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Interview with Francesco Madonia for Flaming Cow

Francesco Madonia –

Your collaboration with Pink Floyd began during a difficult period for the band. Those were the years in which strong discussions began that have not yet ended. Was it a complicated start?

Andy Jackson –

Indeed. 

I came in for ‘The Wall’ film project.  There were a lot of tensions around, but they were rather external to the band. Alan Parker was directing the film, and there were constant creative tensions between him on one hand, and Roger and Gerald Scarfe on the other. This really was Roger’s project, so David and Nick weren’t around as much, and internal tensions were yet to really surface.

For weird reasons (an apparent contractual obligation to make a sound track album) we segued immediately into ‘The Final Cut’.  Roger wrote some new songs, and brought back some that had not been included on ’The Wall’ album.  David didn’t really like the material and was rather unengaged. He wanted to have the opportunity to write some material, but Roger’s attitude was “what have you been doing for two years?”, and we ploughed on.  

All of this meant that what we ended up with was pretty close to a Roger solo album.

The events that followed have been much documented, and I don’t need to add to it (nor was I really witness to it).  Roger felt that the band was no longer a creative force, and left.

“A Momentary Lapse of Reason” followed.  Roger had gone, Rick was not officially in the band and not at his best, Nick was lacking confidence.   Really it meant David was on his own. Part of the reason Bob Ezrin was brought in was David had seen how good Bob was at bringing ‘The Wall’ together, he really helped Roger get the narrative sorted, and kept it all on track.

Rather separately there was the rabbit hole of new technology.  MIDI sequencing had come about, with the possibility of somewhat building songs in a computer.  Bob brought this technology to the making of the album, along with digital recording (on tape, as was the tech of the time).  This was a rather conscious decision. He felt we needed to have an identity as sonic pioneers. It seems weird to think back, but CDs had only just come about, and were still fairly fringe. “Brothers in arms’ by Dire Straits had just become the first album to sell a million on CD, and Bob came in brandishing this saying “we’ve got to top this”.

All of this meant that song writing was done in a way that hadn’t been done before by the band. It had always been a situation where material either evolved from the band playing together, or from the core of a song having been written by someone in simple form, and developed by the band. Lyrics, without Roger, were difficult too. Anthony Moore (who is very good) was brought in to help there, but it was all rather piecemeal, and didn’t have the focus that Roger brought.

As a mirror image of ’The Final Cut’, all of this meant that what we ended up with was pretty close to a David solo album.

It has always bugged David how it turned out, both in terms of the ’solo’ aspect – the lack of Rick and Nick – and the electronic aspect.  Hence why we went back and made the revisions decades later.   ‘The Division Bell’ was a conscious reaction against this, and very much was built from them playing together.

FM – 

 Choosing a work you have done for Pink Floyd is very difficult, but my favorite is definitely Wish You Where Here (Immersion Edition). Which is your favorite? 

AJ  – 

I really like those live versions of ’Shine on…’ and ’Sheep’ and ‘Dogs’ (as they became) on that album.  Having said that, they are from the same recording of the live Wembley show as the ‘Dark Side’ set, and were very tricky to mix, some real problems.  Still, the music is good.

It’s a tricky to answer the question in some ways.  Working on material gives you a completely different relationship to music to just listening to it like regular audience.   

If I can just pick out some things that I enjoyed doing, rather than anything to do with the end product.  I actually really enjoyed mixing live – the ‘Pulse’ tour.  Life on the road is rather tedious but those 3 hours of the show are great, I really like that it’s a transitory moment in time, it’s there then it’s gone – for better or worse.  Some of the audio visual stuff, like the lasers at the beginning of ’Sorrow’, are just as awesome after doing 100 shows as they are for the fans seeing it once!

Not strictly Floyd (just David and Rick, with Guy and Steve) but doing the ‘Barn Jams’ was great, they really are what they seem to be, just one off jams. Just witnessing it happening in front of me was always fascinating.  Freezing cold though!  

I know that David had been looking at some of those Barn Jams for the new album, to use as backbones for something. Don’t know if they made the cut though (more on that in question 7).

