Who Is the Strongest, Who Is the Best

Floydian Idol

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It was the greatest show on Earth

Is it possible to stage a reunion tour without the hired guns?

Pink Floyd has relied heavily upon session musicians and sidemen at least 20 years. But when I ponder this, I can't help thinking, "How cool would it be if they simply got rid of the lot, even the back-up singers?" The concept is simple enough, and considering that they managed their entire career up to The Dark Side of the Moon without the army of backing musicians, barring the occasional choir and orchestra appearance, I felt it was something that is possible, even if it is highly improbable.

But the realisation that has since come to me is that the four-man Pink Floyd that gave us 15-minute versions of "Fat Old Sun" and the proper version of the rare "Embryo" stopped being that Pink Floyd long before I became a fan. The 30th anniversary of the death knell for the four-man Floyd passed by without so much as a whimper of recognition just this June. It was June of 1974 when the four-man Floyd last toured--a short tour of France, as it happens. In November of 1974, a full blown set list of monolithic tracks that were to become Animals and Wish You Were Here, along with The Dark Side of the Moon, would now include Mr. Screen and a light show that was a far cry from the "Leonard's Lodgers" days of the 60s.

It would seem that they can no longer think 'Pink Floyd' and 'small' in the same setting.

Super stadiums, puppets, blimps, and crashing planes became the Pink Floyd that millions of fans now know and love. And with all that, so too came the trap that the band members now find themselves in. This issue of Spare Bricks highlights the ways that Pink Floyd and Roger Waters have slowly filled their stages with more and more people. Even David Gilmour--putting on a toned-down show in small venues--managed more people on stage than the Division Bell tour, and that's after making exception for the mandatory bass, keyboard, and drums. It would seem that they can no longer think 'Pink Floyd' and 'small' in the same setting.

So how would such a venture turn out? First of all we need to take a few highly 'unlikelies' as given, namely, they agree to get back together, that they agree it will be just the four of them, and if they can do it, they agree to play anything that falls under the name Pink Floyd, irrespective of the writers and performers. Yes, yes, I know; it will never happen. But just play along for a moment.

The band would then have to accept each other's advancing years and failing eyesight, hand-eye coordination, and hearing, and their failing abilities to play and sing. And in accepting this, they would have to do it knowing they might come off sounding like a bad pub band doing a karaoke version of a song that some folks used to remember. But let's just pretend they do accept this as well.

Then they would have to figure out what to play. Some obvious pre-1973 staples would include "Echoes", "Careful With That Axe, Eugene", "Fat Old Sun", "Embryo", "Astronomy Domine", "Atom Heart Mother", "One of These Days", and "A Saucerful of Secrets". That list alone gets them close to the two-hour mark. Throw in a few three-minute ditties from Piper and Secrets to break up the others and you are well past two hours. And then for an encore, you could satisfy the radio listeners with "Wish You Were Here".

Because they have done away with the trappings of Mr. Screen and the like, they could be freed up to tinker with the set list each night. So for those fans who caught ten or more shows you could feel confident that you would hear most, if not all, of Piper through Obscured by Clouds as the band filled the gaps between the big numbers. And if you were real lucky, you might hear a few other acoustic numbers from later years such as "Pigs on the Wing" or "Mother". However I think Roger Waters would be fairly safe in not having to figure out many bass lines from The Division Bell, nor Rick Wright having to learn the keyboard parts to anything from The Final Cut. But I think I'd like it that way. Some songs I just can't imagine without 27 assorted sidemen playing along.

Advertising for these shows? Well, I would strongly recommend pointing out that the majority of the material would be pre-Dark Side of the Moon. This won't keep fans from crying out for "Money" and then demanding their money back because it wasn't played, despite all the warnings. But hey, what's a Pink Floyd concert without such characters in the audience? And the venues themselves would automatically need to be small--fewer than ten thousand seats for sure. Now some may think that that would then make tickets impossible to get, but I wouldn't think so. When fans find out The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall have been left at home (right next to the cupboard full of props) back in Cambridge so to speak... well, numbers might not be as big as is automatically thought.

And for me, given a suitable number of tickets to a suitable number of shows on this tour, I would be a very happy chappy indeed. Just the same, I don't think it is possible. Ignoring the rift in the band members past and present, I still don't think this is possible. Ignoring their ability to perform without back-up, I still don't think this is possible. Ignoring the fans' reaction to a set list most don't know or care about, I still don't think this is possible.

