For me, the best of of The Wall was standing on top of it. We were a few songs into the second half of the show. The band had been bricked in, the audience left to confront a vast, blank barrier. 'Is there anybody out there?' sang Roger, a tiny figure now appearing stage-right. Then, a trick of light, there I was, 30 feet up, with the heat of four enormous spotlights at my back, throwing my shadow as far as I could see over the audience while I belted out the solo to one of the best pieces of music I'd ever written: 'Comfortably Numb'.
The sensation was certainly incredible, almost out-of-body. For a few minutes, I was free of the crowd, the band, the 80-strong crew and the headphone chatter. I didn't have to think where I should be standing for the next number, or direct the backing singers, or cue the roadies. I could simply do the part of my job that I enjoy most: playing the guitar, trying to make it a little better every night.
The Wall was always conceived as a studio album, a film and a stage show. The dynamic between a live band and its audience was only one of the concept's many themes. But what was so clever about Roger's idea was that the show itself was a comment on that theme. The band saw the dramatic potential as soon as he presented it -- though we didn't anticipate how tricky it could be to keep time while a tower of bricks, each weighing about 20 pounds, is collapsing onto a protective rig two feet above our heads.
The first I heard of it was at a band-meeting sometime after the Animals tour, called to discuss new projects. Roger brought along two pieces in demo form, of which one became The Wall. (The other, which I think became Roger's Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, seemed stronger musically but was a less interesting idea.) Building a wall between ourselves and the audience was a striking metaphor for the intimacy we had lost as a stadium band. And though I believe we were still delivering to the majority of fans -- despite the noise and conditions -- the loss of control over our environment definitely troubled me. It obviously got to Roger a lot more.
Roger's plans required a schedule so punishing that he even moved his home-studio next door to our recording-space. The demo had to be turned into an album, the album into a split-second show and the show into a film -- all at the same time. For the upcoming live performances, I took the role of musical director: choosing and rehearsing the extra musicians, then keeping them up to scratch. For the recordings, I switched between producing and writing. And, of course, playing the guitar and singing.
Several tracks from the original demo were dropped, whole chunks were changed and the original 'Young Lust' only survived in its chorus. If either Bob Ezrin, the album's co-producer, or I didn't like something and argued forcefully enough with Roger, he would simply go next door and work on it. Once he had agreed to re-cast something, or to write new material, he could be incredibly effective and fast. ('Nobody Home' was a completely new song that he wrote overnight.) Apart from 'Young Lust', my own writing credits were confined to 'Run Like Hell' and 'Comfortably Numb'. Both had been originally intended for a solo album on which I had run out of time the year before. They are the musical high points of The Wall -- but then I would think that, wouldn't I?
The visual presentation of the piece was the result of similar discussion and collaboration, changing considerably as we went along. Roger's original scheme had been to drive the audience to distraction by performing mcuh of the second half unseen, from behind the wall. But by the opening night, we had worked out ways to keep the wall more of less intact while giving the fans something to look at: Gerald Scarfe's animations; Roger's 'hotel' sequence, in a room-set that folded out from the wall; my own moment on 'Comfortably Numb'.
I can't say it was my favourite way of performing. Nor is The Wall my favourite Floyd piece (that's Wish You Were Here). There are some weaker sections -- all that Vera Lynn, Bring the Boys Back Home stuff, for example. But when it's good, it's very very good. And the shows were fantastic in their own right. To assess the phenomenon properly, you have to shift your focus. It was as much a theatrical experience as a musical one. The album was tightly structured and the technology required to produce that type of theatre further limited our musical flexibility, giving us even less room for improvisation and spontaneity when playing live.
We had some good times during the recording and shows. Roger and I fought tooth and nail over details that I'm not sure I could even hear now. I spent more than a year of my life working on The Wall -- and for the best parts alone, it was well worth it.