Monday, December 5, 2016

The Pink Floyd:The Early Years 1965-1972 Box Set

The big news here at Anorak Thing H.Q. is the new monstrosity known as The Pink Floyd box set "The Early Years 1965-1972", a mammoth collection of 27 discs (CD and DVD/Blu-Ray) some 22 years in the making owing to licensing considerations and research. In addition to the bevvy of discs there are repressings of the bands first 5 U.K. singles (in reproduction sleeves), posters, handbills, miniature sheet music, business cards, press clippings etc.

I have honestly not had the opportunity to take in the entire set as of yet and seeing as my interest in the band wanes after 1969 it may be some time before I I will give you what I've got.

In order to do so I have broken them down as "chapters" . For example the first two CD's and DVD/Blu-Ray's are in their own separate book with a title (as are subsequent CD's/DVD's each bearing their own title). They are as follows:

The Pink Floyd 1965, Bob Klose second from right

CD 1
Disc one and two of this "chapter" cover 1965-1967, my favorite period.  Fans of the Syd Barrett era should fasten themselves in tightly because there are a host of never before issued tracks here.  The first 6 tracks date from 1965 when the band were a quartet with Bob "Rado" Close on guitar cut at Decca's West Hempstead studios. These tracks saw a limited issue on a CD EP put out by EMI for RSD, but for my barring two titles I have heard on bootlegs ("Lucy Leave" and "I'm A King Bee") its all new to my ears.  To the uninitiated "Lucy Leave" is a proto garage-punk number falling somewhere between The Rolling Stones and the snotty garage punk it spawned. "Double O Bo" is an r&b number with a Bo Diddley beat and lyrics about Bo Diddley becoming a spy. "Remember Me" is a frantic piece of up tempo beat/r&b that sounds like a snotty version of the Sorrows. Roger Water's sole composition from this session is "Walk With Me Sydney" (with the future Mrs Rick Wright, Juliette Gale duetting with Syd Barrett) that's British beat at it's best. From it's Rod Argent style electric piano, witty lyrics ("I'd love to love to love you baby but I got flat feet, fallen arches, baggy knees and a broken frame, meningitis, peritonitis , DT's and a washed out brain") and tough guitars that again bring to mind The Sorrows or The Zephyrs, its my fave of the lot. "Butterfly" is in the same vein, though a tad slower than the previous cuts with some great harmonies and again some witty lyrics this time c/o of Syd Barrett. "I'm A King Bee" is fairly pedestrian stuff, nothing too interesting but not inept either. The band's first three singles and their flip sides are next (minus "Scarecrow" which graced the B side of "See Emily Play") are up next. They are followed by the 2010 remix of an alternate version of "Matilda Mother" bearing its original lyrics (borrowed from a Hilare Belloc poem) and features an extended Door-sy ending. A remix of "Jugband Blues" is a treat, especially since to my knowledge there has been no reissue of the Mono mix of the band's "A Saurcerful Of Secrets" album from which this is culled.  Sadly this is in Stereo but still sounds miles beyond the previous mixes available. Then we get to the unreleased tracks, which many of us, myself included, sought this out because of. "In The Beechwoods" has long been the stuff of legends, eluding bootleggers and unheard by anyone publicly. It's an instrumental, although the way it sounds one would assume its a backing track to an unfinished song. Cut in October 1967 with a pulsing "Taxman" style guitar/bass riff, oscillating/wah-wah-ed keyboards and lots of abrupt stops and starts it's interesting because unlike a lot of their material played onstage it bears some song structure. "Vegetable Man" and "Scream Thy Last Scream" are also part of the legends or lore, but both have been bootlegged extensively. The remixes contained here were completed in 2010 and one would assume they were intended for "An Introduction To Syd Barrett" compilation CD issued that year. Considering that according to David Parker's excellent "Random Precision-Recording The Music Of Syd Barrett 1965-1974" neither track was ever completed to the band's satisfaction this puts in doubt the oft told tale that they portrayed Syd Barrett's declining mental state and were thus left off their second album. Mythology and regurgitated Syd tales dispensed with "Vegetable Man" sounds unusual all cleaned up after three decades plus of inferior listenings. But it's marvelous nonetheless with Syd's witty lyrics describing what he happened to be wearing that day and a double track on the lead vocals not heard on previous bootleg takes. Interestingly the track ends without the usual reverberating effect but winds down instead sounding like The Dukes of Stratosphear. The Nick Mason sung "Scream Thy Last Scream" is equally interesting. Syd's sole line in the track is easier to hear as are the varispeed "Chipmunk" backing vocals and it sounds less ramshackle than the sub par mixes I have been hearing these past three decades.

