On the television in Roger Waters’ palatial Knightsbridge suite, Tim Henman cuts a picture of grim determination. As he claws his way back into contention, having lost the first set of his opening Wimbledon match, Waters gazes across – more in amusement than concern – and enquires, “It’s all so British, isn’t it? If there’s anything we love more than a winner, it’s a heroic loser.” Momentarily, you wonder if you should venture an exception to that rule – in 1986 Waters’ megalomaniacal public image hardly improved after a bitter fight to wrest the name Pink Floyd from his old band-mates. But then you remember that Waters has, in the past, terminated interviews for gentler lines of enquiry. So we move to the seating area, where he suggests I sit between him and the TV so he can talk whilst monitoring Henman’s progress. Mercifully, he soon loses interest in the tennis.
A few hundred yards from Waters’ hotel, in Hyde Park, the fences have already been erected in anticipation of Saturday, when he will play Dark Side Of The Moon in its entirety. Last week, he did the same thing in the “symbolic” Israeli community of Neve Shalom – where Jewish and Palestinian families are allowed to live and work among each other – “in the pitch black night with 55,000 people there, just amazing.”
Indeed, more than any other album of the era, it’s a record that seems purpose-built for vast open spaces – and the people who, in another century, would flock to fill those spaces. Yet that wasn’t the manner in which Pink Floyd’s seventh album first hit the road. “It was theatres,” recalls the 62 year-old, “So you had us doing it at 2000-seaters like the Liverpool Royal Court. And, of course, back in those days, we were very authoritarian about what we would and wouldn’t do. So, in the first half of the set you had the previous album. Then we would come back on and do the new album, and that’s it. No ‘requests.’ Fuck you all.”
“Fuck you all” – it’s a phrase that increasingly summed up the tension between what Waters has often wanted to do and his audience’s expectations. If ever an artist had a dysfunctional relationship with his fans, it was the former Pink Floyd frontman. Already disillusioned by the “impersonal” stadia to which Dark Side Of The Moon propelled his band, it was Waters who, in 1977, spat on a fan who attempted to scale the stage. The episode, of course, inspired him to write The Wall – an album about building a wall between himself and his audience. Surely, an unsustainable way to carry on?
Waters remains proud of The Wall, but less so about his own mindset at that time. Later, his Floyd colleague David Gilmour came to describe the record as “one of the luckiest people in the world issuing a catalogue of abuse and bile against people who’d never done anything to him.”
“I’ve changed my attitude to playing in front of large audiences, no doubt about it,” reflects Waters, “But you have to remember that audiences were different to how they were then. There was a certain sense of people coming to see Pink Floyd because that was the thing to do. That said, the real problem was more immediate. I was quite separated from myself and in consequence, quite separated from anyone else.”
For the famously bullish Waters, that constitutes some admission. Self-awareness, he says, hasn’t come naturally to him. If we’re asking about a point at which he became palpably mellower in his outlook, he says the answer is no – “not in my case.” These days however, he can take a compliment without thinking less of the person paying it – something, he says, to do with “getting rid of the judge that sits on your shoulder telling you you’re an arsehole. I mean, my judge was an enormously powerful figure for my whole life. [That’s why] 30 years ago, I was so hard on everyone else.”
When Waters appears at Hyde Park this Saturday, it surely won’t fail to escape his attention that he was in the same place on the corresponding Saturday in 2005. After the two decades of enmity which followed the Waters-less Floyd album A Momentary Lapse Of Reason – Pink Floyd’s show-stealing 23 minutes at Live 8 allowed fans to imagine that a full—on reformation was possible. Indeed, Waters’ touching on-stage declaration that, “it’s actually quite emotional standing up here with these three guys after all these years” seemed to imply a public burying of hatchets. In the aftermath of Live 8, it was a conciliatory Waters said he was open to the idea of a tour. Gilmour, it transpires, was less keen.
A year on, the situation remains unchanged. “From my point of view,” says Waters, “there is no impediment to doing some more work together. There would have to be some kind of emotional negotiation that would need to take place for us to do that and I’m not sure that Dave wants to go down that road at all. He’s had this baby for twenty years now and his doesn’t want to relinquish his grip on it.” It’s a conundrum. Gilmour, who owns the name, no longer wants to make Pink Floyd albums. Waters, who doesn’t, seems more open to the idea.
