A Conversation With David Gilmour, Pt. 1
In 1984, Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour toured the States to promote About Face, his second solo album–which followed by a year Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut. Though no one knew it at the time, that album would be the last Floyd disc to feature Gilmour’s longtime bandmate Roger Waters. Ultimately, About Face sounded more like a Pink Floyd album than did Final Cut, was boosted by lyrical contributions from the Who’s Pete Townshend, and was an altogether dandy album. I spoke with Gilmour on June 6, 1984, backstage at the Pine Knob Music Theatre in Clarkston, Michigan, and found him charming, warm and personable.
You haven’t talked to the press much, have you?
I have during the last two or three months, let me tell you.
How’s it been for you?
It’s exhausting, but it’s OK.
How fast was the new album recorded?
Umm … the basic tracks were put down in about eight days, in Paris, where the basic unit, the four of us, did most of it, but then it took about another three months to do the rest of it.
How does that compare to Pink Floyd for you? Was that a relatively fast recording session?
No, I mean, I didn’t do it fast. It took quite a long time–longer than I’d hoped it would take. It felt pretty much the same sort of time scale we’d do a Pink Floyd album on.
I know everyone else has been asking you for three months, but…what’s the status of that band right now?
There just isn’t really a status, you know? No one’s made any decisions, no one’s really decided to quit, completely, but we haven’t made any plans to do anything. Rick’s left, of course, but as far as the other three of us are concerned, we just haven’t got any plans at the moment. And when and if that situation changes, we’ll do something.
I know in the latter days of Pink Floyd–say during the making of The Wall—there were quite a few session musicians aboard. Being from the old school myself, where session musicians are OK but an actual “band” is something quite different, do you find that there’s a big difference for you now, when you use them regularly?
We don’t use much in the way of session musicians, actually. The Wall album didn’t use much. I mean, there are a few people who appeared on it for various reasons here and there. There was a keyboard player who appeared on a couple of tracks.
Well, Kamen played some piano, myself, Roger and [producer Bob] Ezrin played some synthesizer, as well as Rick…
No, Andy Bown didn’t play on it. A guy named Freddy Mandel played some Hammond organ on the “In The Flesh” tracks. A classical guitar player played a nylon-string guitar piece on one thing–because, for recording purposes, I haven’t got the right fingernails for that sort of thing. I can’t quite get it to sound quite perfect for recording. I can do it fine onstage. And Lee Ritenour played rhythm guitar on one track.
What I’m getting at is that now there’s a certain professionalism or perfectionism you’re working with here. In the past, on those earlier albums, did you merely “settle” for stuff that you would’ve preferred other people to play, or did you have some sort of rationale–“I’d rather we did it ourselves”?
No, no, we just never felt we really needed them that much, I have always felt quite comfy and capable, doing all the guitar parts that we needed. And I’ve enjoyed doing it. And between Rick and rnyself and Roger, we’ve always managed to do all the synthesizer and keyboard parts we’ve needed. And Nick has always managed to do the drums, and so on. And myself and Roger have done the bass guitar between us. And we’ve had saxophone guys with us before, ever since Dark Side Of the Moon we started using saxophone players, girl singers, you know, basic stuff. Orchestras. (laughs)
What’s that saxophonist’s name–Dick Parry?
If I can ask, are you guys pals?
Yeah, Dick’s a friend of mine from Cambridge.
No, I don’t mean him. I mean the band. Did you reach the point where you were so big there was no need to talk to one another unless it was time to record?
It’s not to do with being big– -we’ve never really been close personal friends. They started a group together, because they wanted to be in a group together–and it was before my time–not because they were real close friends. And when you start that sort of thing up, you get the people who can do the best possible job at that moment, because you have ambitions. You don’t have friends in who can’t play for no reason. I mean, some people do, but I don’t think the Floyd was ever started off that way. And we are, really, about as friendly as we’ve ever been.
Didn’t you ever reach a point where…
We fight all the time! I mean, myself and Roger have huge arguments, and we’ve practically come to blows sometimes, because we disagree about what we’re doing and we both believe in what we’re doing. To the extent where if I think he’s doing thing wrong and I’m trying to dissuade him from doing it–or vice-versa–then it can become fairly heated, because we want it to be right. And the great thing about being in a band like that is that some of the great things that happen happen because of compromise, because one person wants it one way, the other wants it another, and you reach some sort of compromise. And sometimes some things don’t work because of compromise.
