Interview with Pink Floyd

This interview was conducted before Pink Floyd's first Vancouver concert in October of 1970. Despite a whopping hangover, I managed to struggle out to the PNE Gardens where the concert was being held. I managed to get to talk to Roger Waters and David Gilmour after showing them a rave review of their album Ummagumma I had written in February of that year for the University of B.C. paper, The Ubyssey in which I described it as "one of the best rock albums ever made". The interview appeared in the October 14-21, 1970 issue of the Georgia Straight. Copyright ©1970 by Mike Quigley. No reproduction of any kind without permission.


The Pink Floyd concert last week was a truly musi­cal event. Despite a dearth of promotion, the group managed to draw a fairly full house to the Gardens.

Particularly outstanding was their sound system, which could be clearly heard right to the back of the hall.

The group presented several extended pieces from their old and upcoming albums. The general consensus seemed to be that they transcended themselves in their early work which had already been superbly done on the albums. Saucerful of Secrets, with an incredible, overpowering electronic section (which util­ized a quadriphonic speaker system around the hall), particularly managed to clean some ears and minds overexposed to the inanities of CCR, Led Zeppelin, and others.

It was one of those concerts where anyone who didn't attend should kick himself (or be kicked). And it would­n't be much of an overstatement to say that Pink Floyd is possibly the best non-rock rock group in the world today.

MIKE QUIGLEY: How long has the group been playing?

ROGER WATERS: Professionally, since January, 1967. We started out before that as a completely blues and Bo Diddley-oriented rock 'n' roll band from a school of architecture.

MQ: Have any of the group had a classical musical background?

DAVID GILMOUR: Richard's [organist Richard Wright] had a little bit of classical training, but the rest of us haven't had any training of any sort.

RW: But we've all been through the great Music College of Life.

MQ: When did you decide to get off the Bo Diddley trip and involve yourselves in the experimental music you're into now?

RW: In June or July of 1966; by that time we'd already started to do the things that we continue to do. Even though we were still amateur, we stopped playing blues and started thrashing about making stranger noises and doing different things. Some people saw us and they said, "We think you boys can be big," and we said, "Too much!" and they said, "Let's get started" and we said, "We're terribly sorry, but we're going off on a holiday, and we'll be back in October." And so we did. And then we raised two hundred pounds and went into a studio and cut a record and took it to EMI and said, "Look, we can be bigger than The Beatles." And they said, "Golly, gee whiz, we think you're right!" and we signed a stupid contract with them, which we're still bound by, and they released the album and it was a medium-big seller. Then we went professional.

MQ: Were your concerts the same in performance as the album?

RW: We didn't do concerts in those days. Nobody did concerts in those days, and we hadn't done an album anyway. There weren't concerts in those days -- there were ballrooms. If you were a working group with a hit single, you played in ballrooms. It was a hall like this [the PNE Gardens in Vancouver], but without seats, and it was all screaming girls...

DG: And jiving, twisting...

RW: We cleared more ballrooms than you've had hot dinners. We didn't play the singles on stage, which was all they wanted to hear.

DG: The only reason you'd get those bookings is because you had hit singles. That's how you'd get the work. And we didn't do them.

RW: We had a very rough year or so...

DG: Apart from a few gigs in London.

RW: We had a very rough time until the second album came out, and people were coming to see us because of Saucerful of Secrets, not some hit single that they'd heard.

MQ: Did you tour on the Continent?

DG: Not for a very long time.

RW: We came to the States very early on just for a week or so.

DG: We came to the States right in the middle of '68, when the second album came out, for seven weeks. But that was pretty bad because we didn't have any of our own equipment. We hadn't got it together either to cope with any equipment problems or things like that.

RW: But the Continent has just exploded for us now -- particularly France. It's all quite new. France is maybe a year old right now, since we started getting anywhere in France. What really made it for us in France was the film More, for which we did the soundtrack. It was playing in Paris at two next-door cinemas at once it was so popular.

MQ: Have you ever gotten involved with modern classical musical -- anything symphonic, for example?

RW: Not really. On our new album we've used some written music, some other musicians...

DG: Ten symphonic brass players and a choir of twenty.

RW: But the result is kind of a very direct attempt at hitting emotions, touching off emotional reactions with fairly ordinary sounds.

