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Pink Floyd's David Gilmour Resurfaces

Richard Wright of the band Pink Floyd died of cancer Monday at the age of 65. He played keyboards and wind instruments, sang, and composed some of Pink Floyd's early material, including the song "Great Gig in the Sky," which appeared on Pink Floyd's legendary 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon.

Wright also appeared, only two years ago, at bandmate David Gilmour's solo concert at the Gdansk shipyards in Poland. That show, which took place on the anniversary of the founding of the Solidarity Movement, is now being released as a two-CD and two-DVD package titled Live in Gdansk. In an interview with Day to Day, conducted prior to Wright's death, Gilmour surveys the history of Pink Floyd and his own career, both of which get equal play on the new album.

In 1968, Pink Floyd's songwriter and visionary leader, Syd Barrett, famously freaked out due to a mixture of heavy drug use and mental illness. The band had just put out its first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, but instead of disbanding, Pink Floyd decided to soldier on by replacing Barrett's guitar and vocals with those of his old schoolmate, David Gilmour. For the next few years, this new lineup explored and struggled to find its musical voice.

"We didn't really find ourselves — after Syd left — very good at doing short, pithy pop songs," Gilmour says. "We found that we were much better at jamming and extending what we were doing and exploring that sort of longer thing, and the audiences were very into it in those days. That's what they followed, but I think that all went rather out of fashion at some point."

It may be out of fashion, but one of the highlights of the Live in Gdansk set is a rare performance of the song "Echoes" from the groundbreaking 1971 Pink Floyd album Meddle. That record is where the band really started to find its sound. "Echoes" is a rousing 25-minute epic that incorporates all the elements of Pink Floyd's grand and ambitious progressive rock.

Two Sides Of Gilmour

The Gdansk concert was set up in two halves. The first half, after a couple of Dark Side of the Moon tracks to warm up the audience, was devoted to a straight track-by-track rendering of Gilmour's last solo album, On an Island. But it's the second half, and the second CD of the new set, where things really get interesting: It's devoted to a cross-section of Pink Floyd tunes that go all the way back to before Gilmour joined the band and through to its last album, 1994's The Division Bell.

"The expectation on me as a solo artist is very different to the audience's expectation of a Pink Floyd show," Gilmour says. "And it was quite liberating for us to be able to pick diverse songs from various styles from even before my time with Pink Floyd."

The success of Pink Floyd, and the rising size of its members' egos, began to fracture the band over time. Its last great album, The Wall, was written almost entirely by bassist Roger Waters and was cause for strife in the band.

"It was never a struggle between him wanting control and me wanting control," Gilmour says. "I never wanted absolute control, but Roger at one point certainly seemed to be going in that direction. This was certainly brewing during The Wall a bit. But it was such a good project that it didn't seem to matter. But after The Wall, it certainly became a bit more of a dominant feature of our relationship."

One of the few songs for which Gilmour gets a writer credit on The Wall is "Comfortably Numb." But that's also one of the best-known songs from the album, and the only one he performs on Gdansk.

Rock Royalty

These days, at 62, Gilmour is a royal British rocker with a big country estate. By his own admission, he is less obsessed and engaged with music than he was as a young man. But his unmistakable, sweetly calm and melodic guitar sound is still very much in evidence.

For those "Floydophiles" holding out hope that Pink Floyd would get together for one last hurrah, the death of Richard Wright may create some impetus for the remaining members to make nice, as they did at Live 8 in 2005. But before the death of Wright, Gilmour said that fans might not want to hold their breath for more Pink Floyd albums or tours.

"I don't think that working together again in the future would be a very valuable exercise," Gilmour says. "It's a very tempting thing to try and relive your glory days when you get a little older and you worry that people have forgotten all about you. I suspect I can live without it."

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Transcript

ALEX COHEN, host:

Back now with Day to Day.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Pink Floyd fans are mourning the loss of founding member Richard Wright. Wright died of cancer yesterday. He was 65. He played keyboards and wind instruments. He sang and composed some of Pink Floyd's early material, including the song, "Great Gig in the Sky."

(Soundbite of song "Great Gig in the Sky")

COHEN: Two years ago, Richard Wright preformed along with his former band mate, David Gilmour, at the Gdansk shipyards in Poland. The two appeared at the invitation of the former Polish president to celebrate the anniversary of the Solidarity Trade Union, a powerful anti-Communist force in the former Soviet bloc.

