The Gold It's in the...
Archivist Vernon Fitch is a miner for truth
Vernon Fitch first discovered Pink Floyd in the 1960s as a teenager and began collecting records, books, posters and any other Floydian memorabilia he could get his hands on almost immediately. As his collection grew, he formed the Pink Floyd Archives to preserve the Floyd's history for future generations of fans. Over the years, he has supplied information to countless fans, biographers and music historians, and documentary-makers who seek information that even the Floyds themselves cannot provide.
Vernon has also published two remarkable Floydians reference books, The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia and Pink Floyd--The Press Reports, which are invaluable to anyone seeking to study or research the band. He has co-written a third book, provisionally titled Pink Floyd-The Wall: An Examination of Rock's Conceptual Masterpiece, slated for publication in the near future, after a few delays.
I have been happy to send Vernon clippings and bits of information for the Archives over the years, and he has been kind enough to help me on research projects from time to time. But as I sat down to write some questions about his experiences as a Floyd author, the first thing I realized was that I know very little about the actual workings of the Archives. So in the interview that follows, I took the opportunity to learn about the history of Pink Floyd Archives, and how Vernon's books came to be.
The Pink Floyd Archives
Spare Bricks: How long have you been a Pink Floyd fan?
Vernon Fitch: I grew up in the Detroit suburbs. I originally was turned on to music when I saw the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964. By the time the Summer of Love rolled around, I was playing guitar in my own high school band, and was smack in the middle of a very active music scene in the Detroit area. Needless to say, I was exposed me to a lot of incredible music during that time period. I regularly attended the clubs in the Detroit area where I saw bands from all over the world. Not only the nationally-touring acts, such as the Cream, but also some of the more obscure touring bands that played in the smaller clubs, such as the Nice, the Bonzo Dog Band, Family, etc. There were also numerous local acts, such as Alice Cooper, Amboy Dukes, Frost MC5, Iggy Pop, Bob Seger, SRC, etc. And as a part of this music scene, the radio stations in Detroit were always introducing me to a wide range of new music. That is where I first heard Pink Floyd, on one of the Detroit radio stations in the 1960s.
The first Pink Floyd album I bought was Ummagumma. I saw it on the shelf the week it was released, and bought it because I liked the album cover. So I suppose you can credit Storm and friends with reeling me in. The album just blew me away. I loved the live sides, and having that damn insect buzzing around the room before being swatted just added to the amazement.
SB: When did you first see them live?
VF: I didn't get to witness the spectacle that was Pink Floyd until 1973. I was in college at Michigan State University in East Lansing and made the drive back to Detroit to see them perform Dark Side of the Moon live. It was such a powerful album, and it could be heard all over campus that spring. I just knew that it was going to be one of those important events in my life that I couldn't miss. That performance still stands out for me as the most memorable Pink Floyd show that I have ever seen.
They performed Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. It was a very "dark" piece at the time, very powerful. In addition to Dark Side, they performed "Obscured by Clouds/When You're In", "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", "Careful With That Axe, Eugene", "Echoes", and "One of These Days". I remember that during "Careful With That Axe, Eugene", the flash pots exploded on the stage, practically blinding me. By the time I began to regain my eyesight, this dense fog was moving toward me like a curtain, enveloping the audience one row at a time. When it moved past me, the people next to me just disappeared. It was that thick. It transported me into another dimension, one with no sight, just sounds. And the music they were playing was the song "Echoes", in quadraphonic. The sounds literally moved past me, behind me, and around the back of the arena. When the guitar began to scream, it was not of this earth! And then the spaceman suspended above Nick Mason began emitting beams from within its visor... It made quite an impression on me!
SB: If you could pick one or two Floyd shows to go back in time and see, what would they be?
VF: Well, if I had a time machine, I'd like to go back and see the Games for May concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on May 12, 1967. I think that was a very significant show in the history of the band. I also would love to have been at the 14-Hour Technicolour Dream.
SB: If there were no Pink Floyd, what would be your favorite band? Do you think you would have devoted as much time, energy, and money to documenting the career of another musician? If you could close the book on the Pink Floyd Archives and start over, what band(s) would you like to follow? Or what band would you have liked to have followed from its beginning, as you have with the Floyd?
