Sound On Stage number 5, March 1997
"Welcome to the Machine - the story of Pink Floyd's live sound: part 1"
Over the 30 years that have passed since their debut record,
Pink Floyd have remained unchallenged as the rock world's
premier live attraction. In this unique and comprehensive
four-part series, MARK CUNNINGHAM traces the development of
the Floyd's live sound and talks to the key personnel who
have contributed to some of the greatest shows on Earth.
When Pink Floyd embarked on their most recent jaunt around the
world with the 1994 Division Bell tour, no less than 53 articulated
trucks were required to transport the PA and lighting systems,
projection equipment, staging, and all the additional elements which
went into what has so far been acclaimed as the benchmark touring
production of the '90s. By contrast, at the time of the band's first
single, "Arnold Layne", in the spring of 1967, they traversed the
country in a humble van.
Given the musical sophistication of their later years, it is
equally difficult to conceive of Pink Floyd as a run-of-the-mill R&B
combo, and yet this is precisely how they began when they were formed
at the Regent Street Polytechnic School of Architecture in 1965 as
The Abdabs by bassist Roger Waters, keyboard player Rick Wright, and
drummer Nick Mason and several others. Like most bands of their time,
their early repertoire consisted mainly of R&B and pop covers, and was
broadened when guitarist, singer, and Bo Diddley fan Roger "Syd"
Barrett arrived in the line-up, conjuring their new name: The Pink
Floyd Sound. Within a year, Barrett blossomed as a songwriter,
producing whimsical numbers such as "Candy And A Currant Bun", which
would steer the band in a new direction.
Soon to drop the redundant suffix (and the definite article),
their live set began to feature extended, feedback-drenched
instrumental "freak-outs", largely dominated by Barrett's guitar
experimentations and Wright's Stockhausen-flavoured organ solos.
Arguably, the biggest influence on the band's development at the
forefront of the psychedelic revolution was Barrett's appetite for
a certain hallucinogenic substance. Musically, however, he relied
heavily on his echo box and slide techniques, often involving ball
bearings, plastic rulers or a Zippo lighter, to achieve his eclectic
blend of guitar effects, while the other band members experimented
with similar flair. You had to be there.
By early 1967, Pink Floyd had secured both an EMI record deal and
an enviable following as the darlings of London's underground scene
with their "free-form", jazz-inspired, psychedelic noodlings,
frequently accompanied by strange film sequences which were projected
onto the band along with "liquid (coloured oil slide) movies" -- the
product of experimental Lighting Designer Mike Leonard. Even at this
early juncture, while their contemporaries were busy playing at pop
stars, the Floyd placed little emphasis on themselves as performers,
preferring to give audiences an experience that relied on this
interaction of sound, light and atmosphere. Numbers like "Interstellar
Overdrive", which often lasted one hour, were based around one riff
or chord and, like rave music more than 20 years later, they sent
audiences on a magnificent sensory journey.
"Interstellar Overdrive", was, in fact, one of the titles performed
by the Floyd at their "Games For May" at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall
on May 12 1967, an event set up by their managers Andrew King and
Peter Jenner of Blackhill Enterprises, and promoted by classical pro-
moter Christopher Hunt. Not only did this mark the first appearance
at the hall of what was essentially a pop band, this "happening" also
marked the first appearance in Britain of a rudimentary quadraphonic
PA system, effected by additional speakers erected around the room and
an early version of an amazing device, which has now gone down in
Floyd folklore as the "Azimuth Coordinator". This elaborate name was
given to what was essentially a crude pan pot device made by Bernard
Speight, an Abbey Road technical engineer, using four large rheostats
which were converted from 270 degree rotation to 90 degree. Along with
the shift stick, these elements were housed in a large box and enabled
the panning of quadraphonic sound.
To augment the music, Waters rented a basement in Harrow Road to
record a number of effects tapes on a Ferrograph. These sounds
included backwards cymbals, distorted percussion, and fake birdsong,
and were played around the audience as the band performed. Waters
explained at the time: "The sounds travel around the hall in a sort of
circle, giving the audience an eerie effect of being absolutely
surrounded by this music." From this point onwards, it seemed, the
Floyd were destined to become pioneers in live sound.
