Interviewed by author John Harris for his book "Dark Side Of The Moon" and exclusive to Brain Damage.
Note: This interview took place before Clare Torry settled with Pink Floyd over the authorship of The Great Gig In The Sky, though the terms of the agreement mean she is prohibited from divulging any details, aside from the fact that from hereon in, the song will be credited to ‘Wright/Torry’.
Going back to January 1973, I read somewhere that you were a staff songwriter at EMI...
“I’d actually left EMI by then. I was very lucky: I got taken on pretty much as soon as I left school, which was great. I learned a lot. I just wrote pop songs. John Walker, when he first left the Walker Brothers, covered one of mine, called Everywhere Under The Sun. It was rather a jolly tune, but he couldn’t sing [laughs].
"I then went to work for a company called Valley Music. And basically, by the middle of 1972, I was a bit short of money, and I’d met a few arrangers and producers as a songwriter, and I rang up a few, and said, ‘Can you get me any work, doing oohs and aahs and things, because I really need the money.’ And a couple of them came up trumps, bless them. I was very green. But by word of mouth, I started getting a bit more work.”
Alan Parsons claims that he first heard you singing on a cover of The Doors’ Light My Fire.
“I don’t sound anything like Jim Morrison! I never sang Light My Fire. At the end of the 60s, I’d started doing a lot of cover versions, for this series of Top Of The Pops albums. I used to go to Mayfair studios on South Molton Street and do all these covers. I did Good Morning Freedom, with Elton John: he was Roger Cook and I was Madeline Bell. And he and I did Young, Gifted and Black. But I have to say, I don’t remember ever singing Light My Fire. And if it was on a compilation covers album, the boys always did boys vocals, and girls did the girls. They were soundalike records. One thing I’ve never been accused of is sounding like Jim Morrison.”
At the time you got the call from Abbey Road, did you know much about Pink Floyd?
“Only See Emily Play, and that didn’t really hit the spot with me. They weren’t my favourite band. If it had been The Kinks, I’d have been over the moon.”
You got the call on a Sunday night, apparently.
“I was rung up by a chap called Dennis who worked at Abbey Road. You got paid in cash in those days, in one of those brown envelopes with the funny little cellophane windows. Dennis was the chap in charge of the money. He was an accountant, really. Anyway, he’d obviously been told to get in touch with me. He asked me to come to the session: ‘Can you do it, like, now?’ I said, ‘No’, and he said, ‘Well, what about tomorrow?’ I couldn’t do that, either. I said, ‘The only possible time is next week.’ He said, ‘Oh, no - they’re busy mixing.’ They were right at the end of the record. I said, ‘Well, the only time I can possibly do it is 7 till 10 on Sunday night.’”
What were your first impressions of the band?
“They didn’t say very much. The only person that really said anything was David Gilmour. That’s my abiding memory. I don’t remember really speaking to any of the others. I went in and they just said, ‘Well, we’re making this album, and there’s this track - and we don’t really know what to do with it.’ They told me what the album was about: birth, and death, and everything in between. And I said, ‘Well, play me the track.’ They did that, and I said, ‘Well, what do you want?’ They said, ‘We don’t know.’ “Remember: I was pretty green. I’d been working for a while, and I’d recorded my own songs, but I was still new to it all. So I listened to the track...”
And was it made clear to you that ‘The Great Gig’ was all about death?
“No. I said, ‘Let me go out into the studio, put some headphones on, and have a go.’ They said, ‘Well, leave the intro.’ I went in, put the headphones on, and started going ‘Ooh-aah, baby, baby - yeah, yeah, yeah.’ They said, ‘No, no – we don’t want that. If we wanted that we’d have got Doris Troy.’ They said, ‘Try some longer notes’, so I started doing that a bit. And all this time, I was getting more familiar with the backing track. And then there was a bit more conflab about this, and I remember thinking to myself, ‘I really, really do not know what to do. And perhaps it would be better if I said “Thank you very much” and gave up.’ It wasn’t getting anywhere: it was just nothing.
“That was when I thought, ‘Maybe I should just pretend I’m an instrument.’ So I said, ‘Start the track again.’ One of my most enduring memories is that there was a lovely can [i.e headphone] balance. Alan Parsons got a lovely sound on my voice: echoey, but not too echoey. When I closed my eyes – which I always did - it was just all-enveloping; a lovely vocal sound, which for a singer, is always inspirational.”
It sounds like you turned a corner when you abandoned the idea of expressing anything specific.
“Well, they did say, ‘Be more emotional.’ So I started getting this pattern of notes, and they said, ‘Well, that seems the right direction to go.’ And I told them to put the tape on. I knew from past experience... well, I used to be called ‘First-take Torry’ because, very often, the first take I did was the best. And at the end of the first take, Dave Gilmour said, ‘Do another one - but even more emotional.’ So I did another one. And then he said, ‘I think we could do a better one.’ I started, and half way through, I realised that I was beginning to be repetitive; derivative. It didn’t have that off-the-top-of-the-head, instantaneous something. It was beginning to sound contrived. I said, ‘I think you’ve got enough.’ I thought it sounded like caterwauling.
