One of Pink Floyd's pivotal concerts took place at Montreal's vast Olympic Stadium on July 6th, 1977 - the concluding show on that year's "In The Flesh" tour. It has often been cited as the catalyst for Roger Waters writing The Wall. The vast, often unruly audiences on that tour built on Roger's frustrations and lack of connection to the fans in the stadiums, so much so that at this show, he beckoned one concert-goer at the foot of the stage a little closer, and then spat on him.
Wray Ellis was one of the approximately 80,000 there that day, and documented the show as best he could. Here at Brain Damage, you can get a feel for a show that Wray describes more as an endurance event than a pleasure to have attended...
Pink Floyd - "In The Flesh"
July 6, 1977, Montreal
By Wray Ellis
In July of 1977, I had just turned 19. By day, I studied photography in college. By night, I studied David Gilmour. With my complete Pink Floyd record collection and prized, 1973 Fender Stratocaster, I practised Gilmour's guitar solos endlessly. I was an excellent student too, as my guitar's premature fret-wear indicated. The albums DSOTM, WYWH, and most recently, Animals were never far from my turntable. But with its sombre album cover, scathing lyrics and scorching guitar tracks, I felt Animals was rock's greatest achievement yet. So, when I spotted an ad on the campus bulletin board for a chartered bus going to Montreal to experience Pink Floyd "In The Flesh", I rushed to buy a ticket. From my flat in Peterborough, it would be a 6 or 7-hour bus ride each way but that didn't bother me. However, I was shocked that none of my buddies wanted to go. Granted, some had to work. But most of them simply had no interest in going all that way "...just to see Pink Floyd".
Besides being a huge fan, this was a chance to do a photo-essay for the next semester. It would be a challenge though. I had never photographed a concert before so if nothing else, I wanted to look the
part. I bought a plush leather camera bag that was big enough for two 35mm cameras: my trusty Pentax SP-1000 for colour prints, and for black and white, my Miranda. Both cameras only had normal 50mm lenses so I would have to get close.
On the morning of July 6, 1977, I boarded the bus with about 40 other excited Floyd fans. The pony-tailed bus driver also seemed to be looking forward to this event. Pulling out of the parking lot, he announced through the intercom that the bus was equipped with the latest tape machine and he would be happy to play any Pink Floyd 8-track we brought up to the front. From then on, every single Floyd album would be played - repeatedly. Some kids partied and sang along to the music. Others, like me, tried to sleep. Regardless, the bus hadn’t even left Peterborough's city limits before we were all breathing the same thick, blue smoke.
I'd seen Pink Floyd once before in Hamilton (June 28, 1975) and I thought I knew what to expect. But when we got our first glimpse of a giant cement mushroom called Olympic Stadium, I realized that this would be... different. Our party-on-wheels came to rest in an endless, diagonal row of identical buses. The driver warned us that anyone not back on board by departure time would be left behind. Then, he opened the door and we were free - and immediately swallowed by a river of long hair and denim meandering toward the doors.
Once my ticket was ripped and I was through the turnstile, I quickly bought a programme and dashed inside. I ignored the seat number on my ticket (Seat 3, Row C, Sec. 224) and ran down a long, sloping
stairway to the floor level. At the bottom, I was immediately stopped by a security guard. Saying something in French, he pointed at my camera bag. "Press", I fibbed, and snapped open the latch to reveal two tightly packed 35mm cameras. He looked in, nodded, slapped an ugly pink sticker on its polished leather then waved me onto the field. I was miffed at the "Pink Floyd LIVE in Montreal" sticker but thankful my ploy worked. The stadium was filling quickly so I sprinted toward the stage past groups of spectators who were sitting patiently, partying impatiently or playing Frisbee.
Within seconds, I was at the foot of the stage with an unobstructed view. The only thing between me and the band was the 6-foot high security fence. Still wondering how I would get that damn sticker off my bag, I looked around for other photographers. I saw a beat-up old Nikon pop up just on the other side of the barrier.
Being somewhat tall, I peered over into the narrow channel between the stage and the fence. I saw two or three photographers standing around looking very bored. I noticed that none of
them had a nice camera bag like mine. Instead, they had big, legitimate press passes. I realized then that the security guard was only checking for bottles and cans.
With my territory staked out, I finally had a chance to look around. I'd never seen so much denim - or so many plaid shirts. I felt right at home so I took off my denim jacket and rolled up the sleeves of my plaid shirt. I was intoxicated by the excitement of the crowd and the ubiquitous blue smoke.