Little in terms of purpose-designed PA technology existed before
1967, the only options open to the Floyd being Vox or Selmer columns
and 100 Watt amps. Therefore, when Charlie Watkins designed his first
WEM single column PA, the Floyd took it to their hearts, and it
remained with them for the next four years. The Floyd's system was
based around the WEM B and C cabinets. The B cabinet housed four
12-inch Goodmans 301 twin cone speakers, while the C cabinet had four
12-inch Goodmans Audiom 61s. Pinned in between the B and C cabinet
was an X32 horn in a narrow column. To drive the system, the Floyd
used WEM amplification, and Road Manager/Sound Engineer Peter Watts
mixed with four small five-channel WEM Audiomaster consoles whose
comparatively primitive functions included bass, treble, and middle
controls, presence and input sensitivity. This was the state of the
art back in the late '60s.
WEM founder and PA designer Charlie Watkins, who toured with the
Floyd during this period, says of their introduction to his system:
"A similar PA of mine had debuted at the Windsor Jazz & Blues Festival
in August 1967, and in the following month, Pink Floyd played through
one at the Roundhouse in Chalk Farm, and were immediately impressed,
because it was the only proper PA system capable of taking more than
100 Watts. They soon invested in a system, and as they earned more
money, they began to duplicate the amount of equipment until they
owned the most sophisticated PA in the country."
Armed with this state-of-the-art system, the Floyd -- now with
ex-Jokers Wild and Bullitt singer/guitarist David Gilmour who replaced
his drug-damaged pal Syd Barrett in March 1968 -- staged concerts,
which were promoted as "sonic experiences", and toured in 1969 with
their "Massed Gadgets Of Auximenes" extravaganza. A newspaper review
of the final date of this British tour described the performance as
including "electronic and stereophonic effects thrust around [the
Royal Albert Hall] from a battery of boxes and speakers. Edge of the
world sounds shiver; footsteps clump around the dome; voices whisper;
a train thunders; a jungle erupts."
Of an earlier concert at the Royal Festival Hall that April, Nick
Mason was quoted as saying: "The Azimuth Coordinator system might have
been improved if we had simplified it by having four speakers 'round
the hall instead of six. I am sure a lot of people couldn't
differentiate between each speaker. If we can develop this kind of
thing into an even bigger and better stage without getting too
technically involved, we will be going in the right direction." He
would not have too long to wait.
Meahwhile, Peter Watt's small crew (including Bobby Richardson,
Brian Scott, and Lighting Engineer Arthur Max) was joined by roadie
Seth Goldman, who began working for the band on their September-
October 1970 "Atom Heart Mother" tour of America and years later would
become their dedicated monitor engineer. Apart from the photograph on
the reverse side of 1969's "Ummagumma" album sleeve, the best evidence
of the touring equipment favoured by Pink floyd in the late '60s and
early '70s is the Adrian Maben film "Live at Pompeii", which was shot
in the summer of 1971 and shows the band's WEM system in all its
glory. But the end of that year witnessed a complete turnaround.
In 1971, Peter Watts became involved with audio pioneers Bill
Kelsey and the late Dave Martin. It was Martin who allegedly followed
a design by future Turbosound founder Tony Andrews and built the first
bass bin, which revolutionised PA technology. Martin, who had built
his first bass reflex cabinet at the age of 15, made a failed attempt
at designing a 4 by 15-inch bin with a detachable flare before
producing his definitive 800 Watt flanged 2 by 15-inch. The laws of
physics now began to govern live performance audio and instead of
literally adding more cabinets for extra reinforcement, bands were
able to "throw" their sound much further by using a combination of the
bass bin concept and Vitavox "voice of the theatre" horns.
In the May of that year, during a break from their "Atom Heart
Mother" tours and sessions for the "Meddle" album, Pink Floyd hired
the Wandsworth Granada [venue] to evaluate a new two-way passive Bill
Kelsey system, which initially incorporated seven-foot, 500-lb. RCA
"W" cabinets before switching to Martin's 2 by 15-inch bass bin.
