Will Roger Waters perform again?

by Graham Clarke

Roger Waters, the one-time bass player and head lyricist of Pink Floyd, left that group in 1985, declaring the Floyd to be dead. Waters did not start out his life with the Floyd in either of these roles. Pink Floyd went through several incarnations before the lineup of Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Rick Wright and Waters was formed and in earlier versions of the band, Waters went from lead guitar to rhythm guitar to bass. When the band started to write their own songs, the lead creative force was Barrett.

Roger Water's first extra-Floyd effort came in 1970 with the release of the film "The Body" and the accompanying soundtrack. This album was the result of a collaboration between Waters and Ron Geesin, who had worked with the Floyd to create the Atom Heart Mother Suite on the album of the same name. "The Body" is an album for completists. A friend of mine once remarked to someone that if there was an available recording of David Gilmour blowing his nose, I would have it. If you substitute Waters for Gilmour, and add in the sounds of slapping and farting, you can get an idea of what that album sounds like.

"The Body" was a small side project for Waters and was not an attempt by him to begin a solo career. As a matter of fact, it was about this time that Waters began to take creative control of the Floyd and a solo career would have been redundant.

Waters' role within the band slowly changed. He continued to play bass throughout his life with the band, but his role became more and more creative. "Dark Side of the Moon" seems to be a turning point. Waters wrote all of the lyrics and much of the music for Pink Floyd's first 'concept album'. At this point there was no turning back and by the time that "The Final Cut" was released, Waters was the unquestionable leader of Pink Floyd. The credits of that album read "The Final Cut, by Roger Waters, performed by Pink Floyd" and was dedicated to Waters' father. The other two remaining members of the group had been relegated to the role of backup studio musicians.

Tension within the band grew for years as Waters gained control. During the recording of "The Wall" and "The Final Cut", Waters had to fight constantly with Gilmour regarding the music of the group. The arguments of "Cut" seem to have been the breaking point for Waters. It was likely during these sessions that he decided to strike out on his own so that he could work unchallenged.

Between 1981 and 1983, Pink Floyd released two compilation albums. "Works" was a package put together by Capitol, their former record company, and the band had little control over this album. "A Great Collection of Dance Songs" was released by Columbia, and David Gilmour was actively involved in it's production. One of the songs on the album, "Money" needed to be re-recorded for legal reasons. Gilmour played all of the instruments on the song himself, with the exception of the saxophone. Waters did not have any hand in this, likely due to a lack of interest in the band.

In 1984, Waters released "The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking", a project that he had conceived for the band in the late 70's. Pink Floyd had chosen to create "The Wall" rather than "Pros and Cons", and now Waters had decided to do it himself without pitching it to the group again. "Pros" was even more of a concept album than "The Wall" was. It was performed in a very narrative style and sacrificed melody for lyrics. With Eric Clapton in tow, Waters took his show on the road. Up until the Wall concerts, Pink Floyd tended to put on traditional-style concerts. When "The Wall" was performed, it was a stage show, as structured, timed and practiced as a Broadway musical. The "Pros" tour was not as elaborate as that, but the "Pros" half of the concerts were just as rigidly structured. Eric Clapton reported that Waters would get mad at him for improvising his guitar licks during the concerts.

During that tour, Waters discovered the value of a name on a marquee and found that the seclusion that the Floyd members had created for years was now working against him. A lot of people would come to see "Pink Floyd", but few would come to see "Roger Waters of Pink Floyd". After all, who wants to go see a concert by the bass player of a band?

In 1985, Waters declared that he was leaving Pink Floyd and that the band was dead. The next year, he worked on the soundtrack for the movie "When The Wind Blows", an animated feature describing the final days in the lives of two nuclear holocaust victims.

Waters' next solo album, "Radio KAOS", released in 1987, was also done in a strong narrative style, although it was more melodic than its predecessor. There are those who wish that it had lost some of its melody as it often sounded like a modern pop album. Once again, Waters took his show on the road, and this time it was performed as a radio show complete with a phone booth where members of the audience could call in and ask questions.

After Radio KAOS, Waters spoke of a follow-up album to be called KAOS II, although it never materialized.

In 1990, Waters called together a number of different musical talents to perform "The Wall" in Berlin to celebrate the coming down of the Berlin Wall. As before, this was done as a large theatrical spectacle. This time, Waters maintained the primary role of organizer of the event. His role as a performer was secondary, relying on other artists to take most of the glory.

"Amused to Death" was released in 1992. Although this was a concept album, it was done much more musically and there was no definite narrative running through the whole album. When the album was released, Waters said that he would only tour if sales of the album were strong, but that he did not expect that to happen. He was right.

It is significant to note that Waters did little of the instrumental work on this album aside from some synthesizer, guitar on two tracks and the bass on one track and on the intro of another. It has long been known that Waters was certainly an adequate bass player with a style of his own, but his playing abilities were never considered his strongest point. At this point he had likely decided that playing the bass was grunt work. The real enjoyment for him was the creation of the music, not the actual plucking of the strings.

Since that time, Waters has been reported to be working on three different projects. He has supposedly been working on a book of poetry, although little has been said about this in the media. He has also been working on a classical-style opera about the French Revolution called Ca Ira. This was supposed to be completed by the end of 1996. He has also said that he has been working on a Broadway version of "The Wall". Waters is involved in all of these projects as a creator, not as a performer. It seems that Waters has finally completed his move away from performing. His creative forces are now more focused on creating projects with a strong theme or concept in order to present his thoughts and ideas clearly. The music is secondary to this goal. One of these projects does not involve music at all and the other two projects involve completely different musical genres than he has worked with in the past. He does not even seem to be very interested in rock music. He once said that he himself was one of the top five songwriters to come out of England since the war. When pressed for the names of the others, he replied that two would be John Lennon and Freddie Mercury, but he couldn't even name any others, since he doesn't follow modern music.

Several things may be responsible for his desire to keep away from performing, either live or on tape. Waters is certainly aware that there are many more proficient musicians than he. He also seems to approach the creation of an album in a different way. He does not create music so that he can perform it, rather he creates music that can be performed and if there is a better vocalist or musician available, he will use them. During his solo concerts, he regularly uses other singers to perform parts that his voice would not do justice. The same thing applies to his albums.

With the release of "Amused to Death", many of Waters' fans noticed that his rather distinctive voice had become noticeably rougher. Even the concerts between "KAOS" and his last album showcased a failing voice. Although Waters was a vocalist, he had never been a singer, but his voice was now poor enough that even studio magic could not hide it. This may be another reason that none of Waters' current efforts involve him performing at all.

The rumours of a Waters/Floyd reunion never cease and grow stronger every time the Floyd tour (or are rumoured to tour). Waters himself has said that this will never happen so emphatically that it is a wonder that anyone pays these rumours any heed. Waters is definitely not the sort of person who would ever do anything to compromise his creative life and returning to Pink Floyd would not only restrict his creative freedom, but would stand out as an admission that he was wrong to leave. Not only that, but he would be forced to do the very thing that he has been avoiding of late: performing.

There is one final reason why Roger Waters will never perform again. He is getting old. With the projects that he has on the go now, it is unlikely that he would have another solo album ready until he was in his mid or late fifties. Albums from rock artists of this age are quite rare.

While Waters is still a creative force and his poetic vision will continue, at least for a while, his performing days seem to be over since his vocal abilities are degrading and playing the bass was never his musical raison d'etre. Roger Waters will likely never perform again.

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