A Bygone Afternoon: Floyd Alfresco - a playlist
Written by I G Roberts   
Wednesday, 24 February 2021

A Bygone Afternoon: Floyd Alfresco playlistWe're always very keen for Brain Damage visitor contributions, and the following is a great example of writing by I. G. Roberts. He has come up with a great, and well argued, Pink Floyd playlist that, he suggests, looks at "the gentler, lesser spotted, more rusticated side of one of the world's most successful bands. 'A sun-dappled world of birdsong, bees, church bells and drowsy melodies drifting down the river into the sunset awaits you.’"...

I fell under the spell of The Pink Floyd on hearing their first two singles, ‘Arnold Layne’ and ‘See Emily Play’, during the fabled spring and summer of 1967 – I think the definite article may have still been in play then, although it had certainly disappeared by early August when the debut album was released. At the time, I spent approximately half of one week’s wages on the thrilling ‘See Emily Play’ – about 35p these days – from my after-school job (collecting paint and wallpaper etc. on a delivery bike with a basket attached for a local decorator’s shop from a wholesaler). Joint-top of my birthday wish-list were Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. I certainly got both albums, although as I had left school and was working by then, I may have had to cough up some of the price of them out of my wages. I think albums cost 32s/6d each – in modern money, a combined sum of £3.25p. I doubt if I’ve ever since had such value from that amount of cash. No wonder that Pepper and Piper are forever linked in my mind. Incidentally, the recording of both albums overlapped in the studios at Abbey Road during the first half of 1967.

Until the late 1970s, Pink Floyd was probably my second favourite band after The Beatles. Wish You Were Here (1975), fine album that it is, nevertheless spread its ideas somewhat thinly, whilst with Animals (1977), they were, it seemed to me, starting to repeat themselves. Apart from ‘Comfortably Numb’, by far its best song, The Wall (1979) left me cold - and that was me and the Floyd done. My ‘relationship’ with them had seen them go from Syd Barrett’s Psychedelic Pop Group to the Premier Underground / Progressive / Freak-Out / Space-Rock Band to Roger Waters’ Psycho-Operatic Musical Assistants. It is, however, that post-Syd, pre-Dark Side Of The Moon period which has interested me most when I think back over their career.

When contemplating Pink Floyd for my ongoing Underrated / Overlooked / Uncharted Albums project, I couldn’t make up my mind between the More OST (Original Soundtrack) and Atom Heart Mother. Both had enjoyed a measure of chart success in the UK: AHM had indeed, been their first UK # 1 (US # 55) and the soundtrack record had reached # 9 in the UK and # 2 in France. In the wake of the mind-boggling success of DSOTM, both sold steadily but, in the long run, have tended to be overlooked by critics, fans and the band alike. Not a single track from either album appears on the supposedly ‘definitive’ 2CD set Echoes: The Best Of Pink Floyd (2001), a compilation assembled by the band themselves. This situation has been somewhat rectified by the 2016 release Pink Floyd: The Early Years 1967-72, an excellent collection of rare / previously unreleased / remastered / remixed material (including tracks 9 and 10 on this fantasy playlist).

The quieter, more pastoral side of Pink Floyd on their earlier records has also tended to be overshadowed by their more grandiose concepts. Unable to decide on a Floyd album for my project, I set about creating a playlist of my own in order to retro-review. So here it is, described below, and then listed at the foot of this article – and it is those somewhat forgotten, simpler songs of sunlit, rusticated nostalgia that I have gathered together on this collection.

    ‘Golden sunflakes settle on the ground,
    Basking in the sunshine of a bygone afternoon,
    Bringing sounds of yesterday into this city room.’

    (‘Grantchester Meadows’)

Nostalgia tends to be an emotion suffused with sunlight. My theory is that this is partly due to childhood often being captured by the lens of a camera. In the old, pre-digital days of snapshot photography, there were far, far fewer pictures taken than nowadays. Cameras only used to come out when the sun did. Thus it was that the summers of yesteryear seemed brighter and longer. Coming from one of the last generations of children to be allowed or indeed, inclined to enjoy the freedom of playing out in streets, parks and fields, I can’t help but feel more fortunate than modern kids tucked away in the private interior worlds of their hi-tech bedrooms with their iPhones and Xboxes, whilst the sunshine outside waits in vain for them to come out and play. [*1]

Nostalgia certainly set in early for Syd Barrett. He was barely out of his teens before he’d recorded the handful of songs for which he is best remembered: the child-like snatches of psychedelic whimsy which appeared on Pink Floyd’s early singles and first album. [*2] Lyrically charming as these songs are, they wouldn’t ultimately have added up to much without Barrett’s musical vision and the brief but brilliant blaze of his guitar-playing allied to the power of his band’s ensemble performances. These are great recordings and, when they are not suggestive of the starlit darkness of space, they often emanate a sun-drenched return to childhood.

