Interview from Rock Compact Disc magazine, Issue 3, September 1992.
Painstakingly transcribed by Martin Pitwood; typos probably mine.
Dave Gilmour replaced Syd Barrett in Pink Floyd in 1968, and joined forces with Roger Waters to create one of the most successful songwriting teams in rock's history. Waters tried to officially dissolve the band in 1989, further fuelling rumours of terrible infighting and discontent in the ranks. Dave Gilmour hasn't forgotten how bad things became, nor has he forgiven Roger Waters.
When you joined Pink Floyd you began transforming the sound from a very dense, late '60s English pop music into what we generally regard as The Pink Floyd Sound.
'The band felt we achieved something with the title track of A Saucerful of Secrets (1968). I can't say as I fully understood what was going on when it was being made, with Roger sitting around drawing little diagrams on bits of paper. But throughout the following period I tried to add what I knew of harmony and bring it slightly more mainstream, if you like. And the way they worked certainly educated me. We passed on all our individual desires, talents and knowledge to each other.'
Was Roger an effective bassist back then?
'He had developed his own limited, or very simple style. He was never very keen on improving himself as a bass player and half the time I would play bass on the records because I would tend to do it quicker. Right back to those early records; I mean, at least half the bass on all recorded output is me anyway.'
This is not a widely acknowledged fact.
'Well, I think it's been said, but it's certainly not something we go around advertising. Rog used to come in and say, "Thank you very much" to me once in a while for winning him bass-playing polls.
Did you play the fretless bass on "Hey You"?
'Yeah. Hmm. Roger playing fretless bass? Please! (laughs)'
Do you think any of the aberrations in his lyrical ideas were an attempt to contrive the kind of madness Syd Barrett communicated?
'I think there's something to that. How far you want to go I don't really know, but yes, I think there's certainly something to that.'
Did you find any of the stranger lyrics hard to stomach?
'No, very few. Once in a while I would find something uncomfortable to sing. The first lot Roger wrote for Dogs when it was called You Gotta Be Crazy, were just too many words to sing. But most of the ideas were ideas I felt good about, and encapsulated a lot of the thinking that I had as well. I often wished I had been able to express them as well as he did.'
The potency of your creative relationship would lead an outsider to think that maybe his not wanting you to continue Pink Floyd was simply because he didn't want to see it exist without the Roger Waters/David Gilmour collaboration - not just because he thought it shouldn't go on without him.
'He didn't want it to continue with the Roger Waters/David Gilmour collaboration; he wanted it to continue with the Roger Waters-only writing force. He didn't want me to be part of it, which is why it got so difficult in the end. And the reason he didn't want us to carry on was because he wanted to go out as "Roger Waters of Pink Floyd" in rather large letters and purloin the name for himself.
Yet looking at his solo records, he doesn't seem egomaniacal. He doesn't proselytise, he doesn't have any photos of himself on the sleeve.
'Hmm. He is an egomaniac, whatever particular way it wants to manifest itself.'
But he eventually relented and let you be.
'I think his lawyers advised him that he wasn't going to have any prayer of winning, and in the end we paid him off anyway. It was not a court case he had any chance of winning whatsoever. I mean, on what basis could someone leave something that had been successfully operating for a large number of years and then say the other people in it couldn't carry on?'
Some would say the band's magic existed in the interplay, and that without Roger's input it'll be weaker.
'Whether it's as good or to as many people's taste is besides the point. If they don't like it as much, they don't have to buy it. But no-one can tell me to stop doing it. I do my very, very best to make it as well as I can, to make the records and put on a show. I still fail to see why morally I should be persuaded to give up something I've given most of my adult life to, just 'cause one guy doesn't feel like doing it any more.'
Except simply the fact that you could have both gone on to solo careers and left Pink Floyd, the creative dynamic between you, as a very pleasing piece of history.
'Yeah, yeah, that's quite true; one could have done that. But why? Why would I want to do that? It's very, very hard work to struggle a solo career up to the level that Pink Floyd stands at.'
But even so, wasn't the effort in putting on the last tour - travelling, fighting Roger's injunctions, worrying about re-acceptance - as draining as pushing on alone?
'I didn't want to! I like the Pink Floyd very much. I don't want to get over-defensive about what I felt like doing, but it is what I do and I feel I should carry on doing it. And bring back into it the people who were pushed out. It would take a book to tell you what went on within our band, and Roger's later megalomaniac years, and precisely what psychologically he was attempting to do to all of us. Because he is a megalomaniac. He really is. His thirst for power is more important than anything else - more important than honesty, that's for certain.
But he donated a lot of money to charity. And one symptom of megalomania is all-possessing greed.
'Well, yeah. What money did he donate to charity?'
The Berlin Wall proceeds.
'You think that donated a lot of money to charity?'
