The Greatest Feud in Rock

Barely on speaking terms for 30 years, Pink Floyd have been persuaded to reunite for Live8. Keith Shadwick tells the story of rock 'n' roll's greatest feud

Tuesday 14 June 2005 00:00

If the rumours are true then Sir Bob actually performed two miracles over one weekend. The first was to perform a very public U-turn about including African artists on the Live8 programme designed to ease Africa's economic and social burdens. Secondly, he has managed to persuade Pink Floyd to stop burying hatchets in each other and place them instead atop the sands of time - well, at least long enough for them to appear on stage on 2 July.

If the rumours are true then Sir Bob actually performed two miracles over one weekend. The first was to perform a very public U-turn about including African artists on the Live8 programme designed to ease Africa's economic and social burdens. Secondly, he has managed to persuade Pink Floyd to stop burying hatchets in each other and place them instead atop the sands of time - well, at least long enough for them to appear on stage on 2 July.

Of the two, it must be said that pulling the members of Pink Floyd back into the same room for more than a nanosecond is probably the greater. After all, this is the band that managed to 'lose' their frontman, co-founder and creative focus Syd Barrett by early 1968, and find incredible fame and riches in the mid 1970s with Dark Side Of The Moon (and the subsequent Wish You Were Here), but who were barely on speaking terms after 1974, and who could hardly stand being on the same album together by the close of the decade, let alone in the same recording studio.

The same band, who, by the mid-80s, saw its self-proclaimed artist-in-residence and spokesman Roger Waters walk out, expecting it to fall flat on its face in his absence, only for Waters to see Dave Gilmour's re-organised rump establish themselves as The Real Thing while he ranted at them stage right. A court case between Waters and Gilmour about who actually had the right to call themselves Pink Floyd came and went. Gilmour won: after all, it was Waters who'd thrown his toys out of the pram and unilaterally declared the band at an end. Gilmour had never officially left.

The Floyd has not had a history of calm seas and prosperous voyages. Of course male fans, of a certain age, maintain that Floyd's troubles really began the night Syd got left at home having taken a few hundred tabs too many, to be replaced by Dave Gilmour. He was first brought into the group as a safety net, then the band simply stopped picking Barrett up for gigs. By that time Barrett was so deflected by drugs that he'd taken to either standing staring into space on stage instead of singing, or completely de-tuning his guitar to a scuzzy toneless throb and thrashing away.

Pink Floyd became respectable counter-culturalists who sold records in respectable numbers and had little difficulty in hanging on to their credibility, their sense of honour and fair play, and their egos.

That all changed in 1973 with the release of the mega-selling Dark Side of The Moon and its blockbuster single 'Money', when things began to unravel internally. Waters later commented: "Everything after Dark Side of the Moon was very difficult. Dave and I just didn't have much in common, philosophically, musically, politically, emotionally." The band were to complete only one more album where they could be described as working together, and that was backwards-looking: Wish You Were Here, a record openly dedicated to the missing-in-action Syd .

By the time The Wall was erected and released in 1979, Waters had come to the unilateral decision that the rest of the band were coasting. Remarkably, the worldwide success of The Wall and the resultant tour failed to split the band up for good despite everyone's best efforts. And by the time the film version of Waters' magnum opus was released in 1982 he was looking ahead to tackling new Floyd ideas for the first time since 1977. With the flop of the 1981 compilation A Collection of Great Dance Songs, they were obliged to go back into the studio together again.

Somehow the three of them got through the sessions for The Final Cut, a deeply personal Waters tribute to his father, who had died in 1944 during the allied assault on Anzio, and a record that brooked no compositional or lyric contribution from anyone but Waters himself. Session musicians were used to provide the keyboards normally played by Rick Wright. But a tour was unthinkable. They might have to speak to each other.

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In a magnanimous gesture, and thinking that the Floyd were incapable of doing anything without him, Waters left unofficially in 1983. So did Gilmour. Unofficially, of course. After all, solo albums beckoned. Not to be outdone, Waters later made his departure official in 1984 while Gilmour regrouped. Literally.

Pink Floyd - without Waters - went back into the studios in 1986 to begin their first album. Impossible said Waters. He sued, claiming that Gilmour and his colleagues were not entitled to the name. It simply had never occurred to Waters that those left behind in the wreckage of Pink Floyd may have wanted to piece it back together again. Adding injury to insult, Waters lost the case, giving Gilmour ownership of the name and thus control of the band. Glad you're not here...

In an inspired stroke, the Gilmour-led Pink Floyd produced a 1987 release called A Momentary Lapse of Reason, while Waters produced his own opus, Radio K.A.O.S. Of these sessions Gilmour claimed "Both Nick and Rick were catatonic in terms of their playing ability at the beginning. Neither of them played on this at all really. In my view, they'd been destroyed by Roger. Nick played a few tom-toms on one track, but for the rest I had to get in other drummers. Rick played some tiny little parts."

Waters bided his time and licked his wounds after his tour failed to match his rivals' for ticket sales and pubic interest. He had much to feel bitter about, as he said in 2001: "I hate that they were playing pieces that I'd written, particularly The Wall, which was a protest against stadium rock and which they were using to sell stadium tours."An unlooked-for dividend of the split came to Waters with the crumbling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The following year he mounted a production of The Wall in Berlin's Potsdamer Platz, using hired musicians and guest stars such as Sinead O'Connor in a performance that was not only later released (suitably retouched to erase the more embarrassing moments) on video but also avoided any mention of Pink Floyd. Now no-one could be in any doubt as to whose brainchild it was. Nobody connected to the project was mentioning hubris. Nor were they when the Waters-less Pink Floyd appeared at 1990's Knebworth Festival, topping a bill that was a virtual who's who of rock - Elton John, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Genesis and Phil Collins. Nor were they again when in 1992 Waters released Amused To Death, an album that failed to do enough business for the star to mount a tour on its back.

The Gilmour-led Floyd took Waters' still considerable studio activity in and replied with a musical (though not financial) damp squib of their own. Called The Division Bell, this 1994 album so pushed Gilmour's creative energy to the limit that he had to engage his writer wife to pen song lyrics for him. Nevertheless, the album did good business . Pink Floyd could be said to have been doing OK without Waters. Just to rub it in, a live record culled from concert tapes, called p-u-l-s-e, also sold well.

Since that time all parties seem to have run out of puff, although Waters managed In The Flesh, his own live album taken from a 2000 world tour. Presumably, as in all great heavyweight bouts, they'd slugged themselves to a standstill and after all, none of them were young men. But they were still happy to throw a few more verbal punches.

As the new millennium got under way, Gilmour, self-confessedly inarticulate, explained why he still didn't talk to Waters. "Roger's a prick," he said.

Undercutting Waters' old gripes about meaningless stadium rock concerts done for the money, Gilmour appeared in 2001 at the South Bank Meltdown Festival. Three years later, Nick Mason, the only other surviving original Floyd member, published his own version of Floyd history, Inside Out.

Mason, a self-confessed mediator, wrote in his book of the band's early approach to relationships: "We had a style - if there's a problem, ignore it." No change there, then. Typically, neither Gilmour nor Waters originally wanted the book published. Perhaps he should have called it I Used To Be In Pink Floyd, But Now I'm Alright.

On second thoughts, considering what Sir Bob has now accomplished, perhaps a better title for Gilmour or Waters to contemplate for their memoirs would be I Used To Be Alright, But Now I'm In Pink Floyd.

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