On ‘Scarecrow’ though, which opens our compilation, the sound is rather ominous due to Richard Wright’s evocation of a lonesome oboe sound on his Farfisa organ and Roger Waters’ dramatic bass guitar looming in towards the end like a storm cloud. This wonderful little song was the b-side of ‘See Emily Play’ before it appeared on Piper and I used to play it almost as much as the a-side. The clip-clopping percussion fascinated me, evoking riders on horseback cantering past the barley field without a thought for the lonely, windswept ‘black and green scarecrow...with a bird on his hat / and straw everywhere’.

The song now seems something of a metaphor for Barrett himself and as it leads into the doomy organ chord, eery voices, whistles and whooshes at the start of ‘Flaming’, you might be wondering where the sunshine is that I’ve been alluding to. It comes streaming in with Barrett’s mischievously boyish vocal gleefully declaring ‘Yippee! You can’t see me but I can you’ from where he is ‘lying on an eiderdown’, fantasising about ‘lazing in the foggy dew’ before ‘watching buttercups cup the light’. Barrett bashes away on an acoustic guitar while Wright’s keyboards and backing vocals lift the melody up in a way befitting a narrator by now riding ‘a unicorn’, not to mention ‘travelling by telephone’ amidst assorted clattering percussion, tinkling bells, cuckoos and Waters’ inventive bass lines. ‘Hey ho! Here we go / Ever so high’: indeed!

This trip around Little Boy Barrett’s mind is a delight but, by the next album he’d all but disappeared, left behind by his band in the legendary lysergic lunacy that overtook his experiments with drugs and which led to his withdrawal from the music world. Contributing just one song to A Saucerful Of Secrets, the poignant ‘Jug Band Blues’, on which he sardonically addresses his erstwhile bandmates: ‘I’m much obliged to you for making it clear / That I’m not here’). He was replaced by his old friend David Gilmour, who plays high-pitched slide-guitar on ‘Remember A Day’, composed and sung by Wright, who does a fine job of trying to write like Syd. The dreamy melancholia of the song, which yearns to return to when we were ‘Free to play alone with time’, conjures up a profoundly nostalgic effect. Musically, the song trickles along, led by Wright’s splashy piano and the current of Nick Mason’s punchy drumming. [*3] ‘Why can’t we play today? / Why can’t we stay that way?’ Indeed.

The next two tracks are drawn from the neglected second half of the double-LP, Ummagumma, sides 3 & 4 of which feature experimental solo suites by each member of the band. In the same way that John Lennon’s abstract piece for The Beatles’ White Album (1968), the eleven and half minutes of ‘Revolution 9’ has been routinely ignored or dismissed down the years by lazy journalists and close-minded fans, so has the second disc of Ummagumma. I’m no great fan of abstract art and there’s no doubt that these tracks do contain quite high levels of self-indulgence, but they also are very interesting milestones in the development of both bands. And ‘Grantchester Meadows’ from side 3 of Ummagumma, has always struck me as one of Roger Waters’ very best songs.

At seven and a half minutes making it the longest track on this compilation, it fades in with birdsong and the buzzing of bees over the song’s solitary acoustic guitar. There is a powerful sense of place – the meadows that run alongside the River Cam near the band’s native Cambridge, on which we also hear the honking and splashing of geese – and the words find Waters at his most poetic. Note the elaborate internal rhyming of the chorus:

    ‘Hear the lark and harken to the barking of the dog-fox
    Gone to ground.
    See the splashing of the kingfisher flashing to the water.
    And a river of green is sliding unseen beneath the trees,
    Laughing as it passes through the endless summer
    Making for the sea.’

Waters’ gentle vocal carries the melody beautifully, but this pastoral idyll is brought rudely to a close by a moment of black comedy as footsteps are heard following a fly which is then abruptly swatted. There is a more concise, live version of this track, half as long on the 1967-72 compilation mentioned above which also has much to recommend it, although I prefer the lazier, longer version. Take your pick.

