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Echoes:The Complete History of Pink Floyd

Glenn Povey

(Chicago Review; US: Apr 2010)

Psychedelic Revolution in Convenient Coffee Table Book Form

I am possibly the only person in history to have watched the 1982 film Pink Floyd’s The Wall in a state of stony sobriety. Given what this says about my uber-lameness, I’m at least pleased to get to review the outstanding new Echoes: The Complete History of Pink Floyd. In an oversized edition, lavishly illustrated, this is a book that will put Floyd fanatics over the dark side of the moon.


Rock writer Glenn Povey builds here on his previous work Pink Floyd: In the Flesh in Echoes. While his first book dealt primarily with the band’s concertography, this new work includes all of that information while giving fans an almost bewildering array of goodies. Rare (and some well-known) photographs of band performances meet you on every page. Images of concert posters and band merchandise provide marginalia for thumbnail descriptions of literally every live and taped performance in the band’s history.


So detailed are these descriptions that, for example, if you want to know why Pink Floyd cancelled several shows in the Netherlands in mid-May of 1969, and the exact venues where they cancelled them, this book will tell you (it was because of work permit issues). Some might see this sort of archival minutiae as only useful for the most fanatical of fans. This, of course, is a book for devotees. But a band like Pink Floyd, whose reputation and creative power depended so much on their live performances, deserves this kind of attention. Given the massive amount of touring various incarnations of the band have done, you could almost say it’s owed to them.


Long time fans will find Echoes a pleasure to read as well as to look at. For the most part, the book has the knowing and reverential feeling of liner notes. But occasionally some mordant humor comes through. In describing Roger Waters education, for example, Povey notes that Waters attended the Cambridgeshire School for boys, which was “not an altogether pleasant experience for him”. Hey teacher, leave those kids alone.


A congenital defect of tribute volumes is that they tend to recite band lore that you already know about. For the most part, Povey avoids this tendency and digs up some of the strange bypaths of the band’s long history. The departure of Syd Barret is fully explored and explained through interviews with his band mates. Povey also details how the spectre of Barret continued to haunt the band. He includes a description of the strange incident in 1975 when Barret appeared at Abbey Road studios during the recording of “Wish You Were Here”, unrecognizable to the band after a significant weight gain and having shaved his head and eyebrows. Barret would soon became reclusive, focusing on his art and his love for painting and gardening until his death in 2006.


On the lighter side, we learn about the band’s interest in expanding their performance art repertoire in the early ‘70s by performing with contemporary ballet troupes. This resulted in what Povey calls a “farcical” 1971 meeting in London that included Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Roman Polanski, Roland Petit, and unnamed film producers. A wide range of ideas for a sort of “rock ballet film” were floated, including interpretations of everything from Proust to A Thousand and One Nights to Frankenstein. As the long afternoon progressed the group drank itself into insensibility with Roman Polanski at one point simply suggesting that “we make the blue movie to end all blue movies”. Waters recalled leaving at this point.


Notably, Floyd did perform existing material for Roland Petit’s ballet troup for series of shows in 1972 and early ‘73. These efforts were both critical and popular successes.


Povey’s text is complemented by the book’s beautiful design. A photograph capturing Roger Waters snarling at a crowd in Wemberly fills a page. A sepia toned splash page shows the 1971 incarnation of the band hanging out in London. Another splash page has a rare photo of the band performing Dark Side of the Moon to a live audience for the first time at Finsbury Park, London with an inset of a promo poster for the band’s 1972 Japanese tour.


If there’s anything missing here its more discussion of the immense and continuing influence of Pink Floyd, evident in the work of bands from Radiohead to British Sea Power to the Flaming Lips. The recent rebirth of the concept album owes much to them as well. But that discussion is probably one most important to the more general rock fan rather than the Pink Floyd die-hards. This book belongs to the latter. A mountain of research fired by love for the band put this volume together. If you have any Pink Floyd fans in your life, pick this up for them immediately.

Rating:

W. Scott Poole is a writer and an associate professor of history at the College of Charleston. He's the author of Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror, a book about the life and strange times of America's first horror host out in September 2014 from Counterpoint/Soft Skull. He is also the author of the award-winning Monsters in America (2011). Follow him on twitter @monstersamerica.


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