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The making of Pink Floyd “The Later Years”

Aubrey Powell, Pink Floyd’s creative director and a co-founder of the Hipgnosis design company that has long been synonymous with the band; and Andy Jackson, Floyd’s recording engineer and sometimes producer since the days of "The Wall," tell Goldmine about all the work behind "The Later Years."
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By Dave Thompson

Three years on from the release of the shelf-bending The Early Years box set, rounding up the darker corners of their pre-Dark Side of the Moon output, Pink Floyd return with The Later Years, 16 discs dusting off the three studio albums, two live collections and the wealth of other odds and ends that they’ve accumulated across the last 32 years.

It’s not, perhaps, the headline hogging Behemoth that its predecessor represented… disc after disc of Syd Barrett-era rarities, after all, are always going to feel more “essential” than another crop of outtakes from The Division Bell sessions and a 5.1 mix of The Endless River.

But dig deep and, while the 13 hours of unreleased material promised for this box set is not only more than they crammed into The Early Years (12 hours), it also promises, and delivers, immaculately upgraded versions of two of the band’s less appreciated releases—A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the studio album that marked Floyd’s first release following Roger Waters’ departure, and the Delicate Sound of Thunder, the live set that followed it.

To which we can add… a completely remastered version of the Pulse video concert; two wholly new-to-most-people live performances (Venice 1989 and Knebworth 1990), a healthy heaping of accumulated live B-sides and unreleased studio material, 5.1 mixes of all that and more, plus a wealth of related ephemera. Oh, and a couple of one-sided 45s as well, “Lost for Words” from the Pulse rehearsals, and—taking the story back to its very beginning—“Arnold Layne,” from the Syd Barrett tribute concert in 2007.

All of which still might not add up to everybody’s favorite Floydian interlude but, in terms of content and craft, it’s hard to find fault.

Plus, once you’ve sat and digested everything… well, maybe it will become your favorite period, after all.

Aubrey Powell, Pink Floyd’s creative director and a co-founder (with the late Storm Thorgerson) of the Hipgnosis design company that has long been synonymous with the band; and Andy Jackson, Floyd’s recording engineer and sometimes producer since the days of The Wall, join Goldmine to talk us through the package.

GOLDMINE: How long has The Later Years been in the works?

ANDY JACKSON: It’s been about a year or so.

AUBREY POWELL: Although I spent about 14 months on the Delicate Sound of Thunder film… It was originally done in 1989, but in those days it was extremely complicated to shoot on 35mm film and coordinate all the cameras exactly. Things didn’t work out quite as well as they should, and consequently the film was a bit of a mishmash of superimpositions and stuff.

But then I found that there were 310 film cans of 35mm film lying in the vaults, so I took them all out, up-rezzed every single piece of rushes to 4k and we set about, for 14 months, a re-edit to get it all absolutely precise, pristine and looking amazing. Then all the sound was remixed, and it is absolutely mind blowing.

Jackson:Remixing the Delicate Sound of Thunder was David’s choice, because he wasn’t happy with it. Apart from that, there was no special brief apart from ‘do what you do’ to me. That really sums it up.

I didn’t really reference what had been done before, just mixed what was in front of me. For what it’s worth, I think it’s really good.

One minor difference, which is worthwhile, is that on the CDs it is the entire show, which has not been available before. (But) for reasons that are now lost in history, not every song was filmed unfortunately, so the (video track list) is the same as before.

GM: You also reworked the studio album that they were touring for at the time.

Jackson:A Momentary Lapse of Reason was a product of its time and circumstances. You had all the uncertainties of creating the first album without Roger (Waters), and the need to find a direction.

At the time, somewhat under (producer) Bob Ezrin’s influence, the decision was made to make an album that sounded very ‘current.’ To that end, a lot of new technology was used, in the form of sequencers and synthesisers, which are very seductive toys, and maybe at times we got carried away with what could be done.

We also followed the fashion of the day of big, reverberant, drum sounds, which made the album quite aggressive in a way; also they tend to rather obliterate other elements.

In many ways, we succeeded in fulfilling that brief, it sounded very ‘current.’ The trouble is that today’s current becomes tomorrow’s dated. By the time we got to the next album (The Division Bell), we realized that this had not been a choice we wanted to make again, and The Division Bell is a much more classic/timeless album, or certainly was approached that way, going back to a way of working that had produced a lot of their previous work.

