Q magazine #48, September 1990
THE RIGHTFUL HEIR?
Twenty-five years ago he was just the hired hand. Then he became Syd Barrett's full-time replacement. By 1985, following group leader Roger Waters' traumatic exit, David Gilmour had emerged as their unofficial supremo. But the fight for the Pink Floyd legacy still rages. "We were still in business and no-one was going to stop us," he reminds Mat Snow.
Within the portals of David Gilmour's town residence, the bustle and hum of London in high summer seems miles away. All is cool repose in his sitting room, which offers aspects over the glinting canal of Little Venice at the front and a large but secluded Victorian garden at the rear. Below stairs, the ill-stocked pantry and fridge tender evidence of a bachelor life, a wide variety of breakfast cereals nourishing the start of the day, a selection of gourmet nibbles providing sustenance for its end. At 44 one must, of course, have due regard for one's health, and perhaps a handful of his impressive armory of vitamin pills are washed down of an evening with a glass from that bottle of Montrachet '79 that sits temptingly open next to the washing-up liquid.
Upstairs again, much of the Zen-like calm of David Gilmour's living room may be accounted for by the fact that it is so uncluttered. This is because he has barely started to unpack all the personal artifacts that one inevitably acquires over the years. For the sad fact is that the Pink Floyd guitarist - indeed, the leader of the third and most spectacular incarnation of Britain's time-hallowed trip-merchants - has recently separated from his wife, Ginger, who lives in the semi-rural home counties with their four children.
He has, however, adorned his spacious singles pad with a few especially prized trophies as well as the grand piano, guitars and state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment that are the tools of his trade. The dulcimer and sitar sit forlornly unplayed, however, broken by the little Gilmours ("the bastards!"), and nearby a bas-relief of Beethoven glowers reprovingly upon this modern music maker, faced on the other side of the room by the more comely features of Candy Dulfer, who looks out from her album sleeve. It's the only record visible in the house.
Roving over the bookshelf, modish New York authors Jay McInerney and Tom Wolfe gleam in pristine hardcover compared to the well-thumbed paperback volumes of Hemingway and Paul Bowles, Ouspensky and Castaneda. On the mantelpiece sits a photo of the small airplane he owns and a print of the famed 1963 Ferrari GTO, a million-pound-plus car owned by his Pink Floyd partner, drummer Nick Mason, whose passion for wings and wheels exceeds even his own.
Most interestingly, perhaps, are the two photographs of himself, one taken in his hippie heyday of fine cheekbones, full lips and luxuriant hair, the other snapped a few years earlier, in 1965. Here he is aged 19 in jeans, checked shirt and a Beatles haircut, hoisting a guitar for his first band, Jokers Wild. It was taken at a party in his home town of Cambridge, David recalls, and playing that same evening was another local outfit called The Pink Floyd Sound, and a young American singer who was, at the time, touring the UK's folk circuit. His name was Paul Simon.
Yes, it has been the proverbial long, strange trip for David Gilmour, particularly the most recent chapter in his professional career. For when bassist and principal songsmith Roger Waters acrimoniously quit Pink Floyd in 1985, to many observers it looked all over for the band. Instead, David Gilmour chose to grasp the driving wheel and get the show back on the road. Despite the spoiling tactics of his erstwhile partner, not only did the new Pink Floyd make a best-selling album, A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, but they played to over four million people in a two-leg tour which took nearly two years to complete. After topping the Billboard list of highest-grossing acts, the band released a successful double live album, Delicate Sound Of Thunder, and video to match. Their renaissance culminated in a live satellite broadcast to millions of a never-before-attempted mega-show in Venice and, despite the driving rain, a triumphant return after 15 years to Knebworth in July (Q 47). It was the 200th - and last - show of what Gilmour persist in calling "this project".
MS: Were you elected leader of the re-formed Floyd?
DG: I was never 'elected'. I was the one who said, Let's get on and do it again. In Easter '86 I started trying to consolidate the writing I had done into some sort of shape and get an idea of whether I could make an album. We wanted to do the whole thing. We didn't want to go out with the just the old stuff for nostalgia. Myself and Nick (Mason) had to put the money in to found it all. I had enough and Nick had to put his Ferrari GTO down. Obviously we could have borrowed money, but then we would have had to share the profits, and we were very confident that we would do OK.
