1944 – One of rock’s maddest geniuses, Pink Floyd’s Roger

Roger Waters

1944 – One of rock’s maddest geniuses, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, is born in Great Bookham, England.

George Roger Waters (born 6 September 1943 in Great Bookham, Surrey) is an English rock musician. He is best known as the bass player, main songwriter, and a lead vocalist of the English rock band Pink Floyd from 1964 to 1985. Following his split with Pink Floyd in the 1980s, Waters began a moderately successful solo career, releasing three studio albums, one soundtrack, and staging one of the largest concerts ever, The Wall Concert in Berlin in 1990. In 2005 he released an opera, Ça Ira, and joined Pink Floyd at the Live 8 concert in London for their first public performance with Waters in 24 years.


Early years (1943–1965)

Born in Great Bookham, Surrey, Waters grew up in Cambridge. His father Eric Fletcher Waters fought in World War II and died in combat at Anzio in 1944, when Waters was only five months old. Waters would refer or allude to the loss of his father throughout his work, from “Corporal Clegg” (A Saucerful Of Secrets, 1968), through “Free Four” (Obscured By Clouds, 1972) and the sombre “When the Tigers Broke Free”, first used in the movie version of The Wall.

Waters and Syd Barrett attended the Morley Memorial Junior School on Hills Road, Cambridge, and later both attended the Cambridgeshire High School for Boys (now Hills Road Sixth Form College), while fellow band member David Gilmour attended The Perse School on the same road. He met Nick Mason and Rick Wright while attending the Regent Street Polytechnic school of architecture. He was a keen sportsman and was fond of swimming in the River Cam at Grantchester Meadows. At 15 he was chair of YCND in Cambridge.

Pink Floyd years (1965–1985)

In 1965, Roger Waters co-founded Pink Floyd along with Syd Barrett, Richard Wright and Nick Mason. Although Barrett initially did most of the songwriting for the band, Waters wrote the song “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk” on their debut LP, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The album was a critical success and positioned the band for stardom. Barrett’s deteriorating mental health led to increasingly erratic behaviour, rendering him unable to continue in his capacity as Pink Floyd’s lead singer and guitarist. Waters attempted to coerce his friend into psychiatric treatment; this proved unhelpful, and the band approached David Gilmour to replace Barrett at the end of 1967. Even the band’s former managers felt that Pink Floyd would not be able to sustain its initial success without the talented Barrett. Filling the void left by Barrett’s departure, Waters began to chart Pink Floyd’s new artistic direction. The lineup with Gilmour and Waters eventually brought Pink Floyd to prominence, producing a series of albums in the 1970s that remain among the most critically acclaimed and best-selling records of all time.

In 1970, Waters collaborated with British composer Ron Geesin, who co-wrote Pink Floyd’s title suite from Atom Heart Mother, on a soundtrack album, Music from “The Body”, which consisted mostly of instrumentals interspersed with songs composed by Waters. Within Pink Floyd, Waters became the main lyrical contributor, exerting progressively more creative control over the band: he produced thematic ideas that became the impetus for concept albums such as The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, for which he wrote all of the lyrics and some of the music. After this, Waters became the primary songwriter, composing Animals and The Wall largely by himself (though continuing to collaborate with Gilmour on a few tracks).

Waters’ bandmates were happy to allow him to write the band’s lyrics and guide its conceptual direction while they shared the opportunity to contribute musical ideas. This give-and-take relationship began to dissolve: a consequence of the band’s collective ennui, according to Waters. Songwriting credits were a source of contention in these years; Gilmour has noted that his contributions to tracks like “Another Brick in the Wall, Part II”, with its guitar solo, were not always noted in the album credits. Nick Mason addresses the band infighting in his memoir, Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, characterizing Waters as egomaniacal at times. It was while recording The Wall that Waters decided to fire Wright, after Wright’s personal problems began to affect the album production. Wright stayed with the band as a paid session musician while Waters led the band through a complete performance of the album on every night of the brief tour that followed, for which Gilmour acted as musical director.