Taking it all in at once was impossible so I tried to focus on small sections at a time. This was another planet. The walls curled overhead to create a hazy atmosphere within. Like being inside a giant volcano, I was amazed at the size, the scale... and the sheer craziness of the place. All at once, everybody started looking up and pointing... so naturally, I looked up too. Then I spotted it: a person (no doubt, a crazy person), was standing on the rim of the roof high above the field. Through my viewfinder, I could barely see him but I took a photo anyway. He must have had quite a vantage point. But then, as now, you couldn't have got me up there.
At about 8:45pm, without fuss or fanfare, a 5-member line-up of Pink Floyd appeared onstage. Crew members made last minute adjustments and instruments were plugged in and checked. Just a few feet from
me, a massive wall of speakers rumbled to life. It was like standing next to a rocket blasting off. That, and the cheers from 78,000 people, shook the very foundation. It was deafening roar... and Pink Floyd had yet to play a note.
Sheep: As the bass began pulsing out the evening's opening song, everybody surged forward and pinned me to the fence. I was being crushed from three sides. I figured I'd be okay as long as I kept breathing and didn't go down. Above me, David Gilmour casually tuned his guitar. The crowd eased back slightly and I could breathe again.
Rick Wright's airy keyboard intro of swirled around the stadium and the audience got its first taste of state-of-the-art, quadraphonic sound. I held up my camera and tried to hold it still. As David came into my viewfinder and was adjusting his mic, I squeezed off my first shot of the show.
Unfortunately, the falling dark required a shutter speed of 1/15 sec. - too slow for shaking hands in this churning mass. I weaved my way back from the fence about 6 feet where it wasn't so tight. While still no picnic, at least I didn't have to worry about being crushed into that steel fence.
At last, the other reason I wanted to see this show up close: David Gilmour's guitar: a weathered, tuxedo black Fender Stratocaster. It had a pre-CBS rosewood neck, white knobs, but only 2 white
pick-ups. (Years later, a technician at DiMarzio would check his records for me and reveal that the bridge pick-up was replaced in the mid-70's with a DiMarzio FS-1, with a black pick-up cover.)
Over to my right, Roger Waters appeared but not with his Precision bass. He too was playing a black Strat. His looked new. It had the white pick-guard, maple neck and large "70's" Fender headstock.
Roger was putting on headphones. I found this odd because everybody in the band had huge monitors pointing directly up at their faces - even Roger. But, like wearing suspenders with a belt, he also had these big headphones. (I remember thinking that while they were probably "top of the line", those headphones sure looked a lot like the ones I bought at Radio Shack for forty bucks.)
It was the "fifth member" of the band who was playing the bass intro to Sheep. He was a complete mystery to me. My programme identified him as Snowy White, only in the photo he was playing a black Les Paul. I didn't spend any time thinking about it though as my main concern was to get photos (oh, and to stay alive while doing it). Snowy would spend most of the first set playing bass.
When Nick's first drum fill of the night brought the band in together, it was obvious this was not going to be the same version of "Sheep" you hear on the record. It was far more aggressive... and angry. Roger was certainly up to the task. He delivered his biting lyrics with often closed eyes and lethal venom. I didn't think very much time was spent perfecting the tone of Roger's Strat though. His strumming was extremely thin... when you could hear it, that is.
I was amazed by the stage technology. The rear-screen was dark during the first set. Instead, there were two huge articulating cranes. Each had an operator inside so they moved independently in all directions. They could illuminate any player, in any colour, with pinpoint accuracy.
Pigs On The Wing (Part 1): As Sheep concluded, the wind effect returned - as it would between every song in the first set. Roger strapped on an Ovation acoustic. Fighting his guitar's feedback, he sang softly as if to himself.
Dogs: Unlike the album where it opens with twin acoustics, this version was all electric. David revealed a beautiful 1959 tobacco-burst Fender Telecaster Custom. Snowy White
played that black Gibson Les Paul. Finally, Roger was on his Precision bass.
It was David's first opportunity to sing, and there I was, maybe 25 feet away from him. THIS, I thought, was why I was there. Being so close to the stage, what I heard most was David's guitar at stage volume, straight from his HI-Watt amps.
I got a little carried away. My budget of 5 photos per song went out the window
and I shot wildly. Again, the crowd was crushing forward and it was becoming very uncomfortable. This time, I was being squeezed slowly outwards. David's monitor cabinet was becoming a growing presence in my viewfinder. I snapped a few desperate shots.
