The Madcap’s Last Laugh, Syd Barrett tribute concert – May 10th, 2007

I’ve been trawling through my diary from ten years ago, chronicling my trials as a writer, but every now and then I find something very special that has nothing to do with my scribblings. Ten years ago today I was lucky enough to go to a gig with my nephew Chris which exceeded all expectations…

Last night Chris and I drove to the Barbican to attend The Madcap’s Last Laugh, a tribute concert to Syd Barrett. I had been looking forward to this since it was first announced. All sorts of rumours had been flying around about who might show up, but when names like Robyn Hitchcock, Chrissie Hynde and Martha Wainwright were officially announced I realised that it would be a sincere tribute from people genuinely influenced by Syd. I had wondered if anyone from Pink Floyd might show up. Guy (Pratt) told me that David Gilmour had been approached and had politely declined. I guess he felt that he had made his tribute already with his very moving rendition of Dark Globe on his last tour. David saying no effectively ruled out Nick and Rick, too, and as for Roger… I knew that he was in the country on tour, but who knows if he had the time?

Anyway, the traffic was terrible and we were fifteen minutes late but, thankfully, the show was late starting and we were in our excellent seats (second row, just right of centre!) in plenty of time for the start. The show was wonderful in a very English and slightly shambolic way. Everyone was just a little under-rehearsed, singers had scraps of paper with the lyrics, roadies wrestled with mic stands to ready them for the next artistes, all of varying heights. The line-up was great. Captain Sensible (looking alarmingly like Paul O’Grady), Nick Laird-Clowes, Damon Albarn, The Bees, and then, to finish the first half, on strode Roger Waters.

Well, Chris and I jumped to our feet as did the rest of the audience. He looked very nervous – he was shaking like a leaf even when he was playing – and he played Flickering Flame on an acoustic guitar accompanied by Jon Carin on keyboards.

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Roger Waters – Flickering Flame

What a great first half. I even saw Storm Thorgerson queueing for the loo in the break.

The second half was even better. Vashti Bunyan, more Damon Albarn and Captain Sensible, Robyn Hitchcock, John Paul Jones, and Chrissie Hynde. Then Joe Boyd came on and told us he couldn’t think of a better way to round off the evening than to ask David, Nick and Rick onto the stage… Well, we were blown away. I had totally convinced myself that this was not going to happen and here we were. There were shouts of ‘Roger Waters!’ from the crowd, to which David replied, ‘Yes, he was here, too…’ So where was he now? Never mind… They played Arnold Layne – it wasn’t the greatest rendition, there were problems with Rick’s keyboard and mic, but it was just terrific to see them playing again.

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From L-R: Richard Wright, Andy Bell, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Jon Carin

And that was it. There were cries for more, not least from me, and they did join everyone else for the final Singalonga Bike. An amazing evening and Chris and I left on a real high.

I later learned from Guy that David had called him at 2pm that day asking what he was up to that night. Guy had a Bryan Ferry gig in Cambridge and couldn’t attend. He was gutted. He also explained Roger’s no-show with the band: apparently he had to get back to his hotel to meet his girlfriend. I hate to think that I missed my one opportunity to see the classic Floyd line-up because Rog’ fancied a quickie with his bit of stuff*…

Anyway, it was a great evening, a worthy tribute to Syd and I got some good photos. I had hoped to meet Matt Johns from the Brain Damage website, but I couldn’t get a signal on my phone in the Barbican. Turns out he was sitting about four seats down from us.

*I realise I’m being very uncharitable here!

For a full setlist, the wonderful Brain Damage site has it all here.

All photos by Mark Stay

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Remember That Night – Gilmour & Bowie, 29th May 2006

It was ten years go today…

Introduction:

I work for the Orion Publishing Group and had really enjoyed Guy Pratt’s My Bass And Other Animals one man show and after seeing one of his shows in London I plucked up the courage to ask him if he had ever considered getting his stories published as a book. In fact, he had written a draft of the book and was looking for a publisher, so I introduced him to one of our editors Ian Preece and the rest is publishing history.

To promote the book we invited staff from Ottakar’s (the now much-missed UK book store chain) to come to Guy’s show at the Salisbury festival, which just happened to be the night before one of the best David Gilmour gigs ever. Here’s an extract from my diary, featuring Guy, Ian, my nephew Chris (who was 14 at the time, and in a band), my dad and his friend Kevin… and a new friend from Brazil…

Sunday 28th May, 2006

Took Chris down to Salisbury to see Guy Pratt’s ‘My Bass And Other Animals’ show. Couldn’t find the venue at first. We walked in circles along Endless Street (oh, the irony) in Salisbury looking for the Arts Centre only to find a very sorry-looking dilapidated building. We asked some guys playing basketball nearby if they knew where the Arts Centre was and they pointed us in the direction of the church, without pointing out that it actually was the church.