Disc two begins with 8 tracks recorded live in Stockholm, Sweden on September 10, 1967. Much like the live disc of The Artwoods in Copenhagen included on their deluxe set all lead vocals have been obliterated (especially Syd's). After a spirited hippie introduction the band launch into an instrumental "Reaction In G" (bearing no resemblance to the number of the same title that they cut a snippet of for a "Top Gear" program that same month). They then play "Matilda Mother", an 11 minute plus "Pow R. Toch", "Scream Thy Last Scream", "Set Controls For The Heart Of The Sun", "See Emily Play" and "Interstellar Overdrive" (if you got sick of hearing multiple versions of "Wade In The Water" on The Graham Bond Organization box set you will feel the same about this track and "Set Controls For The Heart Of the Sun" on this collection). Overall the band aren't as sloppy as you would expect them to be, after all this was during the period where Syd was supposedly going off the rails but surprisingly the bum notes mostly come from Roger Waters and Nick Mason. It's an interesting document of the band live but not something you're going to listen to continuously. The "John Latham" tracks (each track is titled "John Latham Version...") date from a little known October '67 session recorded for avant garde film maker John Latham for a film called "Speak". There are nine songs in total, although I am sure "songs" is a strong word to use as all nine are improvisational pieces of flicking muted strings, slide guitar, tom tom rattling and all the other spacey bits you hear in live versions of "Interstellar Overdrive". Like the live performance at the beginning of the disc I doubt you will listen to it more than once, in fact it was a chore getting through it all as there is no semblance of song contained within any of the nine selections.

California November 1967

Most of the items contained on this disc you've no doubt seen in one form or another, though these are all crystal clear (with one exception, more on that in a bit) and all date from 1967 during Syd's tenure with the band. The disc kicks off with snippets of home movie footage of Syd in 1965 roaming the Gog Magog Hills (incredulously released in it's entirety on VHS in the early 90's as "Syd's First Trip" until David Gilmour bought the rights to squash it) and the band and their van and road crew loading in/out to EMI's studios in 1967 (with a "Games For May" poster visible on the back window of their van). This footage is all set to the tune of "Chapter 24". Next up is "Nick's Boogie" from "Tonight Let's All Make Love In London" followed by some unseen footage from a TV show called "Scene" of them in action light show and all at the UFO Club in January 1967 performing "Interstellar Overdrive". The b&w "Arnold Layne" promo film is next in pristine quality as is their May 1967 appearance on "Look Of The Week" where they are skewered by the uptight Hans Keller. They perform "Pow R Toch" and "Astronomy Domine" live with light show and full on theatrics (and Roger and Syd do their best to answer Keller's inane questions and jabs in a brief interview). The pastoral "Pathe Pictorial" color film of "Scarecrow" is next picturing the band romping around (presumably in Cambridge) followed by a mime of "Jugband Blues" in color filmed in December 1967 when Syd's time in the band was fast running out.  It was made by their management Blackhill Enterprises for promotional purposes. Previous versions seen on YouTube and elsewhere have been synced up with a December '67 BBC session as the original audio had deteriorated. It is shown here with the original studio version restored and properly synced.  Syd Barrett's vacant look throughout and general appearance of dishevelment is almost unnerving and hard to watch knowing that he had less than one month left in the band.  An ultra clear appearance on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" from November 7, 1967 has them miming to "Apples And Oranges", with Syd clearly participating by pretending to play guitar and mining his vocal parts contrary to the myth of him not budging onstage.  One questions the wisdom of having the band promote a track that wasn't issued in the United States (Clark holds up "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" during their intro).  There is minor chit chat with each band member by Clark and though Syd seems detached he answers politely when spoken to. The fabled Pat Boone show appearance was either unobtainable because it no longer exists or, closer to the truth, it never existed in the first place and was yet another piece of repeated Syd Barrett folklore. A b&w clip of the band playing an untitled instrumental piece while a narrator explains how a light show works dates from a December 1967 BBC program "Tomorrow's World".  Syd looks a tad haggard but is clearly participating playing jazzy little licks and glances at the camera, not the catatonic zombie we have been made to expect for a man who has little over a month left in the band. The bonus features on the DVD/Blu-Ray include an unnamed instrumental from The UFO club from February 1967 via a German TV program, an outtake version of the Pathe "Scarecrow" film, "Interstellar Overdrive" live at The Roundhouse in 1967 and a partially restored July 1967 appearance on "Top Of The Pops". The original masters of most of the "TOTP" episodes were wiped soon after broadcast so this is something of a holy grail.  This version has issues with what looks like old VHS tracking gone wrong but it has been restored to semi view-able condition and has the audio fully restored. It is amazing to see the band clearly happy to be performing and in the Top Ten 10 . Obviously the stories of Syd's misbehaving on the show were either in another episode that was wiped (the band appeared on the show three times to promote "Emily") or were once again, the product of someone's active imagination.

