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The court battle at the centre of Pink Floyd

@TomTaylorFO

The only thing more prone to a break-up than a band is a sit-com couple made of Lego. A myriad of strains and time spent breathing the same air inevitably causes tensions and then more often than not someone throws the towel in. Thus, sadly, what once started off as a few friends against the world, high on the sanguine fumes of careless creativity and adrenalised adventure, quickly surpasses the bittersweet realm of success and turns sour. Welcome to the world of Pink Floyd

In 1961 Syd Barrett’s father passed away a month before his 16th Birthday. The grief this caused often seems underplayed in what followed. It was this moment that encouraged him to perform in the first place as his mother thought it might help him recover from the grief. Within four years, Barrett had found some solace and Pink Floyd formed in 1965 with Barrett, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright. 

By January 3rd 1968 David Gilmour had accepted a try-out to replace him. And a few weeks later, he was in the front row of a gig at the Imperial College in London, almost motionlessly watching his old college friend play his licks. The band survived this transition of frontmen, but arguments soon ensued between Waters and Gilmour that flitted on and off for decades.

The life of Syd Barrett and the dark side of the swinging sixties

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In July 1978, at Britannia Row Studios, Roger Waters pitched his bandmates two new ideas for concept albums. The first option was a 90-minute demo with the working title Bricks in the Wall. As we all know by now, the pitch got the vote, and the band heeded Waters’ creative vision. The project arrived at a curious time for Pink Floyd; they had reached a period in their career where stardom was secured, but the toil of keeping it lofty was taking its toll. They were drained, and more often than not, that is infertile soil for creative fruit, but The Wall provided a mechanism whereby they could flip the drawback on its head. 

After a long tour in which the strain became self-evident, tensions culminated in a multitude of mishaps. On the final night of their 1977 tour at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, David Gilmour refused to take the stage for the encore after a disastrous performance, so touring guitarist Snowy White stepped in. Once more, the performance was subpar, so they decided to take to the stage one more time, but during ‘Drift Away Blues’, the roadies had already started dismantling the stage. 

However, the lowest part of the night came earlier for Roger Waters, and it may have gone unnoticed to most. As the band were midway through their set, a skirmish emerged at the front of the crowd. During which, Waters approached the front row and spat in the face of a rowdy fan. 

Later, while speaking to Howard Stern, he confirmed the truth to this rock ‘n’ roll legend, declaring: “It is (true), to my eternal shame.” Waters had lost sight of himself after the tour had played games with his head, and The Wall represented the change that had gradually taken place. Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett had already succumbed to the snares of the rock ‘n’ roll realm, and Waters wanted to exorcise this bedevilment in a sonic serving of deliverance. This dark inspiration may have been creatively conducive, but it came with its own inherent pitfalls to boot.

As David Gilmour would later declare: “I think things like ‘Comfortably Numb’ were the last embers of mine and Roger’s ability to work collaboratively together.” In the end, Waters would leave the band in a bitter dispute, and The Wall’s creation was their last edifice as a whole, with the subtitle to 1983’s The Final Cut clearly indicating the end: “A requiem for the post-war dream by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd.” While the ‘end of the post-war dream’ was ostensibly a shot at Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, it could just as easily have been about the death of Pink Floyd’s flowery 1960s vision.

In December 1985, Waters finally formally quit the band that he had co-founded. When he did so, he assumed that the whole group would disband. They did not. Since then, any lingering hopes of a Pink Floyd reunion have been met with a pretty definitive no, like Oliver Twist’s request for more, as David Gilmour has even recently announced” “I absolutely don’t want to go back.”

Speaking to Guitar Player magazine about rumours of a possible reunion, the six-string legend revealed: “It has run its course, we are done. I’m all for Roger [Waters] doing whatever he wants to do and enjoying himself. But I absolutely don’t want to go back. I don’t want to go and play stadiums. I’m free to do exactly what I want to do and how I want to do it.”

This irreparable rift grew between them once Waters took his former bandmates to court. His High Court battle was to prevent them from using the name claiming that the group was a “spent force of creativity” and they would ruin its legacy after he left. The resultant legal battle lasted for two years as both sides argued that they had contributed to something that they should be able to maintain, they just found themselves on different sides of the same coin, so to speak. It was eventually settled out of court, in a Christmas Eve meeting on Gilmour’s houseboat.

Waters would later remark: “It’s one of the few times that the legal profession has taught me something. Because when I went to these chaps and said, ‘Listen we’re broke, this isn’t Pink Floyd anymore,’ they went, ‘What do you mean? That’s irrelevant, it is a label and it has commercial value. You can’t say it’s going to cease to exist… you obviously don’t understand English jurisprudence.'”

While this lesson of commercialism in rock might have taught Waters something about the capitalist culture, and bridges were built for a special charity show in 2005, clearly the scars haven’t healed. Recently speaking to Rolling Stone Rogers said, “About a year ago, I convened a sort of Camp David for the surviving members of Pink Floyd at a hotel at an airport in London, where I proposed all kinds of measures to get past this awful impasse that we have and the predicament we find ourselves in,” adding, “It bore no fruit.” 

Later citing his displeasure at seemingly being banned from the Pink Floyd website. “I think he thinks that because I left the band in 1985,” Waters stated, “that [Gilmour] owns Pink Floyd, that he is Pink Floyd and I’m irrelevant and I should just keep my mouth shut.”

Despite the fact that obviously there is a rift the size of the English Channel between the former members, rumours of a reunion recirculated online following an announcement that a live album of the bands iconic 1990 gig at Knebworth was set for release. These too have since been rubbished.

It would seem that the flame of Pink Floyd burned out for good long ago, but you can catch a video of when it was still very much roaring below.