The Gurrier Element

Photo by Lennymogwai, June 13, 2014.

Photo by Lennymogwai, June 13, 2014.

It was a thankless Monday morning when McCann committed himself to the annals of history. He had gone about his forty-odd years, say forty, call them odd, walking through Dublin’s various subdivisions of delusion, penury, and haught in relative anonymity, never bothering what passes for journalism with anything to pass off as news. McCann (he has other names but we’ll not need them here) had lived through and out the arse end of the Celtic Tiger: never getting rich, never getting greedy, always paying cash, always lamenting the death of conversation but never initiating one, always seeking to be quieter in the increasingly-loud world around him, and always looking for a high stool with a back (now that the Guinness was homogenised by the vulgarities of health and safety, it was the only reliable way to judge a pub. He was particularly appalled at the use of hygiene as a selling point—a selling point, I ask you—in a recent Guinness campaign). He never hedged; he seldom bet. Neither was he, as they say, Known to the Gardai.

He had alighted his bus a couple of minutes earlier and was heading past the Abbey theatre, bemoaning the unfortunate evening he’d spent there the Christmas before last, when the thought struck him. His route had been altered by progress—now there’s a radical departure—and his trek across O’Connell Bridge and its many variables, both pedestrian and vehicular, had been simplified for him by the construction of the new Rosie Hackett bridge, opened only the month before the month in which this story finds itself set. Now, through a straight line up Marlborough and Hawkins Streets, he could round Trinity College on his way up via Grafton Street to the Green, avoiding the messy trap of O’Connell Street, the bottleneck at the bottom of Westmoreland Street and the tapering dribble of Northside-bound people (not to mention the contemporary and, he hoped, short-to-live construction which made a complete and utter shite of his route past Fleet Street. The Palace and Bowes were impediment enough to his voyage home without fences and holes in the ground).

The straight line was facilitated efficiently by the construction of this new bridge.

Bridges, for McCann, were places of extreme suspicion. Apart from the conventional crossing points, established in Dublin lo these many years and commemorated in song, art, and stories about Hector Grey, McCann looked for the ulterior motive in the construction of any new bridge. The East Link he could accept, with its lifty bit and the whole avoiding-the-city thing, but since then the reasons for bridge building across the Liffey stank like an increasingly-low tide. It seemed now that bridges were confidence tricks, attempts to get people from one part of the city they didn’t need to visit to other parts they needed even less. The Millennium bridge was an ill-fated attempt to convince those who couldn’t get into the Clarence that the Morrison Hotel was really still on the Southside, while the Beckett bridge, named for some obscure, dour expatriate Francophile, was an attempt to revitalise (he would say vitalise) two equally-squalid areas, on one side to concentrate all the 24 year-old bankers in one hectare and on the other to provide them with Tapas restaurants and West End touring companies with whose stirring choruses of Do You Hear the People Sing? they could stoke the ashes of their exhausted hearts.

Come, friendly bombs, indeed, he ruminated provocatively (although not aloud and certainly not on any social networks).

 No, McCann didn’t trust bridges.

This one, though, he had time for. It was a bridge like many others: in fact, it was indistinguishable from any other modern bridge in its functional sweep, brushed steel adornments, and vaguely contemporary flower baskets. It had one Luas line in the centre (about which more anon) and was made up of two bus lanes and two generous pedestrian walkways (for pedestrian, read footfall and annoying Dublin bicycle-schemers) But it wasn’t its construction which set this bridge apart. It was that it was convenient to our protagonist (although he’d retch at the allegation that anything he did advanced someone else’s agon). By walking past the Abbey, crossing at that shop selling snooker balls he knew he’d never, ever need to visit, then by avoiding eye contact with anyone either entering or exiting the Salvation Army and Samaritan premises on the corner in the old Seamans’ Institute building, he could navigate one line of traffic and then cross the Liffey quickly and unencumbered by the chaotic ranks of people scrummaging for the final heave onto the 3 bus ( a bus which, against Nature, had its stop on O’Connell bridge itself, for the sake of Fuck) before crossing two lines of west-heading traffic and reaching the safety of Hawkins Street and the moving statue of Padraig Sheahan. Moving, not just because of its affecting story of the selfless Limerick gendarme, but also because it had gone from its original position on the east side of Hawkins Street outside what was Twohig’s Travel to an island in the centre of the street when they put in the bus lane, then to its current position on the side nearest O’Connell Street. He wondered where the manhole was now that Sheahan had climbed through that fateful day in 1905. It would have had to have been a big one, what with the size of him. This was a hero. Sheahan of the DMP would not have brooked what we now know as the Gurrier Element. McCann loved the story wherein Sheahan brought to book some young Trinity students who stole a flag from the Mansion House in 1900. McCann would have erected a statue to him for that, never mind rescuing dead people from sewers. Sheahan of the DMP. Sounds like a miniseries, he thought. Lots of local colour, sudden violence, and lashings of nudity.