We spent from September '86 till Christmas putting the album into some sort of rough shape, and then in early '87 started to record it properly in a small studio with machines. Then we moved to Los Angeles and did a lot of the live stuff there with drummers and so on - musicians in Los Angeles are very good and reliable; they turn up and know exactly what you want and work quickly.
We finished the album in June, and in the last week of July came music rehearsals in Toronto, Then in the second week in August, all the equipment and ideas came together in a giant hangar and we tried to make it into a show that worked, in only three weeks. Rick (Wright) had left, or been shoved out by Roger in '79, so the project started without him being involved. Sometime during the process Rick expressed an interest in being part of it, and we thought it would be a great idea.
There were one or two legal reasons which made it a little trickier if he joined, and to be honest Nick and I didn't particularly want to get in extra partners - we had put up the money and taken all the big risks, and so wanted the take the largest cut. And it would make the decision-making process harder. There were a multitude of reasons, some solid and legal, others to do with selfishness, why we didn't put him on a fully one-third basis.
MS: Did you make a Momentary Lapse Of Reason with the tastes of the established Pink Floyd fan in mind?
DG: I just started out to make a record that I thought I would like -that's all I ever done with Pink Floyd. Inevitably, one is going to subconsciously lean towards what is acceptable to the Pink Floyd fan. We got an advance from the record company only when we deliver, so there is absolutely no pressure from them as to how we make our records. We've always made a very healthy profit for them, so we've never given them that option. The people who do have that problem with their record companies are the people that have not made a profit on their last couple of records.
MS: Before the Floyd comeback tour started, how confidence were you that it would succeed?
DG: The tour had to be planned and tickets put on sale a long way in advance. We were in the studio in Los Angles still a long way from completing the record, maybe in May '87, when we wanted to start getting the tour going, and had the first dates fixed. Then Roger sent letters out to every single promoter in North America saying that he would sue them, seal their bank accounts and all that sort of stuff.
That was another good thing about recording in Los Angeles - lawyers can't ring you up in the middle of your working day. Los Angeles is starts eight hours after what we do, and as we didn't start in the studio until noon, that would mean British lawyers would have to stay in their office until eight or nine at night if they wanted to talk with us about anything.
If you're there at the end of the telephone, they ring you up with every little detail. It's never that urgent. Better to have one one-hour phone call once a week, instead of every half an hour and us losing our train of thought.
So it was all very tense and difficult, but promoters tend to be very 'street' people and don't take kindly to being threatened.
Michael Cole, the guy promoting the Rolling Stones' tour, said he was willing to go ahead and put the tickets on sale, six months before we was due to go out. A problem that some of these promoters expressed to us, and we know it's been expressed to other people, is that they would actually be happier if didn't put out a new record. If the public didn't have a new record that could supposedly disappoint them, then they knew they could sell out. But we wanted to move forward.
The first tickets on sale were for the CN Stadium in Toronto, and that sold out, about 150,000 seats in a matter of hours, so we knew we could sell tickets. That gave us a big boost in confidence. The first leg of the tour we were pretty out of pocket at the start because we'd spent a lot of money putting it together and making the record. When the record was delivered, we got an advance, but that only paid for the record. So there was the daily risk on tour that would prevent us from doing anymore dates - though we couldn't see how they could do that - or there was a very real possibility that some sort of injunction would be put on us that would seal the bank accounts and stop us using any of the money. Never mind what it cost us putting the tour on, the running expenses added up to around $100,000 a day, so the first few weeks of the tour were very nervy, because if the bank accounts had seized up, then raising money would have been extremely difficult.
But there came a time when we had raised enough money and got it cleared into other bank accounts which couldn't be touched, and the expenses for the rest of the tour were covered. At that point there was nothing more Roger could do to prevent us, and we celebrated. We'd spent a lot of money fighting him. We had to have a team of lawyers in every city ready and briefed in case it was suddenly in front of a judge and we had to get someone there in 20 minutes. It never happened, but we had to be prepared for it. We didn't think he had an actual case, but you can't tell with the American legal system - there was the possibility you could find a judge somewhere who would take a few thousand dollars backhander. Not that I would want to cast aspersion on the honesty of judges in America, or England - or anywhere else, for that matter. But it certainly has happened before.
