Pink Floyd at Live 8
Updated: Jul 3, 2020
Back in 1994, when Pink Floyd's The Division Bell Tour ended, the majority of the band's fans had become acclimated to prolonged breaks between albums and tours. A certain amount of mystery regarding the band line-up was also par for the course. But in the most immediate years leading up to the Live 8 reunion the typical anticipation between albums and tours had become something different: somehow, at some point, the vernacular of the 'next studio album and tour' had morphed into frequent but unsubstantiated assertions of possible 'reunions.' For that matter, any references to reunions usually meant one of two things: a reunion of line-up that had last toured in 1994 or a reunion of the line-up that made the brand famous in the 1970s.
To understand the magnitude of the Live 8 Pink Floyd reunion that took place exactly 10 years ago today it is important to place it in at least some context:
Four years elapsed between The Final Cut and A Momentary Lapse of Reason – and then seven more years elapsed before the band released their next album, The Division Bell. That tumultuous (but commercially successful) period in the band’s history spanned 11 years… and it would take another 11 years after that before the Live 8 reunion materialized.
In that total span of 11 years between The Final Cut and The Division Bell a number of significant changes took place. Lyricist, bassist, and vocalist Roger Waters left the band, setting the stage for that departure with the 1983 release of the former, which indisputably bears his heaviest mark on the band's sound – as close to a Waters solo album as a Pink Floyd album ever came. The band then re-emerged in 1987 under the helm of David Gilmour with A Momentary Lapse of Reason, which turned out to be the closest a Pink Floyd album could come to a solo Gilmour endeavour; in fact, the project's personnel was so fluid fans were still trying to understand who was in the band and who wasn't: Nick Mason, the only other official member of Pink Floyd at the time A Momentary Lapse of Reason was released, played a minimal role in that production. Finally, by 1994, when the band released The Division Bell, the Gilmour-led Pink Floyd cemented as a trio (with Mason and Richard Wright fully on board now) and assimilated a more contemporary sound that was (ironically) more in line with the band's roots than A Momentary Lapse of Reason or The Final Cut.
The 11 years spanning these three albums provide us with the context that teed up the improbability of a reunion with Roger Waters, let alone a reunion of the Gilmour era Pink Floyd which had already been inactive another 11 years since The Division Bell. Although fans had come to expect long gaps between albums and tours, somewhere after the year 2000 the idea of another Pink Floyd album and tour imbibed a reunion tone: fans no longer saw Pink Floyd as an active band. During much of that time, particularly in the time spanning the release of The Final Cut and the A Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour, the war between the new, Gilmour-led Pink Floyd and Roger Waters became one of the most epic feuds in rock history – piercing through a wall of relative anonymity Pink Floyd had managed to keep through its highest peaks and forever changing Pink Floyd fandom as many of the band's adherents took sides in the fight.
A Floydian Renaissance
I had the good fortune of living in the United Kingdom during a period of heavy Pink Floyd activity – even if none of it pointed to an imminent reunion.
In 2004 Gilmour played The Strat Pack concert at Wembley Arena, which marked the first time I had seen him play live since Pink Floyd's last show at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington DC on July 10th, 1994 – the last of five shows I saw on that tour, including two in Dallas, one in Denver, and one in New Orleans. Also in 2004, Mason released "Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd" and toured the book heavily throughout the United Kingdom. These stops included a BBC broadcast in Northern Ireland, a talk at the Belfast Festival, and a book signing at Edinburgh's Fopp record store (among others).
I remember the Fopp stop with particular distinction after forgetting a copy of PULSE (the special edition with the blinking light) at the book-signing, rushing back to look for it, and making my way up the store's staircase, asking whether anyone had seen my CD… only to discover I was interrupting a TV interview with Mason… right as he discussed the possibility of a Pink Floyd reunion at "another Live Aid type of event." (Fortunately, it was a recorded interview, easy to edit and correct.)
In addition to the Mason book tour, fans had just been treated to a Pink Floyd exhibit at the Cite de la Musique in Paris earlier in the year (a fairly accessible event for fans in the United Kingdom) and to substantive news that a new solo Gilmour album was in the works.
Needless to say, it was a great time to be a Pink Floyd fan in the United Kingdom… but little did we know what was about to happen in 2005.