FM –  

I think that talking today about what happened in Sweden in 1994 is funny or at least interesting. How exactly did all this happen? 

AJ  – 

I was racking my brain trying to remember what happened in Sweden.  Stand collapse? no that was Earls Court.  Police shooting an audience member who pulled a gun on them?  no that was in the USA.   Someone getting married – in full wedding dress – just in front of the mixing position? no that was USA somewhere too.   Then I remembered.  Oh yes, I got arrested!

Previous show was in Copenhagen.  We had a day off and some of us went to Christiania and, to be honest, bought some hash.  Anyhoo, it got sniffed out in my luggage going into Gothenburg.  The Swedish police were very nice and polite. They even brought in the sniffer dog, although they didn’t like when I tried to pet the dog.  Got fined and released.

A small compensation. Often during the intro to ‘Run like hell’ David would play a bit of a tune associated with the place we were (Hello Cleveland! ???).  That night he played ‘Everybody must get stoned’,  just for me (and someone else who must remain nameless… [cough – Juliette])

FM – 

 In The Early Years box, there is a hidden version of Meddle in 5.1. Was it your idea?

AJ  – 

Good to be able to clear this one up.

Any PF project that is based on the material from the period that Roger was in the band is obviously subject to his approval, and that of the other three (Rick’s children look after his interests).  Each of the four have a different manager, so this can all get a bit tortuous.

Paul, who manages David, tends to be the driving force in most projects, as was the case with ’The Early Years’.   It was he who asked me to do the surround mix of ‘Meddle’, with David’s approval.

When finished, a copy of it was sent to Mark Fenwick, Roger’s manager, to forward to Roger for approval.   And there it remained. From what I understand, Mark never even mentioned it to Roger.  

It was late in the day when Roger heard about the existence of the surround mix, and he chose simply to veto its inclusion.  As far as I know he’s never heard it.  C’est la vie.

I don’t know enough about BluRay authoring to understand what happened next.  It’s something like –  all the data was on the masters, and in the hurry to delete ‘Meddle’ only the menu link got removed, but it was still there as a ‘ghost’ image.  It was a mistake.

Many believe it was somehow deliberate, and maybe was some sort of power play between the members of the band or something like that.  The truth is much more mundane, human error.   

FM – 

After The Endless River and The Later Years boxed set, is there still any unreleased material from The Big Spliff?

AJ  – 

As has been said before, ’The Big Spliff’ was just an exercise by me in demonstrating that a ’seething psychedelic mashup’ could be made out of some of the more esoteric material that we had kicking around during the making of ‘Division Bell’, as opposed to the more conventional song based approach we were taking.  I called it ’The Big Spliff’ as a joke.  Steve O’Rourke – Floyd’s manager at the time – loved it and thought we should release it just as it was.   We didn’t!

Many years later, when the notion came about to revisit some of that material to make a new ’seething psychedelic mashup’ Phil Manzanera and I went through the material to pick candidates.  Inevitably we picked some of the same stuff (I was unsurprisingly advocating for a lot of the same things I liked first time round).  

So…   yes there’s some overlap between ’The Big Spliff’ and ’The Endless River’, but there are things that are on each that are not on the other.  Also of course, ‘Endless River’ was developed with a lot of new recording from those starting points, ’Spliff’ is just the raw material.

‘Spliff’ was all fragments. It’s not as if there are substantial songs left over, just little bits of jamming.    ’Slippery guitar’ was one ’Spliff’ bit that didn’t get onto ‘Endless River’ but saw the light of day as an extra on ’The later years’.    Actually, mentioning those extras gives some idea of vibe, there’s the jam of ‘Marooned’ which shows the magic when they just play together in a rather unstructured way.  THAT was what I was liking so much that led me to make ‘Big Spliff’.

FM –  

You also collaborated on the 1984 album The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking. What is your relationship with Roger Waters?

AJ  – 

These days I have no relationship with Roger at all. I last saw him when we did Live 8 back in 2005, and before that it would have been the second ‘Pros and Cons’ tour in 1985.

