Since 2011 Damian Darlington has been leading Brit Floyd, a group dedicated to recreating the experience of Pink Floyd's legendary live shows. The guitarist points out that it's a difficult task not just because of the technical nature of the stage show but also because of Pink Floyd's rich discography. Pink Floyd already had seven albums to its credit by the time it released 1973's landmark Dark Side of the Moon. The group continued with original bassist Roger Waters for a decade beyond that and recorded two studio albums without him in the 1980s and 1990s, and each Pink Floyd fan has specific ideas about the best or most interesting era of the band. Darlington, who has been performing Pink Floyd's music professionally since the 1990s, says Brit Floyd strives to give the best overview of Pink Floyd's music that it can.
“We do certainly like to play some of the deeper cuts from some of the albums and also represent the early parts of Pink Floyd’s history,” he says. “We go right back to the Syd Barrett beginnings. Even now, after doing this for so many years, we still bring some tracks into the set that we’ve never performed before. This year, we’re playing ‘Not Now John’ off The Final Cut. We’ve never played that before, and indeed Pink Floyd never played that one live.”
He adds, “I like to have a comprehensive spread, as much of Pink Floyd’s catalog as you can fit in in a two-and-a-half hour show. But, also, give people the greatest hits.”
Brit Floyd's current tour features pieces from Pink Floyd's 1977 album Animals.
“We’re playing the whole of the first side: ‘Pigs on the Wing’ and ‘Dogs.’ It’s the 40-year anniversary so it seemed right to make a special place in the set to celebrate that fact,” he says.
Animals is a sometimes overlooked album in Pink Floyd's output, arriving between 1975's Wish You Were Here and 1979's The Wall. The album is often compared to George Orwell's classic novel Animal Farm and is a portrait of a society on the edge of collapse. With punk rockers snarling at so-called dinosaur bands at the time, Pink Floyd shot back with an album that if not punk in sound was certainly punk in spirit.
“You could regard it perhaps as being the angriest of Pink Floyd albums, so perhaps that’s a nod in the direction of punk and what was going on in the world at the time,” Darlington says.
One of the key factors in Pink Floyd's success and endurance may have been the group's ability to straddle many different sounds. There are elements of progressive rock, psychedelic music and, of course, blues. Pink Floyd's name is a combination of Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, the names of two American bluesmen. Darlington is quick to point out that, in the end, Pink Floyd never lost sight of its blues roots.
“When you look at David Gilmour as a guitar player, he’s fundamentally a blues guitar player, but he was never afraid to experiment with that and to dress up the fundamentals of what he played with whatever effects were available at the time,” Darlington says. “He was able to take being a blues guitar player into a much more experimental direction. But, fundamentally, that’s where that feel and soul in his playing comes from, that blues influence.”
Gilmour’s singular style remains an influence on many players today, even if they don’t sound exactly like him.
“It’s difficult to sound like David Gilmour because he’s such a magnificent guitar player," Darlington says. "He was never a great technician. He never played or wanted to play very fast and fit as many notes as he could into things. But his feel is second to none. The guitar tones he managed to achieve over the years. They’re the finest guitar tones out there.”
Brit Floyd performs at Wichita’s Orpheum Theatre on Wednesday evening.
With seven albums released before Dark Side of the Moon, there are plenty of treasures to find in the early Pink Floyd output. The band struggled to find the distinct balance it struck from 1973 forward, but you can hear hints of it across records such as Obscured By Clouds and Meddle. Here are five pieces from those earlier years well worth seeking out.
“Free Four” from Obscured By Clouds (1972)
The death of Roger Waters’ father in World War II looms large over Pink Floyd’s material. This track is one of the earliest references to the postwar images and personal anguish that would occupy later output, including The Wall. One might see it as Waters grappling with the precarious nature of his band as well as the group attempted to find footing on American soil. David Gilmour foreshadows his lead playing on “Money” with his unmistakable lead work.
“San Tropez” from Meddle (1971)
For Meddle the members of Pink Floyd worked in heavy collaboration with Gilmour’s name appearing as a co-writer on all tracks except this solo credit to Waters. It finds the bassist in an uncharacteristically sunny mood as he imagines an idyllic day on the French Riviera. Once more, Gilmour’s playing adds the perfect color to an already excellent track.
“The Nile Song” from More (1969)
Floyd experimented heavily with film and this soundtrack contribution remains a favorite among fans for a variety of reasons. If it’s uneven compared to later outputs, the sometimes lesser nature is more than charming. This track remains one of the hardest hitting number across the group’s entire output.
“Corporal Clegg” from A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
More World War II-era fodder that chronicles the days of a shell-shocked vet. There’s grim humor to be found in the piece, including a reference to how Clegg “won” his wooden leg in the war. If Pink Floyd was English in every sense of the word, “Corporal Clegg” is a prime example of how deeply those roots ran.
“Remember a Day” from A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
Keyboardist Richard Wright offers this reflection on childhood that features Syd Barrett (later replaced by his longtime friend, Gilmour) on guitar and producer Norman Smith on drums. Wright would shine brightly on future Floyd outings, namely Dark Side of the Moon, but this hints at compositional talents that remained underutilized and underdeveloped.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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