VF: Tough questions. There are so many great bands from the psychedelic period of the late 1960s and the progressive era of the 1970s that I truly enjoy. You know, before I began exclusively focusing on Pink Floyd, I used to collect bands like the Bonzo Dog Band, Cream, Curved Air, the Doors, Family, Genesis with Peter Gabriel, Gong, Hawkwind, Jimi Hendrix, Henry Cow, Idle Race/Move, King Crimson, Kinks, Nice/E.L.P., Renaissance, Roxy Music, Soft Machine, Spirit, Van Der Graaf Generator/Peter Hammill, Velvet Underground, Yes, Frank Zappa, and numerous others. Their music still moves me to this day. So this should give you some idea of the bands that I like.
SB: If you could have only followed the post-1983 career of either Roger Waters or the Gilmour-led Floyd, which would it have been?
VF: This is a question that I cannot answer. It is like asking, if you had a choice of which arm you would prefer to lose, would it be the right arm or the left arm? There is no good answer. Fortunately in the world of Pink Floyd, which I have enjoyed for so many years, you can follow them all.
SB: What was the first bit of Floyd memorabilia that you bought?
VF: I suppose my first bits of Floyd memorabilia were Pink Floyd concert posters. I've been collecting them since the late 1960s. I purchased some Pink Floyd posters even before I bought my first Pink Floyd album.
SB: Do you have anything in your collection that is really meaningful or special to you?
VF: I have lots of special items in my collection, too many to try and single any one out. But I suppose my favorites are the ones that came directly from one of the musicians. You know, ones that have special memories to go with them.
SB: When did you decide to turn your personal memorabilia collection into 'The Pink Floyd Archives'?
VF: The Pink Floyd Archives dates way back to the early 1970s. My idea behind it was to collect everything having to do with Pink Floyd, and to use it to help researchers and fans appreciate the band. I didn't want to collect items and then have them languish in a private collection. I wanted to somehow make the collection interactive, and to use it to provide information about the band to anyone who might be interested. One of the results of this is that I now use the Archives to produce information resources about the band, everything from the Pink Floyd Discographies Page which you can access on the internet, to books such as The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia, which you can purchase at any bookstore.
SB: I gather that you will buy almost anything that is Floyd related. Is it true that you buy one copy of every minor variant of new releases as they come out?
VF: Yes, I buy one of everything. And I try to obtain releases on the day they come out. But sometimes I do miss things. Fortunately, there are various sources, such as eBay, which help me find things I might have missed.
SB: If there was one piece of Floydian memorabilia that you could add to the Archives, what would it be? What is your absolute Holy Grail item?
VF: Well, as you know, I collect everything related to Pink Floyd. And there are lots of different collectable areas. There are albums, singles, posters, handbills, backstage passes, autographs, books, promos, CDs, videos, audios recordings, and on and on. The list is endless. But over the years, I have come to realize that the main thing that interests me is information. I am an historian of Pink Floyd information. My Holy Grail is that unknown piece of information that remains undiscovered after years and years. To me, every new piece of information is like a gold nugget. And I like to accumulate the wealth of such information.
SB: Do you have any formal arrangement made for the Archives' collection to be donated somewhere (such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) when you die?
VF: I have no formal arrangements with anyone, yet. But I have looked into it. I have spoken with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the British Museum, the Hard Rock Cafť, and various others. But they haven't really impressed me as being places for my collection. Not only do they seem generally disinterested in Pink Floyd, most of them appear to be more interested in money than anything else. So as far as setting up a permanent collection, I'll probably have to set up my own foundation to carry it all on. But I haven't gotten to that point yet.
SB: Floyd researchers from documentary makers to biographers to magazine columnists have used the Archives as source material. How does that work, generally?
VF: I have helped hundreds of people and organizations throughout the music business over the years. This includes the BBC, MTV, VH1, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Q, MOJO, Brain Damage, The Amazing Pudding, numerous authors of Pink Floyd books, various movie producers, artists such as Storm Thorgerson, and even Pink Floyd. I offer my services to anyone and everyone who needs them, free of charge. I only limit my involvement based on my time constraints and the reality of having a life.
SB: What are your favorite Floyd books?