Inevitably, as Waters and Gilmour return to their very different worlds, old tensions resurface. When Gilmour picked up an award on Pink Floyd’s behalf at the 2005 UK Hall Of Fame awards, he made a point of thanking everyone – from the group’s famously troubled first frontman Syd Barrett to Waters – who had come along for this crazy ride. Behind Gilmour, gazing down from a large screen, an enormous Waters took exception to the notion that he had been a mere “passenger” in Pink Floyd’s odyssey.
In fact, he says he hasn’t taken a close interest in their Waters-less guise, which might account for his surprise when I tell him that next week’s release, on DVD, of Pulse (from their 1995 tour) contains their beginning-to-end performance of Dark Side Of The Moon. “Is that the case?” he smiles. “I really didn’t know. I gave up after I heard a reggae version of Money on [their 1988 live album] The Delicate Sound Of Thunder. I remember lying on the floor howling with laughter with my feet in mid-air.”
Clearly, Waters hasn’t heard the recent Pink Floyd reggae tribute, Dub Side Of The Moon? “I didn’t know about that!” he chirps, “But there’s a country and western version of The Wall by a band called Luther Wright And The Wrongs. All played on banjos and slide guitars. It’s fantastic. I can thoroughly recommend it.”
Whilst Waters can always make time for comedy versions of his old songs, he says his interest in other groups is minimal. Asked about Radiohead – whose frontman Thom Yorke seems to harbour similarly complex feelings towards the Government and his fans – he shrugs. “I heard one Radiohead album. Was it Oh Computer? [sic] I can’t remember it making an impression.”
I put it to Waters that, for many people, it was the Dark Side Of The Moon of its generation – a portending of a brave but strangely alienating new world. Waters says that he would quite simply prefer to hear such sentiments from his contemporaries, maybe Nick Drake – “but he’s a bit on the dead side, sadly.” Operating on a hunch, I ask him if he has ever heard Abba’s bonkers final album, The Visitors – whose Bergmanesque shadow-world of paranoia and claustrophobia is surprisingly redolent of Pink Floyd’s 1977 opus Animals. Waters looks at me as though I’ve just been sick in his wardrobe, then releases a ripe chuckle. “The title track,” I tell him, “is written from the point of view of a Russian dissident waiting for the fatal knock on the door. Very you, that.” His reply is also very him. “Abba?” He rolls those two syllables around his mouth with Paxmanesque disdain. “From the first bar I ever heard by them, I was an ex-listener.”
In fact, the last album Waters bought was Living With Terror – the album Neil Young recorded in a two-week fit of rage at the US Government. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising given the distrust of authority Waters inherited from his communist mother. He says he has also written no shortage of songs in a similar vein – but with 13 years elapsed since his last solo album Amused To Death, he advises against holding our breath. How can an album take thirteen years to record? “Well, it just does. I maybe get some enthusiasm for it, and then I do something else, like Ca Ira [his opera, set in the early days of the French Revolution]. Then, a few years ago I got divorced – which also provides a bit of an interruption.”
Life, in other words, has steadily overtaken work. Since the demise of his third marriage [to the actress Priscilla Phillips] Waters has moved to Manhattan – where he and his American fiancé Laurie During spend most of their time. “You would be surprised how many golf clubs are within striking distance of New York.” As befits a relationship in its first flourish, Waters and Laurie “go out all the time”. After three years there, the only dinner party they have thrown has been in honour of US economist Geoffrey Sachs, whose book The End Of Poverty provided the ideological impetus for Live 8. Waters says that his friendship with Sachs has further changed his outlook. “I’ve put my money where my mouth is and decided to support a village in Senegal. Singlehandedly? Well, yes, but really it’s just a matter of committing to lots of money for the next five years and putting tons of fertilizer into the ground and buying nets for mosquitos.”
I suggest to Waters that something as practical as subsidizing a Senegalese village must be more psychically becalming than years of therapy. “Well, I don’t go to therapy any more,” he smiles, “But, you know, it’s no one act that makes you feel happier. I’ve been through a personal journey of transformation – with parenthood, and failed relationships and all the rest of things that change you.”
If Roger Waters is at relative peace, I tell him it’s a shame that lifelong friendships should have been extinguished before he got a chance to share some of that peace with them. For once, the usually outspoken Waters seems to have exhausted his stock of opinions. “Is it?” he shrugs, “I really don’t know. No-one is miserable right now. Perhaps that’s enough.”