David Gilmour: Crony Island
“It’s very hard to pin that sort of thing down,” he says. “It has a moving chord structure, but I can play the whole thing in B minor without worrying about any chords at all. Anything that works in B minor will work on that whole thing, even though there are three or four other chords involved in that sequence. It’s one of those lucky sequences that’s just a great vehicle for playing over.”
Having the late Wright perform on both On an Island—he sang lead on “A Pocket Full of Stones” in addition to playing keyboards—and the subsequent tour was also special for Gilmour. “We just go back a helluva long way,” he says of Wright, who left Pink Floyd in the early Eighties but was reinstated by Gilmour for the group’s 1987 A Momentary Lapse of Reason tour. “ Rick had some difficult years in the middle of our complicated career. But he’s got soul, I suppose you would say. He adds something to the music that gives it a greater depth of feeling. He’s a great Hammond [organ] player and a great piano player, and having him along definitely added to the whole flavor.”
It wasn’t easy to get Wright fully integrated into the proceedings, though. “Well, I asked him if he’d appear on the album,” Gilmour recalls, “and play on a track or two, and I then asked him if he’d sing on a track. He said he would, but then he was always too busy or couldn’t make it. I kept ringing him and hassling him, and eventually I actually had to send a car around to his house and say, ‘Get in it and come to the studio now!’ That was when we were doing the last two or three mixes on the album and I had no time left, so I just kind of strong-armed him a bit...”
Nevertheless, Wright was “very keen” to go on the road with Gilmour and company, which the guitarist says “changed the whole way we were thinking about it and tempted us to touch more of the old Pink Floyd stuff. We worked it around him a little bit and it brought him right out of his shell, and it made me appreciate him more for his great abilities.
“And it showed me once again things you can forget that are great about people and showed me again the sort of telepathy we had with each other. I know where he’s going; he knows where I’m going. It was really lovely having him along, and I know he loved it, too.”
Live in Gdansk ably captures the career overview Gilmour embraced during the On an Island tour, though he confesses that the package is “slightly not representative” of the tour. The original plan, he explains, was to do the usual kind of live album, with songs taken from various shows on the itinerary. But a special performance on August 26, 2006, changed his mind.
Gilmour was asked to play Gdansk to mark the 26th anniversary of the founding of the on Solidarity (Solidarnosc) Trade Union at the Polish city’s famous shipyards, where the movement started. The occasion agreed with Gilmour’s political sensibilities, which “tend toward the left side” even if he’s less publicly outspoken than Roger Waters. The setting, with its massive, long-dormant cranes hovering in the background, appealed to Gilmour’s still-Floydian sense for epic theatricality.
And the idea of using an orchestra conducted by film score composer Zbigniew Preisner, who had also worked on On an Island, sealed the deal.
“Zbigniew is Polish,” Gilmour says, “so it seemed like the natural thing was to have a chat with him. He reckoned he could get an orchestra out there and rehearse it for me, and I wouldn’t have to do very much. He said we could just get up and off it would go.
“And so it did. Zbigniew is a brilliant chap, and if he tells me it’s gonna work fine, then who am I to disbelieve him? We did a soundcheck in the afternoon, and that was it—he had them all rehearsed and ready to go. It was a great, great show, so when it came time to [compile the live album] we thought, Oh, well, we’ll just do the whole thing from [the] Gdansk [concert].”
In keeping with the concert’s grand scale, Gilmour is offering Live in Gdansk in no fewer than six versions: standard (two CDs), three-disc (two CDs plus DVD), four-disc (adds a 5.1 surround audio disc with additional tracks), five-disc “Deluxe” (adds even bonus tracks), a five-LP vinyl edition and an iTunes edition.
Among the renditions of On an Island songs and an assortment of Pink Floyd favorites, Live in Gdansk has some significant treats for the Floyd faithful. The epic “Echoes,” Gilmour explains, was included to reclaim it from what he felt were inferior treatments during the 1987–88 Pink Floyd tour.
“It never quite hit the spot, and I’d been left with a bit of a sour memory of it,” Gilmour recalls. “Someone must have suggested we do it this time—I can’t remember who—but it became the highlight of the thing. It was just lovely to play it, and all the guys really got to grips with it in a way we hadn’t managed to before. They understood it much better, and it was really good to let Rick get loose and out front there. I saw people down in the front rows hearing ‘Echoes’ for the first time in their lives, and there were tears in their eyes. It was quite strange—extraordinary, really.”
His decision to include “Fat Old Sun” was quite possibly less altruistic. The song, the first he ever wrote for Pink Floyd, appeared on 1970’s Atom Heart Mother. Thirty years later, when Gilmour suggested including it on the 2001 Pink Floyd best-of, Echoes, his bandmates vetoed the idea. “None of the other guys were having it,” Gilmour says. Of the song’s inclusion in the Gdansk set, he suggests, “maybe it was my way of saying, ‘Fuck you. It’s great.’ ”
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