|Pink Floyd Meet The Orb|
[Melody Maker, 1993]
JUST about everything anybody has ever told you is wrong. Take, for a very mundane example, the music you listen to. Most likely, there are people who reckon you shouldn't. Even more likely, some of them work for this paper. Supremely likely, one of them is me.
It is your prerogative to tell us all to get lost. We won't, but you can only try. Pink Floyd fans have probably felt this way for years, as their favourite band have become the butt of habitual attacks, either lampooning or vitriolic, in the music press.
True, Pink Floyd haven't made a really great record in 18 years. Perhaps a brief history is called for here: 1967: Pink Floyd release their first LP, a definitive work of psychedelia; 1968: leader Syd Barrett departs on a wave of lysergic acid - replaced by David Gilmour; 1969-1975: Pink Floyd produced a weird, wonderful and flawed sequence of albums; 1977-1983: under the stewardship of Roger Waters, Pink Floyd produce overblown crap; 1984-present: Waters embarks on a deservedly disastrous solo career, unwittingly leaving Gilmour with the brand name Pink Floyd and a license to print money.
It's what Pink Floyd did in those first eight years that matters here. They pioneered a strung-out, grandiloquent sound, part pop and part head expander, that reached its apotheosis on Dark Side of the Moon, the fourth best-selling album of all time. That was two decades ago. Alex Paterson still hasn't recovered.
“MEDDLE,” admits the Orb mainman, “was actually a bigger influence on me, between the ages of 12 and 14. But I first heard Pink Floyd in 1969. My brother played it to me; he's 10 years older than me, and he's always thrown all this music that I've never heard of at me, between 1966 and now. He's the real musician in the family.”
What effect did this introduction to Floyd have on you?
“I've never been able to keep a day job down properly. I blame Pink Floyd.”
Dave Gilmour, seated across from him, smiles in satisfaction.
“Good,” he says.
Alex has given plenty of less-than-subtle hints about Pink Floyd's bearing on The Orb. The cover of the ambient meister' first album, with its baroque rendering of the Battersea power station, was a direct and deliberate life from Floyd's Animals; and on that album, Alex included a track entitled - “Back Side Of The Moon!” Dave chortles.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” mutters a sheepish Paterson.
Are you mutual fans?
“I've got a couple of their albums,” says Dave. “I put them on at home, as late-night, relaxing music. I came to see them at Brixton. I was a bit prejudiced, because I wanted to see musicians onstage more, more dynamics, but I did enjoy myself.”
How about Alex?
“He hates us and everything we stand for.”
“Yup!” agrees Alex, cheerfully. “No, no, not at all. I think the album cover says it all.”
AFTER 18 years in the wilderness, albeit a wilderness of such enormous commercial success that the carpings of the likes of Melody Maker have been as gnats stamping on the back of a buffalo, Pink Floyd are hip again. It's okay to like them. Tell your mother we said so.
How does it feel to have your street cred back, Dave?
“Good Lord!” protests Gilmour, mortified. “We never lost our street cred. I always thought that we were incredibly street cred.”
“Always been,” assents Alex.
“To me,” Dave continues, “we've always had underground appeal. Except, I suppose, in the media. When Johnny Rotten wore his charming tee shirt with ‘I hate Pink Floyd’ on it - and even he told me he was a fan - that's to do with image and nothing to do with music. We've done some good stuff and some bad stuf, and the good stuff has remained popular with all sorts of people since it came out. Hopefully,” he adds, pressing his palms together on his chest and lifting his eyes to the ceiling of his luxuriously appointed office.
The story of Johnny Rotten's shirt, an original Floyd product customized with biro, established Pink Floyd as the band it was de rigueur for punks to hate. It could have been any Seventies monoliths; Genesis, Jethro Tull or Yes would have sufficed. No doubt someone will soon try to rehabilitate these bands, attempt to persuade you that they were misjudged. They were not. History has judged them to be rubbish, and history is right.
Pink Floyd, at the time, were the prime target, maybe because they were the most successful. They are also, in retrospect, the only such band worth bothering with.
Alex tells a story by way of illustration.
“One of my biggest shocks was when I went to Chicago in 1988,” recalls the Orbster, leaning forward in his leather armchair. “I'm going, ‘I've come here for a dance revolution. Where's Derrick May? Where's Fingers Inc?’ The first thing I heard in the car was Time by Pink Floyd.”
But after all this time, don't you feel vindicated, Dave?
“Vindicated?” he frowns. “I don't think vindicated comes into it. What would I feel vindicated about?”
About, for example, getting called, with tedious frequency, a dinosaur?
“It's never bothered me.”
“Call me a dinosaur!” volunteers Alex, in a Spartacus style fit of heroism.
Dave: “I have called Floyd a big old lumbering beast before; it is. But it's my big old lumbering beast and I like it. I don't feel any sort of vindication.”
All that time, all those insults, and he never gave a damn. How much more satisfying to wind up someone like Phil Collins, who obsessively collects every word written about him and seemingly takes it to heart (although we haven't yet succeeded in putting him off making records).
It's almost enough to make you lose faith in the power of the press.
LET”S talk big. Let's talk double-brained lizardmeat big.
Alex has just returned from Dorset, where he spent three days in the studio, coming away with 63 minutes of music - an album. All 63 minutes make up the same track. There's no doubt that the advent of the Compact Disc has changed the boundaries for musicians. The Orb are, without question, a CD band.
It's been said of Pink Floyd that they were a CD band before there were CDs. Does Dave reckon that's fair?
“I haven't a clue what you're talking about,” grimaces the Floyd man. “What's a CD band? I never know what to say to questions like that. It's a media question.”
