Released on November 11th, 2016, is Pink Floyd The Early Years 1965-1972, officially a 27-disc box set, which also has a bonus disc included due to reasons we discuss below. It is a truly wonderful, unexpected treat from a band who have traditionally always been very guarded about releasing unfinished or alternate versions, live material, radio and television material and so on. You got the finished versions of the albums, and little else, with the mantra that there wasn't really anything in the vaults; it all ended up being released. With the Why Pink Floyd campaign which began in 2011, material started to be found, the vaults started to open, with the Immersion sets of Wish You Were Here, The Dark Side of The Moon, and The Wall all featuring previously unreleased goodies. The Early Years has the band going far further than any of us would have hoped or imagined, and fans have a treasure trove of material which will take everyone quite some time to go through. For those who want to digest the full track listing, maybe whilst going through this article, it can be seen here - all six pages of it.
With the wealth of material inside the box, it would take a long time to cover everything in detail. Also, one of the joys of this box set is the discovery element - whether it is the gradual unboxing, revealing each of the items in turn, or seeing/hearing the mass of incredible, previously unreleased (or only available on the odd bootleg) material, restored to the highest possible quality using current technology and some of the finest hands on the controls. Yes, there are the odd things which exist on bootleg which haven't been included on the set, and yes, there are items on all our wish lists that aren't here - but then some of those items were probably on the band's own wish list but no longer exist/could not be found/could not be found in time for release on this box set; with so much material, there would have to be certain cut-off dates for preparation and also band member approvals. It was never going to be 100% complete so let's celebrate what IS there, rather than what's not. Anyway, what follows is more a quick look through, picking out highlights as we go, rather than detail on everything. An in depth overview if you like! It is still quite a lengthy review so make yourself comfortable and let's have a year-by-year wander through the entire box set...
A superb, very early start to CD1 - the six tracks released last year from 1965, with the line-up including Rado Klose and Juliette Gale. If you've heard the tracks before, and after the very limited (1050 copies on vinyl) release they started appearing online, you'll know that the sound quality of these is great. Recorded at Decca Studios, it's a joy to hear these early, quite atypical songs from the band, with little indication of how they were to change musically. Lucy Leave and King Bee, of course, appeared unofficially a number of years ago, but tracks like Double O Bo, Walk With Me Sydney and Butterfly were unheard things of Floyd legend.
These are followed by the 1967 singles, in super quality, then a trio of rarities - In The Beechwoods (an instrumental), Vegetable Man, and Scream Thy Last Scream. The last two are stalwarts of many bootlegs, but never fully complete and in this sort of quality. Beechwoods is a wonderful track, a multi-layered feast, and a definite highlight. It has a most definite jaunty air to it...one of the band's early 'happy' songs!
CD2 starts with the recording of Stockholm 1967, which sounds fantastic - really clear stereo, instrumentation sharp and detailed...the only thing letting it down are the hardly audible vocals - but this is due to the technology used to record it in the first place. Basically, there were two microphones set up along the front of the stage, so there is little that can be done to improve the vocals. The first song performed is Reaction in G, which clearly was just a free-form jam that they called 'Reaction' and presumably in the key of G - which is why this version is markedly different to the one or two other glimpses of the song we've had previously. Of the performance, Matilda Mother is fascinating, going into a long instrumental section, Pow R Toc H lasts around 12 minutes, and Set The Controls is a particular joy with some evocative guitar work kicking off the song.
This concert is followed by the John Latham film soundtrack work, which - as is normal for incidental music - doesn't work as well out of context or without accompanying visuals. It's great that all nine parts or versions are included though (I'm sure there'd be complaints if any had been left out with the knowledge they had them all!) and it's an interesting glimpse at some more of their improvisational work. Not as high a contender in the reckoning for regular repeating listenings though...and some repetition between the parts too.