From Hawkins St. it was another one-way crossing, before the noble Protestantism suggested by the foreboding granite wall of Trinity. He would not then know himself before he reached the oasis of Stephen’s Green, where he could eat his lunchtime banana in pieces, at pace, in a peace, of sorts.

The extension of the Luas (named for the Irish for ‘speed’, although there were sections of the Luas Red Line where heroin was a far more prevalent drug) vexed McCann. He hadn’t perused the final plans, secreted as they might well have been in national newspapers and public notices, so he couldn’t figure out how it could function with only a single line going across the river at the bridge he was on. Then someone had told him the line went north across O’Connell Bridge, the very avoidance of which had earned the Rosie Hackett his imprimatur. When the line went live he would have to look at this in some detail before giving it his patronage… maybe his current pedestrian habit might be the easier, especially en route home.

Such an embarrassment of options can tempt to complacency, however, and McCann would have described himself as being in a world of his own if that thought were not too aspirational for a social realist like himself. He was lost in thought once he’d passed the Abbey and banished the memory of The Dead like you would do a remark you’d made at the previous night’s Christmas party to a soon-to-retire boss. He’d moved on, you see, to the length of the strap on his shoulder bag. Now that he had no use for a computer and had invented, like millions of others, sundry uses for an iPad, he had foregone the large black bag he’d sported for years in favour of a khaki-looking thing which cost rather more than he’d anticipated (didn’t everything? Shouldn’t he have raised—or lowered—his expectations by now?), with a broad shoulder strap. It dangled around mid-thigh in a way that he continually meant to do something about, but whenever he did he thought of the Gurrier Element.

Now for someone of his age (indeterminate, irrelevant by ten years each way for any transaction he could think of, either retail, social or vocational) the Gurrier Element didn’t pose a huge problem. He kept his head down and, although he had occasion to stare at someone who dared to litter when his blood sugars were low now and again, he did not involve himself in the lives of others. There’s a certain esprit de l’escalier when something does happen in one’s immediate vicinity, asserting what one would have done if it happened a little closer (in fact, there may be times when one’s involvement, even heroism, is massaged a tad in the telling); that self-knowledge was tested for McCann back in 1999 when, co-incidentally crossing O’Connell Bridge, he was witness to a punch thrown by a young gent and landed on the jaw of his significant other, who screamed what sounded like her last scream before hurrying apologetically along in his indignant wake. What amazed McCann is that he had ever expected more of himself, or of the other dozen or so people who also lowered their gaze and kept moving.

And so the Gurrier Element returned to mind when he thought of the strap of his bag: he thought that only a low-slung gurrier could reach down into it from behind (and he fancied his chances in a donnybrook with anyone under 4’10’’) and that the longer the strap the more purchase he could get if someone absconded with it and a tug-of-war ensued. It was academic anyway: he was tall enough and sober (looking) enough for the Gurrier Element to pass over on their way to an elderly gentleman, a woman with a handbag, or someone foreign trying to take photos with an iPad (an indictment of society; a sad reality; absolutely justified, in that order). He was immune. He sometimes wondered whether anyone would get his phone one day: it seemed to be inevitable, judging from the stories abounding of epidemic theft. McCann would not really care about losing his phone, which was so out-of-date that it rang with the manufacturers’ jingle once so prevalent that it seemed to sing ‘what could possibly shift us from our position as market leader?’, and its battery lasted almost three days. His only care, he reflected, would be that if he were robbed mid-tweet the offender would have the common courtesy to finish his thought for him in 140 characters.

That was good, thought McCann of his witticism. I’ll tweet that.

So he took his phone out of the pocket of his shabby brown cord jacket, picked the red bits of lining off the bottom edge, and crossed the street, head down, onto the Rosie Hackett bridge. Rosie Hackett, the trade unionist and winner of the previous year’s contest to find someone after whom to name the new bridge. McCann was glad it had been named after a woman; gladder still named after one whose credentials put those of the current Labour government to even more shame. Ironic, that: the bridge was opened by the unelected Labour Lord Mayor a week before he, along with many other erstwhile left-leaning Labour councillors, lost his seat on the council. Not that McCann would have picked Hackett if (and this was increasingly unlikely, he had to admit) he was elected God and given such decisions to make on behalf of his Flock. He would have named the bridge after Bertie Ahern, so that nobody could forget him and think of voting Fianna Fail again, ever.

With all of this mincing around in his mind, and with it being a thankless Monday morning (remember?), one could have forgiven McCann for failing to notice the Gurrier Element approach. It (the element), was on one of those Dublin bike scheme bikes, which McCann distrusted for a whole other set of reasons, not least of which was whether riders were as exempt from the regulations governing the wearing of helmets as they seemed to think they were from the Rules of the Road. He had always been told that no insurer worth his or her salt would honour a claim from a cyclist without a helmet. Not that he had a helmet, or a bike; he just knew this to be true. So this was another lapse on which to blame the Government. There would inevitably be scores of people walking around Dublin with head injuries sustained in falls from said bikes, none of whom would have recourse to compensation, further retarding his commute.