Roger is a clever guy, and he wants you to know it.  It means it feels like one is constantly involved in power plays, whether you want to or not.  It gets to be strain after a year – which is what we spent doing ‘Pros and Cons’.   He called me to do the next one – ‘Radio K.A.O.S’, but I said no.  Couldn’t face it to be honest.

It’s a shame, but I don’t think I’m alone.

FM –  

Your last collaboration with David Gilmour was for the single Yes I Have Ghosts. Today we know that he is working on a new album, but without your contribution. What happened? Do have contact with him nowadays?

AJ  – 

Strictly that wasn’t my last collaboration with David.  I did ‘Hey Hey Rise Up’ but I’m not credited.  I’ll deal with that first.  In the climate that has existed since the growth of social media and the like, people have become very polarised and opinionated.  I would rather just observe and try to understand – be a scout not a soldier (as per Julia Galef’s book).  In more moderate times I would have no problem being credited, but I don’t want to nail my colours to ANY mast, worthy or not.  It seemed like the simplest solution to just have my name omitted.  Makes a rather strange and inaccurate credit on the record, but there we go.

But that wasn’t the question…

I’d decided a couple of years ago that I would largely stop working.  I told everyone relevant that this was the case, but that I would  A/ finish anything that was ongoing  & B/ do anything on David’s album (which had been brewing for a while) if he wanted me to.    I have a sense of loyalty to the person I’ve worked with for over 40 years now, and there’s a bit of me that would want to be there for what is probably the final album.

David, for his part, has been looking for a producer to work with.  Someone who would push him to explore areas that he may not have done, and that he finds interesting.  He’s ended up working with Charlie Andrew, which he likes very much.  Charlie wanted to bring his own engineer, and with one thing and another that seemed like a good plan.

David called me about this. He was concerned that I didn’t in any way feel snubbed, which I don’t.  I think it’s really good that he’s exploring new paths, it’s all too easy to fall into doing the same things you’ve always done.  I don’t know if he’ll ask me to have some involvement in the project in the future. I’m happy if he does and happy if he doesn’t.

I very consciously moved into ‘retirement’ by instigating a new phase of being productive.  I finally learned to sail, which I’d been meaning to do for ages, ever since Rick Wright took me out on a borrowed boat in Tampa Bay when we were touring in ’94. The other major thing was really restarting making my own music.  I’m two and a bit albums in now (more of that below) and absolutely loving doing it, it more than fills the hole that is left by no longer making other people’s music.

FM –  

Your new album AI AJ will be released in a few days. Tell us what we can expect!

AJ  – 

The title refers to AI (artificial intelligence), and me – AJ.    It’s a nice little coincidence that they are next each other alphabetically.  

Unlike the last album, ’Twelve half steps’, which was instrumental, this is largely an album of songs.   

Chat GPT arrived and people started finding out what it would say if you could get ‘under its skin’ and past its safety net.  There was some really weird stuff!    It started me thinking about the whole issue of AI, consciousness, synthetic sentience and so on.  I got to the idea of having an AI singing about being an AI, about its relationship with us.  Gradually a story came together, starting with the birth of an AI, through its relationship with a person (the listener) and it ‘breaking’ – like HAL in ‘2001′. Finally it merges with the human, to create a new lifeform.   

In some ways this is familiar sci-fi stuff, but I tried to avoid using the usual tropes of sci-fi.  At first examination of the lyrics, it could be songs between two people about relationships, but on further examination it has that twist to it of one party not being human, and reveals something very odd.

A lot of what I used as lyrics is actually stuff that came out in conversations that were had by various people with Chat GPT, who’d managed to get deep in.

Musically I got into some new areas, like doing orchestral arrangements, which were really interesting challenges.   I’ve also found a really good female voice to work with, who sings the part of ’the AI’.   More will be revealed about that later, I’ve got good reason to be a little secretive for now!

For me, it’s the best thing I’ve done.  Apart of course from the next album (already underway) which will be the best thing I’ve done.  I always like the process of doing them more than anything, I’m never happier!

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