MS: Was part of the motivation to come back bigger and better to lay any doubt to rest that the new, Roger-less Floyd was but a shadow of the past?
DG: Precisely. That's why we set about a good album, a spectacular show and a tour that would go on for over a year. We wanted to leave no one in doubt that we were still in business and 'meant' business and no one was going to stop us. Our tour, I believe quite firmly, showed a way forward for many other people. Our attitude towards getting it right with the best PA, best lighting system, has rubbed off on many other people - The Who, Rolling Stones. There is certainly a trend at the moment for people not to go out in the haphazard way they used to. They plan it like a military campaign and think big; if you spend a lot of money, you'll make a lot of money - and enjoy yourself a lot more.
MS: Had you kept abreast of the technological developments in rock shows?
DG: Not consciously, but you go and see shows and make mental notes. I had several mental notes, and so had our lighting man and others involved. We had ideas meetings where people would throw seemingly ridiculous ideas into the pot and we would try and work out which ones were feasible, which ones would look good, which ones were good value for the money, so to speak, and gradually whittle it all down into something that makes sense artistically and financially. That is to say, there are many very expensive effects whose value doesn't last very long, just a matter of seconds. So it's a matter of achieving a balance with things that are reasonably cheap and cheerful but keep coming at you all the time.
MS: Did you see anybody else's show that impressed you?
DG: I can't say there were shows that impressed me very much, but there were shows were there was one thing, that might have been there by pure chance. I saw a Paul Young show where he was using a laser wave that went across the audience vertically in a curve, but was too expensive for him to carry on using and it probably caused too many difficulties with the local there people to use something that actually touched people in the audience. I wanted to use that sort of effect but, having pinched the idea, I had to find a way of doing it so it didn't touch the audience physically - sort of laying it sideways above their heads. Then one's got to think of other things to do with the lasers - having them for just one effect in just one song is not enough to make the vast expenditure of having them on the road viable.
We looked at all the lighting systems, the vari-lights and things like that, and wounded up combining them with French telescans, lasers, colour-rays that look like laser but aren't. They were inside robots that rose up out of the stage and directed beams of different colored lights; those used carefully in conjunction with lasers could lead people to believe quite easily that lasers were actually going into the audience and make it all a bit more exciting - but we could obviously demonstrate to the people there that they were nowhere near.
MS: Doesn't such an organized, clockwork-like show remove all musical spontaneity?
DG: No, because you can have a whole lighting cue organized inside a computer and you have a guy just tap a button at the appropriate moment and then the whole series of cues will just go off. They are flexible, they aren't synchronized up from the beginning of a song to the end, nor are they exactly the same for every song every night.
The guy running the lights is able to be artistic if he wants to, or at least different every night, which means we are free to extend or shorten most of the songs. Some of them we couldn't because of the technology we'd use in the studio, like sequencers, which meant we had to use sequencers on stage for four or five songs, so they were more rigid than I would have liked. But that's really a symptom of getting into some new technologies in the studio without realizing that they could be a limitation to you live.
MS: Every time you perform a Waters song, you pay him a royalty - thus financing his lawsuits against you. Did you consider the irony of this situation?
DG: That's the way it goes. Every time we'd go into a town there'd be a Pink Floyd Day, tons of records would be played, the Performing Rights Society or the BMI in America would pick up some royalties which would be distributed to the people who wrote those songs - perfectly right.
And when Roger plays The Wall in Berlin, money for some of those songs will be paid to me. I do think it's slightly funny at times, but it's not a subject one would want to dwell on overlong.
MS: How do you feel about singing live songs associated with his voice?
DG: We do only one, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, though there's part of Comfortably Numb which Roger sang, which I got Rick and Guy (Pratt) and Jon (Carin) to sing. I sang Money on the record. Live we pick songs we liked and did tend to move towards songs that I had sung or had a greater involvement in. A lot of people think that Shine On sounds very similar the way I sing it, but it's not really conscious, though I've always been good at imitations.