The short lived 5 piece line up January 1968

Exit Syd Barrett in January 1968 and enter Syd's childhood friend David Gilmour (though the band were a five piece long enough to have a photo session and 4 gigs together in January). Gilmour has stated that for the first year in Pink Floyd his purpose was to "play like Syd", which I suppose is why I enjoy their material from 1968.  The first disc of this chapter includes both sides of their two 1968 singles. The previously unreleased "Song 1" dates from an August 1968 session in the US at Los Angeles Capitol Studios and reminds me of a backing track for a number from the first Caravan album. It's entertaining but sounds unfinished. "Roger's Boogie" from the same session is a spooky piece with some choral Moody Blues style backing vocals and is an excellent little dirge for something that sat in the can for 48 years!  Next up is David Gilmour's debut BBC ("Top Gear") session with the band from June 1968 featuring "Murderotic Woman (Careful With That Axe Eugene)", "The Massed Gadgets of Hercules (A Saucerful Of Secrets)", "Let There Be More Light" and "Julia Dream". The quality is excellent and the band are tight and sound almost completely different thanks to Rick Wright replacing his Farfisa with a Hammond on some tracks. A further BBC session rounds out the disc, dating from June 1968 featuring their then current single "Point Me At The Sky", "Embryo" and yet another version of "Interstellar Overdrive". Again the quality and delivery are top notch.

This disc contains a slew of slots the band for European television in 1968. The first of which is for the Belgian TV show "Tienerklanken" where, billed as "Pink Floid", they lip sync "Astronomy Domine", "The Scarecrow", "Corporal Clegg", "Paintbox", "Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun", "See Emily Play" and "Bike" (a compilation of still photos of the band from the previous videos with some psychedelic projections). Filmed in a variety of places (all in b&w) from outdoors to a studio with mirrored walls the band looked bored and Roger looks a tad uncomfortable "singing" Syd's lead vocals. There's more Belgian lip syncing as Roger gleefully mimes/mugs "Apples And Oranges" in a room full of fruit crates for the show "Vibrato".  Luckily there's a pause in the miming when we at last arrive on the influential French pop TV program "Baton Rouge" where the band aggressively plough through live versions of "Astronomy Domine", "Flaming" (with Gilmour on lead vocals), "Set Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" and "Let The Be More Light" (all in color!). "Paintbox" is next in b&w from the French show "Discorama" (lip sync with psychedelic projections transposed on top) followed by an untitled piece from a color British TV show called "The Sound of Change" in color playing what almost sounds like Ray Davies "Virgin Soldiers March" while images of various youth juxtaposed and footage of the French '68 student riots cut in and out. Next is particularly psychedelic version of "Set The Controls For the Heart Of The Sun" from the British program "All My Loving" in color but in red and orange negative. There's a snippet of the band miming "It Would Be So Nice" in color from the Italian show "Release-Rome Goes Pop" followed by another Italian appearance, this time on "Pop '68" in color performing a live version of "Interstellar Overdrive". Another appearance on Belgium's "Tienerklanken" where Roger Waters is interviewed and the band perform a spacey live version of "Astronomy Domine" with loads of fury and power. "Let There Be More Light" and "Remember A Day" come via the French TV show "Samedi Et Compagnie" (both lip sync in b&w) with Roger ditching his faithful Rickenbacker 4001 for a Fender Precision bass and Gilmour pretending to play Syd's eerie slide parts on what looks like a Gibson ES 335. Yet another mime of "Let There Be More Light" (obviously popular on the Continent, while watching this to review my daughter asked "Daddy why do Pink Floyd keep playing the same song?"). This time it's from France's "A L'Affiche Du Monde" in b&w then onto color and live for another Gallic show "Tous En Scene" with "Let There Be More Light" and "Flaming" with Gilmour again taking lead vocals on the latter. And FINALLY the final "Let There Be More Light" live and in color in France on "Surprise Partie". The disc happily ends with the promo film for their last single of the 60's "Point Me At The Sky" (complete with Syd-like slide guitar) and in my humble opinion, the last good thing they did.

