Dark Moon, Fat Old Sun
A non-fan writes a non-biography of the Floyd
In 1988 I bought my first Pink Floyd book: Miles' "visual documentary" simply entitled Pink Floyd. It was an unexpected find and I eagerly snapped it up. I had been a fan for nearly a decade yet, living in Australia, there had seemed to be a total lack of anything in printed form when it came to my favourite band. In a world of mass media and entertainment, this was something I simply didn't understand. As the world of Pink Floyd unfolded over the following years I soon realised that that was how the Brothers Floyd preferred it, and very few things had ever made it to print. Nearly two decades later I've managed to collect more than twenty Pink Floyd books, and am still eager to buy those available, although the budget is starting to reign that habit in.
As such, it was with great interest and anticipation that I greeted the news of the release of a book called Dark Moon, Fat Old Sun by a fellow who calls himself Bamba.
To put it simply, the book is a great read with a refreshing change from the standard biographical/chronological approach to the band. Apart from Inside Out by Nick Mason (who, after all, has a slight advantage over others!), many of the Pink Floyd books I own have been read once and referred to only a few times since. It was with this expected enjoyment, but ultimate resignation that I faced Dark Moon, Fat Old Sun; simply put, I expected a historical review just like many of the books before it. It was, therefore, a pleasant surprise as I soon realised that this book had one major difference. Dark Moon, Fat Old Sun has countless personal touches throughout, giving a new insight into what it was like to be there at the time for the many of us who weren't. Bamba evidently, despite his regimented army life, spent most of the '60s attempting to live the life of his idols when given the chance, and it is through this insight that we gain a new, enlightened perspective on Pink Floyd.
It is thoroughly refreshing to see an honest approach to how Bamba saw the unfolding trials and tribulations of the band as it grew, fell apart, and grew again. Likewise, it was equally refreshing to read of Bamba's honesty when he explains how he missed much of the Pink Floyd's history-making events at the time simply because he was, shall we say, under the weather when it was all taking place.
To be objective, there are a few errors in what is commonly accepted as fact, but that can be forgiven. It has to be remembered of course that many of us 'serious fans' know far more than is necessary when it comes to Pink Floyd, but casual fans will certainly find Dark Moon, Fat Old Sun" enlightening.
It goes without saying that many thanks need to be given to Bamba for his time in putting up with me and my questions, especially considering his health troubles of late. Also, for those who have considered writing down what it has been like in their own lives to share their histories with the band that brings us all together, take heed of what this published author has gone through to get this particular history into print.
Spare Bricks: Many music fans like to know an author's credentials. Now's your chance to share a little bit about yourself and how you got into writing histories. What have you written about previously, and why Pink Floyd this time round?
Bamba: I have written about a number of churches, institutions, estates, manor houses, and even the First General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland in 1560. All these histories have concentrated mainly on the people in control, rather than the buildings. I have also written humourous books on the Clan Haggis and its cadet branches such as the Whitepuddins, Blackpuddins, Salamis, Mortadellas, Frankfurters, Bangers, etc. There has also been a book of poems about life and include love, war, teenage years, the Grass, and fitba' (football)!
The Pink Floyd project started out as a small task helping someone who was doing something for college but, the more I delved into it, the more inconsistencies I found, so I thought that I should tackle it as a history. Hopefully I have rectified some of the 'legends'. Although there are many books, articles, and websites out there on the Floyd, too many times there has been no objectivity in the approach. I had been a follower in the early days, but had been too busy in the Army later to continue. This turned out to be fortunate insomuch as it allowed a certain objectivity. Some may feel that I have sided with one or other faction within the band, but the truth is that I have simply looked at the facts and have told it as I have seen it.
SB: With the book finally on the shop shelves, bringing this part of your journey to a close, how hard or easy has it been to travel?
Bamba: The journey has not been as easy as one would think. I was aware of the fact that there are various factors which have in the past split not only the band, but the fans themselves. I cared not a jot for why, but simply wanted the book to be of interest to either and both sides, as well as giving the view of the 'outsider'. My main worry on the journey was that I would make some tremendous 'gaff' which would ruin the worth of the book.
SB: The most obvious aspect of the book is that it is very personal as well as historical. Is this just the way you write, or was it a definite decision on your part to share your little link with the Floyd with the rest of the world?
Bamba: I have been known to include the odd snippet of personal information to put over a point when explaining something in a history. This must be the teacher in me, as I have found that such anecdotes can often be much more illuminating of a point than ten pages of waffle! The Pink Floyd book was something else--something quite different than anything tackled before. After all, here was a group of people who were still alive, for a start! There was a danger of getting it wrong and being corrected in a most public way! The fact that I had followed the band in the early days meant that there was an affinity for the subject, but not sufficient as to affect how I wrote about it. To do a 'normal' history on the band would have made the book quite bland, and that in itself might have suggested that the subject was bland--which fans all know it surely is not! That the bulk of the fans were, in fact, born after the band had started out on that long road to success helped me make up my mind that the only way the history would work would be if it did have a bit more than the normal snippet of personal history. After all, the first and most common thing many of us older fans are asked about the Sixties is: "What was it like!" I hope that by writing the history in the way I have, it has been easier to follow and far less boring than some histories I have had to read over the years!
