Writing about music is not easy, how do you describe a rock ‘n’ roll lick to someone who isn’t familiar with the piece? Author Alain Pire had a ‘for private use only’ playlist of the tracks he dissected in his doctoral work 'Anthropologie du Rock Psychédelique Anglais' (2011), that I could listen to while I savoured his prose. Without this auditory companion his book would’ve been less fun and just a quasi-nonsensical catalogue of 109 psychedelic tracks. (Read our review here: AnthropoLSD)
Perhaps that is why I put Rob Chapman’s 'Psychedelia and other colours' lexicon (2015) aside after the first one hundred pages or so. It felt like a cookbook to me, lots of recipes, but nothing to eat. I should have the guts starting it all over again, this time with YouTube at my side.
Actually, I’m not in the business any more of absorbing everything Floyd related that is thrown at the fans. I bought Gilmour’s Pompeii but there isn’t a single hair on my head thinking of ever putting it in my Blu-Ray player (actually I don’t have a clue how to operate that thing). My Russian friend Stanislav told me it is musically perfect, but also soulless, and I value him enough to take his advice for granted.
Way To Early
The Early Years box is in my possession but I fear I will die before listening to it in its entirety. Someone who has heard it completely is rock journalist Bill Kopp and for people just like me he wrote a book about it, Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon.
Why another book about Pink Floyd, I hear you say and Kopp starts his biography with the same question. According to the author the period between the Floyd's debut to Dark Side Of The Moon is a shadowy mess for the average fan, with a wealth of gems that are often overlooked. I can only agree. Why this average fan, who only knows Dark Side and The Wall anyway, would suddenly be interested in the history of the Floyd's earlier albums is still a mystery to me and Kopp can't answer this either. Take me, for example, I have Hotel California in my collection, but I don't feel temped to read a biography about The 'early' Eagles.
But even I, crusty old dinosaur, can’t deny that with the publication of The Early Years a lot of new material has seen the light of day, at least officially, and that the previous biography about the Floyd’s early days, the one from Barry Miles, is already a decade overdue.
Dig That Hole
Every good biography claims to dig out something new and this is not different for Reinventing Pink Floyd. At Yeeshkul Bill Kopp unfolded his cunning plans, but I don't think that he really found something earth-shattering. Interviewing Ron Geesin, Peter Jenner, Jerry Shirley, John 'Willie' Wilson, Davy O'List and Steve Howe is a great thing. Putting on your achievement list that you also interviewed members of tribute bands and 'Syd superfan' Robyn Hitchcock much less so. That's undervaluing your work before even starting it.
In the Why (Another Book About) Pink Floyd chapter the author starts by giving his personal history of the band with some nice descriptions of The Wall / The Final Cut era, but he cuts a few corners too many. The Wall was performed live in four cities, not three, as he pretends, forgetting Dortmund. David Gilmour did not co-write the highly redundant Not Now John, he merely sings most of the slightly insulting and easy forgettable lyrics. Nick Mason only skipped drums for one track on The Final Cut (he can hardly be heard on A Momentary Lapse Of Reason though). Being careless in his statements is a repeating pattern and Yeeshkul member Hallucalation has listed 11 factual errors for the first pages alone (but that man is a walking music encyclopedia).
It feels good to see the term ROIO appear again although I fear only cassette tape traders will remember what that was. Bill Kopp is an American author, so he is well aware of the few Dark Side Of The Moon singles and uses the American version of A Nice Pair that has a live version of Astronomy Domine. (Here he cuts a corner again by claiming that Rick Wright co-composed the track and that Harvest was an American subsidiary of EMI.) His theory though, that Syd Barrett may have lifted the intro from The Electric Prunes song 'Are You Lovin' Me More (But Enjoying It Less)', is a tempting one. Julian Palacios already remarked the same thing in his 2010 biography Dark Globe but I had forgotten about it.
Bricks In The Wall
Kopp's biography mainly consists of listing and analysing the songs of each and every official album, one by one, from the Floyd's debut to Dark Side. With The Early Years box-set as his companion he also minutiously describes the early singles and demos, out-takes, (alternative) live versions, movie tracks and others... The BBC radio gigs, that can be found in a scandalously amateurish way in the Floyd box, are also the subject of Kopp's very detailed dissection. Where The Early Years set has some hiatuses he consults those bootlegs (sorry, ROIO) that clearly show the evolution of several Floydian suites: Dark Side Of The Moon, Echoes, Atom Heart Mother... you name it, he plays it.
Note: Over at Yeeshkul Neonknight, and some of his accomplices, are working on the definitive BBC radio compilation. So far quality greatly exceeds the one from the 'official' release, plus they seem to have unearthed some tapes Pink Floyd Ltd. didn't know they even existed. It's still a work in progress, though.
It is in those detailed descriptions where the cookie crumbles, dear sistren and brethren of the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit. What to make of the following exposé at page 72 that I randomly picked:
Rick Wright's organ becomes a more central melodic element, and while the reading contains its fair share of improvisation, there's a greater musicality to the instrumental work. Gilmour elicits all manner of otherworldly squeals from his guitar, while Waters turns in a hypnotic bass line that displays the progress he has made as a player. A new, stomping two-chord interlude has been introduced into the song, set against a section in which Gilmour plays more atonal figures on guitar; the call-and-response between the two sections serves both to heighten tension and root the more abstract parts in a more conventional musical foundation (P72-73).
Without knowing what song and performance this is about, this is the kind of gibberish art critics put on catalogues of their newest fad. Paragraphs like the above come thirteen in a dozen. (The song is Interstellar Overdrive, by the way, played at the Beeb in December 1968.)
