Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd

I've spent a pleasant few days reading Mark Blake's 2013-revised biography of Pink Floyd, which had me scrambling back to the albums with fresh ears. I must confess, I'm not a huge Pink Floyd fan, or at least I haven't been for years. I picked up my first Floyd album in my teens, jumping in, some might say at the deep end with the band's double live/studio album Ummagumma which I still love to this day. But over the years, I've grown increasingly dissatisfied with the band, the albums began to reveal themselves as rather patchy affairs, with almost every record having something throwaway on it, like the intensely annoying Seamus on Meddle, or the embarrassing Several Species of Small Furry Animals... on Ummagumma. Fortunately Mark Blake doesn't soft-pedal the band's shortcomings (I might have flung the book across the room had he defended the idea to put a yelping dog on the aforementioned Seamus), and it's a credit to the author that he manages to keep the book compelling and engaging throughout a rather depressing second half, as the story slides into the post-Wall years which produced a stream of bland group and solo albums, bitter relations between band members, the firing of key personnel and the hiring of forgettable session musicians, divorces, breakdowns, and the untimely deaths of Richard Wright and Syd Barrett, who haunts the book like a ghost unable to find a place to rest. Blake reveals that in 1992, some 18 years after he withdrew from the music business, Atlantic Records shamefully offered Barratt's family £75,000 for any new recordings that might be made of the Floyd's founding member. Perhaps my favourite anecdote from the book concerns Stanley Kubrick and his request to use a portion of the music from the side-long Atom Heart Mother suite for use in A Clockwork Orange, a request flatly refused by Roger Waters. This alone inspired me to revisit the track which I had tended to skip over in the past and I must say I rather like it now, with its orchestration and choir, it feels like the perfect soundtrack for an early seventies British Horror film.

My Perfect Pink Playlist:

A Saucerful of Secrets - Live at Pompei version, 1971
Fat Old Sun, from Atom Heart Mother, 1970
Flaming, mono version from Piper at the Gates of Dawn, 1967
The Narrow Way, from Ummagumma, 1969
Heart Beat Pig Meat from Zabriskie Point OST, 1969
Cymbaline, from More, 1969
Careful with That Axe, Eugene, from Ummagumma, 1969
On the Run, from Dark Side of the Moon, 1973

2 comments:

  1. I really must pick this up, am a pretty huge Floyd fan. Fully agreed that not all of it holds up well these days (I can't stand 3/4's of The Wall, for example) but when they got it right, it was incredible. At least with regards to Seamus on Meddle, it is a mercifully short track, and Echoes (which is actually a top ten track of all time for me) makes up for it by a country mile. Nice playlist, will spin it this afternoon!

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  2. Yeah, it's a fine book JP and an essential read for fans. Echoes is fantastic, I was actually listening to it last night as a bunch of Floyd CDs are still languishing by the stereo since last week or so. I remember years ago I went to a production of John Godbe's play Bouncers in the Everyman theater in Cork and in one scene a drunken character experiences a dark night of soul outside a nightclub, and during the scene the stage lights were quenched and on the PA was played the middle section of Echoes with its shrieking seagulls and cawing crows - quite an effective selection of music I thought and a thrill to hear it in a darkened theater...

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