18 MARCH 2006, Page 20

Dark side of the Hoon

New Labour, Old Rocker: Geoff Hoon, Leader of the House of Commons, swaps his red box for Pink Floyd as our guest pop critic Pink Floyd — Leicester — 1972. You will always recall the first time you saw your favourite bands. Pink Floyd were not then mainstream — still less known all around the world. Dark Side of the Moon was one continuous piece of music that filled the first half of the show before they went on to perform betterknown early favourites such as ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’ and ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’. Their music was still experimental, slightly dangerous and certainly difficult. On the seats were the lyrics — a ‘Hymnsheet for Assorted Lunatics’. If you liked ‘The Floyd’, you were different, you liked albums not singles, you liked prolonged, sometimes shapeless pieces of music and crashing guitar chords and special lighting and electronic effects.

Later you loved the dissected finished version of Dark Side of the Moon, although part of you couldn’t help slightly regretting that everyone else loved it too. Your band was everyone’s band. They sold albums around the world and played in football stadiums — psychedelia gave way to flying pigs and the music was mainstream. But the music was still magnificent — as an early fan you knew that ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ was about Syd Barrett, who was said to have turned up without warning at Abbey Road Studios as it was being recorded. You generously showed off your albums and your inside knowledge to those who came late.

But as you grew up, so did the band growing apart, as should be expected of four mature men with wives and families who no longer found life on the road and life together so appealing. You were also married and the stereo had to be turned down so as not to disturb the baby. Concerts were controversial because she couldn’t understand why you wanted to go with your mates. Before long it was The Final Cut and Pink Floyd was a record collection.

At least for a while. You heard rumours of reconciliation. There were solo albums but the band seemed to spend more time in the courtroom than in the recording studio. At last they almost reformed — but only three of them, as Roger Waters built The Wall alone, around himself. The Division Bell struck just the right ironic tone for the title of the trio’s last original CD. You still went to the shows, by now even taking your children, trying to tell them what it was like when all this was new and original.

And then, by which time you had given up hope, they played for what looks likely to be one last time together. Five Live 8 songs for the world late on the TV as the world’s biggest concert ran over time. The Who, Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney finished off the day in a way that made it impossible for you to resist telling your children that they were simply the best, blowing the newer bands away. You listen with the children to Coldplay and the Kaiser Chiefs and Keane — but they are not in the same league as ‘the old men’, as your teenage daughter equally couldn’t resist responding. When she asked provocatively whether ‘Comfortably Numb’ was really by the Scissor Sisters, you wanted to send her to her room for insubordination — but then you remembered that you were a teenager in the Sixties and still believe in peace, love and understanding.

Which is why, when David Gilmour released his latest album On an Island on his 60th birthday, you are there as the record shop opens at ten o’clock in the morning to get the first copy — just as you did in the Sixties when new records were released. Then you were at school and bought singles; now you are affluent and buy CDs — some at what seem absurdly generous prices as the record labels let their back catalogues go in supermarket price wars. You do the weekend shopping and sneak secret stacks of CDs in with the groceries. But can you really buy The Floyd at Asda, and can David Gilmour really be eligible for a bus pass?

In case you might have forgotten, or never knew, a sticker on the environmentally friendly sleeve tells you that David Gilmour is ‘The voice and guitar of Pink Floyd’. The album transports you back. This is the languid Pink Floyd of ‘Fat Old Sun’ and ‘Grantchester Meadows’ — the distinctive David Gilmour of guitar breaks and soaring solos. Has he lost his edge? you ask yourself, worrying in case he needs Roger Waters as Paul McCartney needs John Lennon. But he’s got half the band with Richard Wright and half of another band with David Crosby and Graham Nash, as well as a trio of famous keyboard names Phil Manzanera, Jools Holland and Georgie Fame. Other musicians are familiar from Pink Floyd days gone by.

This is music for mature grown-ups elegant, sophisticated and superbly played. The opening instrumental ‘Castellorizon’ sets a scene of laidback virtuosity. There are other instrumentals perhaps less full of invention than, say, ‘Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast’ but probably today the better for it. The title track could have graced any Pink Floyd album with all the familiar ingredients, including Richard Wright on Hammond organ. I wonder whether Mrs Gilmour was thinking of a more famous track when she wrote the words to ‘Take A Breath’? Robert Wyatt adds a subdued cornet solo on ‘Then I Close My Eyes’. ‘A Pocket Full of Stones’ and ‘Where We Start’, the final tracks, are reflections on ageing and the experience of life — ‘So much behind us, still far to go’. Who will be the first of your friends to have an MP3 player fitted to their Zimmer?