Pink Floyd: the making of The Endless River

The inside story of Pink Floyd's final studio album

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Looking back on Rick Wright’s contribution to Pink Floyd, Nick Mason considers, “Where he really is unique, is this thing in him of being able to come up with ideas and just work them into whatever else is going on at any given moment.”

Manzanera, meanwhile, describes Wright as “a hippy musician, in it for the music” and that he “provided a very broad musical context for David to play his guitar into and, earlier, for Syd to put his songs into. He held his line right through the career and provided sonority. You take that out of the equation, and it doesn’t sound like Pink Floyd.”

Youth, for his part, cites “One Of These Days” as emblematic of Wright’s considerable talents. “His Farfisa, his organ playing… I can’t think of anyone I’d rather listen to on an organ that him. ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’ is up there with Beethoven and Bach. It’s a stunning piece of music. Wish You Were Here is probably my favourite album, and it’s mainly Rick. The long keyboard sections, his Moog lead lines. Listening to them now, they remind me of the more German, Tangerine Dream-style ambient passages, but he managed to imbue then with a very English, pastoral sensibility. There’s something very melancholic and whimsical at the same time. It’s beautiful music. He’s always had a massive part to play with me for Floyd.”

Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd

Writing in Inside Out, Mason noted, “Rick perhaps never received the credit – both inside and outside the band – that he deserved for his talents, but the distinctive, floating textures and colours he brought into the mix were absolutely critical to what people recognise as the sound of Pink Floyd. Musically he knitted us all together.”

Evidently, then, it was essential that The Endless River deliver not only a Pink Floyd album strong enough to stand alongside its many illustrious predecessors; but also one that provided a substantial showcase for Wright’s craftsmanship. Sitting in his smart north London studio, Phil Manzanera described his own first-hand experiences with Wright. “He was very astute and could speak very well. Though he didn’t seem to have done tons of interviews, when he did, he nailed it. He could verbalise a lot of what the music was about.”

Close by Manzanera sits his cherished Gibson Firebird VII, a strap wound round it with Manzanera’s nickname, ‘El Magnifico’, picked out in metal studs. On the wall, above a compact black mixing desk built into a wooden frame, hangs a large burgundy carpet. This is where, among many other projects, work was partly done on the unreleased Roxy Music album from 2005, and where his old friend Robert Wyatt is soon due to record some new music. Sipping a herbal tea, Manzanera considers an invitation he received in August 2012 from David Gilmour. “He just said, ‘There’s this stuff. Do you fancy having a listen to it, to see if there’s anything there?’ So I went down to Astoria. Andy Jackson was there and Damon Iddins, who also works for the studio. I said, ‘Right, I’ve come to listen to the stuff.’ That was when I heard that Andy had put together a thing called ‘The Big Spliff’, which rather annoyingly I said, ‘I don’t wanna hear. I wanna hear every single piece or scrap that was recorded, everything. Outtakes from Division Bell. Everything.’ So we commenced on a 20-hour epic listening sessions over six weeks. That was when I learned they thought of having a double-album for The Division Bell. One was going to be the instrumentals, a bit like Ummagumma. Or, as Nick calls it, ‘Oommagooma.’ I was like, ‘Oommagooma? Who calls it that?’”

“Phil was heavily involved in On An Island,” says Andy Jackson. “David had a huge amount of potential material, and Phil was really good at keeping track of everything. He’d have lists and say, ‘Remember that bit there, that could go really well as a middle-eight in this…’ He was really helpful to David in that way and it was an obvious thing for David to say, ‘Do you want to do that process again?’”

“They’ve got a very good archiving system,” Manzanera continues. “So you can even find footage from them doing those original jams at Britannia Row. They’re not pretty – it’s like CCTV footage. But you have got footage, and footage of them on the boat, too. The material was all on different formats. They were on DAT, some were on stereo DAT, some bits were on 24-track, and some bits were on half-inch tape. Every time I heard something I liked, I wrote it down. I had pages and pages. When they’re looking through the tapes, there’s time to think. ‘OK, what the fuck am I going to do? I’ve got 20 hours of stuff. How am I going to organise this?’”

“Phil logged everything, recorded everything,” continues Jackson. “He thought about it and jigsaw puzzled and came up with the concept: ‘Let’s think of it like a symphony, let’s make four pieces that are 10, 12 minutes long that are thematic and it flows like a classical piece would.’ We made a mash-up at that point. The vast bulk of it was from these stereo DAT tapes. It was a skeleton at this point. It’s like Masterchef. ‘We can do this, here’s a dish.’”

“This isn’t what’s on the album now,” Manzanera stresses, “but I needed a narrative. I visualised a scenario with a tone that was a product of the cosmic bang. Let’s have it so only people in a certain frequency can hear the tone. Eventually it arrives at the tunnel entrance to Astoria, under the road. The door clanks, and you can hear them walking on the gravel towards the boat, the three of them, our heroes, they come onto Astoria and start jamming. That’s the first section. The second section, the boat takes off and we’re in outer space. They arrive on a planet that is all acoustic. Then there’s this end bit, where it goes back. So I had this narrative and I started putting all the things together. I would take a guitar solo from another track, change the key of it, stick it on an outtake from another track… ‘Oh, that bit there, it reminds me of Live At Pompeii, but let’s put a beat underneath it.’ So then I’d take a bit of Nick warming up in the studio at Olympia, say, take a bit of a fill here and a bit of a fill there. Join it together, make a loop out of it. My brief was to use what was there.”

Two months later, in December 2012, Manzanera presented his workings to Gilmour onboard Astoria. “I think he thought, ‘This guy’s mad,’” laughs Manzanera. “He said, ‘Can you play it to Nick?’ So I got him here, played it to him. He could see the potential in it, but he was slightly worried. It’s a lot more extreme than how it ended up. But they saw there was enough stuff there to make something good. It ticked all the Pink Floyd boxes. A year passed of them wondering what to do with it, and towards the end of that year, David sent two parts of what I did to Youth…”

“David had started writing his own album and he didn’t want to get torn away from it,” Jackson explains. “He ends up being quite busy all the time, not least of all living in two different houses. He lives in one in the week and another in the weekend. It’s like moving court. Children, nannies and dogs. So the logistics of everyday life become…” he pauses. “And the social life… Tuesdays and Thursdays, go to the gym and it’s like the week’s gone. So it sat on the back-burner for a while. I’m not sure he knew what to do with it or where to react to it.”

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