The Wall is viewed as being Pink Floyd’s magnum opus, a record that depicts the story of a burnt-out rock star who has turned his back on civilisation to become a recluse. It’s a theme that is symbolised metaphorically by the imposing structure of the wall itself. The songs making up the project create a storyline of events in the protagonist’s life, Pink. The band turned their vision of societal strife into a gripping, emotional rock opera. However, behind the curtain, making the record was a devastatingly difficult journey that the band never recovered from.
The group first decided to take on the concept in July 1978, a period in time when Pink Floyd reconvened at Britannia Row Studios, and Roger Waters gave his bandmates two new ideas for concept albums. The first option was a 90-minute demo with the working title Bricks in the Wall whereas, the second was about a man’s dreams across one night, tackling topics such as family life, monogamy and promiscuity. The band chose the first option, and the second eventually became Waters’ first solo album. The project arrived at a curious time for Pink Floyd and, even though they were one of the biggest bands on the planet, they couldn’t afford this album to flop both commercially and critically.
Pink Floyd were under immense financial pressure to get this record out as soon as possible and cash in, despite the huge success they had previously enjoyed with Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side Of The Moon. With their creativity in full flow, it was a dispute with management that had left the band in financial ruins. “We made Dark Side and it looked as if we’d cracked it,” Waters later recalled. “Then suddenly these bastards had stolen it all. It looked as if we might be faced with huge tax bills for the money that had been lost. Eighty-three per cent was a lot of money in those days and we didn’t have it.”
“By force of necessity, I had to become closely involved in the business side,” David Gilmour remembered of making the LP, “Because no one around us has shown themselves sufficiently capable or honest to cope with it, and I saw with Norton Warburg that the shit was heading inexorably towards the fan. They weren’t the first crooks we stupidly allied ourselves with. Ever since then, there’s not a penny that I haven’t signed for. I sign every cheque and examine everything.”
All four members then fled the UK after being advised that this would be the only way that they would be able to avoid bankruptcy. Waters moved to Switzerland, Mason to France, and Gilmour and Wright to the Greek Islands. Once they reconvened to France in January 1979 to work on the record, things somehow got even worse. Producer Bob Ezrin was brought in to try and smooth over the tension between the band members, but it was too little too late, and Waters’ relationship with Wright had completely broken down.
In truth, the introduction of Ezrin would only make matters worse, and, after a confrontation he had with Wright, the keyboardist decided just to work nights in the studio, a move that would ensure he avoided everybody else. Gilmour was furious about the incident and later admitted that Wright’s lack of input was “driving us all mad”. During a difficult period of his life, Wright was troubled by a failing marriage and became depressed by being isolated away from his family for such a prolonged period of time.
When they took August off to spend time with their families, each band member decided to cut short their breaks by ten days after requests from the label to finish the album. However, despite the urgency, Wright refused to join them in the studio. A few days later, he would officially resign from his role in the band, and his name would be omitted from the credits for The Wall. However, the keyboardist would have the last laugh when he would be invited as a touring musician for the record and, therefore, was the only member of the band to actually make money from the tour.
The Wall was not just an extraordinary album, but the live show that accompanied it was years ahead of its time and was breathtakingly brilliant by the day’s standards. However, despite the innovative visuals, it had the opposite effect on their wallets. Pink Floyd decided to take to the road just a couple of months after the record’s release, and the financial demands of building the expansive set in such a short space of time left the band severely out of pocket.
On February 7th, 1980, the tour kicked off at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, but before they had even played a single note on stage, the Floyd were already down $1.5million. A large portion of the cost was down to the troubling logistics, which meant that the set would require rebuilding in a different venue every night — it was a disastrous move. As it was a ground-breaking stage show, there was no precedent for Pink Floyd to follow and, by the end of the run, they were $400,000 in debt and desperately unhappy with their situation.
Drummer Nick Mason later explained: “The problem, really, with the show is that it wasn’t a touring show, so it had to be set up, and left, and taken down again.
“There were a lot of light operators and stage operators and wall builders,” he continued, “Because of the amount of stuff that went up and down, floated across, did this, did that, there were a lot of operators, rather than just people putting stuff up. And, of course, we had lots of semis, as I believe you call them, because of the special lighting pods that we used which needed, each one needs a trailer unit to hold it.
“And the special stage, because of the way the stage was actually used, there was a sort of structural bracing piece for the building of the wall. So it was all special equipment, I mean it was absurdly expensive. It’s not something other people will do, generally, because it’s just so expensive to put on, it’s simply not feasible. But it was great to have done it once.”
The album sales would rescue Pink Floyd from their financial rut, but the entire process surrounding the record was torturous, and the band would never rediscover the same high octane level of creativity. In truth, it’s staggering that they managed to create such a timeless record despite the circumstances surrounding the album.
Although The Wall is unequivocally a magnificent piece of art that saved the band from bankruptcy, it was also the moment the group began to firmly drift apart.