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Home arrow Interviews arrow Roger Waters interviews arrow September 28th 2005 - Daily Telegraph, UK
September 28th 2005 - Daily Telegraph, UK Print E-mail

Roger Waters, © Daily Telegraph
Roger Waters, © Daily Telegraph

'Rock stars can do opera. Music is music'

Ex-Pink Floyd legend Roger Waters tells Jonathan Wingate about his latest project

Although his reputation as a difficult interviewee certainly precedes him, Roger Waters seems in an upbeat mood when we meet to discuss his latest project.

The only problem is that while keen to talk up Ça Ira, Pink Floyd's former creative leader is actually more interested in monitoring England's progress in the final Test.

"I'm living in the States now," Waters says, holding a radio to his ear, "and the one thing I really miss is watching the cricket. You get plenty of soccer, but they couldn't possibly sell cricket over there."

Ice duly broken, Waters proudly pulls out the lavishly illustrated libretto for what he calls an "operatic history of the French Revolution". He has been fine-tuning Ça Ira on and off since 1989; even by Roger Waters' exacting standards, it's a long time to be working on an album, his first since 1992's Amused To Death.

"I actually wrote and demoed the basic thing in about six weeks," he says, "working sort of bankers' hours." Before he began composing Ça Ira, which loosely translates as "so it will be", Waters says his knowledge of the French Revolution was limited, until songwriter Etienne Roda-Gil and his wife Nadine brought him the libretto.

"Etienne believes there are lessons to be learned from that period, when America and France first acknowledged the idea that human beings have certain inalienable rights. The US, clearly, barely pays lip service to the idea now. If you look upon the France of that time as a microcosm of what's happening globally now, the parallels are extremely powerful."

Most rock musicians would struggle to get such an ambitious project taken seriously, but Pink Floyd's music is so respected within the classical community that Waters had no trouble enlisting heavyweights including bass-baritone Bryn Terfel and conductor Rick Wentworth.

While Ça Ira may sound like the sort of pretentious nonsense that only rock stars with too much time and money would undertake, it is actually one of the most melodic and memorable modern operas to emerge for years. "Oh really?" says Waters, looking surprised. "It is melodic, and contemporary works aren't usually very melodic. There's something very moving about lots of voices singing together."

Was he intimidated by the idea of entering the world of opera? "I just think music is music. We all know that music moves us in some tangible way, and it doesn't matter if it's a symphony orchestra or somebody twanging on an electric guitar. But I did have a lot of help from Rick in translating my ideas to the musicians, because there are certain technicalities in writing a score that I had no idea about."

At the age of 62, Waters admits he has been preoccupied with the same themes throughout his career. "I think I am still preoccupied by the same things that I was 30 years ago," he sighs. "Losing my father, and that attachment that I have to his humanity, is still central to everything that I do. Ça Ira and The Wall are about communication and realising the human potential for empathy, which is what sets us apart from the animals."

After he left the band in 1983, he was effectively written out of the Pink Floyd story. The rest of the group carried on using the name, although they were playing concerts dominated by Waters' songs. Until their recent reunion at Live8, Waters had barely talked to guitarist Dave Gilmour in almost 25 years.

"I was surprised people didn't take more notice of what I did after I left. If my last album had had Pink Floyd written on it, there's no question in my mind it would be one of the biggest selling records of all time. But I'm the first to admit the combination of the four of us working together as Pink Floyd was greater than the sum of the parts.

"When I first heard Ray Charles singing Georgia On My Mind, I remember thinking: 'If I could ever write a song that could move anyone like this song moves me, that would be it - I'd be happy.'

"Although I'm not comparing myself to Hoagy Carmichael [who wrote the song], I sense that at some point along the way I've provided that moment for somebody else."

Interview presented here for archiving purposes only; not all sites retain all their content for future reference.

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