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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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.