Kelsey, who had already built PAs for King Crimson and ELP, recalls:
"What happened was indicative of the way the Floyd used to do business
in the days when they were more of a cult band. Peter Watts and Steve
O'Rourke (Floyd's manager) said they'd like to try a system so I went
down with all the gear, and then found there was another PA company
there and that it was to be an A/B test. Feeling a bit miffed that I
hadn't been told, I set up the gear as did the other company, and they
tried it out with the mixing console at the back of the hall.
"It seemed to be going all right, but Peter said, 'To be quite
frank, I'm disappointed... it's rubbish.' And Steve cut in, 'You
realise you've wasted my whole day, not to mention the cost of the
hall.' Peter continued to push up one fader to produce this horrid,
muffled sound, while the second fader produced a nice, clear sound.
I just wanted the ground to open up. Suddenly they both burst into
laughter and admitted they'd crossed the whole thing over." Despite
the elaborate wind-up, Kelsey's system was taken on board at the
beginning of the following year.
THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON
Recorded over the course of seven months with the working title of
"Eclipse (A Piece For Assorted Lunatics)", "The Dark Side of the Moon"
catapulted Pink Floyd from their enigmatic cult status to the stadium
rock elite. Released in March 1973, it signified the first major
switch from their earlier psychedelic formula and set a new precedent
for record production which Floyd continued to build upon. As was the
case for many bands who moulded their material on the road for some
time before committing it to tape, the Floyd performed an embryonic
version of "Dark Side" both prior to and during their sessions at
Abbey Road throughout the whole of 1972.
The live rehearsals for this new concept piece were initially held
in Januyary 1972 at the now-defunct Rainbow Theatre in London's
Finsbury Park, and they were notable for both the first use of their
new sound and light systems, and the introduction of a new team
member. Mick Kluczynski had worked with a number of Scottish bands
since 1965, one of whom received an offer to record in London in 1971
as Cliff Bennett's backing band. Kluczynski accompanied them but the
whole deal soon fell to pieces. One of the band members, Chris
Adamson, survived by working as a Floyd roadie and arranged for
Kluczynski to also join their small team as part of the "Quad Squad".
"There was no formal crew, just four of us loosely employed to
handle all aspects of the sound and rigging," says Kluczynski. "My
first job was to empty the tour manager's garage, which was full of
all the old WEM PA columns and return them to Charlie Watkins, because
we had just taken delivery of the latest generation of PA. The 2 by
15-inch bins had a Vitavox horn on the top and a JBL 075 bullet super
tweeter -- I used to carry these things on my back up into balconies!
When we played the first Earls Court show, we used our maximum number
of Kelsey and Martin bins and horns. The bins were three high, with
13 at each side of the stage, and in the centre piece where there were
bins missing was a column of JBL horns. On top of those, we had a row
of double Vitavox horns, on the back of which were throats that we had
made up, which took two ElectroVoice 1829 drivers in the same throat.
ElectroVoice claimed it wouldn't work, but we got up to four in one
throat. One quad section would drive two horns in one phase direction,
and another quad section would drive another two in the opposite phase
direction. But EV wouldn't believe it until they saw 15,000 people
walk out of Earls Court at the end of the night dazed and speechless."
In an A/B text during rehearsals, the band's existing WEM amplifiers
came second place to the new American Phase Linear models, discovered
by Kelsey, and so yet another injection of quality was given to their
PA. It was common for Pink Floyd to modify off-the-shelf equipment for
their own purposes, thereby creating unique products. Along with Crown
and BGW, Phase Linear became one of the few brands of amplification
taken seriously by the top touring bands of the early '70s. Whilst
the Phase Linear 400 and 700 models were taken on board by the Floyd,
because of their superior sound quality, in their regular domestic
format they were unfit for the rigours of the road due to their slight
physical construction and the weight of the transformers on their
chassis. To compensate for this, the band's technicians designed a
new metal chassis into which the amp would fit, while the mains
transformer was removed from the amp and supported horizontally on the
outside of the chassis.
