Pink Floyd alumnus David Gilmour spoke to IE on the first day of his North American tour supporting his acclaimed 2015’s Rattle That Lock album. Following his opening show at the Hollywood Bowl, the pioneering guitarist and singer returns to Chicago for his first shows since his 2006 performance at the Rosemont Theatre.
IE: I doubt that you get nervous, but is the first night of a new tour still exciting?
David Gilmour: It’s very exciting to play the first night, and the Hollywood Bowl is one of those special places. It’s the first time I’ve been back there since 1972 – so, quite a while. We had two and a half months off since our last show. It’s not a brand new tour, but it’s a matter of sliding back into the routines, knocking the dust off, getting yourself in shape and carrying on. It’s the first show I’ve played in the states in ten years. The venues seem to have gotten bigger, so it’s looking good and I’m thrilled.
IE: You’re playing three shows in Chicago at two different venues, the United Center and Auditorium Theatre. What do you remember about playing at the Auditorium Theatre with Pink Floyd in the early ’70s?
DG: We did a great show there. It’s one of those ones that for some strange reason sticks in your mind. It must have been before the wonderful one at Soldier Field.
IE: Rattle That Lock builds upon your signature style, but also includes surprise twists like the cool cocktail jazz of “The Girl in the Yellow Dress” and the swinging rhythm of “Dancing Right in Front of Me.” Are you performing those?
DG: We’re playing “The Girl in the Yellow Dress.” “Dancing Right in Front of Me” is not in our set list. We have rehearsed it, but we haven’t played it on a show yet. It’s one of the ones to come when we feel like a change.
IE: Your wife, Polly Samson, has been an important collaborator since Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell album, and her lyrics help set the tone of Rattle That Lock. She’s a respected author. What was her background before you began working together on music?
DG: She was an accomplished writer before we met, and I was able to take advantage of it [laughs]. Her career was working in literature for English publishing houses and newspapers, writing articles on all sorts of issues, and writing stories. She’s just had two books out this week in the US, in fact. The Kindness has just been published this week, as has her previous book in Europe called Perfect Lives, which is a collection of short stories.
IE: The song “Rattle That Lock” encourages the fight against oppression, connecting with concepts like the Occupy movement. Polly’s lyrics were inspired by Book II of Milton’s Paradise Lost, which is included in your box set. Do you suggest lyrical themes, or do they come from Polly’s reaction to the music?
DG: Polly came up with that idea of encouraging people to not put up with it, to protest. In England, the right to protest is being really severely beaten down by the government to put people in prison with the slightest excuse. It feels like the police state we were complaining about forty years ago. It’s rather quietly and subtly become much worse in the UK anyway, over the last few years.
IE: There’s a powerful combination of emotive guitar and Polly’s words during “In Any Tongue.” It evokes the tragedy of global conflict, religious zealotry, drone strikes, and broken families. Can you describe that one?
DG: Polly instantly knew what the basic subject matter was going to be about. She said, “Are you happy singing this?” I said, “Of course. It’s brilliant.” This worldwide tragedy that we seem to be living is hopeless. It’s depressing to think that we haven’t evolved a little bit further.
IE: Is it hopeless?
DG: As we’ve discussed, John Milton makes his appearance in this album. If you read his work, you will realize that the human brain hasn’t really evolved that much in the last five or six hundred years. Expecting it to do so in the space of a few short years since the last World War is kind of a hopeless thing. I’m sure one day we’ll get there, but the timeframe of change in the human condition is a long one.
IE: You harmonize beautifully with David Crosby and Graham Nash again on “A Boat Lies Waiting.” Polly’s lyrics are heartfelt, reflecting your relationship with your friend and late Pink Floyd bandmate Richard Wright. How did you make that one?
DG: Yes, it’s in memory of Rick. Some of those pieces of music go back a while. You look at them and you play with them, and you’re looking for a key that will reveal where the song is supposed to take itself. Sometimes it hides for a few years. That’s one of the ones that had hidden itself until this record.
When Polly had first written the lyrics, [Crosby and Nash] were on tour in Europe. I managed to get them into the studio to record those vocals. Inconveniently, of course, some of the lyrics got changed in the intervening months. I had to ask them to redo some lines themselves in L.A. and mail them in, which they did. I think it works quite well.