SB: Strangely, because of this personal touch, I continually felt like an outsider looking in, as I wasn't from the times or places you talk about. Yet at the same time I never felt alienated in any way. Did you think this would happen to the "non-London-'60s-fans', or maybe even planned it that way?
Bamba: There may well have been an element of the 'outsider' for those fans in the '60s who were not from London, but wanted to get a sense of what was going on. I know that is what I felt at times, particularly during the 1964-65 period, when I worked as a kitchen porter for a while in London. Then later, after returning to Scotland, I joined the Army but spent almost every weekend in Town. The 'London Scene' at the time did give off that intimate 'In-People' feel to it, and anyone not known to someone were ignored to the point of rudeness. By the beginning of Spring '65, however, the exclusivity had all but gone. This is not to say that there was not a 'clique', particularly as the 'Progressives' led by Pink Floyd and Soft Machine, had their own movement, as displayed by various venues mentioned in the book.
SB: You have some surprising memories of detail (such as your clothes for various gigs, or the weather at certain times) yet an honesty about missing them perform at the 14-Hour Technicolour Dream due to you being well and truly out of it hours before Pink Floyd hit the stage. Looking back, with what you can remember, how much of a Floyd fan were you there and then, compared to now, which sees you inspired enough to write about them?
Bamba: Truth to say, I was a fan of anything that was a bit 'out of it', in those days. This was part and parcel of my so-called 'rebelliousness', something I felt I needed in the stodginess of life in the Army. Needless to say, my main stuff was Pink Floyd, the Beatles and Stones, the Big O, and Procol Harem. By the end of '67 I was very busy in the Army and tended not to bother as much about the music scene as I had. The fact that I was abroad most of the time meant it had become more and more difficult to keep up with the scene. As for now, I have been pleasing myself to catch up with some of the Floyd material I missed. When folk meet me and know of the book, they think I have been some sort of Pink Floyd fan who knows everything about the band. This is not the case but there is little doubt that the whole experience of writing the history has been a great pleasure, despite the odd thorn of finding out some fact which could have been in the book. That is the bane of any writer, particularly historians!
SB: So do you hold to the idea that "if you can remember the sixties you weren't really there"?
Bamba: Not really! Halcyon days are such, that we wish they'd go on forever and, in a way, they do. We remember them so much that those are always the thoughts we cherish. All too often we tend to 'melt' those glorious moments of our lives into our 'comfort pot' in the brain, resulting in a muddled recall of events which happened on different days from each other. We all do remember the Sixties, though in most individual cases, they were so enjoyable that the recollection is rightly very muddled indeed!
SB: I'm sure there are plenty of fans with similar aspirations who would love to know how you went about writing the book and getting it into print?
Bamba: I think that if you want to do something strongly enough, then simply knuckle down and do the bloody thing! If there are fans out there who want to do something on the Floyd, then there has been so much written that they may find it difficult writing something that stands out from the rest. If they were able to concentrate on a particular aspect of the band, then they may make an effort on that. You will notice that I touched very little on the legal aspects of the band's split, simply because there were so many of them and they all too often resulted in out of court settlements, where the details are known only to the court. If there is a fan willing to spend the time doing the research, then perhaps this would be a very good aspect on which to write. These days, there are not the same barriers to publishing as in the pre-computer age, so any budding writer can get a move on. And don't harp on about publishing--if you can't get one of the major publishing houses to financially screw you and publish the book, then publish it yourself!
SB: Did you attempt to interview any one in or around the band for the book?
Bamba: There was enough documentary material in newspapers, magazines, and articles in music histories and books that I didn't feel the need to infringe on the members of the band and their support staff. I was very aware of Pink Floyd members always carefully guarding their privacy and the more I got on with the book, the less I was inclined to interview. Not only was there the privacy angle which may be a barrier to interview, but also the problem of censorship whenever writing about someone, once you have contacted them. I'm not saying that it would have happened in this case, but in the past I have interviewed a number of people and they have only agreed to the interview if they could 'approve' the final draft before publication. There were a number of delicate events within my history which I wished to touch on, and the last thing I wished was that there be some 'hand' there to stop me discussing it in the book. The fact that any interview may well have involved a major corporation (EMI, for example), tended to put me off even attempting it. I was very interested in interviewing Syd, but considered there were far more important matters such as his health and his privacy, so didn't chase it up. I have to admit that I would not attempt any other music history, the only exception being a biography of Syd.
SB: You clearly give your point of view on 'harsh treatment' of Mike Leonard, Pink Floyd's early manager-cum-roadie-cum-lightman and Syd Barrett, when it came to the "leaving them behind". Do you think it simply shouldn't have happened or what do you think should have happened?
Bamba: On the question of Mike Leonard, Nick Mason's own opinion that the band treated him badly is enough to confirm my own opinion that he should have had some recognition of his worth to the band in its early days, if only to make some settlement before signing with the King and Jenner organisation. As regards Syd, only those who were there day-to-day can tell how awkward Syd was! I do think there should have been greater support from the members of the band, and I think my opinion on this comes out fairly clearly in the book. We should not lose sight of the fact that us teenagers of those days were a hell of a lot more na´ve than those of even ten years later! This, along with the lack of care by the management, tended to allow Syd to 'fall off the ladder' at that time.