Obviously the media have managed to irritate Gilmour just a little. What I mean is that, listening to early Pink Floyd, I get the idea that you only stopped playing when the engineer came into the studio and said “That's it. We can't put any more on a side of vinyl.”
“Yeah, that's right. Probably a very good thing,” he reflects.
Would you have chosen to carry on, given the option?
“I really have no idea whether we would feel we could string a track out for that long. The longest we ever did was Echoes or Atom Heart Mother, which took up a whole side each. The last album we made, in 1987, [A Momentary Lapse of Reason], we were still concerned with vinyl. But I don't think our next album is liable to be able to fit onto vinyl. “On the Wall album,” he mourns, visibly pained at the memory, “we had to hack large chunks out of it, because we couldn't get it onto a double album. Huge lumps were unpleasantly sliced out at the time.”
As 1979's The Wall represents Pink Floyd's artistic nadir, a self aggrandising catalogue of misogyny and whingeing from Roger Waters, I have to feel a little grateful for the lack of digital technology at the time. I look forward to the inevitable prospect of the fully restored version with unmitigated dread. Alex, having been there himself, is all empathy.
“We had the same trouble in America with Ultraworld,” he commiserates, “because no one understood it. They decided to have a single album taken out of the double. They wanted me to edit all the tracks down to five minutes.” He sighs heavily. “Didn't do it, though,” he adds, with grim pride.
“It's murder, isn't it?” sympathises Dave. “Absolute murder. You're designed for one thing and you just can't. . . I suppose some people might say the songs were too long anyway.”
I fight to quash a momentary but irresistable vision of two old biddies on the bus.
“Well,” says Alex, “you'll always get critics, no matter what you do.”
They both turn to look at me, and I decide to change the subject.
BEFORE there were faceless Techno boffins, lighting up the charts in anti star anonymity, there were Pink Floyd. Odds are that, back in the early Seventies, only their most rabid fans could have picked them out of an identity parade made up of hairy men in tee-shirts.
“Most people would think that we were the first ones to do that,” acknowledges Dave, “but it was kind of accidental with us. It's rather pleasant that we don't have to be bothered by people in the street, or do the sort of things people with very well known faces have to do. Some of them do it because they truly love it, some people because they think their career won't survive without it. In our case, when we found our career would survive perfectly well without it, then it seemed an obvious way to continue.”
“A sane way to continue,” shudders Alex. “For the last two years I haven't been able to go to the supermarket without getting hassled - ‘Give us yer record!’ ‘Can you produce me band?’ I get handed tapes in the deli. Even the postman's been giving me demos - his own demos.”
It's taken The Orb to prove that facelessness needn't be equated with humourlessness. Wit, parody, and all manner of silly in-jokes have abounded on their records.
“In one review,” Alex recalls, “someone [it was our own Simon Reynolds, in fact] wrote, ‘You can't kiss the sky with your tongue in your cheek’. Which made me think, ‘I'll keep doing that, because it obviously got his attention, it'll get other people's attention.’”
It seems to have worked. The Orb have brought a light-heartedness to musical space exploration that prime Pink Floyd appeared to lack.
Have Floyd ever been tongue-in-cheek?
“Of course!” Dave exclaims. “There have been times when we deliberately tried to lighten up the proceedings by putting in jokes. We've put backwards messages on and stuff like that, purely to amuse people. The amount of people who write in to say that they found this secret message, and what does it all mean?”
Seeing as one typical hidden message (on The Wall) ran: ”Congratulations! You have discovered the hidden message. . .”, you have to wonder if some folk have an innate desire to be confused.
ASIDE from a shared fascination with space and a penchant for very long tracks, what do The Orb and Pink Floyd really have in common?
Clearly it isn't working methods. Six years have passed since the release of Pink Floyd's last studio LP, and they're currently enjoying chart success with a 20-year-old record (Dark Side is Number Four at the time of writing). On the other hand, The Orb released three albums in 1991, and another last year, plus two enormously long singles.
“It's almost like a sort of punk mentality,” Alex expounds, “only doing 20-minute tracks instead of three-minute ones. You've got these ideas here, here and here, and if those don't work, scrap it and move on to the next one. Otherwise you just lose the fluency. It's like that when you're working with a 21-year-old kid” - as Alex refers to his Orb partner, Thrash - “constantly aggressive, constantly active - ‘C'mon then, c'mon then, let's do some more!’ It's like, ‘Give us a break.’”
“Maybe we should try that,” muses Dave. “Get some 21-year-old kids in.”
What Pink Floyd and The Orb share is, simply, an approach to music. They represent a rare triumph of aesthetics over ideology; the former punk ignoring proscriptions, listening to the prog rock dinosaurs, creating the music he likes.
“ had an idea,” recounts Alex, “and I took it to [The Orb's record company] Big Life, and they came back and said ‘It's a really shit idea.’ Four weeks later they turned round and said, ‘Hey, we've got this idea’, which happened to be the same idea as mine.”
The idea - which Alex plans to pursue - was to make a heavy, fully fledged dub album, along with three other albums, all recorded in one long effort and released over two years at the rate of one every six months.
He must be pretty confident that neither events nor fashion will overtake them.
“I've always mentioned Eno [former Roxy Music whiz and ‘ambient’ pioneer] as a big influence, working on a single note,” Alex wanders off at a bit of a tangent, “so we've taken the single note and added the Pink Floyd weirdness. The difference between us and Pink Floyd is, we've come about in a sampler age. “I'm not worried about fashion. Ultraworld has been selling since 1991, quite respectably.
“To me,” he concludes, “it's a bit like Pink Floyd. The music is timeless.”
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