PINK FLOYD'S DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (2)
NOWADAYS, THINK PINK FLOYD AND YOU THINK YEARS in the studio, hundreds of takes, weighty deliberation, obsessive perfectionism, come out to play once every five years if they can be arsed. Because of its monolithic standing, Dark Side Of The Moon has been absorbed into that picture of rock in its grand old man phase. But its true story is of non-stop tearing around.
It started in a rush. Albeit a sit-down-and-think sort of rush. A North American tour closed in Cincinnati on November 20, 1971. The band reconvened in London about 10 days later at a familiar rehearsal studio in Broadhurst Gardens, near West Hampstead tube station, with a view to writing a new album. But there could be no idle waiting on a visitation from the muse. A harsh deadline had presented itself.
Their first substantial British tour for four years was booked to start on January 20. Their concert schedule was already laden through to 1973, leaving little time for recording. Yet reviewers had been saying for some months that their shows had gone stale for lack of new material. In the context of the times, the band tended to agree. Indeed, in interviews earlier that year, disappointed by their last two albums Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother, they had spoken with disenchantment of their life and work in Pink Floyd. Waters pronounced ß himself "bored with most of the stuff we play" and Mason sighed from even more noisome depths of ennui that he was "dying of boredom".
However, they were not despondent. They saw their latest, Meddle, just out, as a step in the right direction - especially the side-long track Echoes, described by Waters as "an epic sound poem". They fancied some more of that and, used to testing out new material on tour, they decided that the songs for their next album should be ready and roadworthy to form the first half of their live show within six or seven weeks. Nothing high-flown about their next move. "When we started on a new album we'd always dredge through old tapes to see if there was anything left over we could make use of," says Gilmour.
This was hardly a sign of desperation; a fairly prolific band, always involved in several fringe projects outside their own albums, they could generally come up with a lump or two of somewhat tarnished gold. And again it worked. Waters began to kick around instrumental called Breathe which he had written for the soundtrack of The Body (a renowned 1970 docu-movie about human biology). Wright excavated a piece Michelangelo Antonioni had rejected for the Zabriskie Point soundtrack, which later took shape as Lls And Them. He also resurrected an apparently moribund sequence of piano chords - "one of those things the band just didn't know what to do with," Gilmour recalls - which, in due course, found new life as The Great Gig In The Sky.
But this was just craft and graft, knocking something together, they knew not what. They needed a Eureka! momen't and they got it. "When Roger walked into Broadhurst Gardens with the idea of putting it all together as one piece with this linking theme he'd devised, that was a moment," says Gilmour. From the hubbub of the subsequent brainstorming session and the passage of memory through the years come diverse accounts of the big idea Waters presented to them. "The concept was originally about the pressures of modern life - travel, money and so on," Mason has said"But then Roger turned it into a meditation on insanity." On anotheroccasion, the drummer cheerily reported it as a bleak prediction of a future involving "a lot more unpleasantness and general ghastliness".
Rick Wright tends to remember Waters's catalytic concept in terms of reference to his own life. On one level, he thought, it was a satirical critique "about the business". But when it came to the notion of death, and the deployment of his own The Great Gig In The Sky to cover that theme, it hit home: "For me, one of the pressures of being in the band was this constant fear of dying because of all the travelling we were doing in planesand on the motorways in America and in Europe...
"In his urbane way, Gilmour will loosely remark that it was "about life, wasn't it", but then he knuckles down to express how much Waters's thinking, and writing, meant to him: "The concept grabbed me. You see, nobody back then had problems with the concept of concepts, so to speak. Their fall from grace happened later and I've never gone off the idea myself. "I didn't pull my weight when we were writing Dark Side Of The Moon - though that wasn't true when we were playing it live and recording. But I went through a bad patch, I didn't work myself as hard as I should have. Hence the credits, you see. But Roger worked all sorts of hours on the concept and the lyrics while the rest of us went home to enjoy our suppers - I still feel appreciative of that; he did a very good job. "I think at that time he was finding himself as a lyric writer. He was realising that he could get to grips with more serious issues, some political and others that involved him personally [Pink Floyd shorthand for both the death of Waters's father on the beach at Anzio in 1944 when Roger was a few months old, and the mental collapse of Syd ' Barrett]. His style had developed and improved. I remember him saying ) that he wanted to write this album absolutely straight, clear and direct, for nothing to be hidden in mysteries, to get away from all the psychedelic warblings and say exactly what he wanted for the first time."
They had to get on. Time and Money, high-concept titles, came quickly enough. Then from December 13 to 21 they decamped to Paris to record and shoot more footage for the Live At Pompeii film, begun on location that October. After Christmas they switched operations to The Rolling Stones' warehouse studio in Bermondsey, writing while rehearsing their full set for the tour.
