Here We Go, Here We Go, Here We Go
IN THE CORNER OF OLD TOWN Square in downtown Prague
stands a young woman, fashioning lengths of silver
wire into brooches in the names of loved ones:
"Mom", "Suzie", "Darren". Since mid-morning she has
done a brisk trade in "Pink Floyd". Down a side
street, the Bailo fashion emporium has daubed a
version of The Division Bell's minatory cover art
on its front window and is using the injunction
"Think Pink" to shift a consignment of cerise
In Wenceslas Square, two-six-foot-tall plaster
mock-ups of the LP's elongated faces advertise the
sale of iffy programmes and bootleg T-shirts. The
Czech capital, which until the Velvet Revolution of
1989 was a stranger to Western rock shows, is
fairly quivering with anticipation. Tonight the
Floyd play the vast Strahov Stadium. All tickets
were sold months ago.
David Gilmour walks purposefully through all the
Floydian paraphernalia, hoping no-one will
recognise him as the author of this commercial
carnival. "Yeah, a few people do, but I walk
swiftly on. If you see a group of people walking
towards you, you stop and look in a shop window or
duck your head. You have these automatic responses
if you want to walk around anonymously, which not
everyone in my position does. I know that if I had
a slightly different attitude, I'd look
I'd start strutting . . ."
Perish the thought. The paradox of the diffident
rock star, the incognito guitar hero, the sur
reptitious million-decibel front man, reaches its
apotheosis in Gilmour. Though it is almost entirely
through his energetic bullying that old muckers,
Nick Mason and Rick Wright got together in his
Thameside houseboat in the Spring of 1993 to put
together The Division Bell, and though he has
masterminded the biggest travelling roadshow in the
world on a six-month, £150 million-grossing
planetary tour taking in 110 venues in America and
Europe, he remains scrupulously diffident about the
claims of the world on himself and his band. No
television plugs, no press conferences, no
interviews, until a seven-month nagging campaign by
Q finally grinds down their resistance. Even the
local sponsorship of Volkswagen causes Gilmour mild
The band are at an interesting point in their
history. Twenty-seven years after they introduced
the underground pop fraternity to lengthy,
spaced-out improvisations, frazzled discords,
maverick bleeps and waily-woo psychodramas, they
are arguably the biggest mainstream rock phenomenon
in the world. The Division Bell has been at the top
of the bestseller charts on both sides of the
Atlantic all summer.
Their current tour has broken attendance records
in half a dozen European cities. Their London
concerts 14 nights at Earls Court, yet another
record - were instant sell-outs. But at the heart
of all this grandiosity is a simple gamble: that
three veteran musicians - old associates but hardly
friends could reconstitute themselves from the
ashes of umpteen epic rows and wilderness years,
and con quer the globe.
Meeting them one by one, you're struck by their
differences. One of their entourage told the Daily
Mirror earlier this year, "Dave is the quiet one,
Nick is the quiet one and Rick is the quiet one,"
but it's not as simple as that. Nick Mason is
rumpled, sleepy-looking and terribly polite.
There's an admirable directness about him, however.
Interrupted in the hotel suite for the fifth time
by a ringing telephone, he lies on his back like a
car mechanic, squirms under the dresser, follows
the phone wire to its jack-plug and yanks it out of
the wall; "Learned this in the KGB." he says in
muffledtones. Rick Wright is a ferrety, furtive and
rather melancholy man, like an ex-champion jockey
down on his luck.
The main feature of his gaunt physiognomy is the
unearthly length of his soft, dark eyelashes: when
he blinks, it's as if two tropical moths have
briefly settled on his ,cheeks. David Gilmour, once
as handsome as Adonis, has settled, at 48, for the
look of a malevolent giant cherub, his close
cropped head like a ham basketball, his smile wide
but dangerously thin. His delivery has a studied
relentlessness that could be mistaken, by the
unsympathetic, for raging pomposity; but a curious
behavioural tic of constantly fingering bits of his
face, suggests he is somewhat uncomfortable talking
They had spent the previous evening with Vaclav
Havel, the Czech premier.
