Tuesday, July 26, 2011


A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece entitled “We don’t need no Education ….”. This was me reminiscing about my Schooldays 50 years ago, having been set thinking by a book I’d just read about a teacher's life in a modern Secondary School.


The name of the post was nicked from one of the grand Set Pieces of Rock Music -  Roger Water’s “The Wall”. This epic piece of music, a Rock Opera if you wish, was first performed around 1980, and for reasons I can’t now recall, I managed to miss seeing it first time round. My love affair with the music of Pink Floyd has continued unabated ever since that time, but for 30 years now the “Seen That, Done That” box for "The Wall" has remained unticked. Unfortunately, because of the massive scale of its conception, and also I suspect because Mr Waters did not want to get involved again, it had only been performed a total of 31 times, so there had been precious few opportunities to catch up on it.

So, a year ago, when I saw that Roger Waters had decided to take it out on tour again, I jumped at the chance of a ticket. The man is not far off 70 years old now, and I suspected that this would be the last time he would ever undertake such a venture.

The crowds heading towards the Birmingham NIA were enormous that evening, and there was a palpable air of excitement as a full house of 20,000 waited expectantly. The rumour was that they’d spent £37 million putting it all together, and with the Floyd’s unrivalled reputation for spectacular lightshows, massive Gerald Scarfe designed puppets and totally over the top production values, I wondered what lay in store for us.

The NIA is a very big arena, about 300 feet across, and a partially built wall stretched completely from one side to the other, so perhaps there was a clue there as to what was about to happen. I must admit that I don’t think that “The Wall” is the greatest thing Roger Waters ever wrote, mainly because it seemed to me to be a bit too self-indulgent and “Rich Rock Star sprays Angst everywhere” but that doesn’t stop me thinking it has some fantastic songs in it.

It was Roger Water’s baby almost entirely, and the whole thing was written when he was getting really wound up about his own personal alienation and feeling for a need to withdraw from the pressures that the fame he/the Band had created. The story goes back to his childhood, starting when his father was killed at Anzio in Italy in 1942. His sense of abandonment seems to be then blamed sequentially on his father’s death, his mother, his teachers, his wives, his fellow Pink Floyd members, and seemingly almost everyone except himself. Each of these becomes a “Brick in the Wall”. You could argue that the storyline is a bit thin, but then you should look at some of the libretti of the classical operas, and any argument about this one pales into insignificance.

Some of the songs, in truth, are a bit run of the mill, but there are a few absolute gems in it. The great songs in it (and they are great) – Run Like Hell, Hey You, Another Brick in the Wall, and the incomparable Comfortably Numb, stand out, in my view, as Rock Genius. It’s probably something which will niggle Mr Waters but three of those four songs have Dave Gilmour’s name alongside him in the writing credits. Given the subsequent multi-year spat between both of them which brought their collaboration to a permanent, shuddering halt, there’s a real message there for both of them.

Before it started, I wondered whether he would have changed the way it was presented, given that 30 years had passed since its first performance. Perhaps, as a 68 year old, his feeling of personal persecution which he obviously felt very keenly in the early 80s, may have changed.

It had. There was now a wider overlay of an anti-war attitude, where instead of a purely personal take on it all, it had now become a musical and visual tirade against all the conflicts and wars which had disfigured the world over the last few decades.



The Wall, as it was progressively built up across the huge arena, gradually became a massive video screen showing sound-bites and photographs of soldiers killed in action, tortured, as well as some who had returned home to the obvious pleasure of their loved ones. I found much of that very moving.


The overall impact of it from a performance viewpoint was overwhelming. The scale of it all was simply extraordinary. The way it had been put together from a technical viewpoint was incredible, with the full force of modern photo-wizardry and animation being given full rein. The images were presented in an amazingly effective way, and the way the wall was used as a continuously changing backdrop to the action was immensely well done. The sound was something like I’d expect to feel in Beirut in the middle of the war there. It was physical in its effect on you. Overall, the lights and the imagery, the aeroplanes flying over the audience, the huge 40 foot Pig, the equally large 40 feet high Scarfe puppets and the grotesque cartoon effects projected onto the wall were quite incredible. I can’t remember anything personally which compared to it, and I came out of the concert in a complete daze. A total sensory overload.



So there you are. One of the great “Set Pieces” of modern Rock Music. Yes, you could be a bit negative and whinge about bits of it, but quite frankly I thought it was a triumph. Just watching the people coming out, and catching snatches of their conversation as they walked along or stood on the railway station platform waiting for their train home, you got a real feeling that they’d all been quite overwhelmed by the whole evening, and that they’d go home telling their families that they’d all missed something unrepeatable.

I know that was how I felt.



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