GM:The Division Bell was left untouched for the box set, it’s the same 5.1 mix that appeared in the album’s own box a few years ago. But A Momentary Lapse of Reason has been completely rebuilt.

Jackson: I can’t remember when the notion came up of revisiting A Momentary Lapse of Reason and revising it with the notion of undoing some of that process, but it had been kicking around for a while.

It was about a decade ago that we made a first pass at the revision, recorded new drums with Nick (Bob Ezrin came over to supervise). It had been intended to get Rick to play on it, but unfortunately he died before we got round to it.

Consequently, we combed through live recordings from the 1987/88 tours to find good stuff of Rick’s playing, and added those to the studio recordings. Impetus was rather lost at that point, because plenty else happened (The Endless River and Gilmour’s Rattle that Lock not least of all). It was with the decision of making this box set that we picked it up.

The direction was clear really, to use these new elements to form a new backbone to re-interpreting that album as if we’d done it as a ‘classic’ production to begin with. A handful of other replacements were made, principally to replace some of the more troublesome synthetic sounds with more organic ones (such as piano for example), but this was on a case by case basis, depending frankly on what annoyed us.

Pink Floyd’s ‘The Later Years’ set is nearly perfect

GM: I never felt that either of those albums, A Momentary Lapse of Reason or the Delicate Sound of Thunder, truly represented what the band was capable of at that time.

Powell:They had a big point to prove, that they could carry on without Roger, and that was a daunting prospect. The responsibility was enormous, nerve wracking, but they carried it off. They were playing incredibly. David and Nick and Rick at that time were absolutely at their peak of playing. David’s fluidity, his voice and guitar are as one, Nick was a powerhouse.

Everything they’d learned with Pink Floyd in the '70s was just waiting to burst out. And, I think by the time when the Delicate Sound of Thunder was filmed, they’d really got into the swing of it, they’re having fun, they’re upbeat, they’re laughing. The camaraderie comes through, and the effortless playing and power.

Jackson:It was the band playing really well at that point, they were a year into the tour.

GM: Were any improvements made to the rest of the live material in the box?

Jackson:Knebworth is a new mix; Venice was only available as a stereo mix on the video tape (which is just the front of house mix plus some audience mics), so that’s all we had. Pulse is unchanged in terms of audio (i.e., the original mix).

Powell:I also remade the Pulse film, which was originally shot on a very bad medium. The quality of the film was never that great, but I’ve remade that with all the digital bells and whistles and that looks 10 million times better. Way superior.

GM: Inevitably people are going to draw comparisons between The Early Years and The Later Years. Beyond the material included, of course, what in your minds were the biggest differences between them?

Jackson:The biggest significant difference is that, by and large, The Early Years material was just existing stereo or mono mixes, whereas the bulk of my time on Later Years has been on multi-track material, so there was so much more I could do. So for me, much more depth on Later Years as opposed to width on Early Years (lots of material).

Powell:For TheEarly Years, when we discussed the packaging, the idea was to take the Pink Floyd van which they first used to travel between little tiny gigs in litle clubs, an old Commer van that was black with a white stripe down it. But it proved too expensive to make a plastic van which is what I wanted to have the artwork in, and in the end we finished up with the black box with a white stripe on it and inside there was a postcard of the van, so everyone knew what it related to.

It was a very dry graphic, so for The Later Years, I decided I wanted to go right back to the days of the Hipgnosis enigmatic, surrealist cover, something we had become well known for with Pink Floyd. I thought ‘let’s go back to our roots,’ which seemed very appropriate, because the package begins in 1987, when Pink Floyd resurfaced with the light of David and Nick.

GM: The Later Yearsis classic Floyd/Hipgnosis imagery. What can you tell us about it?

Powell:I decided to not try and design it myself, but to find other studios who were capable of design that I thought was appropriate, and put the Hipgnosis stamp on it. I approached a studio headed by Michael Johnson and he showed me some ideas about a man in a landscape in a black suit, with street lamps that were all distorted.

What I liked about it was the idea of the lights somehow being affected by this man—as he walked past, they twisted and turned. Which represented to me Pink Floyd moving on with Roger’s departure, and the power they could leave behind them as they progressed forward.

I took the elements and show them to David and Nick; they both loved the idea but they felt having a man in a black suit has been visited so many times by Hipgnosis with Pink Floyd, which it has. Both of them said ‘Can’t you think of something else?’ First they suggested a family, then Nick suggested a small child, a young girl, and I thought that was a good idea, so that’s what we did.

