Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn 40 Years Anniversary

It's been forty years since Pink Floyd's debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn came out on the 5th of August 1967, mostly being the expression of the personal vision of the late lamented frontman Syd Barrett (1946-2006). Whenever asked for people's all-time favourite albums, this has been my own No. 1 choice for years. Always a joyous shock for the people who perceive the Floyd merely as a vehicle for sombre prog-rock ego trips of the Roger Waters-era and The Wall.

I first heard 'Interstellar Overdrive' in a documentary film about the making of The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper and the music scene of summer 1967, now also known as the "Summer of Love" (well, the people who went through the Egypt-Israeli Six-Day War in June '67 must have experienced it a bit differently).

In a black & white film excerpt I saw a bunch of weird guys in sunglasses playing that hypnotic, suggestive tune while their giant shadows flickered on the wall in strobelights. The tune (in fact, a combination of Love's rendition of 'Little Red Book' and the theme music of an old British TV show Steptoe & Son!) instantly caught me and haunted me like an insistent glitch in my nervous system; I had to know more about what was happening here. Soon I got to my hands a vinyl version of The Piper..., and that was like an explosion in my cortex. This was truly strange, even scary music.

AMM's lengthy improvisations, The Beatles, The Byrds, John Coltrane's jazz, Kenneth Grahame's children's book The Wind in the Willows (which gave the album its title), I-Ching, J.R.R. Tolkien, Stockhausen, The Who... all condensed into one lysergic free-for-all, Barrett's guitar painting the soundscape with spacey echoes from his Binson delay unit, Rick Wright's "Turkish Delight" organ and his jazzy piano licks, Roger Waters' pulsating bass and Nick Mason's turbulent drumming anchoring the whole madness down. Garage rock grooves of 'Lucifer Sam' and stereo panning to and fro going mad at the end of the album version of 'Interstellar Overdrive'.

The Floyd also drove their producer Norman "Hurricane" Smith mad, who afterwards called the album sessions "sheer hell" and accused the band of the lack of musical proficiency -- so pure psychedelic punk, then! Heavy tape edits are obvious in many places but only positively adding to the sense of psychedelic fragmentation and its time lapse experience. Sheer sonic fantasy, both futuristic and mythical, which always takes me into some other dimension outside of time and space; a realm of interstellar (overdrive) journeys, mystical cats called Lucifer Sam and fairy stories where a thousand misty riders climb up higher once upon a time...

There will be this month out a 3-CD 40th anniversary edition, including both stereo and mono mixes of the album, plus all Barrett-era Floyd singles and some out-takes (including an alternative lyrics version of Mathilda Mother) -- most of this material owned by fans and collectors already, and still no sign of the official release of such shelved-since-the-time-of-their-recording Barrett/Floyd gems as 'Vegetable Man', 'Scream Thy Last Scream' or 'She Was A Millionaire' (most of which, however, have found their way to the hands of aficionados as bootlegs or "Have You Got It Yet?" downloads).

The 40th anniversary edition also features a facsimile of Syd Barrett's 1965 Fart Enjoy book of his art, collages and text, even though for "legal reasons" omitting one page. You can see it here, though:

  • The 40th anniversary edition news @ Neptune Pink Floyd

    OK, sorry about the old fart content again. Let's talk about dubstep now. Or...

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