SB: In the same breath, I noticed you weren't as critical of Rick Wright's treatment in the late '70s? Care to elaborate on that?
Bamba: I'm not sure that I wasn't! I thought that I did actually show the treatment of Rick as being part and parcel of a pattern of behaviour when someone became 'out of favour'. I am willing to state that I found it just as objectionable, despite there being a difference in the manner of the removal.
SB: If Pink Floyd's first management had been right and the band had imploded with the departure of Syd Barrett, after the album A Saucerful of Secrets, do you think those first two albums would be enough to warrant some sort of fan base nearly four decades later?
Bamba: There would have been a cult following, as happens when any band break new ground. I think I would have thought it worth writing about a band that changes the direction of so many people simply by their music. I'm sure the band are still flattered that folks like you and I are interested enough to write about them and their works!
SB: As you describe each album there is little mention of the music itself. I found this strange for a history of a band. As a keen fan, I wasn't worried as such, but for the casual fan who might read your book, do you see it as a problem they may be left wondering what it all sounds like?
Bamba: I trust the casual fan will find out for themselves. As I have admitted more than once, I know little of the band's later music and most fans, casual or otherwise, will look to their own judgement, or to magazines such as Spare Bricks, and to the websites such as A Fleeting Glimpse, to get a more in-depth analysis than ever I could do for the book!
SB: With pleasure I noted that you thoroughly enjoy bagging modern music. Plenty of your readers will agree with your sentiments--comments about "talentless morons" seem to ring so true with so many today. So what current bands do you like?
Bamba: As an old sod, I don't listen to much modern music, unless in a pub or from a radio or TV programme. The likes of Coldplay and the latest Oasis album tend to show that talent ain't dead, it's still alive under the smothering blanket of the record industry! There are, as I say, far better bands out there in the pubs in any small town than there are in the whole of the Top Twenty!
SB: I have well over twenty Pink Floyd books, and most of them fall into two categories; 'biography' or 'timeline'. Compared to other Pink Floyd books, how do you see yours sitting on the book shelf?
Bamba: Perhaps you should open a new category for your bookshelf: Idiosyncratic?
SB: The "book fan" in me noticed there is no ISBN number and publishing details. The obvious question... why not?
Bamba: This was an error and will be rectified before the reprint later this year.
SB: How can people track down a copy?
Bamba: I will inform you nearer the date, but it is to be hoped that this will be on the Amazon site by then.
SB: Considering your recent health problems, what's next for you? More books?
Bamba: Yes. I have one of the Clan Haggis books (Whozwho In The Clan Haggis) out next week, and the others will follow shortly. I am also working on a history concerning Golf, as well as one on Formula One racing.
SB: Lastly, how do you recommend folks read your book... a nice sunny deck, or maybe a comfy chair and smoking jacket? Any suggestions?
Bamba: Yes: a sunny day, your favourite tipple, your best mates, Floyd music in the background, and a bloody good joint.
SB: A big thanks indeed on behalf of Spare Bricks for your time and effort!
Memory of a lost paradise The quest to document one night in the Floyd's career Sometimes bits of Pink Floyd's history are so buried and so forgotten that, sadly, they are likely never to be uncovered.
Memory of a lost paradise
The quest to document one night in the Floyd's career
Sometimes bits of Pink Floyd's history are so buried and so forgotten that, sadly, they are likely never to be uncovered.
This is the case with a show played at McFarlin Auditorium on the campus of Southern Methodist University, on September 10, 1972. McFarlin is a traditional theater seating about 2,400, and played host to many notable concert acts in the late 1960s and early '70s, including the Grateful Dead (1969), Derek and the Dominos (1970), and Queen (1975). The Floyd's setlist was pretty standard for that era: Dark Side, "One of These Days", "Careful With That Axe, Eugene", and "Set the Controls", with "Echoes" as the encore.
So why does this show stand out to me? Because I attended Southern Methodist University in the early 1990s, and besides attending many concerts, performances, and lectures at McFarlin, I have performed there myself and worked backstage at events. I've used the same dressing rooms as Pink Floyd, albeit 30 years after the fact. That, to me, is very cool.
The obvious thing to do, then, was to see what the school newspaper, the Daily Campus, had to say about this special event. I spent an evening poring over microfilm at the library, and found nothing. Zip. Zilch. Zero. No pre-show promotional article. No advertisements. No photos. No post-concert review.
Wow. How could this be? Sure, in 1972 Pink Floyd had not yet achieved the superstar status that was to be theirs a year later. But still, you would expect something in the paper, wouldn't you? Not to be deterred, I also thoroughly checked the Dallas Morning News for some mention of the show, but again came up empty-handed.
At this point, I actually began to question whether the show took place as rumored. Sure, it can be found in any number of books detailing the Floyd's live history (e.g. The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia, Povey and Russell's Pink Floyd: In the Flesh, Miles' Visual Documentary), but that doesn't necessarily prove anything. These authors have certainly done everything in their power to verify the information they publish, but every book I've ever seen has at least one or two little errors. Goodness knows that over some 40 years of the band's history, bits of hearsay and legend (not to mention speculation and outright falsehood) have been repeated and referenced enough to become accepted as fact in the minds of many a fan and biogrpaher. No writer, no matter how conscientious, can check every published fact.
