The biggest, highest grossing, sellout tour ever hit Earl's Court last October. The mighty machine that was Pink Floyd's 1994 continent-hopping pantechnicon settled into London's largest indoor venue for a three week residency of epic proportions. David Mead finds out how to make pigs fly.
At least London is a 'home' venue - before Earl's Court there was North America and Europe to whiz around. The sheer volume of the staging, lighting equipment and other peripheral paraphernalia needed to sustain a Floyd audiences awe quota at warp factor 10 is vast. To transport the lot on daily jaunts between the planet's stadiums is enough to give even the most experienced tour manager a full bore anxiety attack.
At the epicenter of this potential maelstrom is one Phil Taylor, David Gilmour's right hand man and overseer of the Floyd's backline.
"I've been to every Floyd gig for the last 20 years and not actually seen any of them!' says the permanently backstage bound Mr. Taylor. He somehow manages to bring calm to the confusion of touring, nurse-maiding 118 flightcases of Floydian backline on and off planes and trucks to help ignite the world's stages ‚ 20 years' experience of all things Pink brought into sharp focus.
"I first started working for the band in 1974," he continues. "They were getting ready for a British tour with 'Dark Side Of The Moon' and the first things we did were a few rehearsals where they wrote some new material, which was strange for me, being a bit of a fan in those days. We were in this very small, dirty, dingy rehearsal room in King's Cross ‚ just me and the four members of the band for two or three weeks while they came up with some tracks called You Got To Be Crazy and Raving And Drooling which were re-written and turned into Shine On You Crazy Diamond and some of the stuff off the 'Animals' album. So on that tour, these new tracks became the first half of the show while 'Dark Side...' was the second and Echoes was the encore."
Obviously the crew in those days was not quite so vast...
"It's hard to remember exactly, but I think there were around a dozen or 15 people in the crew in those days. Today the nucleus totals around 80, but of course it involves several hundred people overall with all the drivers, the steel assembly guys [i.e. - the stage construction crew] and various other things. When I first worked for them with that small crew, I looked after Roger, Rick and Dave [Waters, Wright and Gilmour, but you knew that! - Ed] and the person who looked after the drums also doubled as one of the quad PA crew. So during the show there was only ever me on stage dealing with all of it."
What was Mr Gilmour using in those days, gear-wise?
"It was very similar to what he uses now. One of the first jobs I did in the band was to go out and buy him some new Hi-Watt amplifiers. I went down to Hi-Watt in Kingston and saw Dave Reeves and bought two 100 watt heads which are still in Dave's rack today. He had WEM 4x12 cabinets with Fane Crescendo speakers in, identical to the ones he uses now, and he had a couple of Leslie cabinets for a couple things on 'Dark Side...'. He also had some Binson echo units, a couple of EMS Synthis which he used for the sequence on On The Run live on stage every night, and a small pedalboard with a Fuzz-Face, a treble and bass boost, a volume pedal and switching system for the delays."
"He had a black Strat that he always used ‚ I think we would have carried a spare, too ‚ but one of the other first jobs I had to do was to go out and buy two lap steel guitars for the different tunings needed on Great Gig In The Sky and One Of These Days, which was an alternative encore but in the end they opted for Echoes. I went off to Sound City, which was the in place to go in the west of London, and they had two Jedsons, a cream one and a red one ‚ they were about 60 quid each and that's what we bought and that's what he still uses, although we've since changed the pickups. In fact, on this tour we found a Fender lap steel and he's been using that."
Needless to say, things have become a great deal more sophisticated over the last 20 years...
"Well, Dave's main Strat is basically a USA 57 vintage reissue which we got hold of in 1984. It's fairly stock other than it's been fitted with EMG-SAs, plus an EMG-EXG expander and the SPC midrange presence control. Other than that, apart from the fact that he's had his trem arm shortened, it's pretty much stock. For a spare he's got a virtually identical Strat which we managed to buy. When we were on David's solo tour in 1984, he went into Manny's in New York with Mick Ralphs, who was his second guitarist on the tour, and Mick picked up this red Strat and said it was really nice and that he was going to buy it ‚ but Dave wished he'd found it first! Then last year I saw this secondhand red Strat in Chandlers which was just like Dave's, and so I picked it up and said, Whose is this? and they said it was Mick's. So I said, Right, we'll have this! It needed a fair bit of work done on it and it's been fitted with the EMGs, too."
"I also carry one more spare which is a cream colored 57 reissue; Dave's not very fond of the colour, but it's very nice to play. Other guitars he used on the tour were two Telecasters which are both 52 reissues; the only difference between them is that one of them has the bass string tuned to D, which he uses for Run Like Hell. The other one, which is in regular tuning, he uses for Astronomy Domine."
David's acoustic guitars are Gibson J-200 Celebrity.