Acclaimed by critics as "rock's first conceptual masterpiece",
"The Dark Side of the Moon" was premiered as "Eclipse" over the four
nights of February 17-20 at the Rainbow, by which time the band had
been touring in the UK with their new system for a month. The standard
show at the time consisted of two sets: the first featured earlier
numbers such as "Set The controls For The Heart Of The Sun", "Careful
With That Axe Eugene", and "Echoes"; the second consisted of what was
to later be known as "The Dark Side of the Moon" (then without the
"Eclipse" finale which was yet to be written). "One Of These Days"
was reserved as a breathtaking encore. These previews of the
forthcoming album amounted to something of a bootleggers' paradise.
A poor live recording of "Dark Side" was available through the German
black market for around a year prior to the studio album's release,
and although the band were horrified, it could be said that this
created even more interest in the real thing.
Kluczynski recalls that his first show as a crew member, the
opening night of this tour at the Brighton Dome, ended in disaster.
He says, "In those days, we didn't understand how to separate power
sufficiently between sound and lights. That was the only show that
we had to cancel and reorganise, because we were all sharing the
same power source. The Leslies on stage sounded like a cage full of
monkeys, because they were sharing a common earth. It was the very
first show that any band had done with a lighting rig that was powerful
enough to make a difference. So we had this wonderful situation where
the fans were actually inside the auditorium, and we had Bill Kelsey
and Dave Martin at either side of the stage screaming at each other in
front of the crowd, having an argument."
Another vital piece of kit added to the Floyd inventory at this
time was a 24-channel mixing console manufactured by Ivor Taylor and
Andy Bereza of Allen & Heath, a new company which took its name from
a defunct toolmaking firm. Bereza, the man resonsible for inventing
what became the Portastudio, originally built mixers at home in the
late 1960s under the trading name of AB Audio and was responsible for
the board used in the live soundtrack recording of the cult movie "A
Clockwork Orange", as well as mixers for bands including The Bee Gees.
The Allen & Heath business grew steadily in its first year with its
small six-channel boards, many of which were used in cathedrals,
churches, and small theatres, as part of installed public address
systems. Then an opportunity arose for the company to build a
quadraphonic desk for The Who, news of which filtered into the Floyd
camp, and an order was placed for a custom quad board in advance of
the first "Dark Side" rehearsals.
Future Floyd Production Director Robbie Williams, who joined the
crew in January 1973 just as Seth Goldman took a long break to work
with ELP, Three Dog Night, and T. Rex, remembers his first sighting of
the desk. "This board was actually the reason for my involvement with
the band. I was a frriend of Peter Watts and had always been
interested in the audio business. One day in November 1972, I went
'round to his flat to see him in the process of taking this console to
bits and rebuild it in time for some shows with the Roland Petit
Ballet in France the following January. To me at the time, it was the
most magnificent piece of electronics, about the size of my coffee
table. Peter had bought the very first Penny & Giles quad panners on
the market, and I spent the next month helping him rebuild this thing."
The quad function on this desk was given the name "Sound-In-The-
Round", and unlike conventional quad, the speakers were positioned
front, back, left, and right in a diamond, with the front channel
situated behind the band. On the desk, any channel could be routed
into the quad section, which was operated via the pair of joysticks on
the right of the board. The quad function, however, came into use as
an enhancement for sound effects or occasional solos.
Williams, who in the late '60s earned his roadie stripes through
working for the seminal lighting company Krishna Lights, says: "After
helping Peter get the desk match fit, I asked him, 'Does this mean I'm
part of the crew?' To which he replied, 'Well, I guess you'd better
come out to Paris and give us a hand, just in case anything happens to
the desk.' And it went from there. When I joined, the crew consisted
of Peter, Mick, Chris Adamson, Graeme Fleming, Robin Murray, and
Arthur Max. I was very much the under-assistant truck packer for the
PA department, and through the '70s as Pink Floyd's fame grew, so did
Kluczynski says of the Allen & Heath mixer: "It did tend to be a
little unreliable, but it kept going, even though Seth Goldman and I
would each have to take a corner and jolt it into life every day!