Enter Vernon Fitch, who provided me with a scan of a handbill from the show, given to him by someone who had been in attendance. I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to the research.
My next tack was to see if there was any other official documentation from the show. I contacted Ben Marthaler, the current manager of McFarlin Auditorium, hoping to gain access to whatever official McFarlin archives there might be. Would they have any photographs from the performance? Something told me that they wouldn't, but it was worth a try. Some venues have a photographer on staff to shoot photos of every event and performance.
Ben, it turns out, is a fellow Floyd fan, and reported (regrettably) that McFarlin does not maintain any kind of archive, beyond a 'master list' of every act that has performed there, alongside the date. This confirmed again that the show did take place, but provided me with nothing beyond what was already known.
Next I contacted members of an SMU alumni e-mail group to which I belong. I asked, quite bluntly, if any of them remembered anything about the Floyd playing at McFarlin in 1972. This sparked a lot of memories of on-campus concerts: the Rolling Stones at Moody Coliseum in 1969, the Police and REM in the 1980s, and Pearl Jam in the '90s.
(One alumnus recalled that when the Floyd played three dates in Dallas in November 1987, there was an inflatable pig tethered above the old Dallas Light & Power plant, recreating the cover of Animals. On the other hand, he remembered this as happening in 'the early 80s', so clearly his memory was a little hazy.)
Another alumnus--an Emmy-winning sound engineer who has worked at a number of performances at McFarlin Auditorium over the years--remembered a Led Zeppelin concert at McFarlin around that time (though I can't find any corroborating evidence of this show), but no Pink Floyd. He even checked his old yearbook, which notes concerts by Blood, Sweat & Tears, Elton John, Bob Seger, The Carpenters, and Jerry Jeff Walker, but again no Pink Floyd.
Discouraged, dejected, and a little desperate, I turned to my last chance: Echoes. I asked if any members had attended the show, and if any concert recording existed. (My previous attempts to get a copy of an audience tape of this performance had only turned up mis-dated recordings from the 1972 Japanese tour and such. That was par for the course back when trading shows meant firing up the tape deck and hoping beyond hoping that the other trader was being as conscientious about the process as you were.)
Through a fellow Echoesian, I got a copy of the show, and made contact with a long-time Dallas-area collector who prefers to be known only as "T". He seems to have been the source of the tape of this elusive McFarlin Auditorium show that has circulated for a number of years. As he tells it, "The guy I got it from used to bring over live audience tapes made at local venues recorded in the late '60s and early '70s. I don't think he was the guy that recorded them but I think he was very close to the source. He was very quiet and would not respond with very much information, so I quit asking. He had a wide selection of artists, not just Pink Floyd--as a matter of fact, that was the only Floyd tape he brought.
"I never saw this version of this show being traded until I started trading it. The recording is missing the beginning due to taper problems at the show. You can hear a couple of guys talking about 'no level at all', so I'm guessing there was a problem and they missed recording the beginning of the show."
The circulated tape of the show has generally poor sound quality. "T" notes that there was some flutter at the beginning of "Us and Them", as well as breaks in other songs. He tweaked the sound and reconstructed the songs as much as he could, but there are still speed issues and other artifactual noises. He has released the show as a CDR package for trading, with cover art featuring a rather rare photo from the gig. As is everything else about the show, the photo is shrouded in mystery. The photographer only had this single shot from the show, and gave it to "T" for the sole purpose of creating cover art, with a promise not to use it for any other purpose (including publication here). "T" was also asked not to give out any further information about the photographer's identity, but will confirm that the photographer was not the taper.
So there you have it--after all that research, all that was unearthed is a single photograph and an incomplete tape of the performance. But that is a lot more than can be said for a lot of other Pink Floyd concert dates. The moral of the story is this: treasure those tapes and collections of photos, because a lot of the Floyd's live history has gone undocumented. Share those recordings and memories freely, to make sure that the events don't become yet another shred of forgotten history.