50,000 fans showed up for the historic Polish show. Next week marks the release of the CD and DVD versions of that concert. Music journalist Christian Bordal spoke with David Gilmour about the Gdansk show and about his old band, Pink Floyd. He has this story.

(Soundbite of music)

CHRISTIAN BORDAL: In 1968, Pink Floyd's songwriter and visionary leader, Sid Barrett, famously freaked out due to a mixture of heavy drug use and mental illness. The band has just put out its first album. They decided to soldier on, replacing Barrett's guitar and vocals with his old school mate, David Gilmour. But the group struggled over the next few years trying to find its new musical voice.

Mr. DAVID GILMOUR (Guitarist and Vocalist, Pink Floyd): We didn't really find ourselves, after Sid left, very good at doing short, pithy pop songs. We just found that we were much better at jamming and extending what we were doing and exploring that sort of longer thing, and the audiences were very into it in those days, and that's what they followed. But I think that all went rather out of fashion at some point.

(Soundbite of concert)

BORDAL: It may be out of fashion, but one of the highlights of the Live in Gdansk set is a rare performance of the song "Echoes" from the groundbreaking 1971 Pink Floyd album, "Metal," the record where the band really started to find its sound. "Echoes" is a rousing 25-minute epic that incorporates all the elements of Pink Floyd's grand and ambitious progressive rock.

(Soundbite of song "Echoes")

BORDAL: The Gdansk concert was set up in two halves. The first half, after a couple of "Dark Side of the Moon" tracks to warm the audience up, was devoted to a straight track by track rendering, including the full orchestra, of Gilmour's last solo album, "On an Island." But it's the second half and the second CD of the new set where things really get interesting.

This disk is devoted to a cross-section of Pink Floyd tunes that go all the way back to before Gilmour even joined the band and through to its last album in 1994, "The Division Bell."

Mr. GILMOUR: The expectation on me as a solo artist was very different to the audience's expectation of a Pink Floyd show. And it was quite liberating for us to be able to just pick diverse songs of very different styles from even before my time with Pink Floyd, songs like "Astronomy Domine."

(Soundbite of song "Astronomy Domine")

PINK FLOYD: (Singing) Lime and limpid green, a second scene. A fight between the blue you once knew. Floating down, the sound resounds. Around the icy waters underground...

BORDAL: As with most of the big enduring rock acts, the rising success of Pink Floyd and the rising size of its members' egos began to fracture the band over time. Its last great album, "The Wall," was written almost entirely by bassist Roger Waters, and I asked David Gilmour about the infamous struggles for control of the band between the two of them.

Mr. GILMOUR: It was never a struggle between him wanting control and me wanting control. I never wanted absolute control. But Roger, at one point, certainly seemed to be going in that direction. This was certainly brewing during "The Wall" a bit, but it was such a good project that it didn't seem to matter. But after "The Wall," it certainly became a bit more of a dominant feature of our relationship.

(Soundbite of song "Comfortably Numb")

PINK FLOYD: (Singing) There is no pain. You are receding. A distant ship smoke on the horizon...

BORDAL: But Gilmour isn't sweating this stuff anymore. At 62, he's become one of those royal British rockers with a Commander of the British Empire medal and a big country estate. By his own admission, he's less obsessed and engaged with music than he was a young man, but that unmistakable sweetly calm and melodic guitar sound of his? That is still very much in evidence.

(Soundbite of song "Comfortably Numb")

BORDAL: For those Floydophiles that have been holding out hope that Pink Floyd will get together for one last hurrah, well, Richard Wright's death may create some impetus for the remaining members to make nice as they did at Live 8 in 2005. I spoke with David Gilmour before we'd learned of Richard Wright's death, and based on that conversation, I wouldn't hold my breath for any more Pink Floyd albums or tours.

Mr. GILMOUR: I don't think that, you know, working together again in the future would be a very valuable exercise. It's a very tempting thing to try and relive your glory days again when you get a bit older. You worry that people have forgotten all about you. I suspect I can live without it.

(Soundbite of music)

BORDAL: For NPR News, this is Christian Bordal.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: David Gilmour's live CD and DVD set is called Live in Gdansk. It will be in stores next week. You can hear full tracks from the album at nprmusic.org.

Christian Bordal is a musician and journalist in Los Angeles. Day to Day is a production of NPR News with contributions from slate.com. I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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