MS: Were you worried at first that fans might respond badly to the Roger-less Floyd?
DG: I knew we would get some fans who would not approve. We didn't get too many. There would be people in the audience who would make their feelings heard about Roger not being there, just by shouting very loudly during moments when the rest of the audience was being respectfully quiet.
They are perfectly entitled to, I just can't understand why the fuck they bothered to pay for the tickets. If they don't like us, go see Roger instead.
It died away but there was one or two funny incidents. There was once a whole row of about eight guys with "Fuck Roger" T-shirts on. There was another guy wearing one of Roger's tour T-shirts, which had the name Roger Waters in green fluorescent lettering across the top, so I only had to glance into the audience and his name would be beaming at me.
This guy was starting off by shouting at us, but by the end of the second half he took the T-shirt off, tore it up into little bits, put it on the floor and stamped on it!
These people don't understand what happened. They seem to think that there was something that 'we' did. But we didn't throw Roger out, we didn't do 'anything' to Roger.
He 'left' Pink Floyd. He sent a letter to CBS in America and EMI here saying he'd left Pink Floyd - it was quite clear and unequivocal. He didn't tell us - we only found out when we got a copy of the letter from the record company. He left, and we wanted to carry on with our careers. It's as simple as that. We had a fight, which was just about our freedom.
MS: Had you never discussed in the '70s what would happen if a member of the band wanted to leave?
DG: No. When Syd (Barrett) left (in 1968) he was the kingpin of the band before I joined, and the rest didn't say, 'Oh, we'll pack it in now that Syd's gone'. And when Rick left in '79, we didn't say, 'Let's not do it any more' - so when Roger left in '85, why should I not continue what I'd been doing for the last 17 years? I certainly saw no reason why I shouldn't continue my chosen career.
MS: Do you feel tempted to go to Berlin this weekend to see the Wall and what Roger is up to these days?
DG: Yes, I'm fairly tempted, but I'm not going to. None of us are going. I suppose I'll watch it on telly. I'd hate to be there and be caught in the background sneakily watching it by someone of your profession, hahaha! I'm not interested 'enough' to go. I haven't really examined myself deeply enough to know exactly what I feel about it. My fight with Roger was about freedom, and if I want mine, I've got to grant him his. So The Wall is fine by me - I'm sure he'll do well.
MS: Have you communicated in the last three years other than through lawyers?
DG: Oh yes. We've met and talked. He has now stopped coming to the meetings we have to hold - we are still in business together and we have to have board meetings to make various decisions, but now he usually sends a proxy along. The last time I spoke to him was when we signed our agreement (in 1987), which stopped all lawsuits at that time and settled the fact that we had the name in perpetuity.
He got some rights and bits and pieces, particularly to do with The Wall. There were one or two areas of the agreement that weren't clear and he subsequently entered two or three lawsuits against us, which he has now dropped.
MS: Is the lawsuit his first resort? No meeting to try to reach an agreement beforehand?
DG: No. I think he's got my phone number and I've got his. But I have no interest in discussing anything with him. He's told too many lies and too many bad things have happened. I have no interest in conversing with him.
MS: Do you foresee a day when you will shake hands and put all this behind you?
DG: I don't foresee it. I'm not very good at holding grudges for a very long time, but he's done some terrible things. Honesty is not one of the things that he will let get in the way of his pursuit of power.
All we did was thwart his plan to go off round the world doing a huge grand show, calling it Roger Waters of Pink Floyd in huge letters, and take over the name himself by us not being on the scene. I'm 100 per cent certain that's what he intended to do, and us going out as Pink Floyd rather put the mockers on it. And his career hasn't exactly taken off since he left.
MS: What are the lights and sound of the Floyd show like for the performers? Is the effect equally "trippy" on stage?
DG: It can be, yes, but you've got to be careful with the drinks beforehand. With the amount of technology up on stage these days, you've got to have your wits about you. The stage is covered in little mirrors and lights and monitors and trapdoors that open with things coming out at you. With pitch darkness between songs you've got to know exactly where you are. We have guide lights up the stairs at the back for when we come up on to the stage, and I have a little lamp with a dimmer that shines on to parts of my equipment, so if I want to twiddle a knob, I can see where it is.