"They made a run of only 90 of these particular guitars in 1984/85 and we've now obtained three. Dave just really likes them; they sound great and they're really lovely to play. I've had them modified, they've got EMG acoustic pickups in, but they've also got small Crown microphones in them too. So there are basically two outputs from each guitar, two separate radio transmitters on them with two different signals. Then there's a Gibson Chet Atkins electro-classical which he uses on High Hopes and the two steel guitars which we talked about earlier."
So much for the guitars, but from then on in, things become a lot more complex. To look at, Gilmour's rig is pretty intimidating...
"The design concept was to achieve a user-friendly system with the cleanest possible audio signal, using the highest quality components between guitar and amp to eliminate hums, buzzes, RF interference, etc. So the electric guitars go into a Pete Cornish routing system, which is basically 24 sends and returns, controlled via a Custom Audio footboard, modified by Pete, with individual on/off switches for all send and return loops plus a microprocessor which calls up preset combinations of effects with MIDI channel change information being sent at the same time. Then a song title display is built in, which works via MIDI, with a duplicate display in the rack."
Phew! So, judging from some of the pedals on top of the rig, one could say that it's a strange marriage of hi and lo tech?
"I guess we've taken advantage of technology in as much as Dave has enough to think about up on stage, being the focus of attention and so his switching system and equipment have to be as simple as possible. At the end of the send and return routing, it then goes into a master unit which, because I have his amp racks backstage with me, his master volume controls on it for Dave to control his 4x12s, Doppolas and voice box from on stage."
From a gig to gig point of view, it's pretty easy to put in situ and fire up night after night with maybe just a few slight tinkerings.
"It is, yeah. There are a few minor tweaks; I always set his gear up so that it sounds good to me and the levels seem right, however the reason why he likes to have his rack on stage with him every night and the reason why his pedals are mounted on the top is so that he can wander over and give them a tweak as he feels necessary. Pete Cornish has modified most of the 'off the shelf' effects units for both correct matching, level,impedance and so on‚ and has included several 'artistic' mods for improved usability."
Keeping his boss briefed on the latest equipment isn't the foreboding task it might at first seem...
"Between projects there are often quite long periods where Dave doesn't play pretty much guitar, but when there is something‚ a tour or album, about to happened then I keep my eyes open as to what's around and take him stuff to try."
Next in line is the preamp stage.
"We use an Alembic F2B, mid 70s bass guitar preamp based, I believe, around a Fender Showman circuit, which is very clean and with minimal controls: brightness, volume, middle, treble and bass. It has been modified to reduce the bottom end and fitted with an extra valve. The way in which Dave uses his system is that he always gets a good, nice powerful clean sound ‚ a lot of his sounds are basically clean with a bit of delay ‚ and when he does his overdriven stuff, he introduces various pedals. I guess a lot of people these days would look on that as an old fashioned way of doing things, but he is from the 'old school' where you would have a couple of effects pedals on the floor going into your amp or combo. We continue to try the modern multi-effects units but, although they appear to be improving, there are sounds which Dave has got on record over the years by pedals which cannot be duplicated by those units. A lot of them tend to be good or reasonably good, but they're never brilliant."
So much for the multi-effects, but whither the Gilmour generated electrons next?
"The signals then comes from the preamp and goes into his volume pedal and from there it goes off, splits and goes into his delays. Then it comes out through the master routing unit and goes into his HIWATT power amps. I've got three normal HIWATT heads, AP100s, which have a preamp in, but Pete Cornish has modified them so that we're just using the power amp stage, just going in using the master volume and the presence control. Then there's another rack with the other three which are slave amps. They're all run with Mullard EL34s. One HIWATT powers a WEM 4x12 with the Fane Crescendos in it and a Marshall with Celestions; the second does the same thing but it has a chorused version of the first signal‚ in effect, this means that one pair has a wet signal and the other remains dry. Then we have a spare HIWATT in the rack. In the second rack, the top HIWATT powers his voice box [a Jim Dunlop Heil ], but what I did there was to get Pete Cornish to make me a dummy load, because what a lot of people have found with heavy voice box usage is, because of the nature of the driver in them, which is a mid range horn driver, generally they don't work below 800 cycles and therefore, if you're using it fairly loud then there's a lot of power coming out of the amp with nowhere satisfactory for the bottom end to go and so we've got a dummy load there to deal with it."
One unique aspect of Gilmour's backline are the Doppolas‚ custom built, revolving speakers.
"I designed them in conjunction with a guy called Paul Leader and had them built. What we were trying to do was make a full range, reasonably high powered rotating speaker unit. We didn't want to use a Leslie, although Dave has a Leslie simulator in his rack, we wanted a slightly different sound. It has two six inch 100 watt drivers in it, stacked on each other which is a lot of weight to move around, but they seem to work quite well. We have three of them on stage which are used continually in conjunction with the 4x12s. We were influenced by David getting hold of a thing called a Maestro Rover, which is a revolving full range speaker he uses in the studio. They're quite nice, but fairly low powered and so for live work we needed something with more power."