"Usual rock star thing," says Mason.
"Drift into town, have dinner with the president .
"He was great," says Gilmour. "He showed us his
office and round the palace, and we had some food
at a waterside restaurant. It was very sweet. He's
a big rock'n'roll fan. Half his staff seem to be
rock critics." They started the tour, it seems,
with the best of intentions, determined to check
the scenic bits, the museums and art galleries.
"You set yourself these little objectives," says
Gilmour, "but after a few months on the road you
tend to just sit in your hotel room, suffering from
Prague is their eighty-second show; they've done 59
in America, 22 in Europe, to four and a half
million people. Do they retain any sense of their
audiences or do the crowds just become a vast,
"The main difference is that in America they have
seating and in Europe they don't," says Mason.
"When they're sitting down, it's easier to relate
to them. The first 20 rows or so are visible they
tend to be either people who've paid a lot of
money, or the most crazed of the fans. I've got to
recognise the really weird ones, who get there at
six o'clock, grab their place at the front, take
all the drugs and then, just as we start playing,
they keel over . . ."
"Lisbon was amusing," muses Rick Wright. "It was
our first European gig and right from the start
they had their hands over their heads, clapping
time to the music, including moments when there is
no time. It's very hard to keep going when you've
got 80,000 people clapping to the wrong rhythm . .
And so the Floyd I leviathan has now reached
Prague. In two days' time, it will be Strasbourg,
then I Lyon. Soon after meeting the band, you
wonder about the nature of the beast. Is it a
travelling circus? A mobile army? "I don't feel
like a field marshal," says Gilmour, who actually
resem bles a stiff-lipped squadron leader. "We have
several little generals wandering around who've
taken on that role."
"What's remarkable,"says Mason, "is the amount of
time you spend talking about the people you're
touring with, rather than about, say, politics,
art, cars, music or whatever. Your frame of
reference becomes tiny. It's very like being back
Ah yes. Enter Polly Samson, aka Mrs David Gilmour
(they married at the end of July). At the court of
King Dave, Polly is a disgruntled Queen in a hotbed
of Machiavellian intrigue. "Lots of us think we're
the power behind the throne," con fides a lady
tour-member, "but Polly's the power on the throne,
so she gets all the flak."
Polly Samson is, it could be argued, both the whole
point of the tour and its most implacable
She is generally credited with stemming the flow of
temptations in the direction of her beloved, but
she is hardly a party-pooper. A hyper-adrenalised,
quarter-Chinese early-thir tysomething, she made
her name in publishing. Also a serial heartbreaker,
she became embroiled with one of her writerly
charges, whale-fancier Heathcote Williams; he left
her with a son, Charlie, now four. It's Charlie's
voice that can be heard at the end of The Division
Bell, failing to respond to the charm of the band's
manager, Steve O'Rourke (this is, apparently, the
band's amusing response to O'Rourke's persistent
demands that he be allowed to contribute a few
notes to the album).
Ms. Samson was encouraged to start writing Iyrics
while on holiday with her guitarist husband. "I
started writing things and looking to her for an
opinion," recalls Gilmour, "and gradually, as a
writer herself and an intelligent person, she
started putting her oar in and I encouraged
The songwriting team of Gilmour/Samson turns up on
seven of the current album's 11 tracks, and their
relationship infuses the whole enterprise with a
passionate glow that's rare for the earnestly
unsmiling face the Floyd has generally turned to
the world. Though it purports to deal with
non-communication, The Division Bell is actually
the most heartwarming of song-cycles: 80 percent of
the songs are about new beginnings, sunlight,
spring in-the-soul optimism: "Turn and face the
light"; "the years and all the sadness fell away
from me"; "I woke to the sound of drums"; "the
morning sun streamed in"; "I'm creeping back to
life"; "her love rains down on me"; "I knew the
moment had arrived/For killing the past and coming
back to life". By the time you get to the last
track, entitled High Hopes, you half expect it to
be a cover version of the old Bing Crosby hit about
ants trying to move rubber-tree plants.
"I hadn't thought about it from that perspective,"
says Gilmour. "It's about all these things, the
good and the bad. Maybe it's the combination that
puts the point across."