It was brazenly, helmetless, and without so much as a warning (which, one must concede, would be unreasonable to demand of a marauding raider) that, mid-tweet, McCann was relieved of his mobile telephone. McCann felt a not-entirely-unpleasant whoosh, a tingle of near-frottage, as the gurrier swept past him and took the phone from his hand, leaving him blank and his tweet unfinished. By a strange enough coincidence, however, McCann’s shoulder strap became hooked on the rear mudguard and yanked backwards the offender, who made unwelcome contact with the steering column of the bike before hitting the ground in what, given the limit of the narrative voice we’re working with today, we can only assume to be pain and disbelief. McCann looked at the phone, looked at the gurrier, looked at the bridge, and did some rapid calculation. He instinctively reached for that which would scupper the gurrier most, and taking the bicycle up in both hands, he moved to the edge of the Rosie Hackett bridge and dropped the vehicle into the raging torrent below.

— — —

 As he sat in John Mulligan’s pub (the increased accessibility of which was another collateral benefit of the increasingly-splendid Hackett bridge) McCann reeled. It was a fantastic feeling for someone who prided himself in doing little to have actually done something. There was exhilaration at how prepared he was to justify himself further, so indemnified was he by righteous indignation. He looked at the phone on the counter in between pint and dry-roasted nuts (protein, he’d learned from science fiction, was essential when shock was involved) and marvelled at how the ne’er do well had relinquished it when McCann had pulled it from his hand. Such people know that their actions are indefensible, and they yield accordingly. He wondered where the word ‘gurrier’ originated. If it was a reference to the soldiers back from the war and begging on the streets, it was a little too noble for this… bowsie, this latchico. Latchico. Had that anything to do with being a latch-key kid? He wasn’t sure, so he decided to go with gurrier. Gurrier suggested an older character than a mere bowsie who could chalk up his malfeasance to youth. A gurrier knows what he’s doing. Sounds good, earthy, vulgar. Latchico is a bit Clockwork Orange-y.

Gurrier.

McCann pondered the scenario had the young man, gurrier, in question forced the issue and intruded on his person. He imagined his own body, bedecked with lilies and accompanied by four plumed horses to the train, where it would be returned to his poor mother who waited on the platform. Except that his mother was dead, it would be a Dart and therefore overcrowded, and the four horses wouldn’t be plumed, they’d probably be emaciated and ridden by little skanger kids who had no idea how to care for them. No, he allowed himself to feel a little like a hero, someone who had descended to the sewer and returned, having tolerated nothing less than honour among his fellow Dubliners. And he was a clever hero, too. If he’d have allowed the gurrier to leave on the bike there could have been another attempted snatch, possibly from a victim frailer and less valiant than he. By decommissioning the bike he’d taught this lost soul the error of his ways. McCann was, for about three seconds, absolutely certain that this would be a turning point in the lad’s life. He would doff his hoodie, get a decent pair of shoes, and sign right up for a Jobbridge. That’s a prime example, he concluded shortly before a Garda and a tracksuited man approached him from behind, of the importance of the Means of Production.

 

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Separated at birth? Bono pictured in 1993 and the cover of the latest King Crimson DVD, Live in Argentina 1994.