The impossibility simply comes from the Floyds not wanting to do it. Even if all the above were possible, I think Messers Gilmour, Mason, Wright, and Waters enjoy their big stages, their big props, and most of all they enjoy their big sound. For all the importance visuals have played over the years, the four of them like to fill the air with noise, and they can do that so much better with three guitarists, two drummers, two keyboardists, two bassists, between three and eight singers, a saxophonist, a cellist, and no doubt someone else to bang the gong.

So just as I much prefer watching Live in Pompeii to PULSE or In the Flesh, I have to say that most people probably don't--especially not the Floyds themselves. So, sadly, my idea of just the four of them gracing the stage and giving "Atom Heart Mother" or "A Saucerful of Secrets" one more go will have to stay a nice idea, as it will for the few out there that agree with me.

Christopher Hughes is a staff writer for Spare Bricks.


Who Is the Strongest, Who Is the Best

The Top Ten Guest Contributions

There aren't all that many Pink Floyd songs with key contributions from guest artists. That made picking a top ten very difficult. However, if I expand the topic to all Pink Floyd songs including all solo songs released by band members, then I have a fairly decent catalogue to choose from. I based this top ten list on the quality and impact of the contribution by the guest artist. Which songs in such a catalogue did a guest artist really make a quality contribution transforming a song into the music we know and love?

10. "One Slip" - Phil Manzanera

"One Slip" is of the most important songs on the album that revived Pink Floyd without Roger Waters. David Gilmour, writing now without the aid of Roger Waters, turned to the former Roxy Music guitarist for help. Phil Manzanera wrote most of the music and David wrote the lyrics, and the result shows how well David Gilmour works with others. "One Slip" is a great rockin' Pink Floyd song that gives A Momentary Lapse of Reason a certain feel--a feel that would not have existed if not for a key contributor.

9. "One of My Turns" - Lee Ritenour

Based on the time another Floyd guest contributor--Roy Harper--trashed his dressing room, this song contains a special moment in the Floyd canon when those guitars kick in. We don't really know for sure where every guest contribution to The Wall was made and who made them. But it is pretty clear that Lee Ritenour contributed guitar work to this song, and the guitars are what make the song one of the truly great moments in The Wall.

8. "Atom Heart Mother" - Ron Geesin

The first album-side epic from the band was a harbinger of great things to come. Most Floyd fans that I know prefer this song without the orchestra. I may even be one of them. However, Ron Geesin's orchestral contribution brought this song to life, helping it become a multi-layered piece in the grand Floyd tradition.

7. "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)" from In The Flesh - Doyle Bramhall II and Snowy White

Through the last 20 years, Roger Waters has a had a tough go of it in living up to the mystery we call Pink Floyd. His concert performances in 1984, '85, and '87 were great in their own right, but the music was always substantially different from the Pink Floyd sound he helped to create. But this time out he nailed it, with help from Doyle Bramhall II and Snowy White. Probably more of a conscious effort on Roger's part to actually re-create the Pink Floyd sound more than ever before, it doesn't get any better than these two guitarists on "Shine On". What these two do throughout the whole concert, but particularly here, is to actually bring to life the Pink Floyd sound just as much as the post-Waters Floyd could do. It's not David Gilmour on guitar, but thanks to these two key contributors, it sounds pretty darned close.

6. "The Gunners Dream" - Andy Bown and Raphael Ravenscroft

The strongest piece of music on The Final Cut--which many fans basically consider a Roger Waters' solo album--has to be "The Gunners Dream". The music and vocals are spine tingling, but it's the sax and piano work by Raphael Ravenscroft and Andy Bown, respectively, that make the song the highlight of the album. The piano is so good that it can bring the listener to tears. And who is not blown away by the melding of the saxophone and Roger's scream? The piano and the sax together help create a truly memorable Pink Floyd song.

5. "The Thin Ice" from The Wall Live In Berlin - Ute Lemper

Aside from Roger Waters' performance, there isn't much about this concert that rates highly among Floyd fans. If we were to do a top ten list of the worst contributions to the Floyd catalogue, most of the entries would come from here. Can it get any worse than Van Morrison butchering "Comfortably Numb"? One bright spot, however, is the contribution from Ute Lemper on "The Thin Ice". Her contribution is so good, in fact, that I prefer this version to the studio version. Not that David Gilmour's part isn't any good--it's great and will forever remain a classic. But in my opinion the part is really written for a female to sing, and Ute Lemper does an absolutely perfect job.