Phil's showtime position backstage is just behind Gilmour's row of 4x12s. Conditions are fairly cramped, but workmanlike‚ here, he has to be able to deal with all the problems that might crop up during a performance. Anything from a simple tune up to major MASH like effects surgery has to be possible. Essential, therefore, is Phil's workstation ‚ quite literally mission control.
"In my workstation I have drawers of strings, spares and all sort of exiting things. The tuner unit I had custom made for the 94 tour which includes a Peterson 19" strobe tuner and a BOSS TU-12, with some lights and a dimmer so I can see what I'm doing and a switching system so I can send the signal to either a Fender Super Champ or to a headphone amplifier. So if I'm tuning an acoustic guitar and I can't really hear it, I can just put on a set of headphones, turn the volume up and get on with it. I also have the ability to monitor David's instrument and radio system through the workstation while he's performing which is my first checkpoint for troubleshooting any problems which crop up. I have headphone monitoring available at key points throughout his system in order to locate any problem quickly."
There is a constant turnaround of guitars during a Floyd performance and everything has to be pre-tuned and generally spot on.
"Absolutely. Before the show I pull things into tune that are going to be used during the first half of the show, but I spend most of the number before a guitar is needed tuning it. There are always temperature changes which will affect tuning, especially in the outdoor stadiums as you approach nightfall."
The position of Phil's workstation must mean that things can get fairly loud...
"Pretty loud, yeah, but not horrendously so; you can stand by each other and talk. Basically I'm here listening to Dave's system and tuning. I get called up on stage for different reasons, but generally I'm just listening for any of the equipment going wrong. I'm always on red alert!"
What sort of things do go wrong?
"On this tour we've had to deal with a lot of temperature changes and we've had to set up in the rain a lot because of the number outdoor venues we've been doing. You set up in the morning and it may be cold and raining and then by afternoon, the sun's come out and it's got really hot so you have to put space blankets on the equipment to keep the sun off. The pyro on stage contributes a lot of dust and filth every night which gets into everything. I've had a few failures; nothing went wrong on the first part of the tour but gradually some of the pedals started not working properly and I had two or three of those go down. Apart from that, the only other thing was one of the radio transmitters failed."
What happens to all the gear during Floyd downtime?
"We have a warehouse where I have Dave's gear set up so that I can play with it, but generally it doesn't get used very much often. Elements of it get used, but as an entire system it doesn't because there's nowhere to use it, it's too big. Dave's studio is on a boat and not very large and so there's just no room to set it up anywhere."
Wish You Were Here
On the American leg of Pink Floyd's 1994 tour alone, the band played 59 sold-out dates in 48 cities in front of a total of three million people‚ and came away with loose change to the value of $100,000,000 jangling in their pockets as a result. Then they went on to play a further 48 dates in Europe...Needless to say, the whole shebang was a record breaker and a marching army of Pink personnel was needed to make the whole thing happen. Guitarist managed to wrestle some tour- related facts and figures out of Floyd's mission control -
Delicate Sound Of Thunder‚ Floyd's PA A special Turbosound system from Britannia Row comprising:
Any Colour You Like‚ Lighting And Lasers
The design of the stage's rear canopy was inspired by Floyd playing Hollywood Bowl and discovering the potential for some amazing lighting effects which could be generated using the Bowl's general shape. So they decided to build a portable version!
Illumination was provided by:
A trademark of Pink Floyd's live show since the 70s has been the famous circular screen. On the 1994 tour, it was the largest ever at 40ft. It also appears to explode on a nightly basis on the last beat of Run Like Hell, courtesy of the Pyro crew
Welcome To The Machine‚ The Stage
Pink Floyd had three identical stages built to play a game of leapfrog across the USA and Europe. Why? Well, each stage took three days to build, 18 hours to set up, seven hours to break down and two days to fully dismantle, that's why! Each stage measured 60m wide, 22m deep and 23m high. It was designed by Marc Brickman and Mark Fisher at a staggering cost of more than $3 million.
The Division Bill
An army marches on its stomach and the first battalion of Floyd footsoliders is no exception. The tour had eight caterers and a dietitian and had to carry all the equipment necessary to feed both band and crew. One refrigerated lorry was on hand to carry the scoffular requirements for three square meals for 220 people daily. Each munchfest included a choice of two meats, one fish, one vegetarian and four puddings, plus bread, fruit, biscuits etc.
An excerpt from Pink Floyd's daily shopping list reads thus:
Plus specially requested items like: