A Saucerful of String: David Gilmour's Chamber Odyssey

By Fox, Darrin | Guitar Player, January 2003 | Go to article overview

A Saucerful of String: David Gilmour's Chamber Odyssey


Fox, Darrin, Guitar Player


Rock musicians exploring classical instrumentation is nothing new. Deep Purple did it. Ditto for Metallica, ELP, and new wavers ABC. Hell, ELO made it part of their sound. The musical success of these collaborations is a purely subjective judgment, but one thing is for sure--when the words "classical" and "rock" appear in the same sentence, the term bombastic is usually not far behind. Thankfully, tastefully executed classical rock does exist, as the music on legendary Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour's new DVD, David Gilmour In Concert [Capitol] demonstrates.

Filmed at London's Royal Festival Hall during the 2001 Meltdown Festival, the 130-minute DVD shows a gloriously successful pairing of classical music's highbrow aesthetic and rock's organic power. Piano, double bass, cello, percussion, and, occasionally, a second guitar and a gospel choir are used to present music as diverse as Pink Floyd classics and a Bizet aria with an understated elegance.

In addition, the classical elements are not employed to impart an air of puffed-up sophistication, but rather to bring out the inherent beauty of songs such as "Comfortably Numb."

In Concert isn't all about rock music with classical overtones, however. Gilmour also performs several tunes with just an acoustic guitar, and in these solo settings, he demonstrates why he deserves to be included with Clapton, Beck, and Page among British guitar royalty. David Gilmour In Concert is a wonderful document of a rock legend pushing himself and his music in new directions.

How did you go about choosing the material for the shows?

I went through the entire Pink Floyd catalog, and I picked the tunes I liked. Then, after I figured out which ones would work with the instrumentation I had in mind, I spent about three months fiddling around in my home studio mocking up the arrangements.

How did you decide on the instrumentation?

The lineup came to me in a flash of inspiration. After I thought of it, however, I wasn't sure how to go about making it work--that was tricky.

What was so tricky?

Well, I discovered that the instruments I chose for most of the songs--like "Comfortably Numb," for instance--are used to a fuller treatment than I was anticipating. Taking that tune and making it work with guitar, piano, cello, and plucked double bass was quite a challenge.

How did you decide on which guitar to cast for a particular song?

I stuck largely to what was on the original recordings. However, on "Comfortably Numb" I had to change from acoustic to electric for the solo, so I threw in a few extra bars for the band to vamp along to while I did my quick-change act. I also switched to a high-strung Ovation acoustic towards the end of the song.

What was the most challenging tune in the set?

"Je Crois Entendre Encore," from Bizet's opera The Pearl Fishers. That one was seriously frightening. It was very tough to sing, and difficult for me to imagine that I wasn't kidding myself in even attempting it. Luckily, when I got the choir in my home studio, they instilled a lot of confidence in me because they immediately sounded so great. Still, both my wife and I broke into cold sweats just before the concert.

Had you ever played Pink Floyd tunes in a solo-acoustic setting before?

Never, and it was very interesting to see which ones worked. Attempting "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" with just acoustic guitar and vocal was a bit of a challenge, and it required a big delay loop for me to manage it. I created a pad underneath, and I swelled it up and down with a volume pedal. That way, I had a big, ringing guitar orchestra underneath me.

What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome for the shows?

Perhaps the biggest challenge was trying to imagine what the sound out front was like. The stage volume was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Every time there was a little error it seemed like it was enormous.

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