Honorable mentions

Gerald Scarfe - The Wall artwork
Snowy White - guitar on "Summer Elegy" from Wet Dream
Eric Clapton - guitar on The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking
Andy Newmark - drums on "Two Suns In The Sunset"
Clare Torry - vocals on "The Great Gig in the Sky"
Dick Parry - saxophone on "Us and Them"

4. "What God Wants (Part One)" - Jeff Beck

One word: Wow. From the opening note, this song is stunning for the guitar work provided by one of the true greats: Jeff Beck. Since going solo, Roger has needed to call upon some legendary guitarists, and there is none better than Jeff Beck. His instantly recognizable guitar kicks off "What God Wants" with a bang, and is the highlight of not only this song but of the entire album. David Gilmour loyalists can downplay the significance of Beck's contribution, but that's just simply not being fair. Beck's style is different from Gilmour's, but his greatness is on a par. On this track, it shows.

3. "Dogs" from In The Flesh - Jon Carin

Jon Carin's contribution to "Dogs" is stunning. Aside from the studio version on Animals, the live version with Jon Carin is far and away the best. I always thought David Gilmour had a very difficult time singing this song live. Simply put, Carin does not. His effortless singing style is reminiscent of a young David Gilmour, and when combined with his acoustic guitar intro--which Gilmour never even attempted in a live setting--Carin makes this a spine tingling addition to the Floydian catalogue. I was amazed to hear that Roger Waters was playing "Dogs" at all, but to hear it with Jon Carin it's easy to understand how it made it onto the setlist. In my honest opinion, I just don't think the current Pink Floyd could ever pull this one off... unless Jon Carin was helping them out.

2. "Learning To Fly" - Jon Carin

Who will ever forget hearing this song on the radio for the first time? The triumphant return of Pink Floyd, thanks to the contribution from Jon Carin. The first song to be recorded by the "new" Pink Floyd without Roger Waters, it was also the first introduction for us fans when we heard it on the radio. Carin's contribution to the history of Pink Floyd is immeasurable, and I for one am eternally grateful. While Gilmour and Bob Ezrin are also credited with writing the music, along with help from Anthony Moore with the lyrics, Jon Carin basically came up with the main piece of music on his own. He plays all the keyboards also, which are the key to the song's melody. What a great piece of music to let the fans know that Pink Floyd were back in business.

1. "Have A Cigar" - Roy Harper

The only time Pink Floyd recorded a song with a non-bandmember singing lead vocals with actual lyrics. Heresy? Maybe. But Roy Harper does a fantastic job in belting out this Floyd classic. The vocals fit right in with the Floydian style. It took me years before I realized that it wasn't Roger or David singing. We've all heard Roger sing the song live. Let's just say it's a good thing they got Roy to sit in for the album. The song has truly become a Rock 'n' Roll classic, making this the greatest guest contribution in the Floyd catalogue, and making Roy Harper the most unsung guest contributor ever.

Bob Cooney is a staff writer for Spare Bricks.


Floydian Idol

In search of the best session musician

In his quest for solo-artist respectability, Roger Waters has always used top-notch session musicians and sidemen, including notable names such as Eric Clapton and Paul Carrack. His 1999 North American "In the Flesh" tour was no exception. There were a lot of familiar faces from the Radio KAOS touring band, and no fewer than three guitarists. They were called upon to recreate the classic Pink Floyd sound faithfully, while trying to highlight Waters' role as solo artist.

In the Flesh '99, recorded in Camden, New Jersey's on August 11, 1999.

Each of the session musicians was given ample time to shine during the show. But who made the most of it? Using a single night's performance, from August 11, 1999 at E Center in Camden, New Jersey, let's stage an American Idol style contest to see who gets top honors.

The first song, "In The Flesh", got the crowd going! Then Doyle Bramhall II (who also played left-handed guitar) sang David Gilmour's parts in "The Thin Ice" very beautifully. Our American Idol judges would have been pleased by his vocal performance. "Another Brick In The Wall (Part 1)" and "The Happiest Days Of Our Lives" went by sounding almost exactly like the studio versions.

"Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)" included a good imitation of the children's singing by the backup singers, Katie Kissoon and P.P. Arnold. Guitar solos were performed by Doyle Bramhall and Snowy White, both of whom deserved the spotlight.

"Mother" featured three session musicians. Jon Carin played beautiful keyboards, Katie Kissoon did a good rendition of the mother that was originally sung by David Gilmour, and the guitar solo was performed by Doyle. The American Idol judges would have given all three of them a standing ovation. "Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert", "Southampton Dock", and "Pigs On The Wing (Part 1)" are almost carbon copies of the original recordings.