VF: There are so many good Pink Floyd books out there. I hate to mention any favorites, because it makes it appear that the ones I don't mention are not any good, but that is not the case. I really enjoy them all. But to name a few favorites (limiting it to just Pink Floyd), I would have to include Inside Out by Nick Mason, Mind Over Matter-The Images of Pink Floyd by Storm Thorgerson and Peter Curzon, In the Flesh by Glenn Povey and Ian Russell, Le Livre du Pink Floyd by Alain Dister, Jacques LeBlanc, and Udo Woehrle, The Visual Documentary by Miles and Andy Mabbett, and A Saucerful of Secrets-The Pink Floyd Odyssey by Nicholas Schaffner. I also should mention my own books The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia and Pink Floyd--The Press Reports, since I use them as references all the time. But there are many other great books in print as well. You can see a complete list of Pink Floyd and related books that I have in my library, on my web site.
SB: Do you have any favorite Floydian magazine articles?
VF: I have thousands. I have a rather large collection of Melody Makers and New Musical Express newspapers, which I use for research all the time. I also have numerous Sounds, Disc & Music Echo, International Times, MOJO, Q, Record Collector, and so on. My library is pretty extensive.
The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia
SB: Why did you decide to write The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia?
VF: The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia came about when a publisher approached me about writing a Pink Floyd book. I had been collecting Pink Floyd facts and information for years, and already had a large database of facts on my computer. So I suggested to the publisher that I write a Pink Floyd Encyclopedia. After accepting my idea, he basically let me run with it. I just had to organize the information, put it into book form, verify some of the existing data, and go through it all to be sure I had everything covered. There were some significant things missing at first because I didn't have information in my database about things that I knew in my head, i.e albums, songs on albums, band member names, etc. You know, the type of stuff that most fans might take for granted, but that needed to be included in a comprehensive encyclopedia about the band. So I spent about a year adding, editing, and revising.
SB: How much of the information in the Encyclopedia is stuff you had prior to starting the writing process, and how much did you gather as 'new research'?
VF: I probably had about 80% of the information in the Pink Floyd Encyclopedia already in my database, and the other 20% I had to add. My sources included everything ever written about Pink Floyd, plus knowledge that I had gathered myself over the years. Whenever I talked to someone in the band, for example, I learned something new, and I would just add it to the database. Now that the book has been published, it is an ongoing project (as all of my projects are). Every time I unearth a new fact, I add it to the book.
SB: Since the first edition of the Encyclopedia was published in 1998, two subsequent editions have been released. Was there really that much new material to include?
VF: The first printing sold out in less than a year. So the second edition was published in 1999. It had numerous additions, corrections, revisions, etc. But the third edition, which has just been published this year, is really the most comprehensive revision. It includes 5 years of new information, a vast amount of knowledge. You wouldn't believe how many people who are in the book came to me and updated their own information. A lot of the Floyd camp has done so. All this is in the new version of the Encyclopedia, in addition to loads of new research. So much new (and previously unknown) information is included in the third edition that it is really the only edition you should be using for research.
SB: Will there be a 4th edition, or more?
VF: Who knows? If the demand for them is there, there will be more. But you are talking at least five or more years down the road.
SB: It seems to me that being a 'complete' reference is problematic as long as the principals are still active. Do you think you'll ever 'finish'?
VF: No. Never! Life is an ongoing adventure. Every day brings new and exciting experiences. New information about the long and colorful history of Pink Floyd pops up all the time. I don't think there will ever be an end to it. So I think you have to look at it as ongoing project.
SB: Did you have any trouble getting permission to use copyrighted images in the book?
VF: When people contact me about their entries in the book, I always ask them for a photograph for the book. More often than not, they send me one with permission to use it in the book. I've gotten a lot of pictures from people over the years. Numerous others are photographs that I own the copyright to. For example, see that picture of Roger Waters in the book? It was taken while he was signing some record albums for me backstage at one of his concerts (If you look closely, you can see him holding a magic marker in his right hand.) Or if you look at the picture of Storm Thorgerson, that was taken on the balcony of his studio (formerly the Hipgnosis studio) in London when I was visiting him years ago.
SB: Have you any idea how many copies of the Encyclopedia have been sold? I've never seen it on a bookstore's shelves, though I rarely see any Floyd books.
