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(Credit: Andrés Ibarra)

Roger Waters' guitarist recounts harrowing audition

You’d be forgiven for not knowing who Dave Kilminster is. A highly accomplished musician and guitarist, he exists in the rather niche domain of prog-rock, and if I was to hazard a guess, I’m sure my obscure uncle who still lives with my nan, would be aware of his work. A prestigious musician, Kilminster has leant his axe to some of prog-rock’s finest musicians, including Keith Emerson, Steven Wilson and Roger Waters.

It was with the latter that we get our story today. Roger Waters, principal songwriter and conceptual mastermind of Pink Floyd, is known as a man who isn’t afraid to speak his mind. This is understandable, considering he has written some of the most enduring songs of all time, adding to his forthright stature. Furthermore, Waters has always been a disciple of the righteous, never afraid to weigh in on humanitarian or political issues. The man who once said, “I confess I’ve never felt like a passenger”, is clearly a difficult man to please. 

Coming back to Kilminster, it is 2006, and our protagonist finds himself torn between two prog-rock giants. He was playing in Keith Emerson’s band, The Nice, at the time when he was offered a gig from the former Pink Floyd man. In 2013, he told Guitarworld he was in the studio working on a project when his manager revealed “‘I just had a phone call from (Waters touring guitarist) Snowy White, and he said ‘Roger Waters is looking for a guitarist.’ I was like, ‘who is that?’ I had no idea, not a clue.”

This is a shocking revelation that a proponent of the fantastical form of rock should not be aware of Roger Waters. Kilminster explained: “When he finally managed to calm himself, he told me he was in Pink Floyd, and he told me the dates that they wanted somebody for. And originally, it was going to be something like ten weeks. But I was already to tour with Keith during that time, so I couldn’t even think about it. And that was it. I didn’t think anything more of it for a day or so.”

Then, as with every good story, destiny showed her hand: “And then I had an email from Keith’s manager, saying, ‘I’m really sorry, I have to pull our dates’ And I thought, ‘That’s a sign!’ That’s a really obvious sign that you need to go for this. I still didn’t think I’d get it because I thought it was sort of an impossible thing.”  

However, it wasn’t going to be plain sailing for Kilminster. He was about to have the worst audition of his life for Waters’ hand-picked band of sonic adventurers. In short, Kilminster remembers: “It was terrible, absolutely terrible.” Not being a fan of Pink Floyd was about to come back and haunt the hitherto blissfully unaware guitarist.

He described the traumatising event: “I felt like I was prepared. But not being a fan, I was not really aware of what exactly I was supposed to do. For example, Roger said, ‘Let’s do ‘Money’.’ I said, ‘Great, which guitar part do you want me to do?’ I’ve got them all worked out. There’s three rhythm guitar parts on the record, I know all the solos and I’m thinking it’s going to be great. Until Roger said, ‘Are you alright on the lyrics?’ And I’m thinking, ‘Shit! I’m supposed to sing this as well?’ It’s not difficult, but it’s slightly syncopated along with the rhythm. And I’m singing over that, reading the lyrics, thinking that I’m not entirely sure because I’d never even thought about doing this before. I was completely green.”

This was only the start of this Herculean labour. In addition to being pushed well and truly out of his comfort zone, Kilminster’s equipment started to play tricks on him. He recalled: “I seem to remember that I had two guitars as well…and I strapped on the wrong guitar for that piece! The solo for ‘Money’ goes up to the 22nd fret, and I had my 21 fret guitar on at the time. And then we started doing ‘Wish You Were Here’, and I plugged in the acoustic, and it wasn’t working. Then we got halfway through, and it comes to the bottleneck solo, and I think, Shit! Where’s the bottleneck? ‘It’s in my bag, sorry, can we just stop and…’ I drove away from that audition thinking, You’ve just blown the biggest gig of your life! I was kicking myself all the way home.”

Understandably, Kilminster was fraught after making what he saw as a huge fool of himself in front of the man who is arguably the rightful king of all things prog. However, Kilminster’s friend destiny would come to his aid once again. 

The next morning, his life was to change forever: “And then I had a friend call the next morning from management saying ‘Yeah!’ And I’m like, ‘Have you got the right number?’ But the weirdest thing is, about a day after I heard that they wanted me for this 10-week tour, which actually turned out to be two years, I got another email from Keith’s manager, ‘Oh don’t worry, we’ve got the American dates back.’ Fate just opened this tiny little door just for a few days, and it changed my life completely. To think that I could have missed out on these last seven years.”

Make that seven years fourteen (with a little intermission owing to the pandemic). Kilminster is still Waters’ trusty axeman, and it looks like he will be for a while longer. He is set to join Waters on his 2022 This Is Not A Drill tour.

Watch Kilminster’s solo on ‘Comfortably Numb’, below.

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