It’s more evocative of something that is young creating this distortion. So having got the go-ahead, we started shooting. There’s the foreground desert of the broken old road, shot in Joshua Tree; the mountains behind were was shot in the Mojave Desert, the lamp posts themselves were created from photos we took in America, and the young girl was shot in Richmond Park in London. Then we did a CGI composite, which ran against the grain of Hipgnosis who always shot everything for real, but I thought it was time we embraced modern technology.

GM: The back of the box is terrific, as well.

Powell: It looks like a flying saucer from a distance, but it isn’t, it’s hundreds of words from Pink Floyd lyrics that make up the shape, and if you’re very smart and look at the lyrics, it’s the last verse of almost every song that was written from 1987 onwards. It’s a little game for people to play and I’m sure a fan is going to write in and say "Hey, you missed this song," but we did our best.

GM: You also reworked the actual album covers.

Powell:We used different elements, different pictures, an outtake from one of the photoshoots of Delicate Sound of Thunder, a man with the suit made out of lightbulbs, there are different pictures on each individual slipcase. Pulse, there’s a guy using lightbulbs like they’re binoculars.

One of the things that I wanted to do was find images and photos… I plundered Storm’s archive box and what we were looking for was images that either hadn’t been seen before, or outtakes that hadn’t been used before.

The same applies to the book, there’s a rather lavish book that has some amazing drawings by Mark Fisher who designed the stage set for both Pulse and Delicate Sound of Thunder, so I have some drawings that never have been seen before, and I also found several live pictures that have never been seen. To make it fresh and new, so fans felt they have something that’s never been seen before.

GM: The box claims to include 13 hours of unreleased material, but the bulk of that comprises the remixes and reconstructions. As far as I can tell, the only truly unavailable material would be the 1994 outtakes, from the same sessions that produced The Endless River. (Which is also present here as a 5.1 mix, with accompanying film.)

Jackson: I suppose potentially these could have gone into the possible ingredients that went into consideration for The Endless River, but in some ways that album is a result of its process, spiralling out from a conceptual (if not actual) starting point of "The Big Spliff" mash-up.

There are always more possibilities than make it through the filtration stage, and the notion that more starting options would make it better isn’t really a good representation of the creative process.

I knew (because I was there) that we had ‘burnt tape’ on the Division Bell sessions, just recorded stuff anyway for reference with no intention of it being ‘masters.’ I got all 60-odd of the multitrack tapes transferred, just so we could see what was there. It did reveal a handful of things that, while not things that would make it through the filter of making an album, were worthwhile for a collection like this.

Perfect examples, a jam of "Marooned" —nice playing, has the looseness of a jam, but there is a ‘proper’ version on the album; and an early version of "High Hopes," which is what was in David’s head when he wrote it, before the process of review happened, and other things— orchestra for example—were added. It’s a document to a process. And there’s some early working versions of songs, some of which made it onto The Division Bell, some didn’t.

GM: And finally, both of you, what are your favorite aspects of the box, or the things you think will surprise people the most?

Jackson:I think the A Momentary Lapse of Reason revision has revealed that the songs are really good, which was previously rather obliterated under '80s styling! Getting really familiar with the playing on Delicate Sound of Thunder was nice for me too, they were really on it.

Powell: Back in the mid-1970s, either for Wish You Were Here or Animals, I was in Iceland and I had an idea of two people, in silhouette, reading a white map. I took this photo with all these steam behind them, and Storm and I were going to show it to the band as an idea for one of those albums.

However we never got round to it, either because we thought of the man on fire for Wish You Were Here, or because Roger thought of the pig for Animals, so this photograph has laid dormant in my archive for years and years. I never even blew it up.

Then when this project came up, it was one of the ideas I suggested and I showed it to Nick and David and it was a toss up between the two, the lamp posts or the map, because what they liked was the image of two men in silhouette reading a white map, a bit like “Where do we go from here?” Because in a way, that’s where they were when Roger left.

So when I showed it to them and said, "I want to use this," they both went "Great, let’s do it.” That’s the cover for the 2-LP highlights vinyl that’s also coming out.

GM: Oh, and because I will never be forgiven if I don’t ask… we’ve had The Early Years, we’ve had The Later Years. Has anyone talked to you yet about The Middle Years?

Powell:Yes. They’ve talked to me.