watching it reminded me that even patchily made music can overcome its flaws and transcend its component parts to become something else entirely.
‘The Trial’ is still a bit much, though.
OK, what else? Oh, God, the film.
There’s a film, directed by Alan Parker, but conceived and written in its entirety by Roger Waters. They got Bob Geldof to play ‘Pink’ for some reason, and his contempt for the whole thing shines out of every frame. It’s not awful, and seeing it in a cinema was fairly entertaining, but it’s a bit, well, literal in too many places, and honestly just looks like a 2 hour long music video. Which it is, I suppose.
Here’s the trailer; I imagine finding the whole thing online isn’t too hard these days:
I watched it again not too long ago; It’s not bad, I suppose.
Then there’s the opera.
Julien Bilodeau and Waters took the plot of the film and turned it into an opera in 2017. It’s due another performance in Cincinatti this summer. I’ve not heard any of it, so can’t comment, but reviews were mixed. There’s a trailer (even operas have trailers these days, it seems) here:
You know, after two ridiculously long posts, I’ve probably still missed out as much as I’ve put in to the story of ‘The Wall’. It truly has a life of its own, even 38 years on. Who would have imagined that this far down the road, I’d still be banging my heart against some mad bugger’s wall?