We'd even driven it with truck batteries at the Rainbow during the
power strikes. We would be in Newcastle one night and have to nip
back to London to get it fixed in the middle of the night, and then
travel back up to Sheffield or somewhere for the next gig. The quad
panner for the second Allen & Heath desk we used [built in the bottom
of a lift shaft in Hornsey in 1973] was actually made from cut
Elastoplast cans and there was a read-out panel in the middle, which
was a circle with quadrants in it. As you panned, you could see the
quadrant you were in which pulsed from green to red. When you removed
this panel and looked underneath it, you saw that these Elastoplast
cans had been cut to make a spiral in which the LEDs were inserted to
give you the pulse reading."
This was not the only amazing do-it-yourself story... "Around late
1974, we bought a Sony hi-fi crossover, but before that we were running
the PA full-range," says Kluczynski. "The only protection Bill Kelsey
put in for the high end was through having crossovers built into Old
Holborn tins and placed inside the cabinets. In the more sophisticated
version, there was a light bulb in line. If you were to overdrive the
cabinet, the light bulb went white hot, but the horns didn't blow up!"
Towards the end of the recording sessions for "Dark Side" in January
1973, Pink Floyd relocated to Paris to work on music to accompany the
Roland Petit Ballet. Added to the growing crew on this occasion were
Robbie Willams and Alan Parsons, the "Dark Side" Studio Engineer who
had been lured away from Abbey Road to replace Chris Mickie behind the
front-of-house console. Parsons's appointment began an unusual trend
for Floyd to hire the services of whichever studio engineer had worked
on their latest album (although this ploy was not always successful),
and like many of his successors, he was a total novice in the concert
Parsons, whose only other work as a live sound engineer was for
Cockney Rebel at Crystal Palace, says: "I was due to go on a skiing
holiday when I was asked over to the Palais des Sport in Paris to
learn the ropes at some shows they were doing with the ballet, and I
remember that a lot of the movements were based around "One Of These
Days". They should have done more of those performances, because the
whole concept of a rock band with lights and special effets, and a
brilliantly choreographed dance routine was just stunning. I was
literally dropped in at the deep end when they said, 'Come and see one
of the shows, and then you can take over as our engineer.' So after
watching Chris Mickie behind the desk in Paris, I took over and stayed
with them on the road for about a year or so, which included two
When mixing the Floyd, Parsons says that his obvious main concern
was avoiding feedback -- a task made difficult by the speaker
positioning and the close proximity of the front stack to the band.
"You'd be standing on stage and almost have the horns pointing straight
at you," comments Parsons. "But the performance of that rig was so
pure; there was no pink noise, no graphic EQ to tailor the sound, it
was literally down to how you drove the bottom, mid, and top."
As well as recalling the excellent quality of this PA's sound,
Parsons casts his mind back to an American tour date in Detroit when
many of the system's components were wiped out by pyrotechnics. "By
mistake, the flashpots at the front of the stage had been filled twice
with explosives. The result was a double-strength explosion, which
ended up injuring several people in the front row of the audience.
Unfortunately for us, it also destroyed about 60% of the horns and
bins, so we had to struggle on for the rest of the show with less than
half our PA rig. Of course, we had a gig the next night and finding
replacement gear was a major headache."
The aspect of Floyd's sound that Kluczynski remembers most was
David Gilmour's guitar sound. "Gilmour was always loud, especially at
Earls Court where, during the solo in 'Money', his four 4 by 12-inch
cabinets were screaming away at such a level that we couldn't physically
put him through the PA. Most of the time I'd mix the solos, because
Alan was a bit shy of pushing up the faders compared to me, so I'd
nudge his arm a bit!"
In complete contrast to today's standards, Pink Floyd employed just
two outboard devices for use at front of house on the "Dark Side"
tours, and both of them were Echoplexes for the repeat vocals on "Us
And Them". Williams says: "The band members would treat their own
sounds and produce effects on stage themselves, which is essentially
what happened in the studio. So the sound heard through the PA was
generally what came from Gilmour's amps, for example. Each of them
had a stack of those dreadful Binson Echorecs and Echoplexes [based on
circuitry designed for a GPO telephone switching device]. Rick Wright
had a little keyboard mixer that had a couple of effects sends on it,
which used to go into various Binsons, and there was a feed going from
that to front of house. For the early "Dark Side" concerts, he also
had personal access to the "Sound-In-The-Round" via a joystick on his
As for microphones, for years Roger Waters insisted on their
trademark rectangular Sennheiser vocal mics (gold one side, black the
other). Parsons says: "The choice was certainly individual, and they
didn't sound bad. Generally, we used dynamic mics. There were a lot
of SM58s floating around for backing vocals, as part of a Shure setup.
