David Gilmour: Interview from "The Source"

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    David Gilmour "About Face" Interview from The Source

    By Charlie Kendall


    "If you think you've done something that you could improve by changing it around I have absolutely no objection to getting the razor blade out and moving things."

    "What I need a producer for is someone to be tough and honest with me and tell me what he does and doesn't like so I have another good opinion."

    "A lot of those standard things like the birds and things are all in the EMI sound effects library and they've got a cupboard with thousands of tapes in it and we would just go down and raid it." David Gilmour [all quotes]

    CK: Hi, I'm Charlie Kendall. When I mention Pink Floyd, what do you think of? A pink pig floating in the smog over a colossal power station? A white brick wall? Or a prism refracting light? Or maybe you see two men in grey suits shaking hands...one of whom is in flames. The point is that when people think of Pink Floyd, they conjure images and feelings, not names, faces, and personalities. Because, as popular and enduring Pink Floyd is, how many of us could name each member of the group? During the next two hours, we'll focus on Pink Floyd's guitarist, David Gilmour. We'll discuss his new solo album "About Face" and his sixteen years with Pink Floyd.

    [Run Like Hell]

    CK: Run Like Hell, from Pink Floyd's classic "The Wall". More from the wall later. Recently we talked to David Gilmour about not only the Floyd, but also his solo LP "About Face". We asked David how he went about choosing the musicians for his second solo LP.


    DG: Doing this album I wanted to make a really good record. I didn't want to do it very very quickly, and I wanted to get the best musicians in the world that I could get hold of to play with me, so I thought I'd just make a little list of all my favourite musicians, you know, best drummer, best bass player, best keyboard player, and I'll work through the list to see who I can get. Jeff Peccarro was top of my drummers list, pino palladino was top of my bass players list, and Ian Quely, or the Rev, as he's known, he actually came and did the bulk of the hammond and piano playing, and he was terrific. Steve Winwood was top of my keyboard playing list but he couldn't do most of the album, but I got him to do a bit. He played hammond organ on "Blue Light." I had a bit more time and was feeling a bit freer about things on this album...just more "accidents" tend to occur. I mean the "Blue Light" track for example actually consists of two different songs. We wound up cutting bits out of each like making a jigsaw puzzle up and used bits of the backing track of one and then bits of the other and then swapping back and forth.

    CK: "Blue Light," from David Gilmour's new solo album, "About Face." The earliest days of Pink Floyd do *not* include David Gilmour, except that David did go to High School in Cambridge with Roger Waters and Floyd's acknowledged founder Syd Barrett. Waters, Rick Wright, and Nick Mason had been playing together in a band called at various times Sigma 6, the T-set, the Abdabs, and finally, the Pink Floyd Sound when Syd Barrett joined in late 1965.

    DG: They were called "Pink Floyd Sound" originally, and we played gigs together, my band in Cambridge and them when we actually went up to London and played things with on their sort of patch, schools....I mean we were friends, I used to see them all the time, they just used to do Bo Diddley numbers and things.

    CK: It was Barrett's distinctive guitar style, and way-out lyrics, that helped establish Pink Floyd as *the band* of London's growing underground scene, via regular gigs at the Marquee club, and the UFO club, in 1966. In 1967, Pink Floyd signed to EMI records, and scored immediately with hit singles like 'Arnold Layne', and 'See Emily Play'. Even then Pink Floyd was challenging the accepted boundaries of concert performance by introducing their own quadraphonic sound system and a choreographed light show. Following the release of their debut album, "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn", Syd Barrett's behavior grew less inspired and more erratic.

    DG: I don't know at quite at what point Syd started to go very strange, but I know I came back from France and I called Syd up while I was there and he said why don't I come down they were doing a recording session and he told me the studio. And I went down to the studio and he didn't even recognize me, and that was when - the day they were making 'See Emily Play.'

    CK: In February 1968 David Gilmour was asked to join Pink Floyd. Seven weeks later, Syd Barrett was phased out completely.

    DG: The band itself had various plans - the first plan was that I would join and make it a five piece so it would make it easier so that Syd could still be strange but the band would still function. And then the next idea was that Syd would stay home and do writing and be the Brian Wilson elusive character that didn't actually perform with us and the third plan was the he wouldn't do anything at all. And it quickly changed 'round, and it was just - it was *obviously* impossible to carry on that way so we basically ditched Syd.