Although I was a student at Durham University at the time, I was scheduled to spend nearly four months at American University in Cairo, Egypt, starting that May: not long before the day that Bob Geldof officially announced Live 8 would be staged as a series of overlapping concerts around the globe.
Somewhere in that process, reports of a potential Pink Floyd reunion began to circulate. For many fans, this was met with a mix of scepticism as well as some level of confusion about what a "reunion" meant: was it the Gilmour-led Pink Floyd or was this a reunion of that version of the band plus Roger Waters? Whatever it was, fans were ready to dismiss this as another meaningless attempt to stir the pot.
Floydian Slip host Craig Bailey was right there with the fans on this sentiment: "I initially didn't believe it. I have lots of people throw news tips my way, but until I see a reliable source report it, I'm always sceptical. It wasn't until I saw a story on the BBC website, I think, that I realized it was really going to happen."
From Cairo, I kept an eye on Live 8 news. Although they had announced some great and impressive acts I was always sceptical of truncated sets at shows like this. In fact, based on what had been announced, and as news trickled in, nothing captivated my attention for more than a few minutes and the whole concept of Live 8 struck me as a nebulous proposition: I knew it would be a number of shows in a number of cities but I wasn't sure if this would take place over several days and I didn't get the impression line-ups were set in stone. Whatever it was, it didn't seem I'd be missing much if I got stuck in Cairo. But that perception was about to change on Sunday, June 19th of that year.
Making the Impossible Happen
In Egypt, the work week begins on Sundays, which meant my daily Arabic studies at American University in Cairo ran from Sunday through Thursday. Most of us in the program – a good majority were Americans and Brits – had a routine going: we'd get out of class around 3PM and rush to our student housing's computer lab to check email and news.
And there it was, that Sunday the 19th of June, when I opened American news aggregator Drudge Report: Pink Floyd would indeed reunite, with Roger Waters, for the London Live 8 show.
In the moment you read news on this scale, everything and everyone around you seems to carry on in some sort of agnostic and parallel dimension while your mind absorbs the jolt. You experience a minor epiphany in a type of solitude.
After 10 years the precise chronology escapes me, but I do recall coming up with a plan to (a) score the difficult-to-obtain tickets (they were distributed through a text message lottery system: if you were lucky you'd find a person trying to sell them) and (b) make it in and out of London for the show as quickly as possible to diminish interruption of my academic work in Egypt. Although I was principally based out of the United Kingdom my summer studies in Egypt presented a vast logistical challenge in arranging a quick trip back home for something a lot of people would consider capricious.
This is not to say that fans in the United Kingdom didn't face their own challenges. Even people with connections to the band would struggle to access the event. The decision to reunite came very fast and there was a visceral sense of urgency – extensive preparations and efforts to make the gig needed to be executed swiftly. As Matt Johns, publisher and editor of Brain Damage framed it:
"As we learnt, the decision – once Roger and David had come to the agreement – was fairly swift. Up to that point, none of us would ever expect them to reunite; 'when pigs fly' is the apt phrase which in the event was adapted into one of the more prominent banners picked up by the TV cameras and world's press. I heard the news thanks to a call from the band's management, during the morning of the day the announcement was due to be made. I was in – of all places – a fast food place at Thorpe Park theme park, near London, with my wife and then young children. Threw me into a bit of frenzy, especially as I was told a few hours before the press was due to be told. From that point on, I knew that it was serious and it would be happening. My wife also knew I'd not be terribly focused on the rest of the day at the theme park and would be keen to get back home quickly to deal with the news and the inevitable avalanche of emails! As I got the news from the best possible source, I knew there was no element of rumour there, so the moment the call came through, my brain snapped into operation and thinking about all sorts of practicalities, including how on earth I was going to get a ticket for the event. It really did come as a 'bolt out of the blue' as the saying goes."
Like Johns, I was wondering how I would obtain a ticket for Live 8 – but particularly with the added stress of negotiating this from Egypt. If I did find a ticket for a reasonable price, how would I negotiate that over the internet? Would I blindly send money and hope they'd send me the ticket? I also needed to arrange a flight from Cairo to London and I realized the proximity of the travel date was going to hurt, in terms of cost.