The DVD and Blu-ray both contain the same material, all from 1967. Some of this will be familiar, some won't have been seen before - but throughout is is clear what a fabulous and painstaking job Lana Topham has done with the restorations and improvements. You'll never have seen any of the clips in anything like this quality. From the almost Monkees-like looning around on Wittering Beach in Sussex for the Arnold Layne promo, through to the various TV appearances (including the lost Top of the Pops performance of See Emily Play) to a stunningly sharp Nick's Boogie, these are all testament to the million or so individual frames which were tidied up by Lana. The Emily footage, when first found and then screened at the British Film Institute on a snowy January day in London, 2010, was virtually unwatchable, yet an incredible job has been done to restore and patch up the film to the condition it is now in.
A single CD for this year, but packed with some real gems. Following the single releases (all sounding better than ever), there's a couple of tracks which were recently discovered in the Capitol Studios vaults in Los Angeles - Song 1 and Roger's Boogie. The former is a fairly slow, bluesy instrumental with some great work from all four of them, and the latter is an unusual vocal piece which has some superb instrumentation, that goes into some unexpected directions. Lovely stuff and one of the genuine surprises of the set - neither song was known to exist before!
Next, a couple of 1968 BBC radio sessions in great quality. Having cleared the BBC's vaults of what recordings they had, the compilers of the box set have included all the material from there, on the various discs. The recordings are complete with DJ John Peel's laconic introductions; a nice touch to include these.
The DVD/Blu-ray continues the good work starting with the early 1968 black and white Brussels promo films, all in great quality, followed by the remarkably colourful Bouton Rouge performances (four different songs, lovely to see them all). These show the very marked differences between the rather stiff, mimed playback appearances, and the live renditions in television studios.
Included on the disc is a fabulous Interstellar Overdrive from Rome, with Rick in a shiny golden shirt, and some wonderful guitar work from David - curiously though the cameras don't go near him whilst he is doing it!
Two CDs for this year... good! CD1 starts with four surviving tracks from the More sessions - Hollywood, Theme (a pacer 'beat' version), an alternate More Blues and an instrumental, Seabirds. This is not the piece from the film with lyrics, which mentions seabirds, but an entirely different track which - on the original session tapes - also went under the same title. This can be fairly common when working on music, and can depend on the engineer at the time as well. If you consider something like Zabriskie Point, which had a number of markedly different songs which were all different takes using the same title, it doesn't seem so strange. Songs that are being worked on often sit under temporary or work-in-progress titles and this seems to be an example of that. Also, as Andy Jackson himself has pointed out, very sadly the original tapes which had the vocal Seabirds has been lost; as is normal, completed tracks for soundtracks are given to the film company, and not retained by the band. What we have here are what the band kept back, and held in their own vaults. We know a number of you (for some reason) had the vocal Seabirds as their prime reason to buy the box set...we hope this exclusion doesn't put you off it altogether! It would be a real shame for you to miss out on so many great things, just on the strength of not having a specific track you were after.
After a newly remastered studio version of Embryo (love that song!) we get a lovely BBC radio session, top quality as expected, followed by a very enjoyable (albeit vocal free, due to a recording issue presumably) four song set performed in Amsterdam in August that year.
1969 saw the band perform two song suites - 'The Man' and 'The Journey', incorporating adaptations of existing songs, combined with new ones to form the story arcs in question. One such performance was recorded by Dutch radio, and this recording - remastered like everything else - brings the September show in Amsterdam into every living room. The sound quality is wonderful, an improvement on the already excellent bootlegs that have appeared in recent years, of this show.
Now to the DVD/Blu-ray for this year. We start with the two songs performed on Forum Musiques in Paris, with the band in a small studio, miming to a playback of a couple of tracks. The band, and some audience members, look a little awkward, but between the songs David does a very creditable job of being interviewed in French. Part of this footage was shown at the Pink Floyd Interstellar exhibition held in Paris, France, in 2003.
This is followed by the fascinating rehearsal footage shot prior to 'The Man' and 'The Journey" concert at London's Royal Festival Hall in April 1969, and shows excerpts of various songs which there were refining the presentation for, for that evening's show. Some parts are frustratingly short, but that's due to the original filming rather than any kind of editorial decision by the band.