Dogs barked all around us in quadraphonic sound while David and Snowy played fierce twin solos beautifully. When the music got very soft, and as Roger's echoing "Stone... stone... stone..." faded down, we were treated to some surprises. In the upper corners of the stage, what seemed to be giant balloons slowly inflated. They looked like evil parade floats: an obese family and consumer goods such as a Cadillac and a refrigerator. As each float became recognizable, the crowd cheered in amused awe. When the music resumed and David played that final solo, the car hood and refrigerator burst open spilling out reptiles that hung down grotesquely. The crowd went absolutely nuts. Snowy's Les Paul started squealing. That would be an ongoing problem. The song's crescendo was a punishing tirade of pounding drums, smashing cymbals and grinding guitars. It was around this point that I noticed those legitimate photographers had all gone.
Pigs On The Wing (Part 2): More dogs barking... more wind - and now, a new instrument: firecrackers (in the crowd). David picked up Snowy's bass. Snowy kept his Les Paul and Roger strapped on his acoustic again. The crowd was still reeling from the wild climax of Dogs and was not settling down. Roger strummed a G chord and waited for silence. It didn't come. He strummed again... waiting. Clearly, Roger was not enjoying this. He wanted an intimate moment with 78,322 of his closest friends. He finally gave up and in a soft, completely introspective voice, he began his tune again: "You know that I care..." Unfortunately some idiot at the back picked that exact moment to let off a booming firecracker. Bad move. Roger snapped. Like a fed-up school teacher, Roger held his acoustic guitar, rocked on his heels, and unleashed his frustration:
"Oh, for fuck sakes - stop letting off fireworks and shouting and screaming... I'm trying to sing a song! (Loud cheers) I mean, I don't care. If you don't want to hear, you know, fuck ya. I'm sure there's a lot of people here who DO want to hear it, so why don't you just keep quiet and... (Huge cheers) You want to let your fireworks off, go outside and let them off out there... and if you want to shout and scream and holler, go and do it out there but... I'm trying to sing a song that some people want to listen to. I want to listen to it."
Now, with the massive crowd as silent as you're ever going to get, Roger began the song again. This time, he suffered no further interruptions. They added a solo section that isn't on the record. That could have been a real treat. Instead, Snowy White turned this mellow tune into a demonstration of how fast and repetitively he could play.
Pigs (3 Different Ones): The sound of squealing pigs echoed throughout the
stadium. Roger, now spending much of his time with his back to the audience, again switched to his Strat. The mood of the evening had definitely changed. Nevertheless, as Rick's organ intro began, a huge ovation rose from the thrilled audience. Another surge forward and I was pushed sideways even
further. I had lost my coveted vantage point as David was pretty much hidden now behind his monitor. I still had a clear view of Roger's mic so I decided to take photos of him - but that wasn't easy. When he wasn't singing, he would stand at the rear of the stage, back to the crowd. His emotions seemed to mirror the acrid lyrics of the song - especially when he sang: "You fucked-up old hag..."
During the final, soaring guitar solo, another inflatable began to puff out above stage-left. It grew and grew, until it became a giant, pink pig - just like the album cover. Once released, it floated
tipsily back and forth just above our heads. This incited a thunderous ovation and everybody around me became transfixed on the antics of this goofy flying pig. Not me though. I was watching the band. When the song wound down, they played a mellow section that's not on the record with Rick doing an extended Hammond B3 solo. There was a sudden commotion around Roger. (I've heard that beer or something was thrown at him.) He came right over to the edge of the stage and pointed down into the crowd. He then went back to his mic...
"What - Hey! Come back kid! Come back... all is forgiven... Come on boy! (whistle) C'mon son - just another 100 yards... yeahhhhhh..." which he then punctuated with maniacal, inhaled ravings ala Pow R. Toc H.
Right where he'd been pointing, it appeared that someone was about to be invited onto the stage. At that moment, I was insanely jealous. Here, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd was inviting somebody up on the stage - and it wasn't me. My jealousy would be short-lived however. An exuberant (and very drunk) teenager scrambled over the chin-high barricade as Roger encouraged him:
"There's a good boy... C'mon son... Good Boy! GOOD BOY!!!"
As the song built toward its musical orgasm, with the help of security people, a dark haired kid was hoisted up to the edge of the stage. As he tried to climb on, Roger marched straight over to him,
leaned forward as if to help him up, but instead, spit right in his face! The kid was then dropped out of sight... and into legend. The whole exchange took maybe 5 seconds. Shocked, I looked around to see the reactions of those beside me but all eyes had been on the pig bouncing overhead. The song ended with the subtlety of hammer-on-anvil. Roger, seemingly spent, announced that the band would be back in "vingt-minute", and I was left not quite sure if I had just seen... what I had just seen.