In 1983, the last Waters–Gilmour–Mason collaboration, The Final Cut, was released. The sleeve notes describe it as being a piece “by Roger Waters” that was “performed by Pink Floyd”. Gilmour unsuccessfully tried to delay production on the album until he could author more material; Waters refused, and in 1985, he proclaimed that the band had dissolved due to irreconcilable differences. The ensuing battle between Waters and Gilmour over the latter’s intention to continue to use the name Pink Floyd descended into threatened lawsuits and public bickering in the press. Waters claimed that, as the original band consisted of himself, Syd Barrett, Nick Mason and Richard Wright, Gilmour could not reasonably use the name Pink Floyd now that it was without three of its founding members. Another of Waters’ arguments was that he had written almost all of the band’s lyrics and a great part of the music after Barrett’s departure. However, through agreement, Gilmour and Mason won the right to use the name and a majority of the band’s songs, though Waters did retain the rights to The Wall (save for three of the songs that Gilmour co-wrote), Animals, and The Final Cut, as well as ownership of the Pink Floyd pigs.[citation needed]

Early solo years (1985–2005)

After his departure from Pink Floyd, Waters embarked on a solo career producing three concept albums and a movie soundtrack which did not garner impressive sales. His solo work has managed critical acclaim and even some comparison to previous work with Pink Floyd. His first solo album, 1984’s The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, was a project about a man’s dreams across one night. The list of musicians helping Waters during recording included guitarist Eric Clapton and jazz saxophonist David Sanborn. Conceived around the same time as The Wall, the concept was shown and demos played to the Pink Floyd members, but they chose to proceed with The Wall over The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, rejecting the latter as “too personal”. Gilmour was later to claim that this was not as obvious a task as might first seem, as, in his opinion, both demos were “unlistenable” and “sounded exactly alike.” Longtime Pink Floyd engineer Nick Griffiths, however, says otherwise: “They were seriously rough, but the songs were there.” The album, accompanied by Gerald Scarfe artwork that some claimed was sexist, received mixed reviews, with Kurt Loder describing Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking in Rolling Stone as a “strangely static, faintly hideous record”, adding that “Waters sounds like the kind of guy who’d bring Hershey bars and nylons along on a first date.” On the other end of the spectrum, Mike DeGagne of Allmusic praised the album for its “ingenious symbolism and his brilliant use of stream of consciousness within a subconscious realm”, rating it four out of five stars. The resulting concert tour featuring a set design by Marc Brickman and Mark Fisher of Park Display, and, on the first leg, Clapton on lead guitar, was not a success.

In 1986 Waters contributed songs and a score to the soundtrack of the movie When the Wind Blows, based on the Raymond Briggs book of the same name. His backing band, featuring Paul Carrack, was credited as The Bleeding Heart Band. Waters’ then legal wranglings with Gilmour over the Pink Floyd brand are alluded to on the soundtrack album’s “Towers of Faith”, where the vocal transforms from “This land is my land”, to “This sand is my sand”, to “This band is my band”.

In 1987 Waters released another concept album, Radio K.A.O.S., about a man named Billy who can hear radio waves in his head. Waters followed the release with a supporting tour, also in 1987. Though applauded by many for its contemporary sound[citation needed], the album did not garner the impressive sales he had achieved in Pink Floyd. Years later, Waters himself would express dissatisfaction at the album, expressing distaste for the production, and particularly regretting his decision to trim the album from a double to a single, losing much of the concept in the process.[citation needed] This was possibly attributable to the fact that he was now competing with a reformed Pink Floyd who were touring to support their comeback release, A Momentary Lapse of Reason.

After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, Waters staged The Wall Concert in Berlin on July 21, 1990 to commemorate the end of the division between East and West Germany. The concert took place on Potsdamer Platz, part of the former “no-man’s land” of the Berlin Wall, and featured many guest superstars: The Band, Bryan Adams, Cyndi Lauper, Van Morrison, Sinéad O’Connor, The Scorpions, Marianne Faithfull, and Joni Mitchell. It was one of the biggest concerts ever staged with an attendance of over 300,000 and was watched live by over five million people worldwide. However, the initial funds raised from the concert barely covered expenses.

Two years later, Waters released 1992’s Amused to Death, about the corrupting, desensitising nature of television. The title drived from the Book “Amusing Ourselves to Death of Neil Postman. It is Waters’ most critically acclaimed solo recording, with music critics comparing it to later Pink Floyd work, such as The Wall (Waters himself describes the record as the third in a thematically-linked trilogy, after Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall). The album had one hit, “What God Wants, Pt. 1” which hit #4 on Mainstream Rock charts. Jeff Beck played lead guitar on the album. There was no tour in support of this record, because the most part of the songs is impossible to performe live. Roger Waters always declared the necessary of a link between the songs and the show. One of the songs (“Perfect Sense Part II”) is about a attack on a oil rig with a nuclear torpedo, and this would be impossible to perform as a entire show. Although Waters would later perform several songs from this record nearly eight years later on his In the Flesh tours.