How did these current link-ups with Pete Townshend and Mick Ralphs come about?
They all came about in different ways. For the album, I made a list of players I wanted to do the album, right? The best musicians…
Have anyone on the list you couldn’t get?
Well, I started with a list of the best bass players, and keyboard players, obviously, to take with me. [Jeff] Porcaro was first on the list of drummers and I got him, Pino Palladino was the first on the list of bass players, and I got him.
Incredible choice–he’s great.
And they’re both, for me, really perfect. I started off with a number of keyboard players who I phoned who couldn’t actually do it at the time, like Steve Winwood, who I wanted to do the whole album. He couldn’t do it at the time because he was busy on something; Bill Payne, he was another one on my list–he was busy between doing a Linda Ronstadt tour and a James Taylor tour or something. I asked Paul Carrack, he couldn’t do it, he was busy on something, I wanted someone who could play really classy, old-fashioned Hammond organ, to put basic tracks with everyone playing all together, which we could then use as the basic and then chop things around, get rid of things. That’s the way we do things. But I wanted the band to feel like a band, playing in the studio while we were putting the basic tracks down. So I couldn’t get any of those first-choice people–and in the end had to ask for recommendations on keyboard players. And someone suggested Ian Kewley to me, and I’d already got Pino, and they’re in the same band…
Paul Young’s band?
Yeah. So I asked Pino, and he said, “he’s terrific.” So I said great, we’ll give him a go, and he was terrific! Lots of people think some of the Hammond things on there are Steve Winwood, when in fact they’re Ian Kewley. Steve’s only playing–I got him in later, for a one-day session, he did Hammond on “Blue Light” and piano on “Love In The Air.” And that’s it. He’s down on the list, on the sort of “also played” musicians, and everyone thinks it’s a major thing. But it really isn’t quite like that.
I found it interesting that you chose Mick Ralphs to accompany you on this tour. Were you frustrated being the only guitarist in Pink Floyd?
Oh, we’ve had second guitar players on all Pink Floyd stuff, since 197 … 7? … I think. Snowy White came on the ‘77 tour, and did all the tours and stuff.
Yeah, he’s got a hit over in England, doesn’t he?
Right. And the reason for having Mick, actually, is that we’re friends, that we live close by each other, and that he wasn’t doing anything. And I said, “I’m going out on the road next year, touring,” And he said, “Can I come?” And I said “
Yes.” Simple as that. He’s a great foil, a great guy to have around.
With Roger’s album out so close to your own, would you derive great personal satisfaction–frankly, as an independent observer and fan of the band, I know that your album is much more accessible, much more pleasant to listen to than Roger’s is. I don’t even know if you’ve heard it…
OK. Your album has been out longer than Roger’s, I think it’s above Roger’s on the charts now.
It’s one place below it this week, I think…
If it stays up there longer than his, are you going to feel a sense of self-satisfaction, of proving a point with this you couldn’t in Pink Floyd?
Of course. To a certain extent there’s an air of competition between us. Roger does think–and has said–that he is the Pink Floyd. That he is the reason for what Pink Floyd is.
He’s said that?
He has said that to people.
What do you say to that?
I just say that he’s not, you know? I mean that is a basic bone of contention, obviously. We all have our, every person has their own “shortsightedness,” or myopia in life. I have my shortsightedness and Roger has his. My shortsightedness may be that I think I’m a vital, essential ingredient to what the Floyd has done all the way through. And Roger’s myopia to me seems to be that he thinks, at this juncture, that I’m not. I mean, he’s saying he is it–I’ve never thought or believed that I am it, I’m a vital part of it is what I’ve always believed. And to me–and I don’t want to get this into a huge fight or argument be myself and Roger–the Final Cut album is really his own work. I don’t like it, I think it shouldn’t have been out like that as a Pink Floyd record. But that’s one of those things that we fight about and argue about and disagree on and cause a bit of bad feeling at the time. But we get over these things. Obviously, I would like my album to do well. I’d like it to do better than Roger’s. I don’t know whether it will, and it doesn’t really matter terribly much. But I think I have something that is musical, and valuable, and is a vital part of it.
Are you as depressed a guy as he is?
No, no, no. I’m not as depressed a person. I have my moments of depression…
“Melancholy” is the word the press has been using….
But five years ago, if someone plopped your album and Roger’s on the turntable and asked me to guess which one was Pink Floyd’s, it wouldn’t have been his.
