Welcome to the Pink Floyd money machine. David Gilmour starts a tour. Roger Waters reveals a new song. Gilmour releases a single. Waters readies his latest film. Gilmour follows with an album. Waters is rumored to go on the road in support of his own comeback.
Pink Floyd’s main players are both back in business .
Both men say they have been plowing their own furrow for years. It hasn’t stopped conspiracy-theory speculation that some of this is more than coincidence, be it coordinated or unilateral plot-spoiling and a return to the bad of days of Waters vs. Gilmour rivalry.
But it’s potentially lucrative news for the music industry – or Columbia anyway – and fans, whichever musician you prefer. Long-term aficionados divide on this. The songwriting of Waters was the backbone of some of the best-selling albums of all time: The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall. Still, some tracks were a group effort with Gilmour’s guitar and vocals to the fore. Listeners were left to answer the question posed on “Have a Cigar”: “which one’s Pink?”
Gilmour’s Rattle That Lock is first out of the gate in the 2015 release race, with the title track already out and album following on September 18. There is a supporting tour in 2015-16.
Some of Gilmour’s new album has been in the works for nearly two decades. That even predates his last release, the chart-topping On An Island from 2006. We can again expect many solos that could have graced any Floyd album, with lyrics by his wife Polly Samson. She is taking inspiration from the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton, which also is referenced in her 2015 novel, The Kindness. Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera co-produces.
Waters also takes time over solo studio albums: his last was Amused to Death in 1992, if you don’t count his classical composition Ça Ira from 2005. His latest has yet to get a release date but will be followed by a tour and an autobiography.
On September 29, Roger Waters The Wall is released to cinemas worldwide. The event includes The Simple Facts, an exclusive in-conversation with Waters and drummer Nick Mason, where the Floyd rhythm section will answer questions sent in by fans.
The movie, already shown to reporters, mixes concert and documentary. It is worth dwelling on this because the story of The Wall tells us much about the band’s breakup.
The concept of the original double album in 1979 was from Waters, with a central character, Pink, who is largely autobiographical – though there are some references to former singer Syd Barrett.
The Wall has been endlessly lucrative: a 1980-81 band tour; the 1982 film Pink Floyd – The Wall, which combined the shows with footage of Bob Geldof as Pink; and a CD, Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980-81.
After Pink Floyd splintered, Waters carried on developing the project and in 1990 made a CD and video, The Wall – Live in Berlin, a show that celebrated the end of the city’s division.
His The Wall Live tour in 2010-13 was seen by more than 4 million people worldwide and grossed $458 million, the biggest by a solo artist. (By contrast the remaining members of Pink Floyd grossed $250 million on the 1994 Division Bell Tour). The new film therefore competes against itself and others – “I’m in competition with myself and I’m losing,” Waters once said.
Gilmour (who joined for a 2011 show at London’s O2 in 2011) is replaced by Snowy White and Dave Kilminster, who do a fine job. “Comfortably Numb” is outstanding in the new movie, with the camera turned on the audience, signing along to every word, in ecstasy or tears of joy.
The staging was always spectacular: the Gerald Scarfe figure of an over-sized teacher, the slowly-assembled wall, its back-projections and flying pigs – a staple of shows since the 1970s. By 2013, Waters had built a work so complex it was smothered in images, symbols, and ideas: bad education, bad mothers, bad
marriages, isolation. The new movie adds a sectionabout a Brazilian man, Jean Charles de Menezes, who was shot dead by British police in 2005; making the mix of “fallen loved ones” still more complex. Now Waters draws out further the death of his own father in the Second World War.
There are photos of victims, planes raining bombs and fascist-like symbols, with the composer strutting his stuff in best dictator chic: trench coat and machine gun.
The music cuts to the film’s documentary. The plot: Waters gets his classic Bentley out of the garage (it is as well he has chosen a photogenic car) and goes
off to find out about the dad he never really knew and visit a memorial to him. He doesn’t flinch in showing his tears as he looks at old photos, sits in cemeteries and plays the Last Post. He embraces songs such as Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again,” invites veterans to his shows and is overcome when told his dad would be proud of him.
For all this indulgence and endless credits to himself (music, production, director etc), Waters comes across as a man who cares about others and is passionately against war.
In a press statement, he says “I hope these worldwide screenings will be a good opportunity to remember, not just our fallen loved ones, but all the other guys’ fallen loved ones. Ashes and diamonds, foe and friend, we were all equal in the end.”
However equal the two Floyd stalwarts feel themselves, the full group last appeared together to headline the Live8 charity show in 2005.
The money-making juggernaut has never stopped. Its earnings capacity was boosted in 2011 and 2012 with remastered editions, compilations and box sets. The Wall came with seven discs, books, art prints, marbles and a scarf, with prices of $100 or more.
After keyboardist Richard Wright died aged 65 in 2008, Gilmour and Mason turned leftover material into The Endless River in 2014, with statements saying that is the last of Pink Floyd. Waters has also said a reunion is a non-starter. Mason has periodically said he would be ready “but holding my breath.”
Around the time of the one-off Led Zeppelin show in 2007, a survey for Music Choice, a U.K.-based digital broadcasting service, asked listeners which band they would like to see come back together. Pink Floyd came top. It has sold more than 250 million albums worldwide; the Led Zep sales figures are similar. Robert Plant is fed up with questions on the subject and he has denied reports that he rejected $800 million for a reunion. Some promoters certainly could see a figure of that magnitude for Pink Floyd, given the potential for income – surely more than the The Wall Live Tour, with extra for a movie.
We still have the new solo albums and film to look forward to. And the Pink Floyd tribute bands can breathe a sigh of relief at no competition: their names are great and there are dozens of them. Beyond the Darkside. Crazy Diamond. Brit Floyd. Dark Side of the Wall. Shine On.