Intermission: The house lights came up and I decided to get out of there. I went looking for a safer spot to stand, somewhere away from the "eye" of the surging mob. On my way through the crowd, I saw a guy about my age wearing a reel-to-reel tape recorder slung over his shoulder on a guitar strap. It was a large home tape deck that he had modified with a battery pack. His jacket was hanging over it in a lame attempt to hide it. There were two microphones poking out from his clothing. I don't recall if we spoke, but I did take a pretty good look as I passed by. I had a similar deck at home. Moving on, I settled on a spot about 60 feet back from where I was - still close enough so that the stage just filled the viewfinder of a 50mm lens. The lights went down...
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (parts 1-5): The Olympic cavern was suddenly plunged into darkness. As the first haunting chord rose up from Rick's keyboards, the stage slowly began to take on an eerie glow in green and purple. Again, there was a deafening roar from the audience - only this time, far more rowdy.
I was no longer close enough to be sheltered from the sound system and for the first time I felt the blunt force of their staggering PA system. The intro chord grew louder and heavier until every cell in my body was saturated by G-minor.
It was a moment so overwhelmingly moving, I will never forget it.
It must be said that David's solos were reminiscent of what he played on record. Anyone hoping for an evening of note-for-note recreations would be bitterly disappointed. The recorded solos were merely a reference point from which David would stray into new, sometimes sublime directions. When David played his distinctive four-note "Syd's Theme", it careened dizzyingly throughout the stadium and the crowd's reaction dwarfed even their PA.
Snowy White showed a glimmer of subtlety and added some beautiful fills behind David's opening solos. Saxophonist Dick Parry made his first appearance and sounded great.
Welcome To The Machine: On the big screen, a menacing metal stegosaurus lumbered ever closer. It was a quadraphonic buffet of wind, mechanical noises and pulsing keyboard tracks leap-frogging around the stadium. The instruments sounded very present and the playing was fairly tight.
Roger and David both sang, but Roger's mic volume had been boosted significantly and
it was overpowering everything else. From here on, things would steadily unravel.
Have A Cigar: Too bad Roy Harper was elsewhere. Roger and David both sang but again, Roger's singing was far too loud. I believed then, and still maintain, that David Gilmour is the greatest soloist to ever strap on an electric guitar. And yet, as unbelievable as it seemed to me, David only played rhythm. The honour of providing an extended solo for this song was casually tossed to Snowy White. Again, he applied his signature style: rapid, repetitive and intonationally... vague. (I felt like I was at any given music store on any given Saturday.)
Wish You Were Here: Just behind Nick's drum kit, there was a transistor radio mounted on a stand. Goose-necked over top, a microphone pointed into its speaker. Nick twisted the tuner and stopped briefly on various Montreal stations. He came to rest on Andrew Gold's pop offering "Lonely Boy". Nick nodded playfully to the audience like he'd just found something MAGICAL. The crowd booed. He moved the dial again and stopped on a station playing a Dinah Shore ditty from yesteryear. (Suddenly "Lonely Boy" didn't seem so bad.)
Then, the recorded radio section took over, Nick returned to his position behind the drums and Snowy began strumming the chords of Wish You Were Here on an Ovation 12-string acoustic. Generally speaking, David's voice was in pretty good form, but here, he struggled a bit.
Making the situation infinitely worse was Roger's shattering volume. With Rick's piano tinkling delicately in the background, Roger shouted the choruses, exactly one semi-tone flat, and completely drowned out David's singing. I got the feeling that here, David finally gave up.
No longer trying to battle Roger, David still sang, but at a deflated, "what's-the-fucking-point?" volume. For any fans of the song, this was definitely the low note of the evening.
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (parts 6-9): The ominous rumble of wind returned as the tune reprised. Roger's filtered bass droned as Rick played his parts pretty much like the record. With David doing steel guitar solos, the quad sound started to ricochet wildly.
Not surprisingly, due to all the echoes, both he and Nick kept losing their place and had to regroup
Then, when it came time for the lyrics, Roger made mention of this by singing "Nobody knows where we are..." He then completely lost it - laughing uncontrollably and could
barely complete the lyric.
It got better here though with David belting out a scorching, extended Strat solo. He alternated between soaring highs and nasty lows - all squashed with compression. Here, the crowd truly shone. The
rowdies stopped yelling and put down their fireworks briefly while everyone clapped in a funky beat. Then, ever the gentleman, David turned the solo over to Snowy - and I was back at the music store. They did a short guitar "duel", mimicking each other briefly, but it was an unfair fight. David won handily in taste, originality and intonation. (Snowy did take the speed competition however.) As the music faded out, and the huge mirror ball blinded everyone, Rick played some beautifully gentle fills. Perhaps looking forward to a vacation that was about to start in mere minutes, he played a melody line from Montego Bay. Then, just as everyone was being lulled into hypnotic submission, a brief pyrotechnic display erupted. With the show officially over, the band said "good night" and left the stage. The house lights came up and everyone, English and French alike, demanded more.