Appropriately, Gilmour’s ‘The Narrow Way Pt. 1’ from side 4 comes spinning in next. A short guitar instrumental with some phasing and wordless vocalising, it seems to me to maintain the pastoral mood before spinning back out into the birdsong which flutters throughout ‘Cirrus Minor’, the first of four Roger Waters songs from the More OST [*4], all of them sung by David Gilmour. Proceeding from ‘a churchyard by a river’ through the clouds and ‘a thousand miles of moonlight’, the song features a suitably churchy organ from Wright in the style of ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’ and peals of church bells. The druggy atmosphere also pervades the sun-drunk ‘Crying Song’ with its ambling bass, and the folky ‘Green Is The Colour’ - a song which would fit nicely on one of Ronnie Lane’s bucolic ‘70s albums - with its whistle, acoustic guitar and piano accompanying Gilmour’s appealing higher register voice.

The opening of the languorous ‘Cymbaline’ recalls ‘The Narrow Way’: ‘The path you tread is narrow / And the drop is sheer and very high.’ The ominous lyric and woozy music evoke a bad dream from which it seems only Cymbaline can wake the narrator. Then in floats Wright’s brief but beautiful piano piece ‘The Riot Scene’, as if passing by on a river. This track, sometimes titled ‘The Violent Sequence’, failed to make the cut for the Zabriskie Point (1970) soundtrack album. It did, however reappear five years later with a lyric by Waters, in a dramatically developed saxophone-led arrangement as one of the key tracks on The Dark Side Of The Moon. Quite how Wright’s original melody would have been suggestive of riotous violence in the film is anyone’s guess, but as this selection of tracks suggests, the Floyd were certainly much in demand during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s to provide distinctive musical atmospheres for underground films of the day.

‘Embryo‘ arrives on a stately Eastern groove suggested by Wright‘s keyboards, with a gentle guitar and cymbals. Waters intones a lyric in the character of a nascent baby developing in amniotic fluid: 'All is love, is all I am / A ball is all I am...Warm glow, moon bloom / Always need a little more room'. Gilmour coaxes subterranean sound effects from his wah-wah pedal and Wright adds piano as the voice declares, ‘I feel my dawn is near‘, expecting to soon see the sunshine that bathes the simple acoustic guitar and another tremulous vocal by Waters in ‘Breathe‘. This song comes from the soundtrack of Music From The Body [*5] and is not to be confused with the much more well-known - and different - track from DSOTM which shares its title and first line. Contrasting hopeful images of a pastoral idyll with those of an increasingly polluted urban reality, the song is a fragile little piece and works here as something of a wake-up call to the soon to be born baby of the previous song.

The three tracks from Atom Heart Mother follow, beginning with Waters’ breathy, wistful ‘If’. [*6] This dolefully pretty song outlines Waters’ perennial themes of insecurity and insanity, the guitar and piano closely tracing the vocal melody. Wright’s ‘Summer ‘68’ with its jaunty piano, Beach Boys harmonies and brass section seems at odds with its sour lyric about giving a groupie (or possibly prostitute) the brush-off, but it has an uplifting sound which one can imagine wafting out from a bandstand in a park. Gilmour’s hymn to eventide, ‘Fat Old Sun’ which again features church bells, is one of the absolute gems in the Floyd’s catalogue. Beautifully sung and adorned with a soaring guitar and bass coda which Harrison and McCartney would have been proud of, it fails to appear on any of  the band’s compilations…

  The Waters/Gilmour co-composition, ‘A Pillow Of Winds’ from the Meddle album, is almost as good. Waters presumably wrote the words of this sleepy love song, but Gilmour’s voice and distinctive guitar work is all over it. The final two songs from Obscured By Clouds [*7] have a similar, languorously romantic atmosphere with Wright and Gilmour sharing vocals on ‘Burning Bridges’. These two are also to the fore on the instrumental, ‘Mudmen’, with Gilmour‘s dazzling guitar cadenza bringing our programme to a closing crescendo.

  I’m generally inclined to think that compilation albums tend to make most sense when they’re sequenced chronologically – and that’s what I did with A Bygone Afternoon. I was very pleased therefore when the order seemed to make sense musically. If this review has tickled your fancy, then I’d recommend that you find the tracks and create a playlist or burn yourself a disc (it will play for about an hour and a quarter), then listen to it in your garden with a bottle of wine on a sunny afternoon. A sun-dappled world of birdsong, bees, church bells and drowsy melodies drifting down a river into the sunset awaits you.