MS: The floating stage you used in Venice - had that ever been done before?
DG: I'd seen it in a Marx Brothers movie, but I don't think it ever been done before on that scale. We had to hunt the world for a barge big enough - I set problems and other people are sent off to find solutions! The Venice show was great fun, but it was very tense and nerve-wracking. We had a specific length of show to do; the satellite broadcasting meant we had to get it absolutely precise. We had the list of songs, and we'd shortened them, which we'd never done before. I had a big clock with a red digital read-out on the floor in front of me, and had the start time of each number on a piece of paper. If we were coming near the start time of the next number, I just had to wrap up the one we were on.
We had a really good time, but the city authorities who had agreed to provide the services of security, toilets, food, completely reneged on everything they were supposed to do, and then tried to blame all the subsequent problems on us. Lots of twaddle was written about it, even by some nice respectable journalists from the Guardian - stuff about our music disturbing the buildings; complete fucking absolute twaddle.
There was a big row on the Venice council; some people there wanted to get others off, and they used this issue to discredit them. We were political pawns. Most of the residents just left town and hoped Venice would still be there when they came back Monday, and if anything had gone wrong, they'd blame us.
And then there where the gondoliers - they came to us and threatened that if we didn't give them $10,000 immediately, they would fill the entire space up in front of the stage and blow their whistles all the way through the show. So we said, Fine - come back at the end of the show and we'll give you the $10,000. And when they did, we said, Piss off, you missed your chance. That's the story I was told by our manager, Steven O'Rourke. We got away with that one, but there were other things were we had to bribe people to make things happen, where again they had agreed on something and then reneged, and you have to say, take this money and do it. For example, along one of the main waterways is an island called the Giudecca, and they've got a pontoon bridge all the way across , which they'd agreed to open up for us early the next morning to let us float the whole stage through, towed by tugs. They then refused to open it, so we had to tow this vast stage the size of a football pitch out into the open sea. Then the sea police came up and boarded and said, 'You can't come this way'. We said, 'They won't let us through that canal where they'd agreed'... so we had to pay out. Initially Steven was very against the idea of playing Venice, saying it would be too difficult. Throughout the second leg of that tour he'd come up to me and say, It's never going to happen. I said, Steve, if Venice doesn't happen, you're fired. Or something like that.
MS: Was it a bluff?
DG: I don't know really. Never had to find out.
MS: Have you ever seen a Jean Michel Jarre show?
DG: No. I saw a video of the thing he did in the Docklands, and it didn't really turn me on a great deal. He does some quite pretty music, but he doesn't have the dynamics I personally like, and I thought a lot of the effects were Mickey Mouse, cheapo cheapo productions, but I didn't see it live so I really don't know. Poor old Jean Michel went in over his head on that thing; he didn't know how to deal with the local authorities and the whole thing left a very bad taste because people didn't get paid, this didn't happen and that didn't happen.
I know a bad taste was left in some people's mouths with us in Venice, because things that were not our fault got blamed on us, but everyone who was supposed to get paid did get paid - and even those who weren't supposed to be paid got paid. It cost us a fortune!
MS: Have you seen any other rock spectaculars of late?
DG: I saw Michael Jackson in an indoor arena in America, and it wasn't great. When I see something like that, I think, My God, put 'me' in charge for a week and I'll turn this into something 'good'! There's no doubt in my mind that I could have turned something like the Michael Jackson show from a pretty average to pretty damned good, given a few days and bucks. There are corners that can be cut and corners that can't - just a million little details that one could look at. But I went to see Prince at Wembley and he was bloody good. He definitely does things from the right attitude; I think he goes out of his way to get the best people to do the best job, and he thinks about every detail. He gets people around him who share his belief that it will come right if you get it right, which is our attitude.
I think Sinead's show is great - again, by my rule book, she's doing things right. We have sessions where people throw their hands up in horror at the things we decide to do, but in the end if you get your show right, then the money will take care of itself.
MS: Have you ever been to a Rave?