“I was very surprised that I could sing that high. That came as quite an eye-opener to me. At that time, when I did backing vocals with other girls, I always sang bottom harmony. But I never thought it would see the light of day.
“I think Rick Wright has subsequently said I was embarrassed. And I was! I thought, ‘Oh dear.’ But I said, ‘Thank you very much, and off I went.’ By ten o’clock, I was having dinner with my boyfriend in the Chelsea Kitchen on the King’s Road.”
In the first passage of the song, for something that’s being improvised, it has a really strong melodic element to it. It sounds worked out. But it wasn’t...
“Being a songwriter, I started getting some melodies. But I’ve often tried to analyse this, and I don’t know why that happened.”
The other question is, did you have any other singers in mind when you were doing it? You sound quite black; quite gospelly.
“No. I just closed my eyes and I sang it. I think Roger Waters once said that it was down to a happy accident. And it was. Very possibly, I think a lot of it might have been down to my naivety.”
Anyway, you wrapped it all up in two-and-a-half takes...
“Well, it can’t have been much more than that, because it was extremely tiring. I had beads of sweat on me. It was taxing, no two ways about it. I couldn’t do it now: I’d have to have a half-hour interval, and go backstage for a glass of water [laughs]. I was interested to later learn that when the Floyd went touring, the Blackberries did a third each. That’s the ideal way to do it.”
What was the band’s reaction to what you’d done?
"I said, ‘I hope that’s alright.’ And they said, ‘Yeah, lovely - thank you.’ And I left. And as I said, I just thought it was screechy-screechy. I honestly thought it would never see the light of day. And I didn’t bother to find out about it. Later on, on the King’s Road, I was walking past a record shop, and in the window was this huge poster of the prism and spectrum of light, and I saw the words ‘Pink Floyd’ and thought, ‘I wonder if that’s the album I did that singing on.’ So I walked in and looked at the album, and there was ‘Vocals on The Great Gig In The Sky: Clare Torry’. So I bought it and took it back home, and played it from the beginning. I thought it was a great album. I first of all put it on with headphones. And I thought it was fantastic.”
They didn’t send you a copy?
“No. But they did send me two tickets for a concert at Earl’s Court, in 1973.”
How much did you get paid?
“Thirty quid. It was double time on a Sunday.”
You sang it with Pink Floyd at Knebworth in 1990...
“I did. And did you know that they did a benefit concert with Soft Machine? That was the first time I did it with them. There was Liza Strike and Vicki Brown with me. We had very little rehearsal: we went to Nick Mason’s house to do it. I’m just looking at my 1973 diary. Here we are... 3rd November, 12 till 2, St Augustine’s Road. The gig was the following night. I got paid £100.”
Roger Waters tells me that much later on, you used to meet while walking your dogs...
“My partner, Harry, was a great golfer. And Roger had just moved up the road, near here. He wanted to join a golf club, and he was interested in Royal mid-Surrey, and some friends of ours invited Roger and Harry for a round. Harry, by this time, had sussed out who Roger was. And he said, ‘I think you know my lady – Clare Torry.’ And Roger said, ‘I’ve got my own studio – maybe she’d like to do some work for me.’ And some time later, I got a call. He’d phone me up in the morning and say, ‘What are you doing today?’ I’d say, ‘Well, I’m just going to the pet shop.’ He’d say, ‘Well, we’ll be in the pub at about one - why don’t you join us there and have a sandwich and a lager, and then we’ll go back to the studio.’ I ended up doing a bit of work on Radio KAOS.”
At what point did you decide to pursue a claim to part-authorship of Great Gig?
“Over the years, people said to me on numerous occasions, ‘What are you going to do?’ I did look into it, and at first, the costs were prohibitively expensive. I had to swallow it, really. And also, if I’d started something when I was well into my career, I’d have been thought of as a troublemaker. So once I’d retired, I thought about it again. It went on from there.”
What kind of work did you do after Dark Side?
“Lots of things. Hundreds and hundreds of television commercials. Like what? One of my favourites was one I sang with Carl Wayne from the Move, for Ty-phoo Tea. ‘[Sings] Time for a cuppa, it’s in the bag, the pick-you-up cuppa Ty-phoo. Woo!’ There were lots and lots. It’d take me ten hours for me to tell you about them. I did one for Martini: ‘[Sings] Try a taste of Martini...’ Right Guard deodorant, as well. I sang that with Elaine Paige. I made several albums with Olivia Newton-John, when she was at her height, at Abbey Road. And in the eighties, I did things with Tangerine Dream, Culture Club, Meat Loaf...”
How do you feel now about your involvement in Dark Side?
“It never ceases to amaze me that people are still talking about it. But on the other hand, I can understand, because it’s a very, very good album. And it will go on. My mother tells me that it’s still very popular in Nepal. Who would have thought it?”