VF: The first two editions of the Encyclopedia sold out rather quickly, and the 3rd Edition has just been released. I'd rather not go into specific figures. As far as its distribution, you can get signed copies of The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia directly from me. You can also order it through any bookstore. (Usually the reason a bookstore doesn't have it on the shelf is that they only ordered one copy and it sold out. I don't know why they don't order more copies.)
Pink Floyd--The Press Reports
SB: The Press Reports strikes me as a very different type of book--I don't know that I've ever seen anything quite like it. After all, you really don't reprint articles, but summarize them for those of us who don't have access to them. In a way, it is like you went through your massive collection of clippings and took notes, then published the notes. Is that more or less the way it happened?
VF: The Press Reports was my publisher's idea. He had done a similar book on Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin--The Press Reports) and he thought that doing one on Pink Floyd would be a good idea. So he asked me to put together the Pink Floyd version.
To write the book, I spent an incredible amount of time going through my entire library of articles on the band, one at a time. I summarized each article, and extracted any quotes that appeared in the articles. It took me about a year to write.
SB: Are the articles summarized meant to be comprehensive, or just a representative sampling?
VF: The coverage of the articles in the book is very comprehensive. I included every article that I was aware of from the selected time period, that was written in English (there are a few translations of foreign language articles in the book, but generally I limited it to articles from England and the U.S.) I probably missed a few here and there, but for the most part, it is complete.
SB: Someone once mentioned to me that he could get his hands on complete text of some of these clippings, but obviously that would have been a copyright nightmare for you, which (I assume) is why you did it as you did. Did you still run into copyright issues?
VF: It would be great to have a database of every original article, but due to copyright issues, it would be impossible to publish. The nice thing about The Press Reports is that you can use it as a reference to see what articles were published in case you want to try and track down the originals.
SB: What kind of response did The Press Reports get? While the Encyclopedia seems to have a fairly narrow market, I think The Press Reports has an even narrower one.
VF: I always thought that The Press Reports would have a wider market than the Encyclopedia, just because it is a history of the band that you can sit down and read from cover to cover. But that hasn't been the case. I think people don't quite understand what the book is about. It really is a history of the band, taken from the press reports of the time. Since it does relate information from the time the events were happening, it provides a very unique look at the history of Pink Floyd, unlike that of any other book. And the interviews are amazing. Every published interview of the band members is reprinted in this book. You can actually read what they had to say about the events throughout their history. It is really a fascinating book to sit down and read.
SB: Why did you choose only go up through 1983?
VF: It had a bit to do with the amount of material that would fit in the book, a bit to do with that being a definable period of the band, and a lot to do with not wanting to cover the feud between the band members.
SB: Do you have any desire to do Press Reports 2 and cover the rest of the group's history?
VF: If a publisher is interested, I would write it.
Pink Floyd-The Wall: An Examination of Rock's Conceptual Masterpiece
SB: How did you and Richard Mahon decide to do the Wall book?
VF: The Wall book began as a suggestion from a publisher to do a small pocket-sized book about The Wall. The publisher who suggested it decided not to do the book, but the idea carried on. I asked Richard to help with the book since he is a huge Wall fan and very knowledgeable about the subject.
The Wall book is truly amazing. It covers the history of Pink Floyd from 1978 through 1983 in great detail, more so than any other book previously written. I have gone to great lengths to research every aspect of The Wall, often times finding out that what I previously thought was fact is wrong. It's really an eye-opener. There are hundreds of facts in this book that have never come to light before.
SB: Such as?
VF: To give you but one example, the book traces the development of the songs on The Wall album from Roger's original demo through to the versions found on the finished studio album. It is fascinating to see the transformation that some of these songs went through. For example, the song "The Trial" was originally called "Trial by Puppets", and on Roger's original demo it ended with the main character being executed, as you can hear the sound of gunshots from a firing squad at the end of the recording!
SB: So when do we get to see it?
VF: We have a signed contract with Genesis Publications in England for the publication of the book. It has been delayed a bit as they are currently working on a deluxe version of Nick Mason's book (which looks just fantastic). But I think you will see the Wall book after they have finished with that project.
SB: Would you prefer to publish it now, or wait until the Broadway version comes out for yet another perspective?
VF: The Wall on Broadway would present us with yet another chapter in the Wall saga. I am looking forward to seeing what Roger will do with it in that medium. The Wall book already covers every aspect of The Wall, from the album, the concerts, the movie, and the Berlin performance, so if it ever hits Broadway, I suppose an additional chapter will have to be written.