Chris and I were wandering about, looking very lost when, by random luck, a door opened and Guy stepped out.

‘It’s Guy!’ I said, and for a second he gave me one of those Christ-should-I-know-you? looks (I had only met him a couple of times at this point).

Indeed, the Arts Centre is a deconsecrated church and what a fantastic little venue it is. Guy led Chris and I through the backstage area as he told us about his gigs with David Gilmour in Manchester and Glasgow (which was just the night before).

We met with the Ottakar’s guests (including Duran Duran devotee Jon Howells) and the show started. We elected to stay seated at a raised area at the back, and behind us was a massive stained-glass window with an image of Christ on the cross, which Guy said was putting him off a bit.

Guy’s show was superb (this would be the third time I’ve seen it). He had new material from the recent tour — mostly about insane American fans — and, despite coming straight from the Glasgow gig, was full of energy. He also gave a lot of time to the Ottakar’s people after the show (even though Jon was clearly hurt by the Duran Duran only have one bass riff gag) and he dropped lots of hints about tomorrow’s gig at the Royal Albert Hall. Amazingly, he’s definitely got us two passes for backstage. I cheekily pushed for more and Guy very kindly explained that he would see what he could do, while pointing out that it’s not very exciting and you’re just shoved into a little bar with all the other liggers.

He saved the best till last, though… he let slip that Roger Waters and Nick Mason were at the same rehearsal studios as Gilmour’s band last week. He then added that something very special was lined-up for Monday night’s gig, he wouldn’t tell us what, but I can’t bloody wait!

Tuesday 30th May (my diary entry written the day after the gig).

I’m surprised Claire (my wife) didn’t thump me yesterday as I spent most of it in a distant daze. We had family and friends over for a barbecue (it pissed down, of course), but all I could think of was the Gilmour gig and I couldn’t wait to get out of the house.

Chris and I eventually ran off at about 5.30 and we picked up dad and his friend Kevin and set off the Royal Albert Hall. The doors opened late and the crowds were heaving. Luckily it had stopped raining and we found Ian Preece (the editor of Guy’s book) by the band’s blue catering bus by door nine. We found the guest list and got our passes. There were three of them: big red stickers that you had to slap onto your shirt. I broke the bad news to dad and Kevin that we didn’t have enough for them. Kevin was fine about it, though dad threatened to write me out go his will if I couldn’t get him a backstage pass.

Dad and Kevin were sitting in the next block, so we split up and Chris and I took our seats.

The gig… Well, bloody hell…

History will record that, despite all the rumours, Waters and Mason didn’t turn up. After a brilliant start with Breathe/Time/Breathe (reprise), Gilmour forgot some of the words to ‘On An Island’ and seemed initially hesitant with his playing and hit a few bum notes. But, once he warmed-up, the evening became something very special.

David Crosby and Graham Nash popped-up throughout providing backing vocals, Robert Wyatt played trumpet on ‘Then I Closed My Eyes’ and the main show concluded with a version of ‘Echoes’ that completely blew my mind… and all through this I was wondering what the big surprise could be.

Then, for the encore, David grabbed his Telecaster and said, ‘Now I’d like to invite onto the stage… Mr. David Bowie.’

The Albert Hall erupted as five thousand people jumped to their feet all crying ‘David-fucking-Bowie?!’ all at once.

Bowie then sang an absolutely stonking version of ‘Arnold Layne’ that had everyone in a frenzy and if that wasn’t enough he followed it by singing the verses to ‘Comfortably Numb’ followed by one of the best renditions of the solo I’ve ever heard Gilmour do…

… it was around this time that my head exploded.

Still stunned we came reeling out of the hall to find dad and Kevin. Dad took my car keys — they were gamely going to sit in the car while we checked out the post-show party — and we went to find Ian.

We found him by door one, a member of staff told us to go back to door nine, which we did, but when we couldn’t find anyone there we were directed to door twelve, then eleven. While hanging around we were approached by a very attractive young woman with what I thought was a Spanish accent. She pointed at our red backstage stickers and wondered where we got them, ‘We know Guy,’ I said.
‘You know a guy?’ she asked with a frown.
I showed her Guy’s picture in the program and she understood, and wondered if we had any more. I explained that I had already left my father and a friend shivering in a car because we could only get three, but she decided to tag along anyway and in an exceptional piece of blagging she shuffled through security flanked by us badge-wearers. We were so impressed we bought her a drink. Her name was Paula and she was from Brazil and she’d been travelling across Europe when she heard about Gilmour’s tour and managed to get a ticket just the day before. She was a huge fan and we talked about the best songs of the evening. Guy arrived to say hello and I congratulated him on the show. He was really happy with it and felt we had seen the best version of Comfortably Numb ever. Phil Manzanera and Steve DiStanislao drifted through too, and Guy explained that David had his own private party downstairs. Paula had been hoping to meet the great man, and knowing her impressive blagging skills I’m sure she eventually did.