A couple of great performances from Essen in Germany then follow, and the disc is concluded with footage from the Amougies Festival Actuel, and incredibly, there's the performance (including tuning up) of the late Frank Zappa's guest appearance jamming with the band, something we've only ever seen the odd photo of. Whilst clearly unsure or reticent initially, Frank really gets into the latter part of Interstellar Overdrive, and this is another gem of a find. Also, Roger is at his most manic during Careful With That Axe, Eugene, at this show - thrilling stuff.
With the turn of the decade, the band's direction was moving toward some new, extended pieces, with a bit more structure than the extended jams performed of their older songs. One of these newer pieces, of course, was the Atom Heart Mother suite, and there are no less than seven different versions here. CD1, indeed, starts with a lovely, band-only version from Montreaux in November that year, and it is a shame that there wasn't more from this concert available for them to use in this box set. It's a beautiful, etherial version, celebrating the maturity of the suite at this point - having performed it for much of the year, things were broadly cast in stone and settled.
One of my favourite songs from this era is (The) Embryo, and the radio session for BBC Radio One, from July 1970, which concludes the first disc for this year, starts with a particularly fine version. At 11 minutes long it isn't the longest of Embryo performances - one show featured a 27 minute version! The sound quality, as expected, is top-notch throughout.
So, CD2, and sixteen unreleased Zabriskie Point tracks. Some with be familiar from various bootlegs, but there are some markedly different ones here on the box set. Some are quite atypical of Pink Floyd - elements of Auto Scene version 3 for example almost sounds like The Stranglers in their earlier days, and Aeroplane includes some interesting phasing effects. Explosion is a dramatically different version of Careful With That Axe, Eugene, with a jaunty edge (if you can picture that) and is quite a revelation. An interesting selection, even if not every ZP outtake is included - but then maybe as they've been well covered on bootlegs in recent years, they decided not to duplicate all that material, but also (and more importantly) provide stuff that HADN'T leaked at various points.
To complete the disc is an intriguing, early band-only studio version of Atom Heart Mother. Starting with a strikingly different percussive approach, it settles into a fairly standard reading, albeit with choir and brass missing. It does have a different feel to later passages of the suite, and a nice one to be included.
Now to the video material which for this year is on two DVDs or one Blu-ray. The first DVD is a two-parter: at very long last, getting an official release finally, is the 1970 KQED TV studio performance of six songs. Long available in poor-to-fair quality, we now get a restored version. The audio is cleaned up, and the picture, whilst still a little soft, with some of the colours quite flat and solid, is better than we've seen before. Some motion blur is present, but it's like anything of this era - source material dependent. It's a nice performance though and long overdue.
Concluding the first DVD, and positioned at the end of the Blu-ray, is the audio-only original 4.0 quad mix of the Atom Heart Mother album. Sadly, all you get on screen is the song title - lyrics might have been a nice addition here, and even better, some pictures or album cover imagery - but nevertheless the audio makes up for it. It's a great mix of the album, with very clear instrumentation separation, particularly noticeable in the title track, with the range of performers involved, and If as well. Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast has you right in the middle of the kitchen. A shame there isn't a smellovision option with this one...
To the second DVD, or the rest of the Blu-ray: St Tropez, August 1970 was clearly very hot, as can be seen in the performances captured here of four songs as well as the soundcheck (which includes Roger in what is possibly just his underwear). Interestingly during Set The Controls you can see Richard operating a surround sound pan pot, akin to the Azimuth Coordinator, the first of a few sequences in the box set which have Richard sending the audio all around the venue they're in.
One of the more unlikely collaborations came with the ballet performances organised by Roland Petit. From these, we get three improvisations (the first, commonly referred to as Corrosion) which turn into Embryo. Despite the footage being for the RP Ballet, it's just the four of them in a pink room, with a camera wandering around them. Lovely stuff but just wish it was longer!
Finally on the 1970 video front is the late John "Hoppy" Hopkins' footage of Atom Heart Mother with brass and choir at the Blackhills Garden Party in London's Hyde Park. The sound is fine but the picture quality is pretty poor - unsteady, motion blur, some damage to the film - but as a historic record of the performance who is complaining? Situated in a gantry (by the look of it) Hoppy is behind Richard and has a good sweep of the stage.