SB: Vernon, thanks so much for your time.
Waiting here seems like years How Embryo: A Pink Floyd Chronology 1966-1971 came to life If you have a potential Pink Floyd book in you, my advice is go for it! Seeing your completed work on bookshelves will be extremely rewarding, and if your writing engages people the correspondence from fans will keep your e-mail account busy for years to come. From starting Embryo to seeing it on bookshelves took about 2 years. Written initially as a personal project to correct errors that were prevalent in other books and publications, its potential quickly became clear to Nick Hodges and me, both in terms of the appeal that it could have for other fans and the sheer volume of work required.
Waiting here seems like years
How Embryo: A Pink Floyd Chronology 1966-1971 came to life
If you have a potential Pink Floyd book in you, my advice is go for it! Seeing your completed work on bookshelves will be extremely rewarding, and if your writing engages people the correspondence from fans will keep your e-mail account busy for years to come.
From starting Embryo to seeing it on bookshelves took about 2 years. Written initially as a personal project to correct errors that were prevalent in other books and publications, its potential quickly became clear to Nick Hodges and me, both in terms of the appeal that it could have for other fans and the sheer volume of work required.
Nick, who was introduced to me in 1995 through the tape collecting circuit, shared my frustrations with other books and had become a firm friend. I showed him my first draft, which collated a variety of written and oral sources, flagging up points for further research and adding information that was known personally.
Virtually everything had a question mark against it, and there were many examples of truths that were taken to be so because respected commentators had included it in their books or fanzines. Newspapers such as Melody Maker often printed inaccurate reports and half-truths, so we had to make some educated guesses. Complicating the picture further, the band has sometimes contradicted their own stories of what went on, the facts often becoming blurred with age. One example of this was Waters on the Barrett "Have You Got It Yet?" story, where his plans are described differently in virtually every comment given.
Nick and I quickly reached an understanding about our roles as co-authors. Nick's strengths were his attention to detail, willingness to spend hours transcribing recordings, occasional access to the internet (I had none), and proximity to some good libraries in the South West. I had active contacts abroad and was in London, so could easily visit the capital's archives and venues the Floyd played at. I also had a pretty good memorabilia collection, which was useful later on.
London's archives are worthy of special mention. There are three that any researcher should visit:
1. The National Sound Archive at the British Museum, which is able to borrow BBC archive recordings and has quite a large number of bequests. They also have a full set of Melody Maker newspapers.
2. The British Film Institute, to view pristine copies of Look of the Week (in full), San Francsico, Underground Scene Special, and others.
3. The National Newspaper Library, for a full set of International Times on microfiche and a huge collection of other newspapers.
Being in London when the book was finished allowed me to approach publishers in person. Cherry Red published Embryo and provided great support in the build up to its hitting the shelves and ever since. I found them by browsing through books in HMV Oxford Street for the publisher that was most likely to show the imagination to publish a book about the 'least popular' section of the band's history. Cherry Red Chairman Iain McNay invited us to his office to present our idea, the session went well, and we quickly got to work on turning our very large and unstable Word file into a 365-page book.
Strathmore Publishing handled the design side and arguably produced the most distinctive cover of all Floyd books currently available. Our only regret was the typeface chosen: Nick and I have been known as Rick and Jan on many occasions since! Strathmore were able to sort out our scratchy photocopies and professionally scan paper items in my collection, and a proofreader ensured that our English was spot on.
Choosing the price for the book was quite difficult and it ultimately came down to what we ourselves would expect to pay.
Embryo was informally announced with flyers at a Pink Floyd fan convention in Hove, East Sussex and various friendly record shops in 1999. Cherry Red also got us some coverage on the web, and Col Turner's A Fleeting Glimpse gave us a nice publicity boost, for example.
At the fan convention, people were curious about Embryo but we were glad that publication had been delayed so we were not pitched up against Glenn Povey and Ian Russell, who had recently published In the Flesh. In the Flesh was great to see because of its excellent levels of detail, but also a bit frustrating as we had independently discovered some of the same facts. For a while, we were unsure where that would leave us in terms of people bothering with our text and one of our main responses was to remove most of our pre-1967 pages.
