Pink Floyd highlighted their 1994 tour with performances, for the first time ever, of their classic "The Dark Side of the Moon" album. David Gilmour offers his take on "Pulse", the band's document of that historic tour.
The booklet that accompanies Pink Floyd's new live album, "Pulse", includes a photo of guitarist David Gilmour juggling some plastic cups while bandmates Nick Mason and Rick Wright look on. Gilmour says he's not much of a juggler; it was just an end-of-tour prank, when a crew member dumped a box of cups on the band. "We actually cut that person out of the picture," Gilmour says with a chuckle, "just to show him what he gets for messing with us."
As an image, however, the photo is a fine metaphor for the work Gilmour has done in the 10 years since he assumed control of Pink Floyd following Roger Waters' tempestuous departure. During that time, the 48-year-old Gilmour has juggled all sorts of elements and responsibilities. He put together a new Pink Floyd, drawing Mason and Wright out of creative catatonia and recruiting an additional cadre of young musicians. He stood up to Waters' assault on the band in the courts and in the media, rebuffing his former bandmate and former writing partner's notion that Pink Floyd was invalid without him.
Most importantly, Gilmour led Pink Floyd to two new albums and two enormously successful world tours. And he returned the group to a particularly high creative stature; their album of last year, "The Division Bell", was not only a compelling work but also the work of a band - unlike 1987's A Momentary Lapse of Reason, which was the product of a Gilmour-led committee.
All of this helped make the visually overwhelming and sonically powerful 1994 tour an absolute triumph. "Pulse" - which features "The Dark Side of the Moon" performed in its entirety, along with 14 other Floyd favorites - preserves the spirit of the event; the blinking red LED light on the package even provides a nod to the show's feast of lasers, lighting majesty, pyrotechnics and special effects.
To mark the album's release, Gilmour pulled himself away from his hearth and infant child to reminisce about the tour and make some non-committal predictions about Pink Floyd's future.
David Gilmour- DG
GW: Did you expect to record a live album during the last tour?
DG: No, we didn't. We did one just a few years ago, for the "A Momentary Lapse of Reason" tour. We never thought we'd do one again this soon. But when we got out on the road and started thinking about what we could do differently this time, different tunes we hadn't played before and things like that, we said, 'Why don't we try putting The Dark Side of the Moon back together? It seemed like a pretty fair idea.
So we hunted down all the bits of old film and quadraphonic tape, and got some new bits of film together because some of that old stuff had gotten damaged or was out of date. Obviously, it took a while to get all that together while we were busy playing and touring. By the end of the American part of the tour, we'd just about gotten everything together. We played it two or three times in America, and that was such a good feeling. We decided that we'd like to have a copy of it live, and we thought other people would want to have a copy of it live, too. We started thinking about just putting out "The Dark Side of the Moon" live, then decided, screw it, we'll just give them the whole show again.
GW: Whose idea was it to put the flashing LED light on the spine of the CD box?
DG: That was Storm Thorgerson, from Hipgnosis; those are are old people who have designed most of our album covers. They've done a lot of the film stuff we've used onstage, too. In addition to the music it contained, he wanted the album package itself to have a live element. It's also, happily, a sort of visual reminder of the heartbeat at the beginning of "The Dark Side of the Moon."
GW: What made you decide to do Dark Side again?
DG: Really, just a desire to do something different; it wasn't an anniversary or anything like that. The fact is that we were doing half to two-thirds of the Dark Side tunes already - "Money," "The Great Gig in the Sky," "Breathe" - so that left us with only three or four pieces we weren't doing. We thought it would be quite a simple operation to get ready and do it, though it actually took months. Obviously, we wouldn't have done a live album of this tour had we not been doing Dark Side.
GW: When was the last time you performed the entire Dark Side?
DG: We hadn't played it since 1975. We were kind of sorry we never recorded it live, or filmed it. It was a great show back then. So we did discuss it with Roger [Waters], as we were getting more and more grumpy with each other. We said we should put together Dark Side just so we had it on film for posterity. As I said, on our last tour, we were already playing most of the album, so we just had to pick up the instrumental package, "Any Colour You Like," then "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse." They are the two songs which Roger sang the lead part on the original record, which is one of the reasons we avoided them before.
GW: How did you feel singing them?
DG: It was a little nerve-wracking doing Roger's vocal parts the first time. But it went down well. Detroit [where the revived Dark Side debuted] was a real high, emotional moment.
GW: "Pulse" seems to capture the band in a more relaxed state than you've been in the past. Was that the case?
DG: It was. It was much more relaxed. In '87, it was our first album without Roger, our first tour without Roger, our first tour with all these new musicians. We were kind of nervous, and up against it a little bit. This time it was totally relaxed. The musicians all knew how to be Pink Floyd, for starters. And we managed to get away from some of the computer stuff we used on the previous tour. Everything was more open to spontaneity. We had a system where we could change the set half an hour before we went on; we couldn't change it once we went on, but up to half an hour before, we could change the songs around, change the order. That made the whole thing more open to a looser, more spontaneous feel, which I feel comes out on the record.
GW: How often did you change things around?