In 1999 Waters embarked on the In the Flesh tour which saw him performing some of his most famous work, both solo and Pink Floyd material. The tour was a success in the US, and after Waters had booked mostly smaller venues (after the let-down in attendance from his 1987 tour), tickets sold so well that most of the concerts had to be upgraded to larger venues. With Gilmour’s Pink Floyd retiring after 1994, and many Floyd albums selling at the pace of Beatles records, Waters was in great demand. The tour eventually stretched across the world. Tickets were at such high demand, that the tour had to be spanned over three years. Almost every show was sold out with some venues garnering more sales than Pink Floyd shows of early touring years.[citation needed] One concert was released on CD and DVD, named In the Flesh Live, after the tour. During this tour he played two new songs from his next solo album, “Flickering Flame” and “Each Small Candle”, as the final encore to the show. In June of 2002 Waters played the Glastonbury Festival performing many classic Pink Floyd songs.
Waters, performing live in 2006

Miramax Films announced in mid-2004 that a production of The Wall was to appear on Broadway with Waters playing a prominent part in its production. Reports stated that the musical contained not only the original tracks from “The Wall”, but also songs from Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and other Pink Floyd albums, as well as new material. On the night of 1 May 2004, the overture for Ça Ira was pre-premièred on occasion of the Welcome Europe celebrations in the accession country of Malta, performed over Grand Harbour in Valletta and illuminated by light artist Gert Hof.

In September 2004, Waters released two new tracks on the Internet, “To Kill The Child” and “Leaving Beirut.” Both of these tracks were inspired by the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Waters, who currently resides in the U.S., has said that the songs were written immediately after the start of the war, but he delayed releasing them until just before the 2004 Presidential election. The lyrics to “Leaving Beirut” contain strong attacks on U.S. President George W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair. After the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and subsequent tsunami disaster, Waters performed “Wish You Were Here” with Eric Clapton during a benefit concert on the American network NBC.

Later solo years (since 2005)
Roger Waters performing on his Dark Side Of The Moon Live tour at the Members Equity Stadium in Perth, Australia in 2007

In February of 2005, it was announced on Roger Waters’ website that his opera, Ça Ira, had been completed after 16 years of work. It was released as a CD/DVD set by Sony Classical on September 27, 2005 with Baritone Bryn Terfel, soprano Ying Huang and tenor Paul Groves. The original libretto was written in French by the late Étienne Roda-Gil, who set the opera during the early French Revolution. From 1997 Waters rewrote the libretto in English.

On July 2, 2005 Waters and Pink Floyd reunited for a performance at the Live 8 concert. They played a six-song, 23-minute set, including “Speak to Me/Breathe”/”Breathe (Reprise)”, “Money”, “Wish You Were Here”, and “Comfortably Numb”. Waters remarked shortly after Live 8 to the Associated Press that, while the experience of playing as Pink Floyd again was positive, the chances of a bona fide reunion would be “slight”, considering his and Gilmour’s continuing musical and ideological differences. During an interview with Rolling Stone, Waters further denied the possibility of a future Pink Floyd tour, saying “I didn’t mind rolling over for one day, but I couldn’t roll over for a whole fucking tour.” He has since stated on a radio interview that he would be interested in the possibility of recording a new album with the rest of Pink Floyd as long as he had creative control. However, David Gilmour has said on several occasions that he is retired from extensive touring, shedding more doubt on the possibility of a Pink Floyd reunion tour.

However, more recently, Roger has become more open to the idea of a Pink Floyd reunion tour, stating during the BBC documentary “Which One’s Pink”, “It was really cool, I’d like to do more of it”, and at the end of the program, stated “I don’t think it will happen but I’d like…well, you can ask David when you speak to him.”

Waters is known to be working on two new solo albums; one has the working title of Heartland. Two new songs that might appear on this album have been released on Flickering Flame: The Solo Years Vol. 1: “Each Small Candle” and “Flickering Flame”. The other of the two albums deals with the theme of love, much in the vein of Pros and Cons. A work-in-progress, which may appear on this album and was dubbed “Woman” by bootleggers, was heard during the sound checks for the In the Flesh tour. However, in a recent telephone interview, he confirmed that the release of his next project has been delayed due to not having a concept to draw all the individual songs together into one piece.
Solid state laser system designed by Marc Brickman that depicted Dark Side of the Moon album art, used on Waters’ latest tour.
Solid state laser system designed by Marc Brickman that depicted Dark Side of the Moon album art, used on Waters’ latest tour.

Roger Waters toured Europe and North America during 2006 for his The Dark Side of the Moon Live Tour. As part of his performance he played a complete run-through of the 1973 Pink Floyd classic, The Dark Side of the Moon, as the second half of the show. The first half was a mix of Floyd classics and Waters’ solo material. Elaborate staging designed by Marc Brickman, complete with projections, and a full, 360 degree quadrophonic sound system were used. This new Waters’ solo tour is expected to be as successful as his previous In the Flesh tour. His former Pink Floyd bandmate, Nick Mason joined Waters on some of the tour dates. Richard Wright was invited to participate on the tour as well but he declined the offer to work on solo projects. There is also a 2007 leg of the Tour, starting in January in Australia, followed by New Zealand and going through Asia, Europe, South America, and finally North America in June.