Well, you know, it’s one of those things where in this point of our lives, I suppose, we’ve both got a little something to prove. I’m sort of not happy about the way Pink Floyd has gone after The Wall.
What do you mean?
Well, I don’t like the Final Cut album–I don’t like the way we got into it, and I just don’t think it’s a good enough album. I quite simply think there are three good tracks on it and the rest of it is not good enough. It’s substandard to me.
Is “Not Now John” one of the tracks you like?
No, “Not Now John” I don’t like, myself. A lot of people do like it, but personally I don’t care for it. The “Final Cut” track itself, the “Gunner’s Dream” and “Fletcher,” that’s right. Those three are the ones I really 1ike, that I think are of the sort of quality that we normally aim for.
When you say that since The Wall things have gone slightly askew…
It’s just a matter of timing, really, things happening a certain way that I don’t think will happen again.
The common rap on Pink Floyd, if I may–and I’m sure you’ve heard this, too–is that since Dark Side Of The Moon, there’s been a certain self-consciousness on the band’s part in following up something that will remain on the charts for the rest of our lives.
I saw you performing stuff from Animals long before it came out, and when it finally did I was glad, but I wondered why it had taken so long. Was that self-consciousness a part of it?
No, actually the difficult part after Dark Side Of The Moon was doing the follow-up album, Wish You Were Here, which didn’t feel so good–our feelings weren’t so good during the making of it. But I like the album a lot. I think it’s got certain things on it that Dark Side Of The Moon hasn’t got. I think that Animals has got certain things that that Dark Side Of The Moon hasn’t got. And I like all those albums, I love the Wall album myself–I think the period of Pink Floyd time that I really love the best is from Meddle through to The Wall. I’m not interested in the stuff earlier than that, really.
It hasn’t withstood the test of time for me–I liked it at the time, but now I’m not really interested in listening to it anymore.
Remember when, years ago, Johnny Rotten wore some t-shirt denouncing Pink Floyd, and the general word back then that the band was old news? Was there any sort of truth within all that, did you sit back and consider, “Well, we better put an album out, it’s been three years or so…”
No, no. That stuff wasn’t really important, I don’t think. I think the punk movement’s importance is highly overrated, myself. I think it did give a few people a well-needed kick up the backside–but I don’t think much actual talent came out of that thing in itself. In a negative way, in booting other people, maybe, but not so far as producing very much. That’s my opinion.
Have you passed the point–say since Dark Side—of reading what other people have to say about you?
I read stuff, you know, when it’s current. I’ve got something going on now, obviously, and I’m reading bits and pieces being written about me.
What do you think? I mean, this is the first time in a while you’ve opened yourself up. It must be strange for you.
Well, you know–you do what you have to do. I’ve never had anything particularly against that, you know, it’s just never arisen in quite the same way as it’s arisen now.
Since Dark Side Of The Moon–and correct me if I’m wrong here–I’ve thought you’re probably the sort of guy who’d rather be producing, being more prolific than you’ve been. Especially rather than just sitting around waiting to produce one “perfect” Pink Floyd album every three years or so. Is this true?
I get moments of frustration about the time we’re taking to do things, but no–I’m entirely happy with the general progress of what we’ve done. And we have all wanted, since Dark Side Of The Moon –I mean, since Dark Side Of The Moon came out, I was 27, I suppose. Roger was 30, we were all married, we all had families on the way, all that sort of stuff. And we didn’t want to be doing it the way you do it when you’re 18 or 20, touring around the world. We wanted to be able to take a little bit more time doing things, we wanted to be able to get things right when we did them, and we wanted to be able to take some time off and have holidays. You can’t do that sort of stuff when you’re just starting out–you have to slog until you’re completely established and safe. You can’t afford to take a minute off, really, you’ve got to just keep at it. And as soon as we felt we could take life a little easier, we wanted to do so. I mean, music isn’t everything in life. There’s a lot of other stuff to it. I have never thought music was everything–I see a lot of young kids say music is everything in their life, and I’ve just never been like that. There’s always been other things in my life. It’s a part of my life–and a vital and important part of my life that I love and couldn’t do without-but it’s a part.
Were you happy with the film treatment The Wall received?
Umm–I liked the film. I don’t think the film is as good a thing as the Wall album is, and certainly not as good as the Wall live shows that we did were. I mean, in terms of relating the Wall story. But I do like it, I think it’s a good film.
What process was involved in that album’s creation, exactly? It’s a pretty dense story–did Roger sit down with you guys and try to figure things out, did he just do some demos, or what?