A Committee of not many ...with a well-known band for good measure! July 2005 finally saw the release on DVD of The Committee, Pink Floyd's first direct journey into film soundtracks. Beautifully packaged, with a bonus CD of music from the Homemade Orchestra and an interview with writer Max Steuer and director Peter Sykes, the DVD is not just a must for any serious Floyd fan, but a moving and insightful look at society in the '60s that can easily be used as a tool to look at society in the 21st century. So armed with the new release and a thirst for answers to so many myths about the band at the time, I undertook to interview writer Max Steuer. It turned out to be quite rewarding, filling in a few gaps in the band's history, Syd Barrett's initial involvement, and the whereabouts of the lost tapes! Working with Max via email has certainly been a pleasure and I can't thank him enough for giving up his valuable time to answer the questions. Spare Bricks: The Committee was based on a short story you wrote entitled "Nightmare". When did you write it, and how similar is it to the film? Max Steuer: "Nightmare" was published in a small literary magazine in 1966. The film is very close to the story, especially in mood. The director, Peter Sykes, and others, had a great deal of faith in me, too much maybe, and tried to realise in the film exactly what I had in mind. SB: Was R.D. Laing an influence in writing The Committee, and if so, how? MS: Laing was undoubtedly an important influence. Like a number of other thinkers in the Sixties, he took a view about the balance between individual expression and freedom, and the alleged needs of society, which is far from the dominant culture today. The drift to religion today, fundamentalist and near-fundamentalist, is very authoritarian. Laing certainly had his mystical side, but with him it always served to liberate. In the confrontation scene, the phrase "they kill the bird of paradise..." is a direct reference to a book by Laing. I believe that Laing was of the view that even extremes of deviance such as schizophrenia were valid expressions of individual views, possibly exalted views. The film does not go that far. Society still tries to nudge the deviant back onto an acceptable track, but it does so from a far more insightful and anti-authoritarian stance than many people in authority would employ today. SB: A lot of the dialogue between the Hitchhiker and the Committee Chairman revolves around society... interpretations, meanings, effects, etc. Despite the vast changes in the physical and material world between the '60s and today, do you feel that the same comments and ideas can be applied to today's society? If they are different, what do you think the two characters might be saying today?
A Committee of not many
...with a well-known band for good measure!
July 2005 finally saw the release on DVD of The Committee, Pink Floyd's first direct journey into film soundtracks. Beautifully packaged, with a bonus CD of music from the Homemade Orchestra and an interview with writer Max Steuer and director Peter Sykes, the DVD is not just a must for any serious Floyd fan, but a moving and insightful look at society in the '60s that can easily be used as a tool to look at society in the 21st century.
So armed with the new release and a thirst for answers to so many myths about the band at the time, I undertook to interview writer Max Steuer. It turned out to be quite rewarding, filling in a few gaps in the band's history, Syd Barrett's initial involvement, and the whereabouts of the lost tapes! Working with Max via email has certainly been a pleasure and I can't thank him enough for giving up his valuable time to answer the questions.
Spare Bricks: The Committee was based on a short story you wrote entitled "Nightmare". When did you write it, and how similar is it to the film?
Max Steuer: "Nightmare" was published in a small literary magazine in 1966. The film is very close to the story, especially in mood. The director, Peter Sykes, and others, had a great deal of faith in me, too much maybe, and tried to realise in the film exactly what I had in mind.
SB: Was R.D. Laing an influence in writing The Committee, and if so, how?
MS: Laing was undoubtedly an important influence. Like a number of other thinkers in the Sixties, he took a view about the balance between individual expression and freedom, and the alleged needs of society, which is far from the dominant culture today. The drift to religion today, fundamentalist and near-fundamentalist, is very authoritarian. Laing certainly had his mystical side, but with him it always served to liberate. In the confrontation scene, the phrase "they kill the bird of paradise..." is a direct reference to a book by Laing. I believe that Laing was of the view that even extremes of deviance such as schizophrenia were valid expressions of individual views, possibly exalted views. The film does not go that far. Society still tries to nudge the deviant back onto an acceptable track, but it does so from a far more insightful and anti-authoritarian stance than many people in authority would employ today.
SB: A lot of the dialogue between the Hitchhiker and the Committee Chairman revolves around society... interpretations, meanings, effects, etc. Despite the vast changes in the physical and material world between the '60s and today, do you feel that the same comments and ideas can be applied to today's society? If they are different, what do you think the two characters might be saying today?
MS: Broadly, much the same tensions exists today between individual realisation of oneself and the pressures of society. The sixties, hippydom, if you like, looks na´ve today, but it had something. It was freeing. It had goals that weren't materialistic. It was sensual, and, yes, in many ways it was silly. Today it seems harder for people to think and feel for themselves. It is interesting that Tony Blair is saying now that engaging in dialogue is critical in dealing with terrorism. I think he is right in that. And of course, that is the heart of the film. The nature of the dialogue today is rather different. Many people feel they know precisely what God wants, and are prepared to do anything that favours what they believe God wants. This is a rather different discussion than in the film. There the content was largely about secular morality.
SB: Can I ask what the motivation was behind the several exchanges in the film? First, when the Hitchhiker is asking for time off from work:
Hitchhiker's Boss: I was on a committee once, years ago, consisted of eight men. We were asked to decide which of five oranges we thought was the roundest.
MS: This is a reference to 'Ash Experiments', which have to do with conformity. In those experiments a stooge is placed in a group who all profess to agree, for example, that the third line on the page is the longest, where anyone with eyes can see that the second is longer. Do you follow your own eyes, or what the group is saying? Typically, there is some vacillation on repeated trials, and then people settle down either conforming or sticking to their guns. The latter is rare.
SB: Second, during the walk around the grounds:
Hitchhiker: You could ask him, but he couldn't tell you. That's the point isn't it, he couldn't tell you.
Chairman: Can you tell me?
Hitchhiker: I can tell you this. In that car there was nothing, see nothing, just talk. It's fair to say, isn't it, that a man like that doesn't think? He doesn't really feel. He goes through the motions of being human because nobody tells him any different.