Ultimately Johns went the safest route possible: "From a personal point of view, my main issue was getting hold of tickets. When the news broke, the 'lottery' system was still in place where you could apply for free tickets to the event. I seem to recall with the announcement on the Sunday, there were still around three or four days before the application deadline fell, I think on the following Wednesday. Unfortunately I had no luck through conventional routes, so had to spend out on an official VIP hospitality ticket, with the money going to charity, giving me food, drink, and gold circle access. My wife said I'd always regret it if I didn't, and with the amounts that tickets were going for on the black market, it was nice not to have risk associated with such an important event...and for the money to go where it should rather than lining the pocket of someone with a purely personal profit motive."
Unfortunately, for reasons I cannot recall, the VIP ticket route that Johns took was not an option for me (it may have been cost or lack of availability). In the end, I came up with a detailed punch-list governed by three larger goals: transferring funds from one place to another, shopping for a Live 8 ticket as my schedule permitted, and then looking for a plane ticket.
Simple enough. But that plan didn't factor Geldof's anger at eBay for allowing the otherwise "free" concert tickets to be sold on the bidding website.
I literally remember sitting there on a computer, watching eBay search results diminish as I flipped between ads. I couldn't believe my eyes: Geldof's request (threat?) to remove tickets from the site was unfolding in front of me, in real time... as I struggled to find a credible-looking ticket sale!
Fortunately, after some haggling, I reached a compromise in which I'd send half the money for a ticket to a person in London in exchange for scanned documents proving their identity. I realize this sounds pretty bonkers now, but we have to consider this was before the age of iPhones, selfies, and instant social media connections and access – or at least before some of these tools had become as ordinary as they are now. I had to take a risk. The plan was to have a friend pick the ticket up with the other half of the money before the show.
After that part was settled, and upon completing the necessary transfers, I purchased a plane ticket. It seemed like the perfect plan – or at least as tight a plan as you could construct in such a limited amount of time.
The Plan Execution
The Thursday night before the show, after finishing all my business at American University in Cairo, I hailed a cab and made my way to the airport. On the way there I pondered what type of set Pink Floyd would play. I worried they might not play after all (many fans were sceptical the band would really get together and knock this out). Regardless, it was worth taking a chance: the historic value of a potential Pink Floyd reunion at such a historic concert outweighed the inconveniences negotiated in planning this.
Of course… something had to go wrong: in this case, my arrival at the airport was too late for check-in – by less than one minute.
The plane still had another hour at the gate before getting on the runway – but the tight security at Cairo's airport, just four years after 9-11 and with the weight of international scrutiny on the region, meant they weren't going to let me through no matter what. It's no surprise some of Pink Floyd's fiercest fans skipped the event altogether – there was a great deal of risk to negotiate at a very high price and in a very tight window of time: "It was all too short-notice to go to London," explained Matt Leonard, host of the Brain Damage floydpodcast. And he wasn't alone.
I was left with no choice. It looked like the hunt for a Live 8 ticket and the effort to purchase a plane ticket and reach London in time for the show was for naught.
As I returned home in Cairo I faced a dilemma: my initial response was a sense of resignation but within minutes I started to entertain my options. I had already invested quite a bit of money in this, so I had the choice to bite the bullet and get a second plane ticket (as I negotiated the status of the unused one) or I could stay in Cairo and watch the whole thing on TV.
I realized I would be full of regret if I did the latter.
The next day I rushed back to the travel agency and waited outside the door for them to open. I managed to find a plane ticket that had me arriving into London right in time for show. With that, I re-arranged things so one of my friends could pay the rest of the Live 8 ticket and collect it before the event. The rest is a blur: with a plane ticket in hand I didn't want to chance anything so I went to the airport as soon as I could. Once the plane was airborne I must have fallen asleep. I have no recollection of the hasty trip through Heathrow security and to a small hotel in London near Hyde Park. I remember dropping a bag off. After that, all I can recall is finally making it into a huge line working its way into Hyde Park, managing my way around throngs of people who had actually camped out the night before, and somehow still managing a pretty good spot for myself at a reasonable distance from the stage.
