Floyd's Wright — on keyboards, lessons and the band
How important to you is your actual musical ability?
In terms of playing with Pink Floyd, it's important, but there are other things a lot more important. My technique is lacking, and there are things that I would love to do that I can't do. Simple things like my fingers not moving as fast I would like them to. That's what technique is. To get to the state where I would like to be, it would mean practising six hours a day for two years. Then I might get somewhere. I think it is that far off.
But in the terms of the kind of music we're doing now, that isn't as important as what we create.
Have you ever been through a stage in your life where you actually work with your fingers to improve their technique?
There was one stage, when I was at architecture college. The only reason I did architecture was that I had nothing else to do. In fact, I wanted to play music, but at the time I couldn't see a way of doing it. I used to skip off from architecture lessons so I could go off and have private lessons on the piano at the London College of Music. Then I was trying to improve my technique rather than improve my music — it's two different things.
Occasionally I sit down and try to teach myself to sight read. I can do it, very slowly, but I do sit down and actually read music. That's the other side of it. But in terms of Pink Floyd, it's not necessary at all.
Did you go through the classic thing of having an Austrian professor standing over you and keeping time?
Yes, I went to a private school, a dreadful private school, to do theory and composition. That was while I was going to architecture school as well, and after that I went to the London College of Music. Someone used to stand there and he obviously didn't beat my hands if I went wrong, but it was a bit of a joke. I used to learn pieces off by heart, and then play them, and pretend I was sight reading. And of course, he caught me out. He said 'Right, stop and go back four bars,' and I didn't know where I was. But I think it was too much discipline for me.
What was your first chosen instrument?
The piano, only because it was the only instrument in the house.
Have you since tried any other instrument?
Only keyboards. I do have acoustic guitars at home, but the only reason I have them is either as a social thing, strumming away and singing with friends, or for writing on sometimes. I really don't have much interest in learning to play guitar properly. I know all the chords but I'm not any more interested in it than that.
In composing, do you find it difficult to write things that will finally be suitable for the band?
Well, nothing's wrong, but there is a lot of stuff that I do reject, not for myself, but for the band. There is stuff that's lying about on tapes, and eventually it's going to be us working on our own. We've been together for years and none of us have actually done any solo work. I think next year we're going to do that, and then I can use the whole backlog of solo stuff that I've got.
Just how different is your stuff?
Well, I have no idea. I hope, in a way, quite different, because there are lots of things in the Pink Floyd's music that I don't like, and I don't like them because there's four of us doing them. It's a compromise. Obviously, I do like a lot of the stuff we're doing or I wouldn't be in the band.
How do you manage to resolve the musical differences?
It depends. If someone writes a whole song and brings it in and we play it, in the end, it's down to all of us to say how it should sound. Even in the structure, if someone writes a song it's down to all of us to say how it will be changed. It is a problem, but it has a lot of advantages too. Compromise can work both ways. I can listen to our albums and think where compromise has made things weaker or stronger.
Are you happy with the stage amplification of your own equipment?
I'm happy with the stack, it comes from IES, and it's driven by Quad 303s. I'm not sure of the details of it, but it's a very good sound. What I'm not happy with, and what I hope will change, is the Leslies. They have a nice sound, but they just couldn't handle the kind of sound that we need. They sound alright in the studio, but once you put them on stage, it's distorted and cracked. I've never been happy with them in live performances. We've used Yamaha, which isn't exactly the same as the Leslie sound, it has its own sound, and feels very, very powerful.
Essentially you're looking for something that is durable?
It has to be more powerful, because my Leslies have never been able to handle the bass. What we've done is try to adapt Leslies. Instead of the usual amplifiers, we've put loads of quad through them, we've put SRO speakers in, and JBL high range speakers, and completely gutted the Leslies and put all these good speakers in. It really isn't a Leslie at all any more, except for the motor drive, which is Leslie, and that keeps breaking down.
Do you have a problem miking a rotary speaker?
Yeah, it is a problem. When you listen to that kind of rotary speaker, I think your ears adjust to it, whereas if you stick a microphone in front of it, you don't really hear it properly, you get a very hard sound, and it's a very real problem, particularly with the live work where the mikes are quite close. What is coming out of the P.A. doesn't really sound like a Leslie, it sounds like there's an amazing amount of phasing going on, and it's cutting in and out, which sounds dreadful.
What's the answer to that?
I don't know, but the further the mike is away, the better it sounds. In the studio, we put mikes about five feet away, and that sounds alright, but you can't do that live.
If the mike's that far away, you're going to get a lot of breakthrough from the other instruments. Putting two mikes on the rotary thing does help.
What keyboards do you take on stage with you?
I have a grand piano, a Wurlitzer electric piano, and a Farfisa organ, which I've had for years, an old Duo — it does one thing very nicely, when it's put through a Binson echo, and that's why it's there. It's only used for about two minutes in a set. An amazing string sound comes out of it if you treat it right. There's also a Hammond C3, a clavinet and two Mini-Moogs.
A couple of organists have said to me that you don't get the same sound from the new Hammond solid-state organs that you get from the older models.
It's like talking about guitars in a way. The M 102 is now the Hammond organ to have, like getting an old Gibson or something: every one says it's the best. I think it's a bit of mystique, but there may be a bit of truth in it as well. I don't really know, but I think it's basically mystique.
The model after the 102 was nothing like as good. I think the C3 is fine. The Yamaha came to the studio, and it seemed to do everything that the Farfisa did, and quite a lot of what the Hammond can do, plus a lot of other effects. I am hoping that with this, I can get rid of some of the other keyboards.
You'll have to pound out a lot of sound then, won't you?
There's two Leslies, putting out 100 watts each - it's not a lot actually, I mean, we don't have a massive back lineup. 200 watts in the Leslies, and then 700 watts on the stack - that's big, but it's not loud, and it's a problem getting the keyboards over. You stick a guitar in that kind of amplification and it will be very loud, but with the keyboards, it's more the harmonics, the lows to the tops, that you're playing all the time. You need a hell of a lot of power just to handle it.
Isn't that a problem with the driver units, rather than with the speakers?
Well, it's both. You do need really good speakers, then you need really big amplifiers to drive them any way.
Keyboard amplification in general has been the area that has lagged behind most.
Yes. You can get a guitarist who can play through 200 watts, and he'll be incredibly loud. For a keyboard player to get to that same level, he's going to need so much more amplification. The IES stack I have seems to handle it, quite well. But that took many years.
The Yamaha stack sounds really good at the moment, in fact, Dave (Gilmour) wants to use it onstage as well, because he uses Leslies for his guitar, and he has the same kind of problems that I have.
How much does music absorb your life when you're away from playing? Is it also a hobby for you?
Not now, it's not a hobby any more. It's my life — well, it's not my whole life. I do play sometimes to relax, but it's not a hobby in the true sense. Playing still relaxes me. If I'm getting really uptight about something, I have to sit down and play. I either do that in the group, or if the group is getting uptight, I'll go home and do it. I think that's why people are musicians, they have these things and that's the way they get them out.
What sort of material do you like to play most in your home?
Anything that happens. It's like Dave, it's more 'Doodling', I can't describe what I play. I'm only particularly fond of playing things that are going around in my head. What that is, I don't know.
Sometimes I do actually sit down and look at a piece of classical music and try to play it. One thing I would love to do is just to be able to play it just as an exercise, to get the technique, because I haven't needed it in this band. The lack of technique that I've had has probably changed the style of my music. I don't necessarily think it's bad that I haven't had the technique, because technique can destroy music.
Interview by Ray Hammond
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!