MQ: Have you ever been invited to do anything with a symphony?

RW: Well, we've had our talks with people. But the economics of working with an orchestra are prohibitive.

DG: Like this thing we've got on the next album uses thirty musicians, which isn't a lot of musicians. But it cost us five thousand dollars a night to put it on.

RW: We're writing a ballet for Roland Petit which will be on Paris next June, and the sky's the limit for that. They're spending so much money on that that they'd be quite willing to pay for an orchestra. But it might take it out of our hands to a certain extent if the stuff had to all be written down, because we can't write it down ourselves, and there's always a communication gap involved between what you can sing or play on a piano and what gets written down as music. And then you never hear it until you've got the orchestra there at the first rehearsal, and you probably only get two rehearsals anyway, so by the time you hear it, it's too late to change it; whereas our stuff is all based on doing something and then throwing out and using something else.

MQ: So you'll probably be playing with the ballet yourselves...

RW: Yeah, it's going to be on for about ten days. Nureyev is dancing the male lead. On the program we're doing, we're doing one ballet and Xenakis is writing the other.

MQ: A lot of people when talking about Pink Floyd use the term "cosmic"...

RW: Yeah, I know what you mean. That's the reaction we get from lots and lots of people, but I think the new album's going to come as something of a surprise, because it's not "cosmic". All they mean really are that the sounds we make evoke images of deep space.

DG: There are a lot of other things we do that do evoke quite strong images in the same way, but not about space.

MQ: I wondered if there was some kind of philosophy about this in the group, or if it's just the audience's interpretation.

RW: Not really. There is a general feeling, I suspect, in the group that music that really works is music that touches your emotions and triggers off something unchanging, some kind of eternal response. Like, it's really difficult to describe your reactions to a piece of music that hits you, gives you a particular kind of feeling, a particular kind of feeling that transcends the normal ups and downs and ins and outs.

MQ: How much equipment do you have? I heard a rumour that it was worth about a hundred thousand dollars.

DG: That's probably a bit of an exaggeration. It's probably worth about thirty thousand dollars.

MQ: Well, how many speaker systems do you have around the hall?

DG: We have a quadrasonic sound system around the hall, and there's a P.A. system which is quite powerful and we all have regular amps on stage.

MQ: How are the four speakers in the hall used to augment what's on stage?

DG: Well, you can feed tape into them or you can feed the organ into them. You could feed the guitar or the vocal into them, but we don't because they're very hard to work like that.

MQ: Who controls these effects?

DG: Richard, the organist, has a quadrasonic sound mixer on his organ, and he can play the organ and the sound around the auditorium as he's doing it. The tape recorder's operated by Pete, our road man.

MQ: How did you pick up all these experimental effects and techniques? Did you learn them from anybody?

RW: No, they just happened, really. We just thought "You ought to be able to do this," and then we went and saw somebody who knew something about electronics and asked, "Is it possible?" Like the quadrasonic thing, we just went to one of the maintenance engineers at Abbey Road in London where we record, and we said, "Look, we want to do this. Can you build it?" and he said "Yes" and he did.

MQ: Has EMI said anything about releases on the new four-track tapes?

DG: EMI will do it when everyone else has done it.

RW: They'll do it in a couple of years after everyone else. They're so technically far behind the other studios.

MQ: How many more albums are you under contract to them for?

RW: It's not a question of albums -- we're under contract to them for another eighteen months.

MQ: What then -- will you be starting an independent label?

RW: We don't know. It depends. We might build our own studio.

MQ: Have you played any pop festivals -- like the one in Paris?

DG: This summer that's all we've done between our last American tour and this American tour -- festivals: the Bath Festival, the Rotterdam Festival, two in France...

RW: One in Germany. Not many -- about half a dozen. We haven't done any in the States. I don't like them.

MQ: Why not?

RW: The sound is generally so bad, and there are too many people.

DG: The atmosphere is always very difficult for us, because we like people not to just think, "Well, here's the next group coming on," and then get straight into it, because it's very difficult to get straight into our music like that. We like to set an atmosphere. We like to have a place where we're the only people performing.