DG: A rave? What's a rave?... Ah, an acid house party! I haven't been to a really big one, but I've been to one indoors. I can see why people like them, but I think I'm a bit too used to comfort. Leaping around all night long is not a thing I still want to do. I did use to go to festivals in the '60s and sleep out on hillsides in sleeping bags; I did that even while I was in Pink Floyd, in 1970 seeing Hendrix at the Isle of Wight. But I'm 44 and a bit unused to that sort of thing now.
MS: When you play on, say, a Paul McCartney record, how does it actually work? What kind of fee does one millionaire pay another for laying down a guitar track? Or is there a different system?
DG: I just say to anyone that I'm working for, 'Send a cheque for whatever you like to the charity of your choice', though sometimes I specify Amnesty International or Greenpeace. It becomes something to do with their conscience, not mine - I'm not going to check up.
MS: Does this work the other way? On your second solo LP, About Face, Stevie Winwood played.
DG: I paid him good money, about $1,000 a day, and he wanted me to use his studio and pay for the studio time. It seemed perhaps a little high. But he doesn't owe me any favors and I didn't know him very well. I've always loved Stevie Winwood. I used to go see The Spencer Davis Group when I was 18 and he was about 16. He used to play a really great guitar as well as great piano - I really wanted to hit the little fucker he was so good!
MS: And Grace Jones, on whose Slave To The Rhythm you played?
DG: I never met Grace Jones. I was approached by Trevor Horn, and went down to their studio SARM East and set up my equipment, and Steve Lipson and Trevor Horn was there. Trevor had a terrible food poisoning and was throwing up every three minutes, lying on the floor trying to produce a record and chucking up into a bin! I think mostly they sampled anything I did into a Synclavier and tried to make some sort of sense out of it later, because he was too ill then, poor chap.
MS: What determines whether you will play a session?
DG: Either because I like the artist or I think I might learn something or they're friends of mine.
MS: And which bracket did Arcadia fall into?
DG: I don't really know, I think I thought I might learn something - not a lot, though. But they're nice people, Simon le Bon and, er, what's his name... I was never a big Durannie. With people I know I just go and do it. I don't want to consider myself as some valuable icon who would cheapen himself by playing on some record.
MS: When you brought Kate Bush to the attention of EMI, you somehow acquired the image of an avuncular helping hand to the next generation...
DG: Did I? I did do a couple of things with Kate, I suppose. To a certain extent, if you see something that you think is brilliant, and particularly if that thing is being presented in such a way that most people wouldn't notice if it hit them falling of the top of a truck, then I sometimes feel a certain sense of responsibility to bring out what I think is good and 'then' bring it to their attention, which is what I did with Kate. Her home demos were of her sitting at an horrible piano, recorded with an very ancient tape-recorder, and her squeaking away. I listened to them and could hear the talent but wouldn't have dreamt of taking them to a record company. I knew the only real way to do it was to tart them up, if you like. We recorded her properly, with a proper producer and the best engineer, Geoff Emerick, arranger, and chose three or four songs out of about 50, and made a proper record and presented it to EMI. And of course they said, Yes, great, we'll take it.
MS: Lastly, that 200th and (for the time being) final gig at Knebworth - what are your options when it's pouring with rain?
DG: The options when it starts pouring with rain are: one, walk off and leave a wet extremely miserable audience out there. Two, cover slightly at the back of the stage - and if you're huddled at the back, then the whole band will huddle as well - and don't give the audience you're best, and the audience knows you're not, so are still sitting there wet and miserable. Three, just revel in it and show solidarity. If you're out there at the front looking as if you are enjoying it, the audience think better of it and the rest of the band think better of it. So there really is no choice.
MS: Could you do it all again?
DG: I think we will make another record, and we will tour, though perhaps not quite as big as this one. I started this project in April '86 and it is now July 1990 - well over four years and almost 100 per cent of my energies dedicated to one project. Now I don't have the appetite to go back into the studio and spend a lot of time there. It's as simple as that. At my age I don't feel compelled to do that. There are other things one wants to do with ones time, and music has probably taken up an unfair amount of it. I know I will want to do it again at some point, but not right now.