David Gilmour: Crony Island
Originally printed in Guitar World, January 2009
For Live in Gdansk, David Gilmour combines the best of Pink Floyd with his solo record On an Island, and performs for one last time with his friend and Pink Floyd collaborator, the late Richard Wright.
It is, of course, the inevitable and delicate issue that has arisen in recent years whenever David Gilmour is on the other side of the microphone or the telephone line. He braces for it, and the interviewer plots a way to bring it up. Both know that the question of a Pink Floyd reunion must be broached, especially after the band regrouped for the 2005 Live 8 concert. That show, Pink Floyd’s first in 24 years with estranged bassist Roger Waters, generated nearly as much anticipation as Led Zeppelin’s 2007 get-together in London.
But the matter has been rendered moot by the death of Richard Wright on September 15, 2008. Floyd’s founding keyboardist, Wright had performed on Gilmour’s 2006 album, On an Island, and the subsequent world tour which resulted in Gilmour’s new Live in Gdansk CD-and-DVD set. But as far as the guitarist is concerned, a Pink Floyd reunion was out of the question even before Wright died.
“People want me to respond to the matter of playing with Roger again, the whole ‘Pink Floyd—shall we do it again, will we not do it again?’ ” Gilmour acknowledges with a resigned sigh. And although he and Waters “are at least now on speaking terms” after Live 8, “thinking about [Pink Floyd] is so far from my mind. I’ve kind of left that behind. I’m very happy and satisfied with the little team I’ve got around me these days, and I don’t see myself going back to Pink Floyd.”
The group was courted with generous offers to tour again after the Live 8 show. “But touring without making a new record is just cashing in, isn’t it,” Gilmour says. “Riding that gravy grain, to coin a phrase. I mean, I wouldn’t want anyone to get the impression that I’m not 100 percent happy and artistically satisfied with the work I’ve done in Pink Floyd over the years. I am. But my focus is different now. This is what I’m doing.”
“This” actually amounts to the establishment of a true solo career for Gilmour after a couple of tentative steps in that direction many years ago. A Cambridge native with a playing style drawn from blues, R&B and psychedelia Gilmour joined Pink Floyd in 1968 to bolster, and ultimately replace, frontman Syd Barrett, who was declining into mental illness. With Gilmour, Floyd released the albums with which they made their legend, including The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and The Wall. Gilmour stepped out first with a self-titled set in 1978, then released About Face in 1984 during Pink Floyd’s prolonged hiatus. There are, he says, “some good things” on both albums, but neither achieved the standard he desired.
He hit pay dirt with On an Island, however. Coming 22 years after About Face and 12 years after Pink Floyd’s last studio album, The Division Bell, “it was the most satisfying and enjoyable experience,” he says. Whereas he had studiously avoided sounding like Pink Floyd on About Face, he felt no such pressure when making On an Island. “I finally got to a place where I felt free from any pressure. It’s allowed me to be very free with working out exactly what I wanted to do, not feeling I had to live up to any Pink Floyd thing and not feeling like I had to avoid sounding like Pink Floyd. I think I’m finding my feet as an artist after all these years—or finding new feet.”
Obtaining fresh collaborators was vital to that development. Chief among them was Phil Manzanera, the former Roxy Music guitarist who resides near Gilmour in Sussex and became both coproducer of On an Island and a member of Gilmour’s touring band.
“Phil’s an old friend,” Gilmour says. “Phil is a rock. He’s a really solid guy, and he’s just full of boundless enthusiasm. He has great taste; I can bounce ideas off him and he’ll always come up with good suggestions. It’s nice to have a sounding board that sort of helps convince you that you’re right about some of the things you’re going for—and sometimes that you’re not right about some of those things.”
Having Manzanera out on tour, however, was something Gilmour never expected. “I felt it was possibly a little bit beneath his dignity coming out as a rhythm guitar player, but he really wanted to do it. He said ‘Could I come?’ and I said, ‘Sure, come, that’d be great.’
“And he is actually the best rhythm guitar player—I don’t know if that’s how one puts that as a compliment. But as part of the engine room of what we were doing—drums [Steve DiStanislao], bass [latter-day Floyd cohort Guy Pratt] and rhythm guitar—those three guys were rock solid and steady all the time. I’d been so used to trying to be the rhythm and the lead guitar player always. With them I didn’t feel I had to keep that thing going all the time. I could just stay out and do my thing.”
A case in point, Gilmour notes, is the guitar solo on “Comfortably Numb,” which never ceases to levitate the song and overall performance and does so to even greater effect on Live in Gdansk.