I mentioned elsewhere on this admittedly slow lane of the information superhighway that nobody I knew as a teenager had a copy of Atom Heart Mother, but at least people knew Pink Floyd had an album with a cow on the cover. This one, 1972’s Obscured By Clouds, has what looks like a load of bubbles on the cover. It is, in fact, a photo of a man swinging from a tree, blurred out of focus and recognition.
It’s a lost album, coming between Meddle and The Dark Side of the Moon and reaching none of either album’s heights. Described by Nick Mason as ‘the first of the interruptions’ to the recording of Dark Side, was produced in the same way as More, with stopwatches recording sequences from the completed film and then recorded in two weeks, it has the sense of a throwaway, but it features one or two little gems.
The movie’s plot, as far as I know, is about some people who decide to decamp to New Guinea as part of some hippy ideal. If I’m skimping on the details its because I don’t see much of a theme in the music apart from a couple of the song titles, themselves rushed. Some of the natives seem to appear on the closer, the imaginatively-titled Absolutely Curtains[1]. It all sounds a bit Herzog to me. Here’s the trailer:
When I declare that the opening instrumental title track reminds me a little of the Signs of Life opener from the distinctly mediocre A Momentary Lapse of Reason, it should give cause for concern; there’s little to lift the album from that level in the first four tracks. When You’re In sounds like the band lost interest in the track just as they did in its title, while Burning Bridges is dour and dreamy, although Rick Wright’s voice works well with Gilmour’s harmony. We’ve heard this before, though, haven’t we?
The Gold It’s In The… sounds, and I’m being nice here, like something Fleetwood Mac would have rejected in the early ‘70’s. It’s terrible. Were they trying to crack the American market? The irony is in how they did, and that’s with the most unlikely, most English track here, Free Four.
Waters had come close to a discussion of his father (killed at Anzio in WWII) on Corporal Clegg from A Saucerful of Secrets, but was clearly not able for it then. Free Four, its title punning on a cockney march, perhaps, has some of his most dour lyrics to date (but what does that mean from the bloke who wrote ‘hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way’ later that year)? Having been completely unfamiliar with this album and reading the lyrics to avoid self-immolation during The Gold… I anticipated something of a dirge, but no. Free Four will be familiar to anyone who has ever listened to the Classic Rock format of US FM radio. Without knowing its provenance I’d heard the track many, many times. It’s jaunty and very catchy, with a deadpan vocal from the confident Waters, and it’s a real keeper: it sounds like a lighter, brighter sunnier Floyd. The sentiment (‘Life is a short warm moment/And death is a long cold rest’) anticipates those of Dark Side, but the tone of the song clearly wouldn’t have suited the album, so this most un-cinematic of songs took its place on Obscured By Clouds. It very nearly redeems the whole thing.
No less of a diamond in this rough patch is Gilmour’s Wot’s… Uh The Deal, a song he’s returned to live in his solo career. A little West Coast for my liking, but it’s nice. There’s a bit of chat about growing old on this one, too, so it’s clear what Waters’ mind was on. Mudmen is another pleasing instrumental (albeit one with a terrible title), and Childhood’s End, with its King CrimsonEasy Money phrasing[2], plods along without offending anyone.
So it’s a curio: the first use of synthesizers and electronic drums, a few mood pieces and one or two notable songs with silly titles. Free Four, Wot’s… and perhaps the Mudmen song are worth a visit, but Obscured By Clouds lives up to its name, if by ‘clouds’ one means ‘the album before and the one after it’.


[1] Either that or it’s a field recording from a Papal Mass in Ireland c.1979.

[2] In fairness, the Crimson track wasn’t recorded until 1973, but I mention it for identification purposes.


Moving straight from Atom Heart Mother (via some Solpadine) to Meddle is such a pleasure. That old familiar strain of bass, throbbing, the chugging rhythm and arching guitars, the stubborn drums before the falsetto-then-slowed-down Nick Mason declaring ‘One of these days I’m going to cut you into tiny pieces’. It’s all like the return home from a few weeks away in Prog land, when the low ceilings and slightly darker atmosphere lead you up the stairs to sleep off your jetlag. Then A Pillow of Winds welcomes you under its duvet. You kick off your shoes and don’t bother taking off your socks, nestling down and returning home. This is their breakthrough, the album where they allowed the studio to work for them.

The Binson Echorec unit, used for One of These Days. From our friends at Vintageamps.com

The bassline from One of These Days is played in unison by David Gilmour and Roger Waters then put through an old Italian reverb unit, and roots the sound with an urgency clearly at odds with the spaced-out lack of focus that some found so frustrating on the last couple of albums. Once the dust is blown away, the band is free to space out some more, but there’s a comfortable sort of experimentation here that offers more certainty. Echoes, a bona-fide Pink Floyd classic, is only 14 seconds longer than Atom Heart Mother but at the end of this newer piece you feel like turning over rather than switching off.
I can take or leave Fearless and San Tropez, both of which are warm but unspectacular. Of course we know that the Kop provides backing vocals for Fearless, which is a surprise because Waters is a Gooner[1]. I’ve always had a soft spot for Seamus, more recently because it was used in the opening of Tom Stoppard’s film of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. The dog, by the way, belonged to Steve Marriott of the Small Faces.
I’m told that Echoes originated with the submarine-sounding ‘bing’. It’s a piano note through a rotating Leslie speaker, and clearly explains the cover of the album, which depicts an ear underwater with some ripples. I’ve never liked the cover, which seems different, wrong, compared with the slick precision of many subsequent Floyd sleeves. The biggest development on Echoes from their previous long pieces is that 16 track recording allowed them to take runs at small parts, to mix better and to allow the thing to expand more gradually than the efforts of, say, AHM, where the rhythm section had to run through the whole thing in one go. Paradoxically, the increase in precision during the recording process results in Echoes sounding much more relaxed than its six-month genesis might have suggested[2]. It’s much better than AHM because it moves through moods in a way that makes sense; it’s not trying to expand the breadth to account for its length. Sure, it’s much druggier, but the orchestra was only disguising the fact that AHM hasn’t got that much to say.

The cover of Live At Pompeii.