In my long career as a Floyd lover I have listened to a lot of Pink Floyd early tours live tracks, and I remember some of those pretty well, but some of Kopp's descriptions fly way above my head. As such the book should only be consulted with the right track playing through your digital audio player. I'm sorry, but I simply don't have the time for that.
One Of The Few
Now about the new spectacular things Bill Kopp found out. Actually it is only one. Steve Howe, from Tomorrow and Yes (and about a million of spin-off-bands), once was asked to step in for Syd Barrett.
“One night we were playing somewhere else.” says Steve Howe. “I was rushed to London to stand in for Syd. I was delighted; I love playing with people I hadn't played with before.”
But once he arrived, he was met by Steve O'Rourke of Pink Floyd's management team Blackhill Enterprises, who told him, “Well, thanks a lot, but actually Syd's just about going to make it.” (P42.)
Did you catch the obvious error in the above, BTW? Like I previously said, Bill Kopp likes to cut corners. (Solution.)
Kopp is also pretty sure David Gilmour stepped in for Syd Barrett on at least one December 1967 show, but fails to make this rumour hard. It has been published before though, for instance in Glenn Povey's Echoes book from 2007 where it is written that the evidence comes from Jimi Hendrix's drummer Mitch Mitchell (who claims that Gilmour may have been around for several Pink Floyd shows). Apparently the public was most of the time so high they never spotted the difference. If it is true, of course. Opinions differ.
Things Left Unsaid
While Kopp gives very detailed reports of the Floyd's live tracks and their studio counterparts, he is pretty fragmentary on all other biographical subjects. The first American tour isn't mentioned at all and Barrett's alleged drugs intake only gets a quick mention. While his book wants to highlight the hidden musical gems from the band, there isn't a word about the Hipgnosis artwork that has been a part of the Floyd's mystery for decades. At the other side there are some comparisons to American psychedelic groups, i.c. Grateful Dead.
Much of what Pink Floyd called 'John Latham' sounds like what the Dead would call 'Space' or 'Drums' (P51).
His detailed dissection of Floyd tracks brings forward an interesting theory about The Committee. The soundtrack contains a mysterious anomaly on the first piece of music, played backwards in the movie.
It features a most unusual mix of sounds: drums sound like Indian tabla, guitars sound like sitars (or electric sitars), and the keyboard sounds seem to be coming from an early modular synthesizer. It's worth noting that none of these instruments had made an appearance on a Pink Floyd recording previously, and none - save synthesizer - would in the near future (P67).
So there is a big chance, according to Kopp, that this backwards 30 seconds track has been recorded by another group of musicians. Now who recorded a lost twenty-minutes track for this movie, months before Pink Floyd messed with it? None other than Syd Barrett, probably with Brian 'Blinky' Davidson and Steve Peregrin Took. David Parker dug up the EMI paperwork for this session in Random Precision. (Read all about it at: The Rhamadan – Committee Connection)
It is an interesting theory, to say the least. Kopp also pretends Barrett's twenty minutes solo piece circulates amongst collectors, but that's the first I have ever heard about that. Peter Jenner and Max Steuer pretend not to have it in their archives and suspect the other one to have ditched it. Unless, of course, it still resides in one of Nick Masons' cupboards.
While Kopp is generally more argus-eyed than Hercule Poirot he surprised me by not being aware of the Seabirds cock-up. In their ads for The Early Years Pink Floyd Ltd. pretended to include an unreleased More song, fans had been looking for for decades, called Seabirds. However, these fans were unpleasantly surprised when they found out that the Seabirds track in the collection was in fact another take on the well-known Quicksilver (from the same movie). The Pink Floyd management had to issue excuses, but this was just another sign that the Floydian historians did a messy and mediocre work while assembling the box. (See also: Supererog/Ation: skimming The Early Years)
And so the book continues with surprising me on one, but disappointing me on another page. On a concert on May 15th, 1970 in New Orleans, Roger Waters had a throat problem and announced that 'Jude' would do the screaming on Careful With That Axe, Eugene. (And from Nick Sedgwick's autobiography we know she could scream, see Roger is always right.) This genuinely intrigues me, but that concert is one I don't have on my 158 GB Pink Floyd bootleg folder (P139).
Speak To Me
Actually, so I figured out while reading, this book isn't a biography but an infomercial for The Early Years box. It's not that I didn't like reading it but it omits too much biographical material to be of interest for the 'average 'Pink Floyd fan. You know, those fans that don't know what gems there are hidden in the Pink Floyd's pre-seventies catalogue. The book clearly is written for people who already are aware of the Floyd's history and their legacy. Pink Floyd is a legendary band and as a NME journalist once described it:
The musicians go together like salt and vinegar on fish and chips - it is that sort of tasteful relationship (P168).
This book has a lot of chips, salt and vinegar, but clearly not enough fish. In my opinion it is very overpriced as well. But if you like musical analysis and if you are a Floydian anorak and if you think 35$ is not too much asked for a 200-pages book, be my guest and grab it at your local book-store.
Many thanks to: Azerty, Hallucalation, Neonknight, Stanislav V. Grigorev.
♥ Libby ♥ Iggy ♥
Solution: Steve O'Rourke was Pink Floyd's legendary manager, but after they quit Blackhill Enterprises, that was Peter Jenner and Andrew King (with the rest of the band). Back to text.
Bill Kopp's Website (with extra content): Reinventing
Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon
Yeeshkul discussion thread: New Pink Floyd Book Explores Journey to DSOTM
Sources (other than the above mentioned links):
Palacios, Julian: Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe, Plexus, London, 2010, p. 207.
Parker, David: Random Precision, Cherry Red Books, London, 2001, p. 119-123.
Povey, Glenn: Echoes, the complete history of Pink Floyd, 3C Publishing, 2008, p. 74.