IE: “Today” touches on mortality, too, but it’s celebratory. Are those songs connected?
DG: Yes, that’s the carpe diem idea. Live each day to its maximum. Get the most out of it.
IE: Rick Wright is also the prominent figure behind your final Pink Floyd album, 2014’s The Endless River. It has a cool backstory, honoring Rick’s memory by building from pieces you began together. As someone who enjoys instrumental records, I’ve spun it countless times.
DG: It’s got its own sort of little place hasn’t it? It’s an unusual coda to a career, I suppose you could say. But it just seemed odd to me to have all those moments with me and Rick, just sort of jamming together, and not to share them. That was a lovely job to work on, pulling all that together – with lots of help from my great friend Phil Manzanera.
IE: Are you playing anything from The Endless River in your show?
DG: We’re not. We did “Louder Than Words” in rehearsal, and couldn’t find a place to fit it. One of these days, we’ll try it live. It’s a very funny thing when you play songs that you’ve gotten very used to in the studio, and you know intimately. You think you know everything that that song has got to reveal before you finish it, and before it’s released, even. Then sometimes you play it live, and you realize there’s a whole other side to it. It makes a connection with the audience in a different way. That may be one of those, but I haven’t done that little test yet. It’s been very hectic putting all this thing together and getting it just so. Some of the little experiments are still there to be tried.
IE: Had you considered creating anything under the Pink Floyd banner before Rick passed?
DG: Even with Rick around, I didn’t want to go back there. I’ve had the best time of my life working in that strange, unknowable symbiosis with those guys. But things have a course, and that course was run. I would have worked with Rick on this solo album. I would have even considered doing a Richard Wright and David Gilmour album together, but I wouldn’t have done anything under the Pink Floyd name. It’s a weight to carry.
IE: I assumed that the goals of performing with Pink Floyd in 2005 at the Live 8 concert were to raise awareness for an important cause, but also to bring closure and peace to a troubled professional relationship with Roger Waters. With 11 years’ distance, do you find that it achieved your aim?
DG: It achieved everything that it was supposed to do. It was more lauded and feted than I’d expected, and it caused more of a ripple that I was expecting. It was a fantastic moment – all four of us playing up there on stage. There were some pretty strange, intense moments in the rehearsals. Tension in rehearsals convinced me that if anyone wanted to, I wasn’t interested in going back to working together. We’re all too used to being the bosses of our own little situations to revert to something that has a measure of democracy. But it was a fantastic reminder of how magically we benefited each other, and created something that is not quite the same if any of us are not there. I’m getting on fine with Roger and Nick [Mason] these days. There’s no real major acrimony or anything, but we’re all in our 70s. We don’t need to be going back. I was 21 when I joined that band.
IE: I saw that you have been playing Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine.” That must be a tribute to Syd Barrett.
DG: That would be, yeah. That’s a song that they did before I was even a member, but it’s all part of the canon. I’m very much enjoying playing a spread of tunes from our entire career, to remind people of where we started and where we got to, and what I’ve been doing. There’s a little bit of everything.
IE: What’s upcoming that has you excited?
DG: Roger Daltrey [of The Who] has been asking me for quite a while to appear on one of the nights on his Teenage Cancer Trust events. The concerts at the Royal Albert Hall are a regular thing every year. It’s very hard to get your whole setup up and running to do a one-off thing, so it had to wait ‘til I was going to be on tour anyway. That moment has finally arrived. That’s coming right up after I finish this leg in the US. After that, we head off to another European leg of touring. We’re going to play in Pompeii in the same amphitheater where Pink Floyd played in 1971 without an audience for Live in Pompeii. This will be the first concert there with an audience since there were gladiators in that ring.
IE: You’ve got guitars any player would cherish. Which is your favorite?
DG: The one you’re playing at the moment. My old black Strat is the one that I seem to pick up the most. I still love to find a new beautiful guitar, and it often offers you up a little gift in return for playing it.
IE: Do you plan to release more new music?
DG: I didn’t imagine I’d take that long after On An Island, to be honest. Time just seemed to slip past me. My intention is to get back in the studio. I’ve got a lot of half-finished material, and I’ve written some more stuff since then. I’m really looking forward to continuing. We’ll have to see, but I can’t make promises.
– Q&A by Jeff Elbel