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Backing musician to sue Pink Floyd

Rock band Pink Floyd is being sued by one of its former backing musicians over ownership of composing royalties. Former touring guitarist Andy Roberts, who worked with the band for a brief stint in 1981, is suing the group for ownership of their 1979 concept album The Wall. Roberts claims that his tenure with the group was a pivotal point in their career, and changed the direction of the band, influencing everything they did from that point forward.

Roberts elaborates his case. "If you listen to the recordings from the Wall tour, every show on that tour was recorded--and I'd like to submit those recordings as evidence to support my case but fucking Roger Waters won't give me access, the prick--but if you listen to those shows, it's obvious that it didn't come together at all until I joined the group in 1981. I was the lightning rod, the Syd Barrett if you will, who brought the whole show together. And you hear in interviews, Dave has said it, Roger has said it, the live show of The Wall was the only one they were happy with. They hated the movie, and they think the album's not as good as the live show. So it's obvious that it was my influence making it work.

"Who knows, maybe if I'd still been with the group when they did the movie, it mightn't have turned out so bad. That's why I think it's important that I make this claim now, so I can get ownership of the thing before the Broadway musical happens. That has the potential to be a disaster without my involvement."

Roberts admits that his genius wasn't immediately visible within the group. "I laid low for a while, you know, the whole 'new kid' thing. But after a few shows I started chucking my ideas in. I knew I had the potential to turn the group into something really great, so it would have been wrong for me not to having some input."

But Roberts' contributions weren't welcomed by the rest of the band. "I remember Roger--he in particular was always jealous of my abilities--I remember him saying things like, "Just play the fucking song like it is on the record," and "No, you can't get up there on top of the wall with Dave" and "What the fuck are you doing? 'Don't Leave Me Know' isn't a fucking salsa number." So yeah, he was always resentful of my talents, and tried to stop my ideas getting in, because he knew that once I had worked my way into their hierarchy, his days were numbered.

"In hindsight, that's probably why he left the band a few years later--working with me made him all too aware of his limitations as a frontman, and I suspect it was still playing on his mind when he left. He certainly got rid of me as soon as he could once the tour was over. I remember talking to him after the very last Wall gig (the one where I transformed the entire work--nay, the entire rock genre--by playing the melody line from "Popcorn" during the intro to "Is There Anybody Out There?") and asking him when he wanted me to begin working on the soundtrack for the film. He said 'Fuck off, we're calling Tim Renwick'. So he definitely had it in for me."

Because he considers his role in Pink Floyd in 1981 to be of vital importance the band, and hugely influential to the work they did later, Roberts also intends to claim the rights to all of Pink Floyd's subsequent material--except for "Dogs of War" ("because it's crap"), and certain songs from The Division Bell ("because Polly Samson scares me"). Roberts is also claiming the rights to "Wish You Were Here", "because that song really, really speaks to me. I can't explain it. It's almost as if Roger was writing about my life, which only strengthens my claim. It proves that I was influencing the band even before I joined them."

The lawsuit is rounded out with an assortment of other claims, including Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour's houseboat studio Astoria ("It looks pretty swish, so why not?" says Roberts), Gilmour's #0001 model Fender Stratocaster, and Roger Waters' daughter India.

It's not the first time the '70s prog-rock supergroup have been besieged by legal hoopla. Roberts' suit follows that of backing singer Claire Torry, who is mounting a legal challenge against the band to receive composing royalties for "The Great Gig in the Sky", the song on which she sang. The composing credits for the song are currently owned solely by Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright. When we asked Wright whether or not he thinks Torry has a case, he replied, "I'm sorry, I don't have any recollection of that whole period."

Torry's sudden claim, which came after 31 years of deafening silence, has ruffled feathers in the Floyd camp. When asked if the suit was about money, Torry replied "No, this one's just for 'Great Gig in the Sky', but if I win this one I'll certainly come back for 'Money' and maybe some others. 'Any Colour You Like', definitely--anyone could get their name on that thing." When we asked her if she hoped the lawsuit would be beneficial to her career, she deadpanned, "What career?"

David Gilmour believes the Torry's lawsuit is motivated by spite. "She's just being a bitch. In this industry, one has to grow thick skin and deal with the various pressures one is inevitably faced with. I mean, we should have sued her for defamation for that fucking awful Knebworth performance, and we still could, but I just couldn't be bothered. I'm too old and fat."

Floyd drummer Nick Mason questions the timing of the suit. "Why wait thirty years? If she had a problem with the money we gave her she should have spoken up then. It's her own fault, really; she accepted three hundred quid, but she should have held out longer. We were quite prepared to go up to three-fifty, three-seventy-five tops, but she didn't seem interested."

"And besides, she could have mounted the legal challenge before I'd finished writing my book, Inside Out, which incidentally is out this autumn. I could have made all kinds of quips and self-deprecating observations about that one. It's a chapter that would have written itself." But Mason concedes that he can see Torry's side of the equation. "I understand that there's serious money to be made by claiming composing rights to a Pink Floyd song you didn't write. I should know--I've been doing it for years."

Not everyone shares Mason's tolerance. Pink Floyd collaborator Tony Moore, who has several co-writing credits on the Floyd album A Momentary Lapse of Reason, thinks Torry's suit is misguided. "The trick to getting your name on the writing credits of a Pink Floyd track is to actually contribute to the writing of the song. It's not really clear what she claims to have done. I mean you can spot my contributions right away. 'Hand of fate that fit just like a glove'?. There's no way Dave or Nick could write something that insipid--though Dave, to his eternal credit, would give it a shot."

Former Floyd bassist Roger Waters expects that the lawsuits from Roberts and Torry are more likely to succeed than his own failed legal entanglements with the band. In 1987 Waters sued Pink Floyd in an attempt to legally force them to change their name, but was unsuccessful. "I made the mistake of aiming too high. I tried to claim ownership of the band, and failed. Instead I should have claimed ownership of the bassline to "Childhood's End," and worked my way upwards from there."

Chris Hogan is a staff writer for Spare Bricks.