Waters’ former bandmate Nick Mason began patching their relationship in 2002. After speaking to Mason and Bob Geldof about a possible Pink Floyd reunion at Live 8, Waters contacted Gilmour by phone and e-mail, and it appears that they have buried the hatchet since the historic concert and now communicate on a friendly basis. Waters has made overtures to Richard Wright, as well. Syd Barrett, who died on Friday 7 July 2006, remained an emotional subject for most of his friends and former colleagues. Waters said in interviews before Barrett’s death that it would be difficult and inappropriate for him to try to insert himself back into his old friend’s life. Waters performed another Dark Side of the Moon concert in the summer of 2007.

On July 7, 2007, Waters played at the American leg of the Live Earth concert, an international multi-venue concert aimed to raise awareness about global climate change, featuring the Trenton Youth Choir and his trademark inflatable pig. Waters has also recently become a spokesperson for Millennium Promise, a non-profit organisation that helps fight extreme poverty and malaria, and wrote a commentary for CNN’s website on June 11, 2007 about the topic. After wrapping up a performance at the Coachella Festival in April, Waters will continue his The Dark Side of the Moon Live tour in 2008.

Waters has made his views about the 2008 United States Presidential election clear. During his concert appearance at the Coachella Festival, he released the trademark Pink Floyd inflatable pig into the air with the words “Don’t be led to the slaughter” written on one side, next to a cartoon of Uncle Sam holding meat cleavers. “Fear builds walls” was written on the pig’s other side and “Impeach Bush” on the pig’s behind. On the pig’s belly was Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama’s name with a check mark beside it. Waters has referred to Hillary Clinton, another Democratic candidate, as “ghastly”. During an interview on the subject of the 2008 Presidential election Waters also revealed his atheism, saying: “Please, God – I’m an atheist so maybe I shouldn’t be asking God – but let Barack Obama finally win the Democratic nomination and elect a person who seems to be not just enormously intelligent but also deeply humane and seems to have an imagination.”

Pink Floyd songs composed by Roger Waters

* “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk” from The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967).
* “Julia Dream” from Single B-side to “It Would Be So Nice” (1968).
* “Let There Be More Light” from A Saucerful of Secrets (1968).
* “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” from A Saucerful of Secrets (1968).
* “Corporal Clegg” from A Saucerful of Secrets (1968).
* “Cirrus Minor” from Soundtrack from the Film More (1969).
* “The Nile Song from Soundtrack from the Film More (1969).
* “Crying Song” from Soundtrack from the Film More (1969).
* “Green is the Colour” from Soundtrack from the Film More (1969).
* “Cymbaline” from Soundtrack from the Film More (1969).
* “Grantchester Meadows” from Ummagumma (1969).
* “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict” from Ummagumma (1969).
* “If” from Atom Heart Mother (1970).
* “Biding My Time” from Relics (1971).
* “San Tropez” from Meddle (1971).
* “Free Four” from Obscured by Clouds (1972).
* “Money” from Dark Side of the Moon (1973).
* “Brain Damage” from Dark Side of the Moon (1973).
* “Eclipse” from Dark Side of the Moon (1973).
* “Have a Cigar” from Wish You Were Here (1975).
* “Welcome to the Machine” from Wish You Were Here (1975).
* All tracks on Animals except “Dogs” (1977).
* All tracks on The Wall except “Young Lust”, “Comfortably Numb” , “Run Like Hell” and “The Trial” (1979).
* All tracks on The Final Cut (1983).
* “Embryo” from Works (1983).

Hits and awards

Waters’ solo singles have seen little chart activity; “What God Wants, Pt. 1” reached #35 in the UK in September 1992. His first major solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, has been certified Gold by the RIAA, and his opera Ça Ira reached #1 on both the UK and U.S. Classical Charts. Waters has also been inducted into the U.S. and UK Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Pink Floyd, and received a “Media Event of the Year” award for mounting The Wall Live in Berlin.

Solo discography

For his work with Pink Floyd, see Pink Floyd discography between 1967 and 1983
28 November 1970     Music from The Body (with Ron Geesin)
30 April 1984     The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking
15 June 1987     Radio K.A.O.S.
10 September 1990     The Wall – Live in Berlin
7 September 1992     Amused to Death
5 December 2000     In the Flesh – Live
13 May 2002     Flickering Flame: The Solo Years Volume 1
26 September 2005     Ça Ira

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