The overall show was excellent – many great memories and an opportunity to see some incredible artists. But as the event went past curfew by nearly three hours I grew a bit worried that indeed Pink Floyd wouldn't play. By far some of the most memorable performances included REM, Keane, Dido with Youssou N'Dour, and Robbie Williams. They really got the audience going. But what I recall most, before Pink Floyd came on stage, was The Who. Once a rock giant like The Who hits the stage they set the bar high for whatever acts are left on the show. But as the show was running later and later I was really concerned this would result in even shorter sets or in the musicians becoming frustrated enough for it all to bleed into the music.
"As we all know, the concert was spectacularly overrunning. The central London location didn't help, as any event held there has to be very mindful of the many neighbours they have. I seem to recall one of the senior government ministers was doing her absolute best to negotiate the overrun to desperately try to keep the concert on track. Whilst it didn't really come across on TV, the transition between acts didn't seem particularly fast and it didn't take long before there were serious concerns over the finishing time, and also still fitting in all the scheduled acts," explained Johns.
And the delay did affect some sets, according to Johns:
"Some of the later acts DID have to curtail things, but the Floyd's appearance was so intrinsic to the event, I don't think anyone would have dared suggest any truncation. The only show-stopper would have been exactly that – the plug pulled due to a curfew. If that had happened, the repercussions (in particular for the UK government at the time) would have been interesting."
Given how far after curfew the entire event was running I still harboured concerns that for some reason this Pink Floyd reunion wouldn't take place. This was a fear Johns didn't experience as someone more intimately involved with the event's cast:
"I never realised that even until the day of the concert, there was some degree of doubt over it amongst some fans. The phrase 'I'll believe it when I see it' is another well-worn saying, but you have to remember that within the band there was always a healthy degree of determination and stubbornness, so that when they set their mind to things, they'd see things through (Household Objects aside, of course)." Johns added: "Once they'd committed to offering their time and efforts to such an important cause, none of them would have had the appetite to back off or do a lesser set or performance – and indeed, they were economical with Bob Geldof as to the set they were intending to play. He already had his concerns before the concert, joking that most of their songs tended to be longer than the strict twenty minutes they were allocated. In an effort to get around the short timeslot, the opening sequence of Speak To Me/Breathe/Breathe (reprise) was only declared as Breathe to make the set look shorter, and even then I believe the declared set pre-concert was a squeak over the allotted time."
Johns' is a fascinating perspective: it includes some eye-opening insights that give you a clear sense of how differently fans and others who had more intimate ties to folks working this event and pulling this epic reunion together saw and perceived things:
"I was aware of when the three days of rehearsals were taking place; and the night before, a couple of friends were lucky enough to be on site for the rehearsal/technical checks, and of course the Floyd ran through some elements during that. So from my perspective, there was no doubt that - barring a technical issue or an overrunning concert halted by a curfew - nothing would stop this historic reunion."
For ordinary fans who were just taking the media's (and Geldof's) word that the reunion would take place – particularly no matter how late past the 9.30pm curfew – it was quite a moment when, without introduction (every other artist had been introduced), at 11.23pm the lights in Hyde Park went out and you could hear a heartbeat. Before you knew it, you had Pink Floyd with Roger Waters on stage, playing Breathe.
The performance left a unique imprint on each person – whether they watched it on TV, downloaded it from some source right after it took place, or whether they were there at Hyde Park – and one thing that every one shared that night was a monumental sense of community that cannot be replicated given the global scale of the event.
"I thought it was the perfect selection of their back catalogue, which would be recognised by the majority of the worldwide audience, and which would be accessible to those unfamiliar with their material. They needed to be focused on shorter songs, and of course needed to be a blend of material that they'd all be happy performing. The performances were beautiful and better than I could ever imagine they'd be. It wasn't just that – they once again looked a proper band. This wasn't Pink Floyd and Roger Waters; it was one band, making their contribution to the event and to the cause. It was that which bound them, and that which propelled them through such a touching and stellar performance," said Johns.
