David Gilmour has remained quiet since Pink Floyd’s reunion last July for the Live 8 concert at Hyde Park; quiet but hardly inactive.
The man described as “the guitar and the voice of Pink Floyd” was busy putting the finishing touches to his only third solo album in a career spanning close to 40 years.
The 10 tracks on “On an Island” bear Gilmour’s trademark — atmospheric guitar and ethereal vocal harmonies. Some of them — such as the title track, or “A Pocketful of Stones” — would easily fit on a Pink Floyd album. There are inroads in blues and jazz, and a couple of instrumentals, including one, “Red Sky At Night,” which sees Gilmour playing the saxophone.
Gilmour co-produced the album with Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera and Chris Thomas. It is due out March 6 through EMI in Europe and a day later via Columbia Records in the United States. “I do really think it is about as good a piece of work as I have ever done,” says Gilmour.
To promote the album, Gilmour will embark on a 25-date sold-out tour starting in March in Europe and crossing to America in April before returning to the U.K. at the end of May for a series of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. The concert set list will include tracks from the new album as well as Pink Floyd “favorites.”
Despite Gilmour’s acrimonious split with Pink Floyd bass player and main composer Roger Waters, both artists agreed to appear together at Live 8, fueling speculation that Pink Floyd could reform.
Here, Gilmour talks about his new album, his creative partnership with his wife and lyricist Polly Samson, his aspirations in life and, of course, Pink Floyd.
Q: You’ve recorded only three solo albums in 25 years. What triggered this one?
A: As well as the two previous solo albums there’s been two Pink Floyd albums in ’87 and ’94. So while it is not very frequent, quite a lot of more work has gone on in the intervening period. I have remarried and had four more children and I have been enjoying bringing those children up. But in the last couple of years it felt it was time to start again and start working on a new album.
It felt to me that this album should be me and not Pink Floyd this time. It’s just a slightly different way of working. I worked from home on my own [without] having to be involved in the rather large machinery that is the Pink Floyd thing.
Q: Did it change anything in the songwriting process?
A: Well, it was me writing little pieces of music and picking up what I wanted to work on. But I don’t think it would have made any difference to the selection of the pieces of music whether it was Pink Floyd or me on my own. I want to be a little smaller and more compact in my work and the Pink Floyd is so big and unwieldy that I feel more comfortable doing this.
Q:You have guests on your album such as Crosby and Nash on ‘On an Island,’ Robert Wyatt and a few others. Did it happen organically?
A: If happened fairly organically. I had a song [on which] I had sung some demo harmonies and I went to a Crosby and Nash concert in London. Listening to them singing in the concert with that sort of magical harmonies, I thought it would work so well on that track. I had not pre-planned it or written with them in mind but when I heard them I just thought, “Yes, this would be lovely.” I went backstage and asked them if they would play on the song and they said, “Sure, we’ll come.” That’s what happened.
Q: What about Robert Wyatt?
A: That’s partly because he invited me to do his Meltdown Festival and I always loved him and his work. When we were working in [Roxy Music guitarist] Phil Manzanera’s studio in London, Robert was also going to be working there on his own stuff so it was very easy and convenient to get him in and try a few things for us. We did not use his high-pitched falsetto; instead we used his [deep voice] low tones. [laughs]
Q: You are producing the album alongside Manzanera and Chris Thomas. That’s a lot of people for one album.
A: Well, you know we all play slightly different roles in the production process. I am writing, recording and deciding and it wouldn’t be fair to say that I was not taking part in the production process. I spent a long time with Phil Manzanera at my home and in his studio, but as we were reaching the last three months or so of allocated time -– because I already had dates booked for shows –- I felt like we needed a little bit of a boost to help push things along. And Chris is very good at all that. So we brought him in to help push the process along because we felt we were slowing down at that time.
Q: With your body of work, you could probably get any lyricist in the world pen something for you, so why work with your wife?
A: When you’ve got such a good lyricist so close by, I could not feel the point in going elsewhere. She worked with us on “Division Bell” and I like to keep things around me to my friends and colleagues that I’ve worked with. I am a bit shy at times, and moving outside of that is sometimes difficult for me.
Polly and I are on a working partnership as well as a life partnership and she’s as good as I can get. Other lyricists would be writing more for themselves than for me and they would not know me that well. If I asked Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan to write for me, I love their work but I don’t know these people. So it seems to me more artistically sound to work with someone who I live and breathe with every day.
Q: Let’s talk about the title of the album “On an Island.” Some would say it is a metaphor for your life, in that you live on an island — which is technically true, as you live in the U.K. — but also that you are quite isolated from the rest of the world. Is this the right perception?
A: Someone in the position that I am in — in being well known to some extent — has a tendency to become a bit cut off from the normal world. However, I don’t think it applies to me as much as it applies to many other people.
It is one of the great benefits of having been in Pink Floyd that we are not that recognizable. Pink Floyd fans might know what we look like but most people just don’t. So I can live a very normal life. I can take my kids camping in France in public campsites and I don’t have big problems. I can go anywhere and do whatever I like. So I don’t think that is the major issue.
But, as you say, the title is “On an Island” and that title applies to both the one experience that I am describing in the song but also describes the fact that I am an English person born on an island, living on an island. It is also, as you say, a metaphor for the insularity of life that is possible and that one should try to break out of.
Q: Do you feel part of the British music scene?
A: Well, I’m English and I am British. I don’t know if I feel part of a music scene. Musically, I have as many feelings and affinity with Americans or Canadians, or all sorts of people as I do with English people.