At nearly every gig, I would have to re-position the mics a foot away
from the guitar cabinets, because the crew would always ram them right
up against the grilles, which in my mind was ridiculous. I was always
frustrated that whenever I got a really good sound on one gig, the
crew would break down all the gear and load out at the end of the
night, and all my settings would be lost. So I literally had to start
from scratch every night, checking the mics through the desk. The
crew would say, 'Oh, we've put the guitar on a channel over here,
because that channel wasn't working,' so all of my previous checks
were rendereed useless. Drums were always critical, so I had this
idea of buying a little six-channel Allen & Heath mini mixer which I
took home with me every night in a briefcase!"
Crucial to the "Dark Side Of The Moon" concept, both on record and
live, were the sound effects which included various human voices, a
heartbeat, explosions, the "Money" cash register, and, for "Time", the
(alarming) clocks. Parsons himself recorded the clocks for the album
on an EMI portable quarter-inch tape machine and later fed through the
live quad mix to the astonishment of audiences around the globe. He
says: "We went back to the album multitrack tape to copy those clocks
and other effects for the live shows, and played them through the quad
system on a TEAC four-track deck. For some reason, the board was
miswired inside and instead of playing them through the PA as tracks
1,2,3,4, the board sent them out as 2,4,1,3. I was never able to
remember exactly which order it was, so I always carried a test tape
with me to ensure that the channels were all coming out in the right
place. I had Mick Kluczynski firing up the tape machine and would
give him a nod to hit the play button in the right places. We had a
tape for 'One Of These Days', which included the big, thumping drum
sound and Nick Mason's distorted vocal effect which said, 'One of
these days I'm going to cut you into little pieces." Mick had been
touring with the band almost as long as they had been performing it,
but it seemed he could never fire up the tape in the right place
without a cue from me."
Kluczynski confirms that prior to the four-track TEAC machine, he
had been using a four-track Sony for sound effects. The band later
progressed to eight-track Brennells when, Kluczynski says, "Allen &
Heath ceased to exist for a while as we knew it, and the key personnel
had moved to Brennell, including Nigel Taylor [brother of Allen &
Heath troubleshooter Ivor], who we later poached for our crew."
THE MONITORING VIRUS
The 1972 and '73 "Dark Side" tours were notable for the Floyd's
first use of stage monitoring, although it remained minimal until
their "Animals" tour four years later. Never a fan of monitors,
Kluczynski says that once the first wedges appeared, they began to
spread like a virus and front-of-house engineers quickly realised a
they had a struggle for control on their hands. Before the advent
of monitoring, Kluczynski maintains, the band were able to hear each
other clearly by keeping a sensible level on stage. "During a show,
you could walk around the back of the Floyd stage and have a normal
conversation, because overall they never played too loud, apart from
Dave. The band literally heard themselves off the backline and what
was coming back at them from the PA. They were very much into the
environmental sound of the house and the pure feel of their music.
Because they had no monitoring, there was never the battle between the
instrument and the wedge. Subsequently to hear themselves, they kept
the general level down, which was really good and incredibly well-
disciplined. There was never any ego bullshit in that department.
"The first monitor we brought in was when Dick Parry came on the
tour as sax player. Dick had to have a monitor, because his
instrument was so loud to him that he couldn't hear the band without
one. The next addition of wedges came when our three female backing
vocalists walked on stage and said, 'We'll come back when you've
finished setting up.' We said, 'We have finished.' They said, 'Where
are the monitors then?' 'The what?!' So we got a couple of Tannoys
and stuck them in boxes for them."
Williams, who loathes the very concept of monitoring with a
vengeance, comments: "Dave, who stood next to the girls, said, 'Oh, I'll have one.'