Certainly the TV rights, and the record sales, which were respectable, brought it in. It was a mammoth thing. ~
'It was a mammoth thing from what I understand. And from what I understand, the costs of putting it on were absolutely enormous, and the receipts in were nothing like enormous, and the record didn't sell terribly well. TV rights were sold at the very last minute for very low money, because TV rights are not very easy to sell, I can tell you (chuckles). There's lots of stories about people not having been paid. Sorry, I don't want to get too heavily into that, but I suspect that the motivation for putting the Wall show on in Berlin was not charitable. I don't think that was Roger's motivation at all.'
Have you been writing for a new Floyd record?
'I've been writing a bit. I've spent more time in the studio fiddling around, but not really doing anything serious. Until it feels right. That last Pink Floyd project took a lot out of me. I haven't been in any great hurry to do it all again. I'm not a big workaholic. I've written quite a few things, but a lot is not complete which really requires me to sit down in a studio and start finding a direction and the desire to do it, which has been lacking in me. I'm beginning to feel it starting to trickle back.
'The last tour was a very long, hard road and it took away my taste for it for a while. I've been busy flying airplanes and driving cars and enjoying those things. I'm 46, and being in Pink Floyd is not something I wish to take up all my waking hours or take up all my life.'
Was it always all-consuming?
'Yeah. Really, all the things we've done have been all-consuming affairs for a while, but have never been quite as high-pressure; it was hard to put the last one together because it was a lonelier task. I mean, I don't know what it was like for Roger because I'm not Roger, but he may have felt the same pressures doing things like The Wall. When Roger was writing The Wall, he had a band and experience, including my abilities, to help him achieve those things. Making this last one, it was very much me on my own. There was quite a lot of weight on my shoulders, as you would imagine.
Now you've established that Pink Floyd can continue, will the approach differ from that of the past?
'I don't see any change in the philosophy of where it comes from. The way of recording, the way we go through it, I suspect may change a bit. I'm very, very keen on doing it much more live, in-the-studio with people actually playing together. But when we get half a dozen people in the studio and playing together it does tend to start getting weighty and big. So I guess that's just the way I like it.
'On the Momentary Lapse of Reason album (1987), Nick's belief in himself was pretty well gone, and Rick's belief in himself was totally gone. And they weren't up to making a record, to be quite honest about it.
You mean the physical act of keeping time, or playing piano?
'Yeah, I mean, Rick really just didn't believe he could play. You see, this is part of what 's been going on for years. Roger's very good at belittling people, and I think over the years he managed to convince Rick completely that he was useless and more or less convinced Nick of the same thing. And they both did not play a major part on that record. But we put a touring band together, and by halfway through the first leg of the tour, Nick was starting to believe in himself again. And by the time we did the live album at the end of the first year, they were both playing absolutely great, and the drumming on the live album is all straight Nick. And Rick's playing is great.'
So on the new record you'll take a freer approach?
'I don't know. You are putting words into my mouth there. I said I want to do it with a band playing in a studio; how much work it'll take before we get to that point, I don't know. Now that I've got Rick and Nick rehabilitated and playing as well as they've ever played, and I've got these good, younger characters to help fill it out and do stuff with me, we can go in with a sense of fun and still get to the end product.'
Are you considering a concept record?
'Concept, (hippie accent) a concept record. Umm. I'm considering all sorts of things, and that's one of the things under consideration, yes. I've got one, but I'm certainly not going to tell you about it (laughs). It's premature for any announcements.
You envision another tour?
'Yeah. I don't think I could handle another tour doing the same material. And having moved from a Pink Floyd that did basically the newest album on all our old tours to a sort of greatest-hits show last time, I couldn't do that same show. And we did pick all the numbers we liked - more than we felt justified in doing - that I had sung or had major involvements in.'
Was it challenging setting Roger's lyrics to music? Did you work with him or bring together individual ideas?
'Usually the music got written and the lyrics came afterwards. On Wish You Were Here, he wrote the song to the rhythm of the intro. We changed things until they started sounding nice. Dogs had so many words, I physically couldn't get them an in. (We) just cut out two-thirds of his words, to make it possible rather than impossible. 'We had few big arguments or disagreements. We argued over Comfortably Numb like mad. Really had a big fight, went on for ages.
Do you think your being the only vocalist in Pink Floyd works, and can work as a rule? A cynic could say that your highly processed vocals on A New Machine are an attempt to sound eccentric and shrill, perhaps like Waters at his more theatric, trying to create variety.
'Would you say so? I don't know. I don't think so. I mean, I sang Money, that's fairly strident. I sang most of the early stuff on Meddle, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here. It's never occurred to me to think about that. I think it's harder to sit through a whole album of Roger's voice than of mine. I always felt our two voices worked very well as counterpoints, but we don't have that option, so...'
So things are unpatchable between the two of you?
'Yeah. You could safely say that.'
Review by Mat Resnicoff