Well, Roger gave me some demos of The Wall that he had done in the beginning of the summer, right after my first solo album came out–summer of ‘78. And I took it to Greece with me, on my summer holiday, for three months. And I couldn’t actually listen to it through.
Why not–because of the time factor?
Because it was so depressing, so wailing and drawn
out. There wasn’t enough good music in it and stuff. And we took it to bits again soon after, and Bob Ezrin came in, and we pressured Roger. I brought in some tracks, like the “Comfortably Numb” track and the “Run Like Hell” track. The “Young Lust” track Roger had written music to, and we didn’t like it, so Roger said, “Well if you don’t like it, write something better yourself.” So I did. (laughs )
Surely you realize those are the tracks that were played on the radio?
Yes, yes, I know. But Roger actually works better under pressure, anyway; when we’d say to Roger we didn’t like certain things and we needed something for this point, he would go off in a slight pique or something and come back with something really great. Some of the best tracks on the album for me came out of that work, when we were all under pressure. And Roger was under pressure after we’d started on the project. “Nobody Home,” for example, was a track that came in, and I think it’s one of the best tracks on the album, I love that track. And a lot of the other things–quite a few of them, anyway–came in afterwards. A lot of things were condensed down very radically, the side three stuff, “Bring The Boys Back Home” and “Vera” and all those things–that waffled on for hours. These things got changed, radically, all the way through.
Do you actually joke around, or say, “Oh my God, Roger, I’m gonna go slit my wrists now”?
Yeah. We do that stuff all the time. And with that part of it, I actually went in with a razor blade and slashed his demo with a razor blade and cut out half of it.
To change the subject, what was your rationale at the time for recording your first solo album?
I wanted to make an album, I wanted to start this process that I’m starting now, really. I wanted to find out what it was like to make a solo record. I was very lacking in confidence, and so I had a couple of close friends who were with me to make the album. I really was sort of too nervous to book other musicians that I didn’t know; I didn’t know if the material I’d got was good enough. And I just went in and did it very, very quickly–just did it more or less instinctively, off the top of my head.
Those were the musicians from the band Cochise, correct?
Yes, they were in Cochise, but they were friends of mine in Cambridge before then.
Were they in your earlier band Jokers Wild, then?
Well, Willie [Wilson] was for a while, but my band after Joker’s Wild was a band I took to France and Spain for a while, and that was the three of us. So I took those guys because they were close to me, and they were saying, “Come on, Dave, you ought to make a solo record,” and I kept thinking I ought to, but never knowing if I had the ability or the confidence to actually get it right. I just went and did it very quickly, about three weeks it took, I think.
You’ve produced Unicorn and Kate Bush–is there anything else?
No, not really. It isn’t a job I love, producing other people–I’d rather be producing myself. Once in a while it becomes necessary for a talented person’s career that I give them help.
Does that come about because you’re out there listening to things?
No, people come to me, occasionally. A friend came to me with Kate Bush and said, “Listen to this girl, she’s great.” I listened, she was great, and there was just no way, with the demos I had, that I could’ve persuaded a record company. So I had to take an interest in it for a while then to make it work, do the mechanical things of getting the whole project underway. I organized recording three tracks with her in full quality–proper engineer, proper studio, proper orchestra, arranger, the whole thing. Did that, made it beautiful and perfect, and then sold that whole thing–her and those tapes–to EMI, to get her her start. As soon as she had her start, she didn’t need me or anyone else. She’s a very tough girl (laughs), she knows, exactly what she’s going for.
Another trivia question: Is that your brother in the band The Act?
Is that still going on?
He was in that band for a while, I’ve got another friend–in fact he was in a band called Alfalpha previously–and he wanted to start a band, and my brother was out of work. I suggested that they meet, and they met and got on well–so I actually had a hand in starting that off. Then my brother was in a band called Scarlet Party that had a single and an album out in England last year. Very talented guys. But he’s left that now, as well.
Is he younger than you?
Yeah, he’s 30, about eight years younger.
Reading any Pink Floyd history, there’s always a reference to this legendary club called UFO. Were you a part of that, or was that before you were in the band?
That actual club, UFO, was shut down before I joined the band, I think. Or certainly we never played the club after I joined. But we did all that stuff, we did–what was it called?–the Roundhouse, the place that the whole UFO trip sort of moved to in Covent Garden, called the Middle Earth. We played there all the time, it was pretty wild.
(End Pt. 1)