Johns added: "They sounded great – but don't forget they were ably assisted with some additional personnel. Jon Carin, a regular with both David and Roger, assisted Richard on keyboards (albeit pretty much entirely shrouded by dry ice throughout), Dick Parry on sax, Carol Kenyon on backing vocals, and Tim Renwick on guitar. Actually, Guy Pratt was asked to play bass for the performance as Roger's preference was to play acoustic guitar, but Guy had been asked to play bass for Roxy Music (which had always been his dream job) who were due to perform their own set for Live 8. It proved a difficult decision for him, but he decided to head to Germany instead for that opportunity, which was part of Berlin's staging of Live 8 (the event was held in six cities across the world on the same day)."
James Callister, a long-time friend and real estate attorney in Newport Beach, California who watched it on TV was particularly moved by Wish You Were Here:
"While not the most die-hard of Floyd fans, so many of their songs provided the soundtrack of my youth. As a young teenager, I started to introduce myself to the great rock'n'roll bands. I stole my brother's copy of The Wall and fell in love with it. Later, when I first heard Wish You Were Here, I didn't know a song could invoke emotion like that in a kid whose parents were getting divorced. I didn't think I'd ever see and hear that opening riff ever again live. When I heard them playing it at Live 8 again, what a thrill of emotion as I once again felt like that 13 year old in my room, with headphones on a Sony Discman and feeling like that song understood me."
And speaking of Wish You Were Here, I personally found it surprising that Roger Waters shared lead vocals on this song: a pleasant but unexpected surprise. It wasn't a surprise for Johns:
"No, it didn't surprise me at all…this was very much a true collaboration between the musicians and a balance was always going to be struck. Not least, there was going to be some compromise and adaptation as Roger and David had already taken some of the songs in slightly different directions to each other. Roger said he 'rolled over' for a number of David's decisions or suggestions, for the sake of the event, but it was and is clear that they both became such different people from the early 80s, when they last worked with each other, that they'd never be able to progress this brief liaison further to record or tour together again."
Film director Roddy Bogawa, who recently saw his first live show at Hyde Park (Blur with Jenny Spires, one of Syd Barrett's ex-girlfriends) and who directed a documentary on Storm Thorgerson to be released toward the end of this year stated: "I saw Pink Floyd perform three times in my youth – the Animals tour at Anaheim Stadium, which was my first concert, believe it or not, and then two shows on the original tour of The Wall. It's hard to believe it's now been ten years since the classic line-up (sans Syd Barrett) performed at Live 8 in Hyde Park. As with the best bands, it is the often the kitchen sink alchemy of the sum of the parts that makes magic and though with the passing of Rick Wright, Pink Floyd can no longer perform as such, Live 8 is a fitting final show to be remembered for and they should be admired for putting aside their deep wounds for a noble cause."
For Floydpodcast host and Boston radio personality Matt Leonard it was one of those experiences where daily life was threatening to get in the way:
"I was in my living room, running 10 minutes late for my shift on the air. It was getting late and I'm like 'OH NO! I gotta go!' So I was calling the on-the-air DJ telling him I was gonna be late. I recorded the whole thing, so when I got to the station I had the recording with me. I noticed that on the playlist they had 'Comfortably Numb' – so I aired the Live 8 recording from that same evening. I called my manager to ask – and they were like 'Yeah! Definitely, play it!'"
Like Leonard, Floydian Slip's Bailey took advantage of the opportunity to save the content for his broadcasts: "I didn't catch the performance live. I'm not sure my cable package included any of the channels that carried it live. But I hit BitTorrent the next day and found a high-res video file of the Floyd set."
Branding blogger David Deal, who has occasionally reviewed Pink Floyd releases, still feels a visceral impact when he watches the Live 8 Pink Floyd reunion: "I remember watching the Live 8 performance on television in my home. I was overwhelmed by the emotional power of Pink Floyd's music but also a little sad because I knew the reunion would last for but a fleeting moment. Watching the Live 8 reunion 10 years later still sends a shiver up my spine."
He wasn’t the only one:
"Chills ran down my spine as I witnessed history, knowing it was the first time the band had played with Roger Waters in nearly 25 years. I was swept off my feet with the cacophony of sound as they began their set smiling inside totally lost in the music. Pink Floyd were the main reason I was there," said long-time fan MP Read, of Sandbach (Manchester, United Kingdom).