Still with us? Good. Let's go ahead into 1971, a year which, from the beginnings that the band referred to as 'Nothings' gave us Echoes as the standout song. How better to start the CD than with Nothing Part 14, a work-in-progress of Echoes which has an eerie undercurrent to it somehow, very understated and hard to pinpoint but there is something there which gives a slight air of menace. All instrumental, with the main theme repeated over the course of seven minutes, it's wonderful stuff. Of course, we'd love to hear the other sweet Nothings.... how about an Immersion of Meddle? One can dream!
This outstanding start is followed by an hour long BBC Radio One session, in great quality again. They certainly knew how to record bands back then. Just four songs over the course of the hour, but all cracking performances - Fat Old Sun, One Of These Days, Embryo and of course, Echoes. They also performed Blues during this session. However, the BBC never aired this, and instead the song was broadcast in New York on WNEW-FM. My guess is, the BBC never held on to this recording; anyway, it can be found in the bonus pack in the box set - a pity it isn't in the right position in the 1971 set but thankfully, it is on the box set.
OK, now we move to 1971's DVD or Blu-ray. As expected, we have four different looks at Atom Heart Mother here, along with other songs of course, but pepping things are various interviews, which prove interesting. At the start, we have the band demonstrating some of the equipment in Offenbach, Germany, including Richard talking about the pan pot surround controller.
Next up, two songs from a very atmospheric Abbaye de Royaumont in France, in terrific quality, and these include some decent close-ups (much to Roger's surprise at one point in Set The Controls). There's some great, quite different guitar work in the excerpt from the Ossiach show's Atom Heart Mother, which leads to an interesting sequence from Australia's Randwick Racecourse. This starts with the studio Careful accompanying clips of the band on stage and a clumsy edit to the end of the song. The interview that follows, though, is an interesting discussion on the band's sound live, and they touch on the follow-up to the AHM album, giving a few clues as to the sound people should expect.
The next piece is fascinating and not something I was expecting. It's a short piece principally interviewing Steve O'Rourke regarding bootlegs, a snippet of which is played to the band whilst they noodled around with Echoes in the studio. Then, a chat with Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey 'Po' Powell looks at some of the album covers, before Ian Emes' 'French Windows' appears with a surround One Of These Days soundtrack.
Two final AHM videos to finish things off - a news report in German from Ossiach, and a performance from Hakone in Japan. This last clip (some 15 minutes long) has been heavily restored but even so, still has a very soft, blurry picture, but good to see colour in this footage for once.
Finally, we have an audio-only segment, with the original 4.0 quad mix of Echoes, which is quite unusual. You find the music running around the room - it's not a mix where you are in the midst of things, rather, it is bounced around from speaker to speaker. An interesting inclusion but not necessarily for repeat listening.
Due to an error in the manufacture process, what should be the 2016 mix of Obscured By Clouds turns out to be a new stereo mix of the Live At Pompeii soundtrack which is an unexpected, unadvertised and added bonus for this box set (it won't be in the individual year boxes, available next year). The Obscured By Clouds disc is provided as an extra CD outside the box itself - in Europe it is in a custom card printed sleeve, and in North America, in a standard CD window sleeve.
To my ears, a great job has been done with the Pompeii mix. Clarity is top notch, and any harshness in the original has been tidied up. It still has that slightly compressed or muffled air to it (drums in particular), not as dynamic as we'd all like, but it's the classic sound of the Pompeii movie we've all known for years. As an aside, some people are slating the sound of this CD - I would point out that it is an extra, free disc which was never promised so if you don't like the sound of it, don't worry, you've not paid for it! It also boasts an alternate take of Careful With That Axe, Eugene, which is good to have.
The 2016 mix of OBC is very satisfying, although as an album I love (and an album heavily overlooked in general) I am struggling to recall any major problems with the original mix. Sadly no alternate versions seemed to be available for them to use so it's the album "as is" that you get. Right, on to the DVD and Blu-ray for this particular year...
We start with a perfect pair of clips, focused on recording OBC at Chateau D'Herouville in France. A lovely collection of a couple of hundred (I'm guessing) black and white stills shows life in the studio for that album, work and play, and some may be taken aback by seeing David Gilmour on bass, and Roger Waters on acoustic guitar, a reverse of the norm.