    [Free Four]

    CK: "Free Four," from Pink Floyd's "Obscured by Clouds". Their next album would take 9 months to record, and today, is still on the charts.

    CK: If the Beatle's "Sgt. Pepper" revolutionized the concept of rock albums in 1967, then Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" fine turned that concept into genuine audio art six years later. Recorded at EMI's fabled Abbey Road studios, where the Beatles recorded all their albums, Pink Floyd produced the "Dark Side of the Moon" themselves, over a period of nine months. When it was released in March 1973, "Dark Side" represented a culmination of the band's studio experiments, and Roger Waters' insights that had only been brushed upon in their earlier recordings. The fact that "Dark Side of the Moon" was Pink Floyd's first number one album in America is easily eclipsed by the fact that today the album is still on Billboard's top 200 album charts. It is the most consistent selling catalog LP in pop music history..over 500 weeks. Part of Dark Side's timeless appeal has got to be Pink Floyd's skillful use of sound effects, which they had been using in concerts for years.


    DG: Yes we did all sorts of strange things you know for live concerts as well, we used to make up tapes for the audience to come in by. Just tapes of bird noises in quad - quadraphonic sound, you know, with birds singing, and pheasants taking off in the distance, and swans taking off from water, a tractor driving down one side of the room, and an airplane going over the top, and all these things carrying on, all just from just different sound effects records, you just stick them in and you - you create a type of mood. You know, any time you're short of inspiration you just say "Oh, let's go and raid the sound effects cupboard and see if we can find something interesting" and we just stick it on....

    [Money]

    DG: We had people come in the studios and sit down. We'd made lots of cards up with a question on and we set them up with a microphone and everything and had the tape recorder on and they had to sit there and they had to answer the questions. Some people were great, that's how we got all the voices and all the little lines that you hear on "Dark Side of the Moon" all over the place, that's how we got them.

    CK: In the late 60's and early 70's, Alan Parsons was a staff engineer at Abbey Road studios. Part of his job was to record sound effects for EMI's vast sound effects library.

    DG: He had just been sent out to do a recording in a clock shop for the sound effects library and he had just recently before we did that album, gone out with a whole set of equipment and had recorded all these clocks in a clock shop. And we were doing the song time, and he said "Listen, I just did all these things, I did all these clocks," and so we wheeled out his tape and listened to it and said "Great! Stick it on!"

    [Time]

    CK: "Time," and "Money." A couple of tracks form Pink Floyd's classic "The Dark Side of the Moon." Following a lengthy U.S. tour, a six month break, and a tour of the U.K., Pink Floyd returned to the studio in early 1975 to record their next album. The pressure was on to try to rival their masterpiece.

    DG: You know it's only self-imposed, you know, it just becomes a bit difficult when you've done a record that's done as well as "Dark Side of the Moon". And the point of going back into the studio and saying, "God, we've got do do it all again," you know, "make a better one." It's quite difficult.

    CK: In 1975, Pink Floyd signed with Columbia records in America, and released "Wish You Were Here". Expanding on three themes explored in "Dark Side of the Moon", loneliness, alienation, and madness, "Wish You Were Here" was unofficially dedicated to Syd Barrett. To get a better idea how a Pink Floyd album evolves from mere thought to finished product, we asked David Gilmour how they create that special atmosphere that is part of every Pink Floyd record.

    DG: We just have a sound in mind, we want to create something, and we try to create it. It's very simple, it's quite easy to make an audio illusion, you know, to create one, like you know, a door opening and people being behind that door. It's a very easy thing to do. You just have a sound of this thing, the buzzing "mmmmmmmmmmm" of the door opening well you've got to get some sort of humming noise and then you just fade up a fader with talking and laughing and clinking of glasses noises. And as you get "mmmm" you just push up this fader at the same time and it sounds just like the door's opening and you can suddenly hear all these people on the other side of it.