Saxophonist and guitarist Scott Page, who joined the band during the recording of A Momentary Lapse of Reason and was part of the Gilmour-led Floyd throughout that period was as surprised as the fans when he saw the Live 8 reunion come together: "We never really talked much about Roger when I was with Floyd," said Page. "But you could tell that it wasn't a love-fest between them. I really didn't think they would ever play together again. How cool is that! They finally mended their fences and I really felt there would be a reunion tour. Well, unfortunately I guess I was right the first time..."
And if a former band member could not discern that off the bat, it is easy to understand how average fans felt as soon as the 20 minute set was over and they were left to once again sort out what the future of the band would hold. Within days some of the old cracks resurfaced and made it certain Live 8 would stand as a unique event, never to be repeated on that scale again. Added Page: "It was really great to see the whole band together but statements afterward in the media made it very clear they weren’t getting back together anytime soon for any tour. I guess water is thicker than blood?"
The Gilmour Line-Up's Post Live 8 Reunions
Of course, Live 8 would not be the last time the last incarnation of Pink Floyd would play together. Even when the reunion took place there was some debate about whether this was four members reuniting or whether this was the Gilmour-led version of Pink Floyd performing with Roger Waters. Just semantics, perhaps, but it was made clear on the official Pink Floyd website and other resources that these were two distinct acts playing together: Pink Floyd and Roger Waters. Meanwhile, a number of subsequent shows boasted the Gilmour-era line-up but were never received with the same fanfare as the Live 8 reunion:
"They were all such different propositions, and events. Gilmour and Wright had been touring since March 2006 as part of David's tour – it was his material on the whole, and not billed as a Floyd event. It is a little odd though that there was little connection seen when Mason joined them at the Royal Albert Hall. Yes, he was very heartily welcomed and it was a great performance, but there never seemed to be a massive realisation amongst the crowd when he appeared that this was – in effect – the Floyd back together on stage," says Johns. "The Barbican gig felt more like a reunion of sorts, although of course Roger was separated from the others by the interval. A shout from the audience of 'Pink Floyd' as Roger was starting was met by a 'Later, later…' from Waters, but the event generally seemed to slip under most people's radar. From my perspective, the event – a tribute to Syd – was always likely to feature something interesting, and the tickets weren't pricey, yet easy to get hold of. Was it the low-key approach to the event which resulted in it not getting much prominence, or significance, with the fanbase? This show in particular still puzzles me to this day, with many fans at the time not having much interest or appetite for it. I think they regret it now. Not least, it proved one of those rare occasions where Roger performed a stripped back set with no flashy staging to metaphorically hide behind, as under two thousand pairs of eyes were on him throughout his emotional (and seemingly nervous) playing."
"The O2 Arena concert appearance by David almost seemed to come as a relief for many. For some time before it, each show was met with a 'will he appear' vibe. There seemed a palpable sense of disappointment amongst certain elements of the crowd (albeit for just a moment or two) when Dave Kilminster appeared atop the wall for Comfortably Numb. On the day of the show, I was aware that David would be guesting, although the vast majority weren't aware. There were some rumours prior to the show, and in the first half, but these were more just those with wishful thinking and suchlike. A London-based radio station then tweeted as the interval started that Gilmour would be appearing in the second half, and the noise as the news spread like wildfire was interesting! As for the roar when he did pop up above the cardboard edifice, it was quite something to experience. At the end of the show, Nick was coaxed onto the stage for Outside The Wall, and it just felt like three old chums together rather than anything more significant. It's that sense of significance that gave Live 8 its unique nature."
With the passing of Wright it became evident a reunion on the scale of Live 8 – or even a reunion of the last official Pink Floyd line-up of Gilmour, Mason, and Wright was now an impossibility. Gilmour has specifically stated the release of The Endless River marks the end of Pink Floyd – and in a sense it's a statement that gives the band closure on the terms of that last line-up.
Johns added: "Live 8, by its very nature, was always going to be seen as one of their key live performances – if not, THE key live performance. Whilst other shows and tours are significant and vital for the band's story and development, it all came down to that one evening in July 2005, when, as Roger said, 'It's actually quite emotional, standing up here with these three guys after all these years. Standing to be counted with the rest of you. Anyway, we're doing this for everyone who's not here, particularly, of course for Syd…'"