"Dogs" was a huge success, with acoustic guitar and lead vocals performed by Jon Carin. His performance of this song would make his fans proud! But the best performance was the lead guitar solo by Doyle Bramhall II, who was able to match every note of Gilmour's original solo. The American Idol judges would have been blown away. Randy Jackson would have said, "Yo, dude, you hit every note. I give you props, man!" Paula Abdul would have told Doyle that he took a hard song and made it exactly like the original, and Simon Cowell would have simply told Doyle that he did well.


The judges' positive vibes wouldn't last long for Doyle. Next came "Welcome To The Machine", followed by "Wish You Were Here". The song started out with his awful electric guitar picking. What's worse is the solo playing in the middle of the song--instead of doing David Gilmour's scat singing, Doyle butchered the song with gruesome, bluesy licks. The judges wouldn't be too keen. Randy would say, "Dude, I don't know what happened there. It wasn't that good, man." Paula would console Doyle by telling him that he took a hard song and tried to make it his own but couldn't quite do it. Simon would have been harsh. "It was absolutely ghastly, Doyle. It sounded like kittens mewing. Dreadful."

"Shine On You Crazy Diamond" ended the first half, and was the highlight of the first set. The opening organ by Jon Carin was beautiful, and Doyle again twisted the guitar solo to make it bluesy. But I actually like the blues playing in this song because it sounded a little more original than on "Wish You Were Here." The best part of this song is the steel lap guitar playing in Part 6 by Jon Carin! This guy is really multi-talented! Once again, the judges would give a standing ovation to these two musicians.

The second half started with "Speak To Me" and "Breathe", with Jon playing steel lap guitar on the latter. "Time" got the crowd going. Roger Waters fisted the bass strings with his left hand and plucked two strings with his right hand to make the ticking sounds. The entire band performed well in this song, especially Graham Broad's drumming.

I can imagine the audience's surprise when the band started playing "The Great Gig in the Sky"! This Dark Side of the Moon classic by Rick Wright was well-played by Jon Carin, hitting every piano chord! There have been reports that during this song, almost all the stage lights were dimmed with only a spotlight on Jon while he played. Since Jon played second-keyboardist for Pink Floyd's 1987-1989 and 1994 tours, after Roger left, I can imagine Roger letting Jon play this song to showcase his true talents. The song ended right when the women would start wailing as on the original version. He totally deserved the audience's applause. The judges would be proud. "Good job, dog!" as Randy would say, "You deserve the crowd's applause" as Paula would say, and "You did it!" as Simon would say.

Doyle Brahmall's blues roots shone through many of his solos on the 1999 tour.

"Money" was next, and the highlight was a bluesy solo guitar playing by Andy Fairweather-Low. He played the solo without a pick! Doyle sang wonderfully on this song as well. "Every Stranger's Eyes" had good bluesy guitar playing by Andy once again, this time matching Eric Clapton's style on the original. "The Powers That Be" showcased the entire band's energy! "What God Wants (Part 1)" is another awful attempt by Doyle to turn this into a blues song. I don't know why he couldn't try to match Jeff Beck's solo guitar playing. The backup singers shone in this song, however. "Perfect Sense (Part 1)" featured Jon Carin's beautifully-played piano intro, and P.P. Arnold belted out the second half of this song. The crowd responded with rousing applause. The judges would have given this another standing ovation as well. "It's A Miracle" and "Amused To Death" went by next.

"Brain Damage" and "Eclipse" sounded just like the originals and were good show-enders. "Comfortably Numb" was the last encore where Doyle and Snowy alternated on the guitar solos while standing on top of the wall, just as David Gilmour had done on the original Wall shows in 1980 and 1981. The guitar solos sounded almost Gilmour-like, but no one can match the quality and fine playing except Gilmour himself. It is just a shame that the song faded out on the recording before the song actually ended.

Jon Carin's multi-instrument duties made him a star of Roger Waters' In the Flesh tour.

With the concert done, it is now time to announce the session musician of the show. "The winner for the best session musician during the In The Flesh Tour 1999 is... Jon Carin!" He truly is the best because of his performances in "Mother", "Dogs", "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", "Breathe In The Air", "The Great Gig In The Sky", and "Perfect Sense (Part 1)". His multi-talents included keyboards, guitar, lap steel guitar, and singing.

I believe the judges would agree with this choice. "You deserve it, dog!" from Randy, "You made me proud to watch your performances and you shone!" from Paula, and "You did well and deserve the title" from Simon.

Tommy Gatton is a staff writer for Spare Bricks.