I know that bucket lists are supposed to contain bungee jumps, trips to Pacific Islands and conjugal visits with film stars, but for a good few thousand people last night, seeing David Gilmour play “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” pretty much topped all that.
Last night was the second of five dates of David Gilmour’s residence at The Royal Albert Hall, a venue where Gilmour has played both as solo artist and with his former band, Pink Floyd.
It has been nine years since Gilmour’s last solo album, 2006’s “On An Island”.
Gilmour says wryly, “in the later part of my career I feel it’s fine for me to work in a slightly less defiantly ambitious way”.
My previous glimpses of Gilmour have been fleeting. He joined Jools Holland onstage for a song or two at the RAH in 2004 as part of the Teenage Cancer Trust season. More memorable was a fortunate evening I spent at the O2 Arena when he joined Roger Waters during the latter’s performance of “The Wall”.
But Pink Floyd is now gone for good, much to Gilmour’s relief it would seem. Although he says “it was never really an ambition to be a solo artist”, it is clear that he and Waters see eye to eye on very little. Post the 2005 Live8 reformation, a final tribute to Rick Wright “The Endless River”, was released this year without Waters’ input and reached the top of the UK album charts. Nothing from that last album is played tonight, and Rick Wright’s signature tunes “The Great Gig In The Sky” and “Echoes” are retired. Perhaps by finally leaving behind any thought of reforming Pink Floyd, David has gone from Hippy Gilmour to Happy Gilmour.
Although there is an absence of anything from “Endless River”, new tracks from Gilmour’s latest LP “Rattle That Lock” are played, alongside a thorough revisiting of the Pink Floyd back catalogue.
The first thing that strikes you about David Gilmour is how distinctive his playing is. Perhaps only a handful of guitarists – Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Eddie Van Halen, BB King and Billy Gibbons are similarly recognisable.
Gilmour’s style is a mixture of blues with crystal clear tone and harmony. Like many rock guitarists of the ’60s and ’70s he was influenced by The Shadows. As Gilmour said in an interview on BBC6 Music last week, “Hank Marvin was one of the big influences. It’s great to be able to combine…melody in music with a more bluesey approach.”
And yet nobody else quite sounds like Gilmour, who has a theory as to why…
“There’s a lot of fuss about how people get their guitar sounds but ninety percent of how people get their guitar sound is in their fingers. It’s in the way they play it…sometimes it’s an anomaly in the timing between the left and right hand.”
“I could go into any music store and pick up a perfectly good guitar, an amplifier and a couple of pedals and sound exactly like me. I think far too much fuss is made about the gear…it’s mostly in the fingers.”
This is something that is abundantly clear as we listen to Gilmour’s set. I’m expecting “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” to send shivers down my spine (it does) but tonight’s version of “Us and Them” is a revelation. Throughout the show, behind the band, which includes Phil Manzanera on guitar, is a circular projection screen, upon which in true Pink Floyd tradition we see short films, animation and Alice in Wonderland visuals.
During “Us and Them” a film plays which, judging by the haircuts and kipper ties, was from a seventies Floyd tour, it’s an absolute, extraordinary highlight. This is as close as we will get to seeing Floyd in 2015, Roger Waters’ “The Wall” notwithstanding. Other highlights include early Floyd track “Fat Old Sun” and a fantastic version of “Run Like Hell”. “Money” might miss Waters’ distinctive bass, but the bluesy lead guitar break that Gilmour pulls off is extraordinary, bringing the song to life in a way I hadn’t experienced before.
Of the new material, “Girl With the Yellow Dress” is all ’60s European jazz and is backed by a quirky animated video, whilst “Today” has a guitar sound and beat reminiscent of “Another Brick in the Wall”. The new album is a little more punchy than its predecessor, “On An Island”.
“Time” is the first encore, and I am surrounded by an audience which has been transported to its student days, when they played this song in their bedrooms, lights off, smoking something they probably shouldn’t have been, lost in the music.
The final track, perhaps inevitably, is “Comfortably Numb” a song whose origins date back to Gilmour’s first 1978 solo album, recorded in the south of France, and from which came the first demos of the song. “It was too near the end of the sessions to progress it” said Gilmour later.
Tonight, as the Royal Albert Hall is bathed liberally in a lattice of lasers and Gilmour flicks off more tasteful licks than would feature in an entire box-set of “The Great British Bake-Off”, it is a tour de force.
- 5 A.M.
- Rattle That Lock
- Faces of Stone
- Wish You Were Here
- A Boat Lies Waiting
- The Blue
- Us and Them
- In Any Tongue
- High Hopes
- Astronomy Domine
- Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V)
- Fat Old Sun
- On an Island
- The Girl in the Yellow Dress
- Run Like Hell
- Breathe (Reprise)
- Comfortably Numb