Next are the two surviving bits of film from the pair of Brighton Dome concerts in June 1972. Frustratingly, Careful With That Axe, Eugene and Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun were the only complete songs shot by Peter Whitehead, with a few seconds here and there from the rest of the concerts and rehearsals. Another instance to mutter "If only...".
The Roland Petit Pink Floyd Ballet continued in 1972 and we get four news reports from that era, covering around 15 minutes, and include a short rehearsal passage with the band all noodling quite different music to normal.
The final short clip is a look at how their concerts in those days were set up, strangely edited but an interesting inclusion nonetheless.
Finally, there's the concert film of Live At Pompeii, with the 2016 remix of the soundtrack. It doesn't include the studio bits, so no apple pie discussion or Mademoiselle Nobs, for example, but as ever a great record of the band live in those days, in a stunning location which was revisited by David in July this year. The footage is from the 2003 version (with graphics of the town of Pompeii) restored to 2k, and Adrian Maben has been collaborating on the restoration. We now finally have this on Blu-ray, although 'Chit Chat with Oysters' would have been a very welcome bonus though. Maybe that's being held back for a full version of Pompeii with all the studio footage included, being released on Blu-ray at some point?
That concludes the standard 'year' packs, each of which will be issued as standalone items early next year, but the box doesn't stop there...onwards we go!
The CD in this bonus pack, only available in the box set, includes material that they point out isn't in the best quality, but included for its historical nature. Duly warned, we find that we have three BBC radio sessions - six songs from September 1967, four from December 1967, and two from December 1968, in varying degrees of quality. This ranges from very poor to quite acceptable. Some of it has an irritating high pitched whistle, which gives clues as to its origins as an off-air recording. Andy Jackson and Damon Iddins have done what they can with the material they had at their disposal, although some better quality versions have recently come to light. Maybe a catch-all Floyd at the BBC collection, including these better sources, would be in order at some point?
A fun little (22 seconds!) US radio ad leads us to music from The Committee, a very strange film from 1968 (and reviewed elsewhere here on Brain Damage) that features some interesting music from the Floyd, and we hear a bit of that here. Then, a much longer Moonhead from the BBC's moon landing television broadcast than is common on bootlegs, but sounding like it was recorded by a microphone near the TV - in any event, it's good to hear the complete thing.
Then, finally, we have the missing encore from the BBC-recorded 1974 Wembley Empire Pool concert, the rest of which appears on the Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side of the Moon Immersion sets. A 1974 recording on the set, you ask? Well, it's of Echoes, so the song's from the right era (even if the recording is from a couple of years later).
Just two discs left of the set (if you don't include the vinyl). The first DVD or Blu-ray is a collection of items (more of which shortly), plus one short film, and the second DVD/Blu consists of the More and La Vallee feature films in full. We've reviewed both elsewhere on this site when they were released in their own rights, so won't go into any detail about them. They're very good transfers, and many of you will now finally own the films themselves. Due to licencing conditions, the Floyd weren't allowed to include subtitles for either film, but we suspect many of you will be principally watching them for the music anyway...
Anyway, back to DVD or Blu-ray disc one. This starts with an alternate promo video for Arnold Layne, shot on London's Hampstead Heath (and in St Michael's Church), and remarkably different to the larking around seen in the normal promo that is so well known. This is followed by the infamous "food fight" Corporal Clegg video, but unusually this is followed by an otherwise unseen (as far as I am aware) interview with the band, and a performance of A Saucerful of Secrets with no messing around with cakes or glasses of champagne, but is the one some may have seen with facial close-ups of the band (David blowing his hair aside, Richard with a flower between his teeth, and so on).
Next we get a very poor quality Atom Heart Mother from the Bath Festival in 1970 - the sound isn't at all bad (apart from a strange vibrato on the brass) but the picture is extremely poor - fuzzy black and white, low definition, but of course, still a great addition for the rarity factor. The familiar Kralingen Music Festival footage follows, which many may know as Stamping Ground, a common bit of film on various unofficial compilations over the years.