When I first wrote this piece around 2015, little did I know that five years later the world – and the UK in particular – would be in the grip of the Covid 19 Pandemic. By now, my wife and I should have been to see Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets show at the De Montfort Hall in Leicester. It’s been rescheduled for next year, 2022 – but who knows? The live album recorded at London’s Roundhouse before the lockdowns, is great though and covers the same period as this playlist, but with the accent on the more electric, spacey material. I like to think of the two concepts as companion pieces. (IGR, January, 2021).

*1 – I could, of course, be partly or even wholly wrong about this. In the UK at least, there certainly seems less sunshine around these days to tempt the young folk outside and, to be fair, when the old currant-bun does have its hat on, I do notice groups of kids mooching around town centres, heads bowed in concentration as they fiddle with their phones, on their way towards an invigorating ramble around the shopping mall. It’s not the same though, is it?
*2 – It has often been noted that a feature of UK psychedelia that tends to distinguish it from its US counterpart is the British preoccupation with childhood and ‘the old days’. The acid-fried withdrawal from the public eye and the adult demands of the music industry led Syd Barrett back to his Cambridge home where he spent the second half of his life in quiet seclusion with his mother and other relatives.
*3 – Opinion seems to be divided on Mason as a drummer: some see him as a bit of a weak link in the Floyd, others as a jazz-influenced and original player. Personally, I’ve always liked the imaginative percussion-work on Floyd records, but his actual drumming, especially on the early albums, to my ears owes an unrecognised debt to the 1966-67 era Beatles, especially Ringo Starr’s playing on ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’, which clearly influenced ‘Remember A Day’ and ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’, for instance. Paul McCartney was also reaching his peak as an imaginative and melodic bassist at this time too, and I think it’s possible to detect his influence on Waters’ playing.
*4 – More (1969) was a European-produced film with English dialogue, directed by Barbet Schroeder. Set on the island of Ibiza, it is a sunglazed hippy tale of drug abuse which all ends in tears. The soundtrack music is integral and certainly enhances the rather dull and dated plot.
*5 - Like all of the music featured in Roy Battersby‘s film, The Body (1970), ‘Breathe‘ is credited to Roger Waters & Ron Geesin (he who also contributed to Atom Heart Mother) even though, in this case, it is a Waters solo voice and guitar piece. The contemporaneous ‘Embryo‘ would have surely fit well on the soundtrack, - especially as Battersby filmed the interiors as well as exteriors of the human form - but instead, it ended up on a Harvest Records sampler called Picnic that same year, failing to make the cut for any official Floyd studio album.
*6 – ‘If’ is not to be confused with the Kipling poem or Bread song written by David Gates of the same name. The latter became an unlikely spoken-word #1 UK hit for bald, lollipop-sucking US TV cop Kojak played by Telly Savalas in 1975.
*7 – La Vallee (1972) was a French film, again directed by Barbet Schroeder, about a quest by a group of explorers and a tribe of primitive Indians for a lost paradise in a New Guinea valley ‘obscured by clouds‘. This OST album isn’t as strong musically or quite as complimentary to the film as More.

I created a ‘cover‘ picture for this imaginary album from a photograph that I took of a meadow by the River Soar on Abbey Park near where I live in Leicester. I think of it as a gatefold LP sleeve...

Playlist track listing:

  1. Scarecrow (Barrett)
  2. Flaming (Barrett)
    from The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967)
  3. Remember A Day (Wright)
    from A Saucerful Of Secrets (1968)
  4. Grantchester Meadows (Waters)
  5. The Narrow Way – Pt. 1 (Gilmour)
    from Ummagumma (1969)
  6. Cirrus Minor (Waters)
  7. Crying Song (Waters)
  8. Green Is The Colour (Waters)
    from More (OST 1969)
  9. Cymbaline (Waters)
    BBC Radio Session, 1969
  10. The Riot Scene (Wright)
    BBC Radio Session, 1969
  11. Embryo (Waters)
    from Picnic (1970)
  12. Breathe (Waters)
    from Music From The Body (1970)
  13. If (Waters)
  14. Summer ’68 (Wright)
  15. Fat Old Sun (Gilmour)
    from Atom Heart Mother (1970)
  16. A Pillow Of Winds (Waters/Gilmour)
    from Meddle (1971)
  17. Burning Bridges (Wright/Waters)
  18. Mudmen (Wright/Gilmour)
    from Obscured By Clouds (OST 1972)