A month before the November 1971 release of Meddle the band recorded a set in the amphitheatre at Pompeii for a movie directed by Adrian Maben. Among the strong performances is a version of Echoes which rivals the studio one. The film moves slowly and painstakingly around the performers in the empty open-air stadium, like a geeky 17 year-old checking out the chops and equipment of a band he can’t wait to be asked to join (see the tracking shot at 7.38 above). As such it’s a delight for fans[3]. As recently as his 2008 Live in Gdansk album Gilmour was playing a 25 minute version of this; it’s been a hugely popular Floyd song since its release. As the song ebbs back into its theme an the power chord descent gives way to the softly-spoken magic spells of Gilmour’s vocal, the listener is left, then and now, with one thought.
This band is just about to become really huge.

They had no idea.


[1] Note for aliens: The Kop is the name given to the stand behind the goal at Anfield, the home ground of Liverpool Football Club. You’ll Never Walk Alone is the song the fans sing to express unity at the beginning and end of pretty much every home match. Gooner is the name given to a fan of Arsenal, a rival team in the same league (correct as of June 2012).

[2] One of the engineers on this record was John Leckie, who went on to produce XTC and, most famously, the Stone Roses.

[3] The director’s cut of the Pompeii film features a couple of songs from the then-unreleased Dark Side of the Moon, but that’s cheating.


There were always a few Pink Floyd albums knocking around when I was growing up: the first one I remember hearing all the way through would have been Relics, a singles compilation that had been rereleased on some MPF type of discount label in the early 80s. While some of it was interesting and Bike was mad, it hardly allowed me in to the more expansive sounds of the band. A friend’s older brother had a really cool Wish You Were Here album with blue translucent vinyl, but we were never allowed play it; we used to look at it a great deal. About this time came the release of The Final Cut but I don’t remember hearing that until much later (the single, Not Now John, was played occasionally, but not too much). The Wall was famous, of course, but nobody I knew owned a copy until around 1986 when someone spilt Home Brew over one and I took it on myself to clean it with Mr. Sheen, wrecking a needle on someone’s turntable in the process. They were all very expensive to buy, I seem to remember. My first listen to Dark Side of the Moon had an interesting context I’ll save for another day (it’s looking like Thursday when I ascend that particular Kilimanjaro). A slightly older friend was into the band much more, but that was confined to Meddle onwards, so Meddle formed the basis of my interest, at least until I got my hands on the full Dark Side. The albums before that were merely prologue.
There were a few of these records I never saw at all—when A Saucerful of Secrets was featured on a Marillion album cover, I didn’t recognise it, and I didn’t know anything about Animals until much later—and Atom Heart Mother was one of the ones I didn’t know anything at all about. In America, where I had access to tons of music, this one didn’t seem to be around at all; even now it’s a record I’ve never owned. The cover is famous, in that it features a large cow[1] but the music inside doesn’t seem to have made it to the outside world. Coming to it now, it’s not much of a surprise that it wasn’t played on the radio much. You can’t even air guitar to it.

From Prog magazine, courtesy of http://www.doctorofprog.blogspot.com. That prog enough for you?

While there’s nothing wrong with being so, it’s a Prog record. I’ve been listening to the title piece, a 23-odd minute suite complete with orchestra and choir, for about two hours now, and it can’t escape the label, except that Pink Floyd always seem to have done exactly that. It’s usually termed space rock or something like that, but while Yes and Genesis were accurately called Prog, while Emerson, Lake and Palmer only had to use manuscript paper to be called Prog, and while King Crimson had to go through years of inaccurate pigeonholing to escape the genre, Pink Floyd used concepts, extended suites and miked frying pans and dogs, crashing planes into the sun and mentioning ancient English kings, yet avoided that most unfashionable term. Why?
I think, for the most part, it’s because they were far more abstract and because they were, unlike King Crimson who are forever associated with their earliest, Proggiest statement, allowed a Year Zero, a chance to reset everything. It didn’t happen when Syd left, as there was (as we’ve seen in the reviews thus far) a bleed-through their music for several albums after his departure, where his lyrics, his temperament and his loss haunted the band. It happened after their decision to make a wholly studio-bound record, like this one.

Alan’s psychedelic breakfast, from the sleeve.

They learned the lesson from Ummagumma of monitoring each other’s work, and on the second half this album the contributions of individual members as composers and vocalists are clearly improved by the group participation clearly missing on the studio side of Ummagumma. The high point among these songs is If, where Roger Waters sounds introspective and confessional, anticipating their most famous MO. Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast sounds like a cross between common or garden Floyd and the indulgence of a band who record a frying egg (which it is, exactly), and the self-conscious Summer ’68 deals in nostalgia for a mere three years earlier, with a Beatles-nodding cornet. Gilmour’s song, Fat Old Sun, is one of his first, and sounds like it. All very nice but nothing earth-shattering.
The album’s first half, though, an attempt to deepen the sound using an orchestra, was almost a step too far. Mason claims in his book that they worried they’d never get out of the studio, and orchestral collaborations have taken their toll on many a band. Through force of will and the co-operation of a Scottish sound engineer named Ron Geesin (about whom Mason raves but whose name is absent from the credits, strangely enough) they got through it.