    [Have a Cigar]

    DG: We actually recorded a car radio, with a microphone out there, and, um, just spun through a few stations, and, um, got all these sounds and then we went and made the sound of our track match up with those. We sort of made horrible EQ things on the desk to try and make it sound as nasty as what was coming off the radio. So the next turn went straight to our own artificial one that we'd just created. It's dirt easy, I mean that stuff is *not* difficult, you've only got to have a little bit of imagination and want to do it and then you work out how to do it.

    [Wish You Were Here]

    CK: Following the success of "Wish You Were Here", Pink Floyd released "Animals" in early 1977. One of the songs featured on "Animals" had been a leftover from the "Wish You Were Here" sessions. Originally, 'Dogs' was titled 'Raving and Drooling.' [sic]

    DG: On "Wish You Were Here" we spent a lot of time in the rehearsal situation just working things out, you know, writing as we went along. 'Raving and Drooling,' [sic] or 'Dogs' as it was later known was just a simple little chord sequence that I had written and that everyone seemed to like. I liked it because all the chords were very unusual chords and you could play almost any note over the top of them. Like for guitar solos they were great because you could play nearly any note. So you can zoom around anywhere and not worry about what frets you hit or anything because almost anything you do hit if you do it deliberately enough will sound alright.

    [Dogs]

    CK: 'Dogs,' part one, from "Animals". Just as Pink Floyd are masters of the audio illusion, Hipgnosis, the people who create their album artwork, are equally adept at the optical illusions. For example, David Gilmour explains how the pig photo was created.

    DG: The pig that you see up there, is not there, in that actual picture. They got this *fantastic* shot of Battersea power station, but we didn't have the pig up there. Then we put the pig up there, and we shot the pig up there, and we took the pig out of one picture of Battersea power station and we put it onto another picture. So, it is right because it is in that position and the lighting is right on that and everything so removing it from one picture and putting it on another was okay, but to try and fake it really would not have been okay. It's just all the pictures when we did have the pig, the power station didn't look nearly as nice as it did in this picture we had got the day before before we had the pig there.

    CK: In 1980 Pink Floyd released "The Wall", an ambitious 2-record set that included the band's first number one single in America, 'Another Brick in the Wall.' Critics had often derided Roger Waters for his bleak, depressing lyrics, and it's interesting to note here that there was little enthusiasm when Roger Waters played his demos of "The Wall" for producer Bob Ezrin and the rest of the band.

    DG: He gave us all a cassette of the whole thing, and I couldn't listen to it. It was too depressing, and too boring in lots of places. But I liked the basic idea. We eventually agreed to do it, but we had to chuck out a lot of stuff, rewrite a lot of things and put a lot of new bits in, throw a lot of old bits out. And when we actually were making it, and Roger was under pressure, and we had said "That wasn't good enough," or "this should be....." ...I mean Bob Ezrin was very good at helping get a linear storyline, making it more clear and direct, you know. Being something for Roger to bounce with a little bit. Roger actually wrote some of the best ones after that point. When we were actually doing it, when he was under pressure and being pushed to do things, he did some of the best things, I think.

    [Happiest Days of our Lives/Another Brick In The Wall, Part II]

    CK: Except for those very early days with Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd has been essentially Roger Waters' vehicle. He writes and sings most of the songs with occasional help from David Gilmour. 'Comfortably Numb,' from "The Wall", uses a chord sequence David had written during his sessions for his first solo album in 1978.

    DG: I actually wrote the chord sequence for it while I was in Super Bear doing my first solo album, right at the end. I didn't intend, I mean, I never was going to actually record it then for that solo thing. It was one of the things I'd just put down one day and stored away with my other demos.

    [Comfortably Numb]

    CK: 'Comfortably Numb,' one of the three songs David Gilmour collaborated with Roger Waters on for "The Wall". To translate "The Wall" from record to the concert stage was an enormous task, especially considering the elaborate set the band devised. Four hundred and twenty cardboard building blocks were constructed to form a wall 31 feet high and 160 feet long. Because of the sets, equipment, and the number of people required to produce the show, the "Wall" tour of America was probably the shortest in history - seven nights in two cities, New York and Los Angeles. David admits, there can be problems staging a show like "The Wall".