MS: This is the crime of arrogance. The film is sympathetic to the hitchhiker, but like real life heroes, he has his faults. Because he sees himself as more creative, freer, smarter, whatever, he feels he can do others down.
SB: Again, during the walk around the grounds:
Chairman: Some people think that the criminals and the mad are the real heroes.
Hitchhiker: Why not, in a corrupt world? In a pointless and vicious society?
Chairman: But in a reasonable society?
Hitchhiker: There are no criminals.
Chairman: So, one criminal act can turn a reasonable society into an unreasonable one?
Hitchhiker: And back again.
MS: There are three things here. First, the view that people are inherently good, and only evil in society makes them evil. This is wrong. To some extent, people are born with personalities, and not all personalities agree. There are situations which are inherently situations of conflict. It is not the failings of society which bear all the blame. However, when I reflect on this little bit of the film, I cannot help but think about 9/11, where to some extent, a criminal act turned a somewhat reasonable society into a somewhat unreasonable one. That is the second part. And the last part is the "back again". Do you have to step outside the rules of a reasonable society to correct some wrongs? Well, the hitchhiker thinks so.
SB: Another is in the car as they drive away:
Girl: Do you play bridge?
I've included this last quote even though the opening presumably explains it. It looks as though this opening statement is a recent addition (as it is put before the film clearance message), and therefore, why was it put in? Or was it to stop people like me asking what she meant?
And why bridge, when they play chess in the film? And why doesn't he answer? He sort of looks away. Is he cured, or is he going to end up killing her, too? Or neither: is he happy to be with someone who is content with the easy things in life?
MS: You ask some good questions! The quote was added for the DVD. I hope it helps. I love the way Tom Kempinski reads it. It actually informs the meaning. I think it should be there. I guess part of the reason for bridge rather than chess is that bridge is a team game. Also, as you rightly note, the hitchhiker is a chess player. So there is a kind of tension in that she plays a different game. Has the confrontation worked? Has the Committee succeeded in curing--or socialising--this person? As in life itself, the answer is unsure. Maybe. I believe it is sentimental nonsense to hold that people can be cured, once and for all. They might be, but they might not. That is the nature of freedom of choice.
SB: On the comical side, the whole "you look like my wife" scene is hilarious. Is this a bit of light relief or is there yet more hidden meaning as well?
MS: I think it is pretty funny, and beautifully acted by Sammy Daniels and Tom Kempinski. There is a sort of a point, as well. Hopefully, it helps to establish the character Tom plays as a natural 'victim' more or less wherever he goes. Because he is like that, we are tempted into unfairly laughing at him.
SB: In the documentary you say the film is best suited for repeated viewing to really appreciate and enjoy the ideas. So I would say that makes it a 'thinking person's film'. In this modern world of The Matrix (your comparison), do you think you would make it different today to cater for that 'entertain me here and now' market as well as the 'thinking' market?
MS: I would not want to rely on special effects to keep people watching. And I would like to steer clear of phony mystery. But I think a less linear film, with more cutting back and forward in time, and a film with much more agility, would be better.
SB: A contemporary review of the film (by Joel W. Finler, writing in the International Times) highlighted the obvious lack of controlling technology in this society (compared to other films and stories mentioned such as 2001 and 1984), equally highlighting the very human response in The Committee to dealing with problems. Is this something you clearly aimed for as a key difference in your writing (and a real solution to societies problems)?
MS: Very much so. In the 'controlling technology' story, and I would put Total Recall in that group, it boils down to adventure. Can the little guy outsmart the machine? We hoped to address a more serious, and indeed, a more relevant question. What are the 'rights', if you will, of society, and at the same time, how might an ideal society deal with deviance? In my view, even 'best practice' will not give us something we could call a solution. But it still is worth aiming for.
SB: The review also describes disappointment that the "most successful and dramatic scene" is in the opening sequence (presumably the beheading). You say as much in the documentary, discussing a possible re-edit with flashbacks. Was this discussed much at the time, or was the film always going to be a chronological telling of the tale?
MS: As I say, it could have been edited in a way that put more of the punch, or the hook to use a musical expression, closer to the end. We did think about it. At the time, there was a Bergman film which consisted almost entirely of something like the confrontation scene. My Dinner with Andre, one of my favourites, also does not rely on the usual movie methods for being entertaining. If I did it again, yes, it would be a lot more fun, hopefully, without losing the point. But it would never be as much 'fun' as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, both actually being torture for me. Maybe it could be as much fun as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
SB: So in an overall way, what was the motivation for making the film? Negatively, was it a warning about society to society, or positively, was it a teaching tool designed to encourage society to do a better job?
MS: I think we should not get too carried away with the didactic aspect of the film. The heart of the film is a kind of stylised 'psychoanalysis', or at least a psychological exploration. This is essentially an emotional things, carried out through all the 'words' about society and the rest, but on another level telling a tale of a particular kind of two-person interaction. There is a sort of satisfying resolution to it.
SB: From the documentary, you and Peter Sykes clearly love the end product (as you explain, it was just as much for yourselves as it was for the wider world). Is there anything that you might change in hindsight?