The Bath Festival of Blues and Progressive Music, June 1970, saw AHM played with a reluctant orchestra.

Originally based on a riff from Gilmour, the notion of using an orchestra might have seemed alien to the former acid rock band, but it doesn’t seem too much of a leap when, as we can, the hindsight of the band’s last few albums is applied. At the time, they claim, it’s because there was something missing from a large piece they had been rehearsing and playing in 1970, titled at the time The Amazing Pudding. Opening, then, with a huge, brass-led fanfare declaring the AHM theme, must have sounded bizarre, not only sonically, but as a choice. Three minutes in we hear Richard Wright’s Fairsifa organ taking us back onto the Floydian map, but there are is a string theme playing behind his riff, reminding one of the opening music to a Hammer film. Mason’s drums increase the drama and there’s a doubling before some lovely slide work brings in the more relaxed Gilmour. There’s admirable restraint during the solo, with the odd brass swell augmenting the solo, swelling gradually until the breakdown at around the five-and-a-half minute mark. Then comes the choir.
First it’s a single soprano, then a counterpoint, bringing in the male voices. It doesn’t really sound like anyone knows where they’re going, so the drums come in. At ten mins it becomes a Floyd song, jamming between Gilmour and Wright. Strangely enough, the strength of this track comes from their bottling it a bit—whenever it gets too choral or two orchestral it gets pared back down into the band itself. There is ornamentation during these parts from strings, voices or horns, but unlike, say Deep Purple or ELP, who have an orchestra booked and are fucked if they’re not going to use it all the time, Floyd use the dynamic range much better; when the horns return at fifteen mins in, it makes a diffeèence. The following musique concrète bit doesn’t add much (it all sounds a bit White Album to me), but when at 19.40ish the organ theme returns, developed by the strings, it’s an effective return that works very well. At the end, it’s been a long 24 mins but it’s an enjoyable piece. None of it was especially necessary but it was nice.
It’s a hugely divisive album, one that some people really hate. If I was  spending my cash on this to the exclusion of one of the more fully-realised Floyd releases, as the teenage me might have done, I’d feel a little miffed. But it charts a point in Floyd before they had to leave quite a lot behind, and it’s of historical interest for that alone. Mason describes its report card as ‘good idea, could try harder[2]’. It’s an interesting hour’s worth, especially the first half-hour.

But it is Prog.


[1] Lulubelle III, according to Nick Mason (139). By now I’m sick of citing the same book, so look at one of the previous reviews. Sorry. This album has tired me out.

[2] Mason, 137.

I love the artwork on this one, he began promisingly. The cover, done by Hipgnosis for the band (they first worked on A Saucerful of Secrets), shows the members of the band sitting at the back door of a house, with a picture hung on the wall depicting the same scene with the musicians swapping places. If that hints at the interchangeability of the members of the band, the music on the second disc shows how they all had their parts to play. The back cover shows all the gear laid out on a runway in a shot replicating one Nick Mason had seen of a Phantom bomber in an aircraft magazine, possibly indicating the type of noise on offer in the live shows represented on the first disc. It’s a two-parter, you see. The first album chronicles the live shows that made the band’s name, while the second disc features around 12 minutes from each of the four members of the band. A game of two halves, one might say. And one would be correct.

The back cover. Apparently one of these guys is Naomi Watts’ dad.

The live stuff is, I’m led to believe, indicative of the shows of the time. Astronomy Domine clatters along, always appearing to head downhill, for its duration; it is close to the recorded version on Piper, if a little more forceful. Careful With That Axe, Eugene was originally a B-side (to Point Me At The Sky, a single in between the second and third albums[1]). It’s twice as long here as on the studio version, and it’s good—zany and crashing, with some great drumming from Mason and an impressive shred from David Gilmour from 5.20 on—but the better version is to be heard and seen on Live at Pompeii (1972).
The remaining two live tracks are the two long songs from A Saucerful Of Secrets. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun is described in Mason’s book Inside Out:

The song—with its great, catchy riff—was designed to sit within Roger’s vocal range. Lyrically it is suitably Sixties (based, according to Roger, on late Tang period poetry) and rhythmically it gave me a chance to emulate one of my favourite pieces, ‘Blue Sands’, the track by the jazz drummer Chico Hamilton…. The song was fun to play live…[2].