A trio of songs from Amsterdam Rock Circus follows - the 1972 show footage provides AHM, Eugene and Saucerful in fairly ropey quality visually, but the audio isn't too bad at all. Presumably it was audience shot with something like a Super 8 camera? Precious little live footage of the Floyd exists generally, unlike many other of their contemporaries, so we have to cling on to what little we have!
Finally, Max Steuer's rather odd, and very much of its time film The Committee, with its Floyd score throughout, closes off the disc, ensuring all the band's pieces for the film are in the box set and not just what we get on the Continu/ation CD.
Phew...that's a lot of stuff to go through all in all, but we're not quite done yet. There's still more things to look at, and to listen to.
PACKAGING, EXTRA MEMORABILIA and VINYL
The best way (or easiest, certainly for us) to kick off this little section is to show the video that was produced to give a good indication of what is in the rather sizeable box. As you'll see, each year is contained in its own pack - these packs will be sold separately fairly early next year (with the exception of Continu/ation, the bonus pack exclusive to the box set). They contain at the front, the CD(s), then a number of pages of pictures, many of them previously unseen, then the memorabilia pocket (for smaller items), and then the DVD(s) and Blu-ray(s) at the back.
One thing it doesn't really show is the credits and information booklet which is in each year pack, in the memorabilia pocket. These have Mark Blake's essay about the band spread across all the years, as well as a note (reproduced in every booklet, obviously ready for the individual releases of each year, as in the context of the box it seems a little odd to have the same thing in every booklet) written by Lana Topham talking about the video restoration.
One thing which isn't apparent from the video is the quality of the materials used in the box - the card sleeves, the boxes, and the foamy materials are all of high quality, nice and sturdy and protective. The video doesn't show that there is some larger memorabilia housed in an additional box within the outer box, a good way to further protect it.
The vinyl is well produced, and decent reproduction sleeves. Both the labels, and the sleeves, have a small indication that the singles are from the box set, which apart from anything will mean it is a lot harder for unscrupulous people to try and sell separately as originals.
One thing that would have made the box a little more complete would have been the addition of a little toy van - something like the one seen in the video above - which could have easily fit in the box and would have felt a little more relevant than, say, marbles or scarves. There does also seem to be a perfect little space for it, a hole in the packing foam which is presumably actually meant for easily removing this element. A toy van might have fit nicely in that...
It goes without saying that this box is a major investment for most, and not something that you will just buy without careful consideration. If one considers the costs of putting it all together - the work undertaken to track down the materials via television and radio stations worldwide (some of which have undoubtedly changed hands/name), sorting out the licencing of the material (much of it is not owned by the band, so they'd have to pay to use it for this release), the extensive restoration work, the cost of packaging and such like, all adds to the overall costs. The box has been in the works for around 20 years, which should indicate the extent of the work undertaken. In purely financial terms, none of that is going to be cheap, so a different proposition to, say, a collection of outtakes from studio tapes.
The Early Years is a huge investment in time for the fan, too, and whilst some have said they've felt a little daunted by it all, my recommendation is to start at the beginning of it all. It is fascinating to see just how different the band were in 1965, and how quickly the music evolved and changed. The work rate of the band in the early days was incredible, particularly when you consider the amount of material in this box (a proportion of their television and radio appearances, and that's not even taking studio work into account) and then you look at the punishing concert schedule they had...
It is truly a box set to be explored and enjoyed, taking time to really let it get hold of you. During the course of the review, I've gone through everything, and revisited much of it, gaining a better appreciation of it all. Sure, it hasn't got absolutely everything in it (although the list of what's missing or on wish lists, that certain forums have been compiling, isn't long) and the quality is quite variable (a fault of the source material, although recently better quality versions of some stuff, including radio sessions, have started to appear) but this is a milestone release for Pink Floyd fans, and fully deserving - either as a complete entity, or as the individual years get released early in 2017 - of a place in your collection. Whilst it isn't a true limited edition, this incredible package is not going to be around for ever, so if considering it, we would suggest you don't wait too long...
You can place your orders for the box set and/or the 2CD highlights collection through the following links:
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