    DG: There are problems in doing a show of that sort, like, you have to say to yourself "we are doing theatre here," and theatre comes first. After you've done it 20 or 30 times, playing the music can get a bit boring, because there's no room for flexibility. Everything is timed, tapes have to be run, everything is like precision, like a theatrical production. And so there's no room, really, for any straying from the program that you're stuck to. So, you know you can't extend something because you feel like making it a bit longer and jamming or something, or doing anything like that. Some of the normal freedoms, the liberties you can take with your stuff, in normal stage performance, are much more restricted in that particular instance.

    CK: The latest addition to the Pink Floyd discography was 1983's album "The Final Cut." Worth mentioning here is the absence on the album of keyboardist Rick Wright, who had left the band during the "Wall" sessions. Expect a solo record from him later this year. David Gilmour says the album title is a term used in the film making business.

    DG: When you're editing a movie it's called "cutting," you go in the cutting room, and you cut the film, you know. You make a rough cut, that's where you've stuck all the scenes together, and have vaguely got it in the right order, that's called a "rough cut," and when you've perfected it and have got everything just right, that's called the "final cut."

    CK: If you'd like to get in touch with David, here's an address: David Gilmour/43 Portland Road/London, England/W11 41J.

    CK: By the time David Gilmour recorded his first solo album in 1978, he had been in Pink Floyd for ten years. With the help of old friends Rick Wills of Foreigner on bass, and Willie Wilson of the Southerland Brothers band on drums, David Gilmour's self-titled first album is a real showcase for his playing and songwriting. When you mention hot guitar players, the names most mentioned are Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and Eddie van Halen. Yet there are few players whose style is as expressive as David Gilmour's. We asked David to talk about his guitar playing.

    DG: I've never had fast fingers, they're really pretty slow compared to most, and the coordination between left and right hand and stuff is not great. If I start trying to do too fast then this one gets - the right one gets out of sync with the left hand, so I have to rely on other things. I rely on effects, fuzzboxes, anything that I can lay my hands on. Then I just try and make nice, sort of, melodies with it, like try to make it sing, I try to imagine that the guitar's kind of singing, you know?

    [There's No Way Out Of Here]
    [Short and Sweet]

    CK: On occasion David has lent his talents to outside projects. He played pedal steel guitar and produced two albums for a British band called 'Unicorn' in the mid 70's. In 1977, David financed Kate Bush's demo tape that led to her signing with EMI and a hit single, 'Withering Heights.'

    DG: She was introduced to me by a friend, who said "I've got this young 14 year-old girl, who's incredibly talented," he said "I think I should - you know, you should do something for her." And I listened to her and I agreed, so I did.

    CK: David also played guitar on two tracks from Atomic Rooster's album, "Headline News". But most of his recent attention has been on his new solo album, "About Face".

    CK: Dave spent the latter part of 1983 in France working on this album, and by the time the musicians he hired arrived for the recording, most of the recording was already arranged on demo cassettes for them to hear. One of the songs, called "You Know I'm Right," wasn't as structured as the others, and David welcomed the fresh ideas the other players brought to the session.

    DG: 'You Know I'm Right,' that was the last track we did, it's the only one that - the only one of all the tracks that I didn't have a sort of quite reasonably recorded demo with lynn drums and the works on. It was terrific fun, 'cause it's the only - in a way it was a good thing because they all got into the feel of it and gave more of themselves to it because they hadn't got something of mine to listen to which can stop them from putting themselves into it. Because once they've heard the way I do it then they know the sort of thing I'm thinking about and they tend to restrict themselves to my ideas. And that track has got a great feel to it I think because of that, because I didn't have a demo for it.

    [You Know I'm Right]

    CK: 'You Know I'm Right,' David Gilmour from his new solo album "About Face". With Pink Floyd inactive for the moment, David has plans to tour with his own band this year, although he says he'll use a different lineup of musicians than those on his album.

    DG: The musicians on the tour are not the ones on the record. I've got a drummer called Chris Slade, who's played with Tom Jones, Gary Neuman, I think he was in Uriah Heep in one of their incarnations, and Manfred Man. I've got a bass player named Mickey Fiat, who's done practically everything in the world. Mick Ralphs is coming with me, he's a friend of mine, we live close by and I see him a lot, and I was telling him I was coming out on the road and he said, "ooooh, I'd love to go, can I come?" so I said "sure."

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