RW: I really don't like them because I know that I would never go to one as a member of an audience, because festivals aren't really all to do with music. It's a lot to do with camping out and all that stuff, and the music is just a common factor. It's very hard for people to hear it, or for everybody to hear it. I just think they're wrong conditions for listening ... well, not wrong, but not the best conditions for listening to music.

MQ: Is there much of a problem in Europe with opposition to paying to see rock festivals?

DG: There's a lot in France.

RW: It's much the heaviest in France. It's very heavy in Germany as well. In France they've had several festivals that just didn't go on because people tore them to pieces.

DG: One we were supposed to play at was wrecked...

RW: The first day. We weren't supposed to play until the second day.

DG: They broke down the stage, threw pianos off the stage, turned recording vans over, started to set fire to them...

RW: They did set fire to them. It was sponsored by Radio Luxembourg, and they had two vans recording, and they burned those. The promoters had got hold of a Yamaha grand piano and they smashed that to pieces...

DG: Threw it off the edge of the stage.

MQ: How do you feel about this as musicians?

RW: What? The "music-should-be-free" syndrome?

MQ: Yeah.

RW: I think it's a bit unfortunate that these people pick on rock 'n' roll as the start of their process to get rid of profit-oriented society, presuming that music is something they're interested in and something they enjoy. It would seem wiser if they picked on some other area where they wouldn't mind so much if the whole thing just stopped happening, because that's what they're doing -- just stopping the things happening. It serves no function to come to a festival and tear it to pieces, shouting, "Music should be free!"

DG: They're not going to get music for free by doing something like that because it's totally impossible...

RW: Well, for a start, it completely alienates those who might possibly be in a position to give it to them for free. But it can't be free -- it costs fortunes to put on festivals.

DG: It costs us -- just one band -- to go and do a festival in the south of France, for instance, between two and three thousand dollars just to go and do it. And they shout that they want it for free and that they should pass a hat round for money, which in fact, they tried at one festival.

RW: Out of twenty thousand people...

DG: Thirty thousand people...

RW: They got about two hundred pounds...

DG: Which is like five hundred dollars. Out of thirty thousand people.

RW: That's why that particular festival broke down, because the promoters hadn't got any money to pay the next group which was going on, which was The Soft Machine, and The Soft Machine just refused to go on. And then they passed the hat around and collected two hundred pounds, and The Soft Machine still refused to go on, and then they tore everything to pieces. If they want music to be free -- well, it can't be free. There's no such thing as fucking "free". Presumably what they mean is that it should be paid for out of government funds. At least that's what I assume they want.

[Taken from the Georgia Straight, October 1971, following another Vancouver concert]

Sunday afternoon, I talked with Richard Wright, Roger Waters and Nick Mason of the group, and found out:

-- that "Relics" was put together by them and that its English version (a) was on a budget label (unlike here) and (b) had a different cover, a drawing by Mason.

-- that their contract with EMI/Capitol, originally to expire in about six months, was somehow extended for yet another two years. Waters termed it "the longest contract in the history of rock 'n' roll.'

--that early next year they will be breaking in a new act, with largely different material than that featured on their last two North American tours.

-- that they're somewhat less than happy with the way Capitol Records had treated them in North America with regard to promotion and releases.

-- that the ballet based on Proust's "Remembrances of Ages Past" which they were to have done in collaboration with Roland Petit never came off. There is a possibility, though, of doing a ballet with Petit based on the works of William Blake in May of next year.

-- that they would like to have done two shows on successive evenings in Vancouver to accommodate the crowds, but the contracts for the tightly-arranged tour were signed before anything could be done about this.

-- that EMI in England has shown interest in recording and releasing their music quadraphonically, but probably won't do too much about it for a while.

-- that there was to have been a quadraphonic presentation of Echoes in a London Planetarium, but it was cancelled.

-- that the idea of them generating their wide variety of electronic noises with much complex equipment was largely "a myth." Among the devices they use are three Bensons for reverb and echo effects, a Leslie speaker through which the grand piano is miked, a VCS3, generating pure electronic noises, and a joystick control to shoot sounds around the hall.

-- that they find little difference between European and North American audiences, though the latter are more into the "superstar" syndrome.

-- that they'd rather play smaller halls where the sound is good than perform in monster halls where they could draw large crowds.