Nowhere more so than in Poles Apart, a song of
remembrance about a former colleague who has lost
"that light in your eyes", and who is there fore .
. . Syd Barrett?
"Who knows?" asks Gilmour, irritatingly. "I like to
let the Iyrics speak for themselves."
"It's about Syd in the first verse and Roger in the
second," Polly later briskly states. But the music
rides along on a gorgeous upward cadence and ends
with a veritable gavotte of frisky rhythm. It does
not take a genius to infer that, freed from Roger
Waters's malign influence, Gilmour and co. are
celebrating the liberty to indulge as they please,
rather than to try and prove anything.
Waters's shadow is a constant topic in their
conversation: his legacy, his role as a
coordinating force, his skill as a writer. But
alongside the tributes come some querulous
memories, some silken put downs. Rick Wright, whom
Waters effectively fired from the band during the
making of The Wall, claims, "We never really got on
from the beginning, even in architecture school,
though we respected each other - and I respect him
still. But he used to have a go at me, and I used
to have a go at him. One example: I think I was the
first of the band to buy a country house. At the
time, Roger was an armchair socialist. He told me,
You've really sold out; you've become such a
capitalist; you're doing what every other rock star
does . . .
I said, Roger, we did it for the kids and you'll be
doing the same thing in a few years. It took him, I
think, a year and a half to buy his own country
seat. I said Roger, You're a hypocrite. And he
said, Oh I didn't want it, my wife wanted it . .
"What we miss of Roger," continues Gilmour, "is his
drive, his focus, his Iyrical brilliance, oh many
things. But I don't think any of us would say that
music was one of the main ones. He was great as a
conceptualist and Iyricist, as a pusher. But he's
not a great musician, our Rog, God bless him. He
just isn't . . ."
But do they get on, these three portly musketeers,
this business-like troika, these throwbacks to the
'60s playground? They talk about each other in
oddly dispassionate, guardedly civil tones: "I'd
like to be a mate of David's," says Wright, "but
he's a hard person to get to know, and I am too.
We're not buddies who'll sit in a pub and have a
laugh and a chat; we're not that close. We're very
professional on stage . . ."
Was there ever a time when the band behaved like
other rock bands?
Horseplay, underpants, hotel-trashing?
"Oh yes, of course. In the summer of '68, there
were groupies everywhere; they'd come and look
after you like a personal maid, do your washing,
sleep with you and leave with a dose of the
Horseplay? " Thousands of incidents. I remem ber
one night, we gave our sound engineer a lot of
sleeping pills and put him on a mattress in the
lift, and every time the guests in the hotel called
it, they'd find him sleeping there and hastily
choose another one . . . And the time Dave drove a
motor bike into a restaurant and out again, in a
very straight bit of America, and most of the
diners pretended it wasn't happening . . ."
The Strahov Stadium, the biggest in Europe. When
full, it can accommodate 200,000 seated football
enthusiasts. Now that the voluptuous steel womb of
the Floyd stage is squat ting on it, half the seats
have become redundant; but the milling throng on
the sandy pitch brings the attendance number up to
120,000. Across this massive arena, the PA is
playing Doctor John classics to the uncomprehending
multitude. Over in the Volkswagen sponsors' VIP
tent, there is no sign of confusion as well-heeled,
day-tripping Germans liberate flutes of Freixnet
fizz from the free bar. The lucky ones clutch
raffle tickets for a one-off Volkswagen Golf "Pink
Weird scenes in the band tent: the place is overrun
with senior citizens. David Gilmour's par ents are
here, and Nick Mason's and Polly Samson's. The
ladies are camped in immovable gossip-session on
the black leather sofa which is the only sign of
elegance in this prefabri cated shack. "It's by no
means what we're used to in hospitality terms,"
says Rick Wright sadly. "Not the usual backstage
He indicates a cubicle marked "Sanctuary"
"That's strictly for the band only, if you have to
go into deep conclave about something just before
Or, of course, if you just want to be alone . .