DG: Most shows. We'd say, "Let's put a different song in the first half. Let's change the order around a little bit." After Detroit, we'd throw Dark Side in sometimes. We changed the set nearly every night to keep ourselves on the ball and interested.
GW: Did this effect your guitar playing at all?
DG: God, someone else would have to tell me that. I just play the thing. I certainly wasn't thinking all that much. Every night I'm just trying to find something new to play.
GW: Your soloing throughout the tour was pretty inspired, which comes across on "Pulse".
DG: It just goes with the whole vibe thing we've discussed - the more relaxed, looser sort of approach. I was certainly enjoying myself at the gigs; if that came across, I cannot be anything but pleased.
GW: You played "Astronomy Domine," too, which was a surprising nod to Floyd's distant past.
DG: Again, we had done pretty well everything we liked and wanted to do and thought we were capable of doing on the '87 tour. On this tour, we wanted to have a change, try some songs we hadn't done before. So we hunted through all the records, and someone suggested we try "Astronomy Domine." We also did "Hey You," which we didn't do on the previous tour. And we changed "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" around a little bit.
GW: It probably made a difference that The Division Bell was really more of a band project than A Momentary Lapse of Reason.
DG: It was. The way we put together The Division Bell album was by jamming in the studio -- just myself, Rick and Nick, with Guy [Pratt] on bass. It heralded a return to the older way of doing things, if you like.
GW: Much of the material on The Division Bell had a sad, melancholy aura about it. How are you feeling these days?
DG: Fine, really. It's just that the sadder, more difficult things tend to be better themes for music. They tend to be easier to come to grips with. Doing happy, cheerful songs is tougher. But I'm not in a miserable state at all. I have a new baby boy; I'm a happy man, truly.
GW: Why was everybody's confidence so low back in '87?
DG: It's a long, old story about Roger and the last few years of his reign. He had really sapped all the confidence out of Rick and Nick; they didn't feel they were up to the job anymore. It took that last tour, in '87 and '88, to get them back into shape, to get back the confidence and self-esteem.
GW: Is all the Roger stuff behind you now?
DG: It would be if people didn't keep asking me about it. The fact is that the last thing we did together was The Final Cut album, in 1982 - 13 years ago. Roger actually and officially left in '85, 10 years ago. I can't be dealing with it; it's long in the past, forgotten for me.
Of course, people keep asking me about it. I don't want to say anything that would reduce Roger's stature within his time in the band. Obviously, we had some very successful projects. He was a great lyric writer, and I have nothing but respect for his abilities.
But times change, and you move on and you make your choices. He left us with no option. It's not something I spend my time being obsessed by.
GW: Is there any contact at all - besides sending him his royalty checks?
DG: Not much. He did give us permission to put out "The Dark Side of the Moon" on video; you have to have the writer's permission to get a synchronization license to put out a video. But that's about it, as far as contact goes.
GW: The '94 tour set all sorts of attendance and revenue records. Can you take it for granted that Pink Floyd is able to do that each time out?
DG: I think we can assume that people are going to listen to us. If they like it, we'll sell some records. But you can't assume anything. "The Wall" album was one of our real high spots; we sold countless copies of that. But the album immediately following that, "The Final Cut", really didn't sell so great at all. People don't just rush out and buy things; they listen first, I think.
GW: Have you been working on any new songs?
DG: I write bits of songs constantly. We also have many bits of music we didn't get to use on the last album. Some of it's terrific, so there's no shortage of start-off spots. We will get there one of these days. I think Rick is working on a solo album or something, and Nick is writing his own book about Pink Floyd.
GW: So will we have to wait seven years for the next studio album?
DG: Maybe. [laughs] I don't know. I've been too busy with family life and putting together the live album and video to even think about the future. But we'll get there; when, I'm afraid I don't know myself. GW: What do you know about this Publius character on the Internet?
DG: I know nothing whatsoever. People keep asking me questions about it, I'm actually not on the Internet. I haven't seen the stuff. I was told people are hunting for something, but I don't know what it is.
GW: Apparently, words like "Enigma Publius" appeared in your lighting and projections during the tour, giving the appearance that the band is somehow involved.
DG: I can't see the lights where I am. [laughs] I know a lot of our lighting guys are on the computer, on the Internet. Maybe they join in with the rumor. I've been meaning to get on the Internet, but I haven't quite managed to get around to it. I did get enrolled on a system, but my old laptop didn't seem to do the job.
GW: There's some talk of Pink Floyd showing up to play at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame opening in September. Any truth to that?
DG: Not that I know of. We were nominated for induction a couple of years ago, and they turned us down. I'll think about it when they ask, but I honestly haven't thought much about it. When we were in Cleveland, they asked us to go down to the building and see it. I got grumpy and said no, I wasn't going to. They'd just turned me down for induction; why should I go there if they didn't want me?
GW: Do you listen to much in the way of modern rock?
DG: I heard a new Van Morrison song yesterday on the radio; that
leaped out to me as "Hmmm, this is something of quality." Not
much does these days. I've been impressed by one or two
Lemonheads songs, some PJ Harvey songs. The new Marianne
Faithfull thing sound good, but that's hardly young. I like
unusual things, I guess. I'm not a great Pearl Jam fan.