The treated piano/mellotron/keyboard at the breakdown has shades of Anthem of the Sun-era Grateful Dead, recorded a couple of months previously on the other side of the psychedelic world. This seems to be a favourite of the band; along with Mason’s comments, Roger Waters played it regularly in his solo tours, albeit with a sax solo in the version with which I’m familiar[3]. The Smashing Pumpkins have also covered it live, although I’m blessed in never having heard it. This version begins with a broody tom-tom led mantra before inevitably exploding, then doing the dynamics-thing every other space rock band has been doing ever since.
The title track from A Saucerful is described by Mason as ‘one of the most coherent pieces [they] have ever produced’[4]. From its bass twang to the final organ flourishes, it’s mapped out into three pieces. After an acceleration into the spacey second part, nicknamed by the band ‘Rats in the Piano’[5], comes the huge organ-led phase. I don’t think this is as effective as the studio version, but this live one has much more drumming at the end and is consequently more strident, so if you like that sort of thing….
On the second disc we have a sample from the chops of each constituent member. It can be tough going. First up is Sysyphus, a four-part suite from Richard Wright. Although it begins with a minute of timpani and dated-sounding keyboards, it soon gives way to a complex piano solo, augmented by some deft cymbals and what sounds like a very-closely miked low end on/in the piano. They had been experimenting with treated piano, and with different techniques of recording, and as we move through the piece it all gets a bit concrete, with strummed and smacked strings and clicks and wobbles all over the place. Towards the end of the piece there’s a slower interval, before the whole things comes crashing back down on top of one (see what we did there? Sysyphus?) with schlocky Mellotron and more apocalyptic cymbals. It reminds me of that dated soundtrack to Apocalypse Now!, or to the Popul Vuh work from the Herzog movies. Thank God the days of taking drugs to listen to music to take drugs to have gone.
We’re not out of the high-concept woods yet, though. Over to Roger, who has an idyll to share with us. Grantchester Meadows is by far the most accessible of the four pieces on offer here, opening with some nice birdsong to chase away the bats and daemons of Wright’s trip. ‘Basking in the sunshine/Of a bygone afternoon/Bringing songs of yesterday into this city room’ is about as old-school Keats as one can get, as Waters, too long in city pent and missing some village green or other, takes his time. It’s quite lovely and clearly points to the Goodbye Blue Sky-type introspection we see now and again from the big man. We haven’t really discussed the remastering in a while: this is rendered beautifully, a real improvement on the original I remember. The live stuff is not too well recorded (Floyd would get MUCH better at it) and sometimes the primitive technologies and instruments are exposed at this level of sound reproduction, but I almost got stung by the bee at the end of Grantchester Meadows before Roger swatted it for me. Thanks, man.

Then he goes and spoils it all with Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving With a Pict. It’s a collage of Roger’s vocal tics and whistles, a Scottish accent and, Floyd-lore tells me, a voice at some stage saying ‘this is all pretty avant-garde, isn’t it?’
Quite.
I get it. Roger had five minutes over after his tune and we won’t need to hear that again, will we?

Genius. from Gepplein (clickthrough).

David Gilmour’s section, The Narrow Way, is interesting, with overdubbed acoustic guitar and tape effects on Part I smash cutting into a more angular electric riff, again with effects in Part II. It’s difficult to see how it could develop more but it seems to be a little half-baked… I’d probably be moaning about it being too long in a parallel universe where he filled up twenty minutes. I’ll say this much for Gilmour, though—his vocal style and phrasing were fully formed here, and haven’t changed a bit. The third section is how I think his cover version of Stairway would have sounded had he not been chucked out of the guitar shop on his ear that one time.
But he, at least, didn’t let his wife play flute[6]. Nick Mason did. His is the final piece of this, ahem, experiment, and it’s titled The Grand Vizer’s Garden Party. To my untrained ear it seems there are some drums and percussion being very closely miked. What sounds like a slowed-down marimba or else someone’s finger on a very wide-rimmed wine glass takes the melody, and it’s not that terribly bad until he starts flicking a switch on the feed and it sounds like the tape is fucked. You almost sigh with relief when the conventional drum solo eventually begins. Then it’s back to the flute and we’re all done.
You can’t help but thank the Lord that the four of them worked together to pare the edges off each individual performance, because I can’t see this album ever reaching daylight without being packaged along with the first official document of one of the most famous live bands in the country at the time. In fairness they never claimed it was anything other than experimental. Last word to Mason:

The record got generally enthusiastic reviews, although I don’t think we were that taken with it. It was fun to make, however, and a useful exercise, the individual sections proving… that the parts were not as great as the sum[7]

And the album was released on the day I was born.


[1] We might also note that this was the last Pink Floyd single for eleven years, until Another Brick in the Wall Part II.

[2] Nick Mason, Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, 118. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2004.

[3] In The Flesh (2002).

[4] Mason, 118.

[5] Mason, 119.

[6] No, gentle reader. He waited thirty years and let her write some lyrics.

[7] Mason, 129.


