When former Pink Floyd guitarist/co-leader David Gilmour put out his lovely, pastoral On an Island in the spring of 2006, it was just his third solo album — and his first in 22 years. To promote the disc, he put together an exceptional band that included Pink Floyd keyboardist/singer Rick Wright, Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera (who co-produced On an Island with Gilmour and Chris Thomas), multi-instrumentalists Jon Carin and Guy Pratt (both veterans of post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd albums and tours; Carin has also played with Waters) and veteran Floyd saxophonist Dick Parry. They played a series of small-venue shows in North America and, later, in Europe to rapturous reviews. Each concert featured a first half dominated by songs from On an Island and the second half by breathtaking versions of Pink Floyd classics, including “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” “Wish You Were Here,” the Gilmour tour de force “Comfortably Numb,” the 25-minute space-rock adventure called “Echoes,” the rarely performed folk number “Fat Old Sun” and a great tune from the final Floyd opus, The Division Bell, “High Hopes.” In the fall of 2007, the tour was nicely documented on a DVD package called Remember That Night: Live at the Royal Albert Hall.
But wait, there’s more! Just released in mid-September 2008 are five different packages centered around the magnificent final show of the tour: a concert before 60,000 people in the Gdansk, Poland, shipyards, marking the 26th anniversary of the Solidarity movement that freed the country from Soviet domination. For that show, a 40-piece orchestra conducted by native Zbigniew Preisner, who wrote the string arrangements for On an Island, complemented the six-piece band, and the set list included, appropriately enough, The Division Bell‘s “A Great Day for Freedom.” For Live in Gdansk, there would be CDs and vinyl LPs, as well as DVDs documenting other concerts on the tour.
“When we finished the last gig of that tour after 35 concerts,” the always cheery Manzanera says by phone from England, “we thought that was it — the end of the cycle that started with recording On an Island: me working on demos with David at his place, then recording the album, which we did on David’s boat, The Astoria [a luxurious boat-turned-recording studio, originally built in 1910, moored on the Thames near Hampton Court], and at Abbey Road; then going out and touring. We did the Albert Hall package, which was very nice, then I was supposed to start on a new Roxy Music album, but while I was away, Bryan Ferry decided to do a Dylan covers album and go on tour, and then David asked me if I wanted to help him sort out the live material from the tour for a CD set. We recorded every gig on Pro Tools, and the original idea for that was we would choose the best version of each song.
“So I spent almost 10 months on the boat listening to every version of every track of 35 concerts. The team who work there are so good — it’s Andy Jackson, the engineer; Phil Taylor, who’s the studio manager and David’s guitar roadie; Damon Iddins; and Devin Workman. I would initially go through the tracks with Devin and evaluate what we had — giving each track marks out of 10 — so I ended up with this enormous grid of what I thought were the best tracks.
“Then David and I sat down together and listened to my choices, as well as two substitutes for each one. Then, once he’d decided, I went back in and looked at those tracks in greater detail. This went on for ages, but then it started appearing that the majority of the tracks we were choosing were from Gdansk, so we got to a point where we thought it might be more interesting just to do Gdansk. Aaaaugh!” he says with a laugh. “It did have a lot of unique things about it — the setting, the orchestra.
“All that other listening wasn’t for nothing, though: There is also a format where you get my selections of the best versions from the other cities — a track from San Francisco, one from Munich and so on,” including a few different songs not played in Gdansk.
For the orchestra, “We miked every single instrument on its own channel, plus overhead section mics. Devin and I got into very minute detail listening to every single track of what everybody played. It makes me tired even thinking about it! It took months and months!”
Jackson was the main mixer, working on the Astoria’s Neve with scads of outboard gear, though it should be noted that nearly all the instrumental effects — from the delays and reverbs on Gilmour’s signature guitar lines to the keyboard patches — were performed live and not augmented in the studio.
“It was very exciting for me,” says Manzanera, who has been friends with Gilmour since the formation of Pink Floyd. “To see the songs from On an Island come alive the way they did on that tour, particularly with the orchestra, and then also play on those great Pink Floyd songs, it was magical; so much fun.”
Get more info at www.davidgilmour.com.