Archive for September, 2008

Pink Floyd before the Dark Side

25 September 2008

From the Nick Mason Archive

The death of Pink Floyd’s founding keyboard player, Rick Wright, last week, sent me back to listen to some of those early Floyd recordings – Atom Heart Mother and, earlier, Saucerful of Secrets and Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The trope about the end of the early Floyd is the story of ‘Genius Abandoned’: creative free spirit Syd Barrett is shepherded out when his (drug-affected) behaviour becomes too erratic; he retreats to a Cambridge basement as the band goes commercial; or to put the trope another way, the Millionaires and the Reclusive Acid Casualty.

Not quite so fast. It’s five years between Barrett’s departure from Pink Floyd, and The Dark Side of the Moon, the clear sign that the band had been captured by Roger Waters, with his easy melodies and faux-radical lyrics (Money, is a crime, We don’t need no education – well, there ain’t no need to go on.) In the meantime, on records such as Umma Gumma and Atom Heart Mother, they produced some genuinely inventive and experimental music, influenced by jazz and the avant-garde, in part because members like Wright (on the right of the 1968 photo, above) had joined the band in the same curious spirit as Barrett.

True, by Atom Heart Mother, in 1970, the Waters effect was beginning to show, in the trite and platitudinous ‘If’, and there was more of the same on Meddle, a year later. Wright had had enough by the time they hit The Wall, in 1979, and quit the band. I liked the story in his obituary that he was the only member of the original band to make any money from the Wall tour because he played the tour as a session musician – while the rest lost their shirts because of the expensive staging.

Scribner and The Sun Also Rises

21 September 2008

Nicholas Lezard’s paperback review column in the Saturday edition of the Guardian is always worth reading, for his knowledge, his love of the craft of writing, and also his generosity towards the authors he reviews. He also has the gift of making you interested, at least for the duration, in books you might not even pick up in a bookshop, let alone read. This week’s column – on Gary Dexter’s Why Not Catch-21? is a good example, and typical of Lezard’s style.

It also contains a great anecdote about The Sun Also Rises:

He has a fondness, and a gift, for the right kind of anecdote: such as the list of unsuitable words from The Sun Also Rises (“shit fuck bitch piss”) that the publisher Max Perkins wrote down. “Unfortunately, the heading on the pad was ‘Things to do today’. Charles Scribner came into Perkins’s office, saw the pad, and said to him: ‘You must be exhausted.'” Dexter, always conscientious in his search for the facts, adds a footnote telling a variant anecdote: Scribner says, “If you need reminding to do those things you’re in a worse state than I thought.”

The second version, by the way, seems more complete, a better ‘story’; and has probably been improved in the retelling.

In praise of Mark Cavendish

18 September 2008

What’s not to like about Mark Cavendish, the young cyclist from the Isle of Man who has exceeded all expectations by topping the unofficial sprinters’ league this season with more wins (17) than anyone else – six of them against the best riders in the ‘grands Tours’.

All sprinters need a bit of ego, and when Cavendish announced in June that he was the fastest rider in the peloton over the last 200m of a sprint it was difficult to tell if it was youthful arrogance or not. Four stage wins in the Tour de France – when he was untouchable in the bunch sprints – suggested it wasn’t.

But it has been his demeanour in winning that has made him so likeable. When he won his third stage in the Tour his first response was to look for Bernhard Eisel, a Columbia team-mate who shepherded him through the Pyrenees after Cavendish had crashed. Invited to compare himself with Barry Hoban, the British sprinter who won eight Tour stages in the 70s, he was respectful, saying that Hoban didn’t have as good a team as he did. In the Giro d’Italia, by all accounts, having won two stages he was well-placed to win a third, but instead marked one of his competitors and let a team-mate take the victory. After a stage in which he had crashed and struggled, he was asked about his day by an interviewer. His reply was to the effect that he had worked in a bank when he was younger, and he never forgot that he was now getting paid to ride bikes for a living.

The icing for me came in an interview in Pro Cycling magazine, where the interviewer asks him about his time as a national level child dance competitor. His mum has a dancewear shop, which is why he ended up on the dancefloor. It seemed that he had been teased about this.

“To me it was a competition, and a competition is a competition in my book. And the best thing of all was that I met my girlfriend through it. So people can say what they like – I got the best thing in my life out of it.”

Let’s face it, it’s not the sort of reply you’d get from Ronaldo.