Money: After about 10 minutes, Pink Floyd returned to the stage as the sounds of coins and a cash register popped out from all sides. This, and a sudden cloud of smoke, sent the audience into spasms. As the band had demonstrated throughout the entire evening, this would be a far more aggressive version of the song than on record. Curiously, the house lights remained on until well into the second verse. When they were shut off again, the crowd roared their approval. David
Gilmour, who now seemed a tad irritable, let out an indignant, "It's about time!" Dick Parry returned for another guest performance.
Toward the very end of the song, after an echo-fest of extended solos, a deafening display of pyrotechnics burst overhead making the previous effort seem pathetic. They pulled out all the stops -
literally. Since this was the final show of the 1977 tour, the crew emptied their fireworks cache like they'd done at Hamilton's Ivor Wynne Stadium in 1975. (Only this time, no scoreboards were harmed...)
Us & Them: (Second encore) The crowd had no plans to disburse and loudly made that fact clear by chanting, cheering, screaming and pounding. Eventually the band returned to the stage and Roger said they'd do a quiet one to "end this thing peacefully" After each encore, the stage was a little more torn down and I was a little further back and closer to my exit. By now, I was beside the sound board. I began to notice something strange: the further back I went, the more rowdy people were. I saw the drunk, the disorderly, the barely able to walk, and the completely unable to stand. I saw a group who obviously circumvented entry inspection because they were smashing empty wine bottles. There was even a guy lighting firecrackers and tossing them so they went off just above people's heads. Strangely, no one seemed concerned by any of this. When "Us & Them" ended, the crew resumed the tear-down. Roger gave a rambling, echo-ey farewell saying, "Don't worry about it. I don't. Well, I do... but I wish I didn't."
Blues: (Final encore) Even though the stage was being ripped apart and it was clear the show was over, very few people budged. With the house lights on creating false daylight, four of the players reluctantly came back one last time to play some improvised blues. David had already called it a night. Apparently he watched this song from the soundboard. I wish I'd known that at the time. By this point, the soundboard was just a few yards to my right. As Roger, Nick, Rick and Snowy played some generic blues, the stage continued to melt. Roadies, techies, and riggers worked like termites pulling cables and hauling equipment away. And to be fair, considering their gear was being torn down all around them, the four players sounded pretty good.
But, enough was enough. The tour was over and everyone (including the crew) was about to go their separate ways. Snowy was the first to be unplugged. He waved as he left. Next, Rick was silenced and gone. One by one, they removed the mics surrounding Nick's drum kit. By the end of the song, only Roger and Nick remained. Nick's last functioning microphone was for his snare drum and high-hat. Roger's flat "Good-bye!" signaled the end of this unsettling concert.
After the show, I got out of there fast and found my bus without any problems. That's more than can be said for many of my fellow passengers. There was some serious damage done that night, and for many, it wasn't over yet. The bus driver had purchased five cases of beer for the ride home. All night, he
was tending bar from the driver's seat - selling every last bottle for a buck-a-beer. By the time we got back to Peterborough, the sun was up, the brain cell count was down and the driver's pockets were stuffed. No wonder he was looking forward to this event.
The entire trip had a strange, dreamlike quality. My photos didn't turn out as well as I had hoped so I never did anything with them. No one believed me when I told them about the spitting incident so I rarely talked about it. It would be years before it was even publicly acknowledged. By then, like everything else from my college days, these negatives were stored somewhere in my parents basement inside a dusty, unlabelled box.
Like the album they were promoting, Animals, this show achieved a grudging balance of stunning technical achievement, outlandish spectacle, and scathing indictment. It wasn't an experience to be enjoyed but rather, endured like some necessary punishment. But perhaps the most important byproduct of this event, at least in the history of Pink Floyd, was Roger's idea for the next tour: They should build a giant wall between the audience and themselves.
And we all know how that turned out.
All text and pictures ©2008 Wray Ellis / www.davisvilleproductions.com
No unauthorized use of any elements is permitted.
Special thanks to:
Matt Johns of Brain Damage for embracing this project from its inception and creating a wonderful home for my photos; Bjorn Riis of Gilmourish.com for his exceptional eye for detail; and, to Vernon Fitch for digitally archiving my negatives which has enabled me to enhance these images to better share my experiences with Pink Floyd fans around the world.
Email Wray at