Mrs Gilmour Senior is a curly-haired, sweet faced
and chatty rock fan of 72. A one-time actress and
Cambridge lecturer, she confides "I introduced
David to Bob Dylan, y'know."
You mean, you stood there at some cocktail party
and said, Dave, come and meet Mr Dylan. Mr Dylan,
have you met my son, the guitarist . . . ? "No,
no," says Dave benignly. "She just sent me his
first LP from New York when I was at school in
Did he suffer dreadfully from the absence of his
mother and father, who worked in America?
"Not at all," says Gilmour. "I can't remember
having any objection to being parked on some other
people. I could sneak out of my room and go to pubs
and do God knows what. It was great."
Mrs G. veers off at a tangent about her early love
"Showtime", as the band tent's agenda calls it, is
30 minutes away. The atmosphere tightens. Security
men turn away any would-be tent-crashers. Mobile
phones are urgently pressed to ears. The senior
citizens and record company bigwigs are advised
that the route to their VIP seats is jeopardised by
the swell of the crowd. An emergency-issue
ambulance inches its way across the arena's teeming
throng, heading for the mixing desk. A rumour
surfaces, that it is merely President Havel in
search of a decent vantage-point. Outside the sky
is terminal ly threatening, liquified Kafka.
"Come on," says David Gilmour.
We cross the gummy sand to the sawn-off aircraft
hangar of the stage. Crazed by the tantalising
electronic bleeps from the PA that announce the
Floyd's imminent arrival, the crowd is alternately
cheering and mutinously impatient. Overhead in the
rank sky, a helicopter hovers, its headlights
dipping down like the eyes of the inflatable
warthogs that will later clamber over the tower of
speakers during One of These Days. Heartbeats
accelerating . . . How nervous is Dave Gilmour?
"Oh, I'm not nervous," he says cheerily, "not
Backstage, or rather under-stage, the inner sanctum
is a trench-like hell, 40 feet long but only about
five feet wide. There's no room for fluster or
fidget. But the trench image is wrong: this is more
like being in a submarine, more precisely the
doomed one in Das Boot. Gilmour's guitars -14 at a
rapid count - are ranged against the wall like a
If you clamber on to the stage, the audience,
120,000-strong, rises before you. Only it's not "a
sea of faces" at all. No sea ever looked so varie
gated, so full of individual expressions - it's
like the audience turned to you at a wedding speech
multiplied by a million, smiling in anticipation
but likely to turn on you in unstoppable force,
should you fail to amuse. A sight to chill the
Nick Mason appears: "Bit of an emergency, I'm
afraid Tim Renwick's been taken ill. You're on
second guitar tonight. We're on in three minutes .
Sensory meltdown. Opening with Wright's spreading
organ cloud and Gilmour's languorous, yearning,
four-note riff that introduces Shine On You Crazy
Diamond, moving through huge tracts of The Division
Bell, to a selection, in the second half, of
rousingly reinvented greatest hits-Money, Another
Brick In The Wall, Wish You Were Here - the biggest
musical spectacle Czechoslovakia has ever seen has
fulfilled its promise.
Everywhere, saturnine faces have turned to ecstasy,
despite the rain which has fallen relentlessly,
like some percussive torture, from the first note.
The senior citizens, initially seated to one side
of the audience in plastic chairs, have gone back
to sip champagne in the dry bliss of the Band Tent.
But the audience has managed to shrug off the
elements with Slavic stoicism. The lasers, the
front-of-stage explosions, the wobbling giant
warthogs and, most especially, the huge circular
video screen has the Prague groovers yelling and
slam-dancing in the sandy sludge of the arena.
As Gilmour sings the rhapsodic litany that cli
maxes High Hopes ("The grass was greener/The light
was brighter/The taste was sweeter"), a voice in my
ear whispers, "The rain was soaking." It is Polly
Samson, who has every right to muck about with the
Iyrics since she wrote the song. She has, she
confides, been more than usually hacked off of late
("I've seen the concert a hundred times. I love the
songs. I just can't stand the lifestyle") because,
last night, she was introduced to Vaclav Havel as a
kind of also-ran. She and Dave are, for the moment,
not on speakers. How could she resist him, after
having Coming Back To Life, Gilmour's self-composed
love note to her ("Because the things you say and
the things you do surround me"), belted out in
front of scores of thousands every night? "Well the
things I say and do will not surround him tonight,"
she says severely.