After publication, we received a number of excellent reviews in UK music journals. The book was quite widely discussed on the internet and with no access to it, I became aware of what was said long after the event. That has always struck me as a shame, particularly as we missed an opportunity to be part of the debate and engage opinion formers before Embryo was shipped world-wide. There is an obvious lesson from this experience for any would-be writers.
Looking at Embryo afresh for the purposes of this article provides an opportunity to assess its strengths and weaknesses. Its best point is the way it gathers together a wide range of sources for researchers, with new information and added depth compared to what was available previously. We enjoyed doing the endnotes and I have heard from a number of researchers who have made use of them. I also like the way in which it presents all aspects of the band's activities on the same pages, the off-at-a-tangent entries, and its willingness to be light-hearted. The latter attribute is often missing from other books, with the major exception of Nick Mason's biography.
Like any work of non-fiction, Embryo went out of date the moment that it was published. David Parker's account of Syd Barrett's leadership of the band and his subsequent activities completely supersedes ours, for example. Concerts and new sources have been discovered, as have fresh comments given in magazine interviews and other books. Our UK research was much stronger than material we obtained from abroad.
Pink Floyd fans are often exceptionally generous. Through them we have encountered a number of recordings and stories that otherwise may have remained permanently buried. Recordings include a good selection of alternative sources, thought-to-be-lost BBC sessions, and audience tapes. Professional and amateur films have also surfaced.
These details would easily form the subject of another article or, better still, a follow-up book. The latter remains an option and the publishers have expressed an interest in such a project. Don't hold you breath, though; with the addition of a wonderful wife, two great children and another on the way, I'll have other priorities for a few years yet!
The Greatest Show on Earth Pink Floyd under the big top It was only in recent years that I discovered the pleasure of reading through old music papers from the Sixties and Seventies. I find it fascinating to read the press articles that reported the news as it was happening. It's raw. There's no 20/20 hindsight in their reporting. It's all what they saw when it was first seen. I pity those fools that gave stinky reviews of Dark Side of the Moon back when it debuted. Another interesting aspect of these old music papers (e.g. Melody Maker, New Musical Express, Disc and Music Echo, Record Mirror, Beat Instrumental, etc.) is that it puts the history of Pink Floyd into perspective. It's interesting to read about Cilla Black, the Tremeloes, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and other musicians I'd never heard of before. Perspective certainly comes from seeing issue after issue with huge front cover headlines for the Monkees and news on Pink Floyd relegated to microscopic print on page 12. Now the papers didn't always just review what had just happened; they often previewed what was planned to happen in the near future. However, sometimes things didn't go as planned. This makes for some amusing reading. Did you know that at one time Pink Floyd's next single was either a song called "Old Woman with a Casket" or "Millionaire"? Well that's what the July 22, 1967 edition of Disc and Music Echo reported. One of the most widely-reported and often-repeated preview of something that never happened concerned Pink Floyd's bizarre and amusing plans to move out of the dance halls and into a circus tent. They pursued this idea with a vengeance for two full months before giving up. Direct from the pages of the British music press, here's the how the story of Pink Floyd's attempt to perform under the Big Top unfolded. Disc and Music Echo July 22, 1967 Disc and Music Echo July 29, 1967 Disc and Music Echo August 5, 19671 Melody Maker August 5, 1967 Melody Maker August 19, 1967 New Musical Express August 26, 19671
They are happiest when playing to "their own kind," and are still very loath to perform in clubs where an atmosphere has already been created. "Pink Floyd music is an environment," says Peter Jenner. "They much prefer playing in a concert hall, where any atmosphere is created solely by them and their music." A hit record will inevitably mean that the group will be flooded with offers to appear all over the country. Ideally they would like to do this with their own traveling freak-out show. "A freak-out could be as grand an occasion as a fair or a circus, and we'd like to have a large marquee and travel the country. 'The Freak-Out Comes To Town,' it could be called."
"We're going to give up ballroom gigs. Conditions are so bad. We'd really like to set up in a big tent, circus style, and take our show around the country."
Pink Floyd are planning to turn concerts into a circus-style act, to be held under a big tent. They hope to debut it in Paignton at the end of August and, if successful, will tour with it beginning in late September. Said co-manager Peter Jenner, "This could be the biggest thing to happen in pop."