After half an hour Chris and I headed back to the car to find dad and Kevin inside with the engine running and the heater on full playing Freebird at a head banging volume. A perfect end to the evening.

 

Arnold Layne…

 

Comfortably Numb…

The Endless River and the end of Floyd

This week sees the release of what has been confirmed by the band Pink Floyd as their last ever studio album, The Endless River.

The Endless River

I have a long history with Floyd, and to be around when they’ve called it a day is both sad and curiously satisfying. The end of a great story. Like many of my generation, my first awareness of Pink Floyd came with the release of Another Brick In The Wall (Part Two) and I was all too eager to misinterpret the message “We don’t need no edjacashun!” I also recall poring over my uncle’s copy of the album, its gatefold festooned with Gerald Scarfe’s wonderful artwork.

But it wasn’t until my teens that they really made an impact. Back then, believe it or not, I was a football referee. Something I wasn’t terribly well-suited for, not being a massive football fan and just beginning to need to wear spectacles for my short-shortsightedness. I had to quit after a couple of years when I had no real comeback to the players’ cries of, “Ref, are you blind?”

Back then Wembley Stadium use to employ referees as stewards for football games and major events. My dad – a much better ref than I ever was – would regularly attend FA Cup matches and the like in this capacity. And in the summer of 1988 he asked me quite out of the blue if I wanted to be a steward at a couple of concerts. The first was the amazing Michael Jackson Bad Tour, the second was for Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason.

Jacko was awesome, as you’d expect, but the Floyd gig triggered something inside of me. I found a sound that I hadn’t even realised was missing from my life, but I suddenly had to have more of, immediately. The bigness of Richard Wright‘s keyboard sounds, the ‘ting’ of Nick Mason‘s ride cymbal – a pleasing acoustic noise absent from all the electronica I’d been listening to that summer – and all of this led by David Gilmour‘s siren-like guitar. And not forgetting Roger Waters‘ lyrics… Ah, Roger! Not only had I found the perfect band, but one with a story that stretched back to a tragic figure called Syd Barrett, followed by an unprecedented success forged by a group living in the shadow of a genius, then torn apart again by that very success. There were lengthy magazine articles and books chronicling this epic odyssey, including Miles’ excellent Visual Documentary.

I devoured everything, and while my contemporaries were discovering rave or grunge I was stuck firmly in the ’70s and became a boy obsessed. I made compilation tapes for all my mates and even successfully converted a fair number of them, dragging them to gigs at the ghastly London Arena, glorious Knebworth and Earl’s Court. Even the lovely, patient woman who was to become the love of my life was not immune, having to endure my guitar practice as I learned to play their songs (having all but given up on the instrument a few years earlier). I even studied the lyrics of The Wall as part of my GCSE coursework, discovering how to stretch out my thesis “It’s about alienation, innit” to 1500 words.

One of the most significant decisions in my life was dictated by a Floyd connection. At the time I was a sales rep for a publisher, driving all over the South East of England and writing plays in laybys in my lunchbreak. I was in a happy little rut. Then I bumped into a fellow rep who said there was an account manager job going at Orion Publishing, and was I interested. At first, I refused: I loved the freedom of the open road, and working in an office would mean regular hours that wouldn’t allow me to put on plays. Then something occurred to me, “You guys are publishing that Pink Floyd book by Nick Mason, aren’t you?”

“Yup.”

“WHERE DO I APPLY?!”

And so I ended up in an office job, gave up on the theatre, and started writing screenplays instead. And see where that got me.

Oh, and I got to meet Nick Mason. A lovely, lovely man who put up with my fanboyish tendencies with the patience of a saint. Tangentially, I also got to meet David Gilmour, Richard Wright, Gerald Scarfe and the wonderful Guy Pratt, whose brilliantly funny book My Bass And Other Animals was published by Orion and should be read by everyone and anyone with a passing interest in music.

I missed out on Live 8 and with the passing of Syd and then Richard it seemed like it was all over, and now it really is. I’ve played Endless River on an endless loop today. It’s arguably the boldest album the band have released in thirty years, and all those things that had me fall in the love with the band are present and correct, but now it sounds like the distant echo of something passing into time, fading into the past. A fitting farewell from a band bigger than the sum of its parts. And that’s a beautiful end to their story.