Come January 20 at the Brighton Dome, what was then titled Eclipse was still a work in progress. But that didn't bother Pink Floyd overmuch. In effect, for them, that was the point. They could change the songs on the hoof if they needed to and jam the betweensong segue music they planned for the album, see what fitted. As it happened, Brighton lost the retrospective honour of a world's first complete performance when the effects tape for Money snagged terminally and they had to move on to Atom Heart Mother. According full run-through ensued the following night at Portsmouth Guildhall. Pink Floyd pushed on round the circuit, enjoying the usual privations and laughs. At the Lanchester Polytechnic Arts Festival on February 3 their magnum opus was wheeled on at 2.30am, immediately after Chuck Berry had left the stage. As they went they tweaked the new songs this way and that. Time had begun life much slower than in its recorded form and accelerated in performance; the vocals shifted from Gilmour/Wright harmony throughout to solo leads by Gilmour on the verses and Wright on the bridge.
But for Pink Floyd the whole tour felt like a build-up to four gigs at The Rainbow, February 1720 featuring the re-titled "Dark Side Of The Moon - A Piece For Assorted Lunatics", as advertised. Evidently, the band had that Broadway feeling. They will still boast that no one had filled so many nights at the Finsbury Park venue before. Gilmour admits tt was "nerve-wracking playing our home city again" and, in truth, remembers nothing of any live performances before they reached London, not even their Brighton debacle. Happily, they felt able to pronounce the shows terrific". The ordinarily stolid Financial Times went further, proclaiming that "the Floyd have the furthest frontiers of pop music to themselves". However, their joy was alloyed, in part, when they discovered that a quality bootleg of Dark Side Of The Moon at The Rainbow had hit the racks at all bad record shops. It went o to sell an estimated 120 000 and detarred Pink Floyd from ever developing unreleased material in concert again.
SO FAR, SO PURPOSEFUL. ELEVEN WEEKS ON FROM STARTING to write the album and they already had a hit bootleg. But they were still more than a year away from releasing the official version. Theirs was a life of distractions, some planned, some not. One of the stranger aspects of the making of this epochal record is that, once written, it seems to have been recorded in fragments, when they had a moment, on odd days, if they could tear themselves away from... recording another whole album of new music, for instance.
Given Pink Floyd's penchant for stately progress through the '80s and '90s, it's remarkable to encounter the spontaneity of earlier days. "Barbet Schroeder, whom we had made the More soundtrack album for in 1969, said would we like to work on another film with him," remembers Gilmour. "We said yes. And off we went."
On February 23, in fact, for seven days, followed by another five days from March 23, both stints at the 'honky' Chateau D'Herouville, near Paris. The film, La Valee, concerned a bunch ofhippies wandering round New Guinea in search of said lost valley and, inevitably, the meaning of life. Pink Floyd could relate to that and they set to in ultra-professional vein. "We sat in a room, wrote, recorded, like a pro-duction line,." says Gilmour, who had recovered his compositional form by then. "Very good for one to work like that sometimes - under extreme constraints of time and of trying to meet someone else's needs. " He's quite clear that Pink Floyd's seemingly artistic-butterfly approach in 1972 was far more pragmatic than it looks, reflecting the reality of their musical lives at the time: as middle-class boys from comfortable backgrounds, they still felt uncertain and insecure enough about their future in a pop group to explore other avenues which might extend their careers. "I suppose it seems silly now," he muses. "But we thought of films as one of our possible futures."
They still had to fulfil a lot of touring commitments, playing and revising the putative album as they passed through Japan (March 3-16), Manchester (March 29-30, replacing a February show aborted by a power cut), North America (April 14-May 4), Germany and Holland (May 18-22). Then, finally, just as Obscured By Clouds, the La Valee soundtrack album, was released, they moved into Abbey Road to put in a good 18 days' work on Dark Side Of The Afoon between June 1 and 24/5. The basic tracks for Us And Them were taped on June 1, Money June 7, Time June 8 and The Great Gig In The Sky June 25.
But the studio sequence was broken when they played two nights at the Brighton Dome, assiduously apologetic replacements for the unsatisfactory show on January 20. And the Dome audience got a first after all. Proving the value of roadwork, Waters came back from America with a new song to close the album, Eclipse. "The piece felt unfinished to me when we were doing it on the road," he says. "I came in one day and said, Here, I've just written the ending and this is it." Brighton heard the world premiere. At this juncture, it seems appropriate to ask how Pink Floyd coped with such a hectic, erratic, unfocused schedule. Gilmour shrugs it off: "I didn't find it a problem. Go off to America, come back, do three or four days work on an album, off again - we were used to it. Nick has the year planners from those days and every day is full. Record in the morning, drive up to Newcastle for a gig in the evening, that sort of thing every single day of the whole year."
These young whippersnappers today don't know what work is, do they? On the other hand, Pink Floyd then took two months off, not a note recorded until mid-October.
PINK FLOYD'S DARK SIDE OF THE MOON (3)