Pink Floyd go all out on mammoth box set
When it comes to archival releases, this one’s a whopper, a staggering 27 discs covering everything from Pink Floyd’s earliest studio recordings, BBC sessions to film soundtracks, including over twenty unreleased songs and more than seven hours of previously unreleased live footage, plus another five hours of rare concert footage. But before you go rushing online to buy a copy, this extraordinary set comes with a hefty and very un-hippie price tag.
While much of this material has been readily available for many years (whether officially or on bootleg), one could argue that it’s nice to have it all in the one place. That it should end before the release of The Dark Side Of The Moon is appropriate given the unexpected success that would follow, allowing the band to effectively begin phase three of their evolution.
Therefore what we have here is phase one and two; namely the Barrett years (as short-lived as they were) and post-Barrett period, when The Floyd found themselves adrift without a rudder, uncertain of their place in the world, and even less sure of their own sense of destiny – hence the group’s penchant for soundtracks, represented here by non-album tracks from More, a celestial blend of experimentation and avant-garde adventure; outtakes from Zabriskie Point, through to a remix of 1972’s often underrated Obscured By Clouds.
But it’s the shear wealth of live recordings that will have fans truly salivating. A performance captured in Stockholm 1967, when Barrett was still in the band (though only just) makes its first official appearance, followed by an exhaustive array of BBC sessions that trace the band’s development after Barrett’s departure and the enlistment of David Gilmour as his replacement. Concerts include performances in London, Belgium, Amsterdam, and Paris, presented on a mix of CD and DVD/Blu-Ray.
Atom Heart Mother and Meddle are represented by shows taped in San Francisco and a new remix of Live At Pompeii (an original quadraphonic mix of the former LP as well as “Echoes” is also included). Frank Zappa fans might be curious to hear the guitarist join the band on stage for an eleven minute version of “Interstellar Overdrive” from 25th October 1969, although by the time the listener gets to hearing the 22nd recording of “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” (presumably not all on the same day), the whole thing starts to get a tad academic, no matter how fascinating each take may be.
The box is augmented by live clips of the group at the Pathé Pictorial, EMI Studios and Top Of The Pops, not to mention several television interviews in between, all with Barrett, filmed before his eventual disintegration into mental paralysis. And while his mind may have been gradually drifting into interstellar space, at least at this point (1967, early 1968) he was still coherent enough to play the game (one thinks that to him the whole music business was a bit of malarkey anyway).
Of the many highlights, an ambient, almost otherworldly “Nothing Part One,” an early version of 1971’s “Echoes” is one of them, and sounds just as modern as anything recorded today. One could also include rarities such as “Grantchester Meadows,” “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast” and Gilmour’s beautiful “The Narrow Way Pt 3.”
Much of the later material has an experimental, work-in-progress feel to it, as evidenced on the numerous versions of “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun,” as if Gilmour, Waters, Mason and Wright were still searching for their own distinct identity in the immediate wake of Barrett’s departure. That it would take them so long is testament to their perseverance as artists and performers. Yet what this compilation also reveals is that this gradual process of re-invention wasn’t exactly easy or as straight forward as some might think.
Personally I can see no real flaws with this compilation. That so much has survived to us down the years is impressive in itself, and to have it all sitting nicely together for the first time makes The Early Years 1965-1972 an important document to own, in spite of the almost prohibitive price. No doubt it will be available for illegal download at some point in the near future, but until then, for nearly £400 you too can own a part of history, and toss away those expensive bootlegs while you’re at it.