MS: You are right. It was great to do. And it was self-indulgent, to a degree. I am sure a much better movie could be made by thinking all the time, every nanosecond, about what the audience is experiencing rather than about what we are doing.
SB: I notice this is your only film writing effort. Have you written others that didn't make it to production, or was The Committee a one-off?
MS: The Committee, for all its problems, came from the heart. After that, I was asked to write a commercial film. It was a struggle. I worked all summer nine to five, like having job, and gave up my holiday. Oddly, when people read the script, they loved it, without exception. I hated doing it, and it certainly was not from the heart. There is a lesson here. The Italian film company behind the project went under shortly after the script was finished, so that was that.
SB: How did you get involved in producing The Committee? Was Peter Sykes a friend of yours at the time and so it was a natural move for you to work on that part of the film as well?
MS: No, I did not know Peter before. A group of us put on the twenty or so short plays that occur in Kafka's diaries. These are the only actual plays he wrote, most having four lines or so, and ours was the only production ever done, to my knowledge. Meghnad Desai directed. Some members of that project wanted to go on to making a film, which gradually became more and more professional, so that by the time shooting began, very talented and able people were making the film.
SB: In the documentary you describe the not-so-ideal situation of your writing day by day as it were. But it is a credit to Peter and the cast that it comes across all very smoothly etc. Do you feel a sense of achievement in this, or do you wish you could have written it first, then tweaked it when needed?
MS: My wife tells me that a lot of productions are like this, with writers just meeting the deadlines of the next day's shooting. It is nerve wracking, but maybe it is a good way to work.
SB: Apart from the writing, do you have many memories of the day-to-day work on set?
MS: Absolutely. I loved everything about it. I am sure I slept less in that year than any year of my life. I remember being exhausted and exhilarated much of the time. Seeing actors at work was impressive. When we saw rushes in the early morning, I was often surprised even though I had been present at the filming. It is a great skill to know how a scene will look. Nowadays with digital equipment, directors do not need that skill. They can see what they are getting as the shoot. Peter was great in that regard, as in many other ways.
SB: With the upcoming release of the DVD, you would have no doubt paid a lot of attention to it in the recent past, maybe after a long gap since 1968. Do you feel the film stands up as a film, as a message for what you were trying to say, and do the other parts (music, direction, acting, etc.) still support that?
MS: It ages well. In many ways, it is better now. In addition, now it captures a period.
SB: Turning to the soundtrack, did you have any say in getting Pink Floyd involved?
MS: We started by working with Syd Barrett. Alas, this was not a viable option. Roger Waters heard about these efforts, and suggested the Floyd could do the job. I am so glad he did. It was absolutely wonderful working with them, and the outcome could not be better.
SB: According to some researchers, the initial meeting to involve Pink Floyd was a lunch in 1968 with yourself, someone else involved in the film, Roger Waters and Syd Barrett. Is there any truth to this?
MS: I do not think so. As you may know, Pink Floyd was managed for a time by Peter Jenner, who was a lecturer for a time at the London School of Economics, where I work, and worked at the time. So there is a sort of natural connection there. Apart from that, I was an enormous Floyd fan right from the beginning.
SB: The story I've heard is that you initially wanted Syd Barrett to do the music for the film. Apparently Roger Waters and Syd Barrett went into a studio that day and recorded a lot of strange music. When Peter Jenner heard about these sessions he took the tapes. The soundtrack then came from a second session with Pink Floyd. Is there any truth in this?
MS: Roger was not involved at all in that first try with Syd. Syd read the story and said he would do the film. This seemed fine by me. He asked us to book a very expensive studio, and showed up an hour and a half late, and without a guitar. He asked Peter Sykes and me to get lost, which we did. We came back a few hours later to find a trio--drums, bass, and guitar. They finished a bit and lased it up backwards. Syd thought it was a good start. It cost too much money, and would have sunk the film. Somehow, Peter Jenner got that tape. Peter, give me back my tape!
SB: In the documentary you explain that the Pink Floyd recording session for the film took place in 1968 in your basement, over a period of four days. What do you recall about this session?
MS: The address was 3, Belsize Square, London NW3, the basement flat of the painter Michael Kidner and his wife Marion. (Both have small parts in the movie). There was no furniture in the living room, which was large. We started at nine each morning and did twelve hours or so. Roger was always there at 8:30, David Gilmour shortly after, then Nick Mason, and Rick Wright just before nine. It was amazingly professional. The road crew set up the first day by 8 o'clock or so. The van you see on the Ummagumma album was parked outside.
Much of the time was devoted to working with the soundtrack, no pictures. When the music was recorded they had both the dialogue in their cans and the film on the screen. There was a lot of discussion. My input was minimal, other than to say 'OK' when it seemed to me to be OK. Just at the end, when the mixing was going on, Roger asked me which of two alternatives I favoured. I said, 'What do you think?' He said, 'You are the governor.' I never forgot that. It was great knowing these musicians for a time.
SB: In the documentary, you mention the death of Martin Luther King (April 4, 1968)... do you recall which of the four days that was?
MS: When we went into the studio, typical of the professionalism and helpfulness in cutting expenses, we all met for breakfast opposite the studio at least an hour before it opened. It was during that breakfast that the paper came around with King's assassination. We had to put it out of our minds and just get on with the job.