This morning’s essay in listening to Pink Floyd albums so you don’t have to concentrates on the rather obscure soundtrack to a rather obscure film titled More. It was recorded at a time when Floyd were touring continuously, the first year as fully-fledged band member David Gilmour, hired when Syd Barrett became too unstable. Shortly after this the surviving members of Floyd would recording what became the two Syd solo albums, but very little trace of the lyrically and melodically shambolic Opal and The Madcap Laughs can be found here. It is notable, though, that More is one of only two Floyd albums to feature only Gilmour on vocals[1]. Here’s the trailer from the film; it’s Not Suitable For Work.

Estelle (Mimse Farmer), looking like every heroin addict I’ve ever seen.

I know little about the film, I must admit. The cover of the album features a psychedelically rendered windmill, the inside sleeve showing happy hippies swinging from it. A better indication of the film’s subject matter comes, though, from the picture of the central character and his impossibly-nubile co-star cooking up a fish. The fact that neither is wearing much is representative of the film, as is the cooking up, if you substitute heroin for sea bass. The story? Well Stefan, played by Klaus Grünberg, hooks up with Estelle (Mimse Farmer), makes her miss her flight to Ibiza by helping her to smoke a big joint and then sticking his hand up her skirt, only to accompany her and a great deal of the aforementioned opiate to the equally-aforementioned Balearic island, where much sunny nudity and inevitable tragedy ensues. Although I’m assured the film has a moral centre, consequences and redeeming social value, all that’s on show from the clips I could find are lovingly-rendered drug use and Ms. Farmer’s nubility. It’s directed by Barbet Schroeder and it premiered at Cannes in May 1969.  Mr. Schroeder went on to greater (Reversal of Fortune), lesser (Single White Female) and NSFWier (Mâitresse) projectes. Ms. Farmer made some Dario Argento movies. Pink Floyd went on to make more fully-developed music.

For a long time the only two well-known songs from this album were Cirrus Minor and The Nile Song, both anthologised on the excellent Relics compilation which was released in between Obscured by Clouds and Dark Side of the Moon. It’s perhaps an indicator of the band’s own opinion of things here, and Nile Song, especially, is unlike any other Pink Floyd, driving across its two and a half minutes an almost Cream-like swagger beneath yelled vocals and crashing drums. It’s good but it’s not typical. Cirrus Minor is, though, a gentle, pastoral take on the more reserved moments on A Saucerful of Secrets.
Of the other tracks there’s something to be said, even if the album is too varied to take a decent stab at pigeonholing. Crying Song has very little to it, but foreshadows the much later Gilmour work of On An Island (to these ears, Smile, especially), which is interesting given that it’s written by Roger Waters. It’s followed by Up the Khyber, a short, forgettable, tribal thing, improvised by Richard Wright and Nick Mason. Mason, in his entertaining book Inside Out, describes the process of recording this album as rushed and lo-fi, but worthwhile:

…we were paid £600 each, a substantial amount in 1968, for eight days’ work around Christmas… there was little pressure to provide Oscar-winning songs or a Hollywood-style soundtrack[2].

Mason notes that the film had been pretty much finished by the time the band was booked, and that they timed the scenes with a stopwatch and then decamped to a studio. He describes the film as ‘slow-moving, fairly frank and moralistic’, reminding us that some of the Roger Waters songs written for the film made it into regular live rotation.

Cymbaline is the most famous of these, a slow, dreamy number with a pretty chorus and a lyric that points forward to the style of Echoes: ‘the path you tread is narrow and the drop is sheer and very high’ while retaining the juvenile psychedelia (‘Dr. Strange is always changing size’) and the expeditious (Will the tightrope reach the end will the final couplet rhyme’). I suppose the most important aspect here, in the genesis of the band, is the linking of Waters’ lyrics with that close-miked whisper Gilmour does so well. Echoes is usually held to be the greatest early example of that fusion, but Cymbaline, and especially in its live incarnations around the next couple of years, is pretty fine, too. It’s certainly the discovery from this set.
The second half of the album is less noteworthy, the Party Sequence very much of its time and sonically matched to Nile Song, while Waters’ paranoid lyric from Ibiza Bar is suited, I suppose, to the darker moments of drug use and stands up in its own right pretty well. There’s a pedestrian blues (More Blues) and some spacey, very typically-Pink Floyd atmospherics in Quicksilver. The closing Dramatic Theme is nice; A Spanish Piece is silly. The biggest issue with this as an album is its random sequencing, which doesn’t any sort of mood to develop.
Listening to More doesn’t really inspire me to want to see the film (although I’m curious as to how these creatures meet their comeuppance, be it from sunburn, cotton burns or something worse). It’s noteworthy for the development from that British sense of the psychedelic into something more otherworldly, languid and druggy. You’d be looking at Cymbaline, Crying Song and Cirrus Minor to chart the band’s development, with Nile Song and Ibiza Bar for snapshots from the time and Quicksilver for signs of the wider Pink Floyd spectrum.


[1] The other one is A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987), where he’s the only singer for slightly different reasons.

[2] Mason, Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, 126. Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2004.