'The Flaming Cow: The Making of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother' - Ron Geesin
Written by Matt   
Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Ron Geesin - The Flaming Cow: The Making of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart MotherPublished on July 17th, 2013, is Ron Geesin's 'The Flaming Cow: The Making of Pink Floyd's Atom Heart Mother' a new, in-depth look at the creation of the title track of the album.

'The Flaming Cow', from The History Press, offers a rare insight into the brilliant but often fraught collaboration between Pink Floyd and composer Geesin, the result of which became known as Atom Heart Mother - the Floyd's first UK number one album. From the time drummer Nick Mason visited Geesin's damp basement flat in Notting Hill, to the most recent performances of the piece in France, this book is an unflinching account about how one of Pink Floyd's most celebrated compositions came to life. Alongside unpublished photographs from the Abbey Road recording sessions (the only ones taken) and the subsequent performances in London and Paris, Geesin goes on to describe how the title was chosen, why he was not credited on the record, how he left Hyde Park in tears, and why the group did not much like the work. The Flaming Cow also explores its recent performances, and its new-found cult status that has led to it being studied for the French Baccalaureat.

The book - with a foreword by Nick Mason - really is a fantastic read, as you'll find out from our review below, and we're sure that all Floyd fans will love it (not least for the photos throughout the pages). You can place your order for this hardback book right now through these direct links: Amazon UK, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon France, Amazon Germany, Amazon Espana and Amazon Italy. As we've noted before (when we gathered YOUR questions for Ron to answer) an eBook version is in the works and we'll bring you more on that once it is finalised. Now, read on for our detailed look at the book...

Setting the tone perfectly is the foreword by Nick Mason. Typically self-effacing, it acknowledges the book for what it is: "a fascinating in-depth study of one particular work", an epic piece which Nick states "we remain fond of, proud of, and in my case slightly bemused by". It also has one of the funniest excuses I've ever heard a member of the Floyd use!

Ron sets the scene with a precis of his life - to date - which is full of his typically humourous turns of phrase, and sets out the circumstance for how his, and the Floyd's, paths would cross. A thriving musician himself, he found himself performing the same venues as the Floyd on numerous occasions (elsewhere on the bill) but due to their quite different genres, never met up until Nick met Ron at his flat in 1968. The two of them, and their respective wives, quickly became friends. It was at a dinner party that Roger Waters and his wife at the time met Ron.

As Ron reveals, it was a relationship that built steadily and in time, their friendship moved to a more creative basis as they both got involved in an upcoming film called The Body. Floyd fans will of course be familiar with this, being considered Roger's first major (virtually) solo album, and features an uncredited full Floyd band performance on one of the tracks. As an aside, the album is definitely worth checking out.

Anyway, as most things have a tendency to, one thing (The Body) lead to another (the Atom Heart Mother Suite). Ron gives a full and frank consideration to the reasons for the band using him on the piece. This is a question that has often been asked (as with The Body, but with less frequency in that case) and Ron's considered text explains the background for the collaboration.

Work had been undertaken on the piece before they brought Ron in to add his ingredients to the mixing bowl. As he notes, his research revealed the piece had been in existence for around three months when he was given a rough mix as a starting point, and his detailed discussion of the early version sounded like he had quite a challenge on his hands.

Ron talks of the decisions made in hiring the assorted musicians, guided in part by Steve O'Rourke's stipulation about the piece, and associated costs, noting "Yes, big, but not too big - we're on a limited budget here!" Talk then turns to the meeting with the band (which he narrows down to 2pm on Thursday, 21st May 1970 as part of his diligent research!) and with plans duly made, the work in earnest was to begin. Evocatively illustrated, this chapter proves a delight; a fascinating look at the construction of the piece, which at one point Ron likens to laying crazy paving, putting together the disparate music parts he was developing, in a hot and sweaty studio above his home.

A detailed, very considered and absorbing breakdown of the track follows, with explanation at every step as to what's going on, how, and why, from a technical and musical viewpoint, along with - just as importantly - an emotional perspective. With the Atom Heart Mother Suite such a dramatic departure (at times) from the rest of the Floyd's oeuvre, it's handy to get this guide to explain it all.

The scene then changes to Abbey Road, and more specifically Studio Two, the band's preferred recording space there. Ron's bust-ups with assorted brass players, coming right at the start, clearly rattled some of the "suits" and as Ron points out, had it not been for John Alldis's calming influence and control, it could all have ended so differently. Nevertheless, it is clear that work (and much of it) then proceeded, interrupted by a performance of the piece at the Bath Festival - a struggle getting the brass section happy performing the piece long after midnight - and a BBC Radio concert, where the final title for the piece was discovered in the London Evening Standard. Through a fair bit of investigative work, Ron's son Joe managed to find the actual editions of the newspaper that the story appeared in. There were two editions, which feature two slightly different versions of the story, and Ron includes them both within the book. Amusingly, Ron includes some of the other potential headlines, which might have been considered for the piece. Somehow, "Dick Tiger tanned" just hasn't got the same ring to it as AHM!

With the recording done, and the record released, reactions (not least within the band) were varied and Ron talks about these, before scooting the narrative forward thirty years where the story resumes with a fresh appetite, or appreciation, for the piece, and the initial performances in 2002 which lead to the 2008 Cadogan Hall shows. The background and machinations to get people like David Gilmour on board are discussed, and true to form, preparations are shown to be just as troubled as the original was. This time, as Ron details, he had to contend with major issues with not just the sheet music, but musicians changing on a regular basis during rehearsals (the time when you want stability so that they can learn the pieces for the show!).

The success - in part - of the recent performances seemed to lead the French Education System to include the AHM Suite within the 2012-13 Baccalaureat, and a concert was set up to promote the endeavour. Seemingly to Ron's surprise, the piece as performed got a huge reception from the crowd - showing how it is still such an appreciated work, warts'n'all.

If the book has anything lacking, it is any narrative (other than Nick's foreword) from the Floyd themselves, but this was not due to a lack of effort on Ron's part. This lack of another voice on the narrative is made almost irrelevent by the witty and incredibly detailed text, coupled with the wonderful, evocative black and white shots of the band, and hired players and choir, in the midst of work at Abbey Road. Most of these have not been seen before, and these along could be argued as worth the price of admission.

Even if Atom Heart Mother (either the Suite, or the album in its entirety) isn't amongst your favourite Floyd, the book will give you a fascinating insight into the making of a major piece of music. If you wish to add it to your collection, please use these direct links: Amazon UK, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon France, Amazon Germany, Amazon Espana and Amazon Italy. Using our links helps support the costs of running this website, won't cost you a penny/cent more, and we really appreciate it.

Comments have naturally been made, pointing out the coincidence of the cover of The Flaming Cow, and the cover of Black Sabbath's newly released album, 13. Both of them feature a wicker sculpture, ablaze, but that's where the coincidence rests, and both images were developed in complete ignorance of each other.

The cover of 13 was created by sculptor Spencer Jenkins, with the burn taking place in the Buckinghamshire countryside during tbe British winter. Completely independently, another of Ron's sons, Dan Geesin, an established wicker artist for a few years, created the cow last year. Come October, a field in The Netherlands found assorted Geesin family members gathered around the cow as it was incinerated, cameras in hand. With each having different cameras and settings, a variety of pictures were taken, but the one with the best combination of light and colour of the flames was taken by Ron himself.

It's an impressive image, and clearly sums up Ron's feelings at various points about the piece!