Live New York City at The Scene Club July 1968

This disc is a catch all of sorts featuring BBC tracks from the Syd era and a few other bits from the post Syd period in 1968-1969. The September 25, 1967 BBC session for "Top Gear" suffers from inferior quality on some tracks.  "Flaming" sounds perfect but "The Scarecrow", "The Gnome", "Matilda Mother", Reaction In G", and "Set Controls For The Heart Of The Sun" (yes the band were playing that when Syd was in the line up) sound like they were sourced from YouTube or recorded from a transistor radio with a hand held mic at times. Once you get used to it they are all enjoyable and the band play them as a tight, well honed unit. The December 2, 1967 BBC appearance suffers from similar sonic issues of sub par clarity but the band carry them off quite well, again no mean feat because this was when Syd had supposedly "lost it". The tracks for that session are "Scream Thy Last Scream", "Vegetable Man", "Pow R Toch" and "Jugband Blues". A December 1968 BBC session includes a boring acoustic piece called "Baby Blue Shuffle In D Major" in horrendous quality (which sounds nothing like the '68 post Syd Pink Floyd and more like a lost C,S,N,& Y backing track). Ditto for the pointless "Blues" from the same session which is your bog standard 12 bar blue instrumental.  A weird US 1968 radio promo featuring footsteps and a buzzing fly and the exclamation "Pink Floyd doesn't mean its not a nice band" is next .  The CD is closed by two tracks recorded for the film "The Committee". It was once long believed that these were recorded with Syd in the line up but they date from 1968 putting that fable to rest. The instrumental ,"Committee No.1" reminds me of the pre-Soft Machine band The Wylde Flowers.  "Committee No.2" at times has a melody that resembles Cat Steven's "Wild World" and is an interesting little instrumental with some great meandering organ and punctuated by what  one would assume to be film dialogue. It's followed by a piece recorded in 1969 for the US moon landing titled "Moonheads" which strays too far into outer space  before ending with a 1974 live version of "Echoes" which is where we get off.....

This disc contains a few odd bits like an alternate "Arnold Layne" promo film. I actually prefer this one to the original one.  Filmed in March 1967 it looks later with the band sporting longer hair, trippy clothing (quite psychedelic unlike the subtle mod gear worn in the original) and Syd's eyeliner and vacant look add an eerie spectre to it.  Filmed in b&w it shows Syd and Roger grappling/mock fighting while Rick paces and Nick stares at the sky on Hempstead Heath and the band staring into space while standing outside a  St. Micheal's church in Highgate with the camera fixating on Syd while he lip syncs the solitary line "Why can't you see" looking positively ghostly AND menacing. Next up is a b&w German TV appearance from "P1 -P Wie Petersilie" from July 1969 where the shoulder length hair Pink Floyd are shown getting food in a canteen before being seated in a white dining room at a fancy table set up with some members wearing military gear while "Corporal Clegg" plays. There is then a short interview where the band discuss their pre-music life as students (in their typical articulate and posh manner which betrays the scruffy shoulder length hair look) before lip syncing "A Saucerful Of Secrets". There's also the entire 1968 film "The Committee"  (starring Paul Jones and Arthur Brown!) included as well as the film "More" (both featuring music by our subjects). The DVD/Blu-Ray then moves into the 70's which is where I hit eject.

Overall this is a mammoth undertaking to attempt to take in. It would literally take months for one to fully digest the entirety of this collection. And though it was quite an eccentric and undoubtedly irresponsible purchase for me since my interest in the band wanes by 1969 there is hope that I might actually come to appreciate more of their material given time to further investigate it.

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