In May 2006, as part of his On an Island Tour, Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour created a surprise supergroup for a performance at the Royal Albert Hall. With Pink Floyd founding member Richard Wright back on the keyboard, Gilmour introduced surprise guest David Bowie.
The Starman joined the group on stage for a rendition of Pink Floyd’s debut single ‘Arnold Layne’ which was originally released in 1967 and largely composed by the late great Syd Barett. It was such an inspiration for Bowie he would even name a band after the track.
In what has been seen by many fans as a tribute to the founding member Syd Barrett—who not only wrote the song but named the band and was the original lead singer in the group before Gilmour’s introduction as his replacement following a spiralling substance abuse problem.
In 2006, Gilmour asked Bowie to take the lead on the inspirational song. The ‘Fame’ singer took to the mic and said: “I hope I warrant that,” as the crowd erupted into a standing ovation for the charming chameleon of rock.
The track is said to be built around a transvestite, who, the rumour has it, enjoyed the hobby of stealing women’s clothing and underwear from washing lines. It was such an influential idea for Bowie that when he created a design-focused side project in the seventies he named it Arnold Corns in homage to the track. Perhaps something about the androgynous mischief-maker in the song connected with Bowie.
Discussing the origins of the song, Gilmour once claimed it was based on a real person: “Both my mother and Syd’s mother had students as lodgers because there was a girls’ college up the road so there were constantly great lines of bras and knickers on our washing lines and ‘Arnold’ or whoever he was, had bits off our washing lines.”
Pink Floyd track trivia behind us we can enjoy this incredible performance not only between some of the greats of the rock world in Gilmour and Bowie, as well as the late, great Richard Wright, but between a group of real friends. The trio would go on to also sing ‘Comfortably Numb’ but that’s another story for another day/.
For now, watch David Bowie and Pink Floyd sing ‘Arnold Layne’ back in 2006.