What is the future of the Floyd? Roger Waters says, "We can't go on doing clubs and ballrooms. We want a brand new environment, and we've hit on the idea of using a big top. We'll have a huge tent and go around like a traveling circus. We'll have a huge screen 120 feet wide and 40 feet high inside and project films and slides. We'll play the big cities, or anywhere and become an occasion, just like a circus. It'll be a beautiful scene. It could even be the salvation of the circus!"
On September 1 Pink Floyd will appear at a special cinerama tent at Paignton, Devon, with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, and Tomorrow and on September 2 with the Move. The cinerama tent was described by bass player Roger Waters in a recent MM interview and includes special lighting effects and films. Coaches will take fans from London to Devon, and if the experiment proves successful the tent will be taken on the road.
The venue for The Pink Floyd's UFO Festival on September 1 & 2, 1967 has been changed to the Chalk Farm Roundhouse in London. It was originally planned to be held under a canvas at Paignton, Devon, but was moved because the owners of the marquee didn't want it to be used for a psychedelic festival. Manager Andrew King stated, "Presenting a show under canvas would have been a completely new experience. We are now negotiating with other firms to find a suitable marquee for a future festival."
The Greatest Show on Earth
Pink Floyd under the big top
It was only in recent years that I discovered the pleasure of reading through old music papers from the Sixties and Seventies. I find it fascinating to read the press articles that reported the news as it was happening. It's raw. There's no 20/20 hindsight in their reporting. It's all what they saw when it was first seen. I pity those fools that gave stinky reviews of Dark Side of the Moon back when it debuted.
Another interesting aspect of these old music papers (e.g. Melody Maker, New Musical Express, Disc and Music Echo, Record Mirror, Beat Instrumental, etc.) is that it puts the history of Pink Floyd into perspective. It's interesting to read about Cilla Black, the Tremeloes, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, and other musicians I'd never heard of before. Perspective certainly comes from seeing issue after issue with huge front cover headlines for the Monkees and news on Pink Floyd relegated to microscopic print on page 12.
Now the papers didn't always just review what had just happened; they often previewed what was planned to happen in the near future. However, sometimes things didn't go as planned. This makes for some amusing reading. Did you know that at one time Pink Floyd's next single was either a song called "Old Woman with a Casket" or "Millionaire"? Well that's what the July 22, 1967 edition of Disc and Music Echo reported.
One of the most widely-reported and often-repeated preview of something that never happened concerned Pink Floyd's bizarre and amusing plans to move out of the dance halls and into a circus tent. They pursued this idea with a vengeance for two full months before giving up.
Direct from the pages of the British music press, here's the how the story of Pink Floyd's attempt to perform under the Big Top unfolded.
Disc and Music Echo July 22, 1967
Disc and Music Echo July 29, 1967
Disc and Music Echo August 5, 19671
Melody Maker August 5, 1967
Melody Maker August 19, 1967
New Musical Express August 26, 19671
Beat Instrumental September 1967
Rick Wright says, "It's just a pity that some of the ballrooms are so bad, especially the stages. But we've got an idea which could put an end to all that. There could well be a Pink Floyd circus soon. We've got this massive Big Top capable of holding 6,000 people, which we intend to take around the country. You know, find a field outside a town, set up, and play. Just like a proper circus. We've got this huge cinemascope screen for all the flashing light bit, and we'll make it into a complete show. There'll be us, of course, plus a few other acts. It's something that's never been done before, but we think it'll work."
BÝrge (Denmark) September 14, 19672
England's leading psychedelic group, Pink Floyd, have revealed to BÝrge their sensational plan for the future. "We will in the future mainly hold all our concerts and happenings in a circus. We are tired of the traditional scene--there you can not unfold oneself. Perhaps this is the last time we can be seen in the old shape, when we this evening give our last concert here in Copenhagen." The group's manager, Andrew King, has tried to rent a tent from one of England's traveling circuses. He was rejected. That made the Pink Floyd so annoyed, that the band for the moment are negotiating to buy the world's third largest circus tent. Price 250,000 kr. We are looking forward to the circus premiere very much," says Syd Barrett to BÝrge. "We want to travel around the world with that tent!"
1. I currently don't have an original of this paper. Reworded text has been borrowed from Vernon Fitch's Pink Floyd--The Press Reports.
2. Translated from Danish to English by Lars Myklebust.