David Gilmour is a maestro, a virtuoso guitar player with his own, distinctive style, who has been entertaining millions for 55 years, on record and in live performance, through one of the greatest bands of all time, Pink Floyd, and through his solo work.
There are few guitarists who can be recognised by the playing of a single note, with bend and vibrato, but David is exceptional in this respect. Whether it’s his opening note in Shine on You Crazy Diamond (1975), 2 mins 10 sec in after the beguiling keyboard intro by Rick Wright, or his opening note at the start of 5am on his most recent Rattle That Lock album (2015), the sound, the tone, is unmistakably David. Indeed, seeing him play 5am live to start his show at the Royal Albert Hall in 2016, the crowd was in raptures at the opening notes. So simple and yet so moving. One could almost listen to a whole concert of David playing single notes with bends.
David Gilmour Guitar of Pink Floyd
I first saw David play live with Pink Floyd at Wembley Pool (now Arena) in 1974. As an 18 year old this was my first “big” gig and I remember it vividly. This was Pink Floyd at the peak of their creative powers – between 1970 and 1979 they released an extraordinary 6 albums (excluding movie soundtracks,) all of them masterpieces in their own right. (since then, David’s output by volume has been less prolific – 7 albums (3 Pink Floyd, 4 solo), in the 28 years between 1987 and 2015)
At the 1974 gig I remember being in awe at seeing these 4 legends, David included of course, live on stage. I remember the Melody Maker review at the time commenting that David’s (very long) hair looked unwashed, which didn’t really seem relevant in a music review!
The gid started with unreleased tracks, the first of which was Shine On You Crazy Diamond. A recording of this is available and it is interesting that David didn’t play the notes in the intro that I referred to above but went straight into the iconic 4 note arpeggio. The solo later in this live performance, although still distinctly David in style and sound, was clearly developed further for the Wish You Were Here album release and subsequent live performances.
It is hard to gauge the full extent of David’s creative contribution to the Pink Floyd work of the 1970’s, because since the departure of Roger Waters there have been acrimonious claims and counter claims. Everyone agrees that Roger was the genius lyricist, and whatever else David brought to the party, the numerous and fine guitar solos have his stamp all over them. And in the second half of that 1974 gig, when they played the whole of The Dark Side of The Moon, we were treated to 3 of David’s solos in Time, Money and Any Colour You Like. All I would say a harsher, rockier style than the melodic smoothness of Shine and On. And all excellent.
Much has been written about Roger Waters’s departure from Pink Floyd. Whatever the personal issues were between David and Roger, it is clear that they were diverging musically. On The Wall (1979) David has stated that he hated songs like Vera/Bring the Boys Back Home, and yet he had arguably his finest moment with the soaring solos on Comfortably Numb. When Roger left, David became the leader of Pink Floyd and had the focus and bravery to take the risk of producing two more albums, Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell, and accompanying tours.
David by his own admission is not a lyricist, although he did write some of the lyrics on Momentary Lapse, and by the time of The Division Bell his wife, Polly Sampson, had become principal lyricist. Some have argued that Floyd post Roger was not Floyd. But I consider that these two albums show how strong David’s creative skills were musically, creating hundreds of segments through jamming with the band, and creating fine tracks with splendid guitar solos, absolutely true to the style of David as a guitarist and Pink Floyd as a band. A number of tracks across these two albums rightly sit alongside the very best that Pink Floyd has produced – Sorrow, On The Turning Away, Coming Back to Life and the brilliant High Hopes (with Polly’s wonderful lyrics). These two albums reinforce how strong David is, not just as a guitarist but as a creative force and band leader.
I saw this incarnation of Pink Floyd play live at Earls Court on the Pulse tour in 1994. It was great to see Dark Side of the Moon played in its entirety for the 2nd time, but for me the standout moment was seeing David playing his two solos on Comfortably Numb. The second solo seemingly going on for ever – who would want it to stop – with the arena filled with light reflecting from the giant mirror ball being bombarded by a laser. David’s beautiful solo creating one of best moments I’ve had at a gig.
David has made 4 solo albums, the first two of which were during his Pink Floyd career. To me these are nothing special. His solo work improved with On An Island (2006), and some of the work in his most recent album, Rattle That Lock (2015) ranks with the best of Pink Floyd. The standout track is Faces of Stone, which has a trademark David solo, and which I was lucky enough to see 4 times on the Rattle That Lock tour at The Royal Albert Hall. Those gigs combined the best of Floyd (pre and post Roger) with the best of David’s solo work. Wonderful concerts.
When he performs, David is a man of few words. He lets his music speak for itself. Away from the stage, he has a wonderful speaking voice, and it is always worth listening to him on pod casts and YouTube videos. He has of course also been the principal singer for Pink Floyd. Not in the same league as say Daltrey or Plant as a rock singer, but his voice is an integral part of the Pink Floyd sound.
His musical talents have given so much pleasure over the years. Hopefully the journey is to continue, because its rumoured he is working on a new album….
11 January 2024