SB: In the documentary, Peter recalls that "there were some problems" with Pink Floyd at the time. Do you recall what they were, or was Peter talking in general terms about the band, and not specific to the film?
MS: I do not think Peter meant anything. He probably was thinking about Syd.
SB: With three days of rehearsals, how much of that was recorded and do you think that may ever see the light of day?
MS: Nothing was recorded from rehearsals. The nature of the music, apart from the bit near the beginning and at the end, is purely to interact with the actors. There is no sense in which the music can meaningfully exist without the film. This is the real interest of it. Usually, or often, music is just laid on a film. This was something else, something quite unique, and in my view, extremely effective.
SB: From the documentary, it's made relatively clear that the music of Arthur Brown is limited to just that one scene when they perform live at the evening party. So I take it all the other music is Pink Floyd?
MS: Yes, apart from the sound over the opening title, which was done by a sound engineer, just for the hell of it.
SB: Was Arthur Brown considered for anything else, such as the incidental music, but you later went with Pink Floyd?
MS: I think Arthur and the Floyd are quintessential men of the period, and of lasting importance. We wanted the "Fire" number and I am so pleased that Arthur agreed to that. What a performance! It was never envisaged that he and his colleagues would do anything other than the party sequence.
SB: How did the DVD come about?
MS: Two DVD companies, one in Australia and one in the UK, approached Basho Ltd., who acquired The Committee from Craytic (the original producers), and made offers for the DVD rights. The directors of Basho decided to go ahead with the DVD rather than sell the rights.
The mastering to digital was done by Pink Pigeon, who are located on Berwick Street in London. Do check their website.
SB: Are you happy with the final product?
MS: I think they did a great job. As you know, film is twenty-four frames a second, and DVD is sixty images. There are many ways of going from one to the other, and they worked hard getting it right.
The visuals for packaging and the discs were done by Jon Gosling, and I think he did an inspired job. Paul Jones re-recorded "The Committee" song with an arrangement by Tim Whitehead for the Homemade Orchestra. That group combines jazz and classical players, and along with a Peter Gabriel song and an earlier track from Tides (the first Homemade Orchestra CD) makes a great bonus CD.
Jon Blair, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker, did the interviews with Peter Sykes and me. People tell me he cut this together brilliantly, and I have to agree. Yes, I really like the final product, including the voiceover by Tom Kempinski at the beginning, which was not on the original film.
SB: The documentary is the only bonus feature. Was that all that was planned? Were there other things like commentaries considered?
MS: You mean the only bonus on the DVD. The CD described above is another bonus. We did film the recording session of the new version of "The Committee" song (music by Paul Jones and words by yours truly) but decided to include a CD instead. There were two reasons. We wanted to get still shots of committees, such as at the UN, and government committees planning war in Iraq, to use as a kind of pop video, but this proved to be overwhelming. At the same time, I kind of think people are too indulged with images and are getting out of the habit of listening to music, so we decided on the CD.
SB: Did you have any input into the bonus disc of music or is that more of a company thing?
MS: I wrote the words of the original song. That was recorded by EMI and is still available on a Paul Jones compilation (Come into My Music Box). Mainly Manfred Mann musicians were involved on the original. I got Tim Whitehead, one of the best sax players around, to do the new version for Homemade, and I chose the other two tracks. The Peter Gabriel song is very beautiful, haunting, and in keeping with the movie. The other track, "Bird"... well listen for yourself.
SB: It certainly is three very different tracks... the jazzy "Bird" is my favorite of them musically, but "The Committee" is most enjoyable as well; the film compacted into a few minutes. Were you trying anything in particular with it, or just another way of saying what you wanted to say?
MS: I'm so pleased! I see the song as another way of expressing the film. Tim Rice, who has worked so closely with Andrew Lloyd Webber, had nice things to say about the song. Oddly, I think the song makes the film more comprehensible, though without the film it must be somewhat mysterious.
SB: Was there any thought to putting some of the soundtrack by Pink Floyd (such as the closing piece) on the bonus CD, or is there problem with copyright and so on?
MS: Many films use music as a kind of background wash. Simon and Garfunkel in The Graduate is a wonderful exception. Whether that influenced us or not, I'm not sure. But basically we wanted the music to directly enhance the performances, and not just tacked on. Pink Floyd rehearsed to a tape of the soundtrack, and then made the music with cans giving them the dialogue, as well as what the other three were doing. At the same time, the film was playing on a large screen. Each little section was made, bit by bit. The closing theme is, I guess, independent enough to make a Floyd track, but we never had that in mind. I think Roger and the Floyd are immensely creative. They have something to say. I was always very moved by their music together, and in my view Roger's work since has some of the finest writing in rock, or elsewhere, for that matter.
SB: Max, thanks for your time.
MS: Thanks for asking me these questions. I've enjoyed thinking about them. Could I just add a word about Peter Sykes' visual imagery? I think the glade sequence and the confrontation sequence have some truly beautiful shots. The party sequence is more 'real sixties' than any work I know of. Arthur Brown's performance still blows me away, and hits just the right note. And what really pulls it all together is Paul Jones' always-thoughtful performance.