On stage, Gilmour has moved on to Us And Them. For
all the vaunt ed anonymity of the band's corporate
image, this is very much The Gilmour Show. A con
trolled passion in his voice, echo-chambered to
Paradise, has the audience reaching for the Czech
equivalent of their Zippos. Doesn't she think he
was, um, rather spectacular at these moments?
"Yes, of course," she says, "but I'm not going to
let him know that.
"The next one," Ms Samson confides, "he does this
hilarious falsetto. So sweet . . ."
One suspects their daggers-drawn spat is only
The band have decamped en masse to the
Intercontinental Hotel, for a party. A mile away,
at the Palace Hotel, Gilmour is winding down after
the gig in characteristically aloof splendour. The
only others in his pink suite are Polly,
parodically nursing a mug of Horlicks on a chair,
and her brother Joe, who acts at Gilmour's personal
assistant and factotum.
"It went very well, I think," says Gilmour, Iying
on the fuschia duvet like a Kismet pasha.
"In the top five-to-10 per cent". I remark that I'd
never seen him playing pedal steel guitar before,
sitting on stage with the apocalypse crashing and
zoom ing around his head, as unconcerned as a
dowager with a knitting machine. "That's what it
all comes down to, all this, doesn't it?" he asks
"One old person - one young person - sitting
playing a guitar." The talk turns to the various
bitchings and disagreements among the court
hierarchy. Why did he think there was such a toxic
"It s that stage of the
Lots of petty resentments reverberating around this
small chamber, this goldfish bowl we're in, and
they keep bouncing back at you. It's Iike a work
environment in which nobody is ever allowed to
leave the room for six months. Too many late
nights, too many drinks . . ."
Does he, Polly asks, fancy going to the party?
After all, tomorrow is a day off. "I have
absolutely no desire to go partying," he
"I'm a little past the stage of worrying whether
I'm seen turn ing up at parties . . ." But
eventually, wearily, the master agrees to hit the
The party at the Intercontinental is a little
thinned out. Rick Wright has gone to bed, but the
rump of the band is made of sterner stuff. The
backing babes - Durga, Sam and Claudia are the
centre of attention. Sam Brown (daughter of Joe),
who knocked the Czechs into a loop by her
arm-pumping wail in The Great Gig In The Sky,
reveals that her mother used to sing for the Floyd
in the '60s. It's not the only baroquc family
connection: Guy Pratt, the absurdly youthful
bassist, turns out to be the son of the chap who
played Randall in Randall And Hopkirk (Deceased),
the '70s TV series, and now goes out with Rick
Wright's daughter, Gala. A passing hack asks
Ronnie, the production maestro, what he thinks
Gilmour meant by "this dangerous but irresistible
pastime" in the song Coming Back To Life ("Oh it's
sex, obviously," Gilmour grudgingly tells me, "sex
and procreation") and is torn off a strip by the
band's publicist, Jane Sen: "You're asking a
production man about Iyrics?" Gilmour raises an
eyebrow: Yup, it's that time of the tour.
So tell us, David: what is it that Pink Floyd have
been up to for the last three decades? "All I've
ever tried to do is play music that I like
listening to. Some of it now, like Atom Heart
Mother, strikes me as absolute crap, but I no
longer want or have to play stuff I don't enjoy. I
don't know . . ." his fingers twitch round his nose
once more, betokening a final desire to disappear,
"All we've been trying to do is make music that
will move people.
Simple as that." A final word with Nick Mason, the
sort of decent chap towards whom one gravitates at
such moments. Tell me, Nick, rock stars often say
they keep on doing this for fun. What kind of fun
is all this? "Fun is the wrong word," he replies.
"What you're dealing with are perfvormers, people
with a pathological need to show off. The chances
of actually growing out of it are, I now see,
remote. If it hasn't gone by the time you're 50, I
wouldn't hold your breath . . ."
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