In The Flesh are no ordinary Pink Floyd tribute
From fans’ divided loyalties to the stigma surrounding tribute acts; entertainment writer WAYNE SAVAGE talks to Chris Thomas of Pink Floyd tribute band In The Flesh.
OKAY, if you’re not a hardcore Pink Floyd fan pay attention because this may get tricky.
Chief lyricist and songwriter Roger Waters split from the original band in 1985 to pursue a solo career. A reformed Floyd, led by guitarist David Gilmour, recorded and toured without him; performing their last show in 1994.
The band reformed one last time with Waters for the Live 8 charity concert in 2008 and has remained split ever since.
“I know it’s debateable but the combination of Waters and the rest of the band was what Pink Floyd was all about. Take away all the anger and tension and the band became, well, bland, in my opinion,” says singer, guitarist and keyboard player Chris.
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Why the history lesson? Because fans’ divided loyalties doesn’t make putting together their Pink Floyd tribute show - at the Ipswich Corn Exchange on November 11 - easy.
“I think hardcore fans love it, Gilmour fans perhaps not so much. Waters and Syd Barrett fans I would say lean towards us,” he laughs.
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“I think it’s very hard to please everyone and with new Floyd fans getting their first taste of Pink via their farewell tour in 1994 I think it’s very important to give the audience a more realistic portrayal of what Floyd were like pre-1985. That was after all when they were at their most creative.
“People come up to me after the show and say ‘oh I didn’t like that early one you did’ or ‘I didn’t really get that’. Then they love all the newer stuff so it’s difficult because it’s such a broad spectrum of music from 1967 to whenever Division Bell was released.
“They must have had so many different influences and so many different experiences which changed their music. If you listen to that first album and then put the last album on they’re chalk and cheese.
“It goes back to creating a show with all their music so people get a taste of everything rather than too much of one thing and not enough of another.”
The two-and-a-half hour show draws on everything from Floyd’s first single Arnold Layne through to their last studio album, The Final Cut, with the original line up “We don’t encompass every single album; you’d be playing for hours, he laughs. There are sacrifices you have to make and you’ve got to have some kind of continuity with your songs because you’re creating a show rather than just picking songs off of albums.”
As well as a divided fanbase, there’s also the stigma surrounding tribute acts never mind one taking on one of the biggest bands in music history.
“I would say to people sceptical about tribute bands just give them a go because you never know, you might be surprised and really enjoy it. I’m not just talking about ours but the many others out there. If you don’t enjoy it then you don’t have to go again do you,” he laughs.
The seven-piece group, aged 17 to their late 50s, aim to bottle that authentic 1970s atmosphere. Don’t expect people in dodgy wigs stood in front of mics all night; the show boasts all the bells and whistles you’d expect from the real Floyd.
State-of-the-art technology sits alongside traditional analogue equipment and old valve rather than transistor amps. They band also play specially sourced vintage and perfect replica instruments.
“I have a 1963 Hammond M102, the same as Richard Wright. My Kurzwiel piano is also the same make as his,” says Chris. “My guitars are both replicas of Gilmour’s and all my effects are analogue. It’s impossible to recreate something if you don’t make the effort to use the same gear. People will notice.”
Using vintage gear adds another layer of difficulty; some of it never being really designed to go on tour.
“The guy who looks after my Hammond is brilliant; he constantly comes up with bits and parts and stuff. Last year he serviced it and had to replace 25 keys that I’d managed to break over the duration of last year’s touring. That’s probably why a lot of other Pink Floyd bands avoid it because of the commitment you have to make to keep it working; they’re quite happy to just plug one keyboard in and that’s it.”
While In The Flesh don’t have the big stadium budget of the original, it is still an impressive operation manned by up to seven crew members.
They carry their own PA system and massive lighting rig which includes a huge projection screen that uses specially commissioned, unique film sequences designed by the original lighting designer of the legendary Fillmore East Theatre in New York and still images to accompany the music.
It means the band have to get to a venue at mid-day where their crew sets up the show through the afternoon ready for a sound-check at around 5pm.
“We spend most of our time either in the tour bus, in a hotel or in a theatre. I have no idea what most of the places we visit look like,” laughs Chris.
Formed in early 2007 In The Flesh was the brainchild of Chris, Patrick Forbear, Jeff Glover and Steve Loar who until then had been enjoying a long career in a string of covers bands playing across the Torbay area of south Devon.
“We wanted to play to a captive audience. No disrespect to pubs but people are just there to drink and a lot of landlords are just interested in how much beer they sell at the end of the night,” remembers Chris.
“It was more of a challenge for us to say we’re going to leave that behind, try to do something bigger, better and establish ourselves in the theatres which is what we’ve managed to do.”
The increasing popularity of the introduction of Floyd songs to their sets eventually became too overwhelming to ignore and thoughts slowly turned to developing an authentic excursion into their most creative period - from the mid-60s to the early 80s.
Talking of challenges, Chris and his partner Polly Anna Davies, one of the group’s former backing singers, are not only moving house but expecting a baby in February.
“It’s an experience [touring]. People who moan about it shouldn’t be doing it. It’s something you’re going to look back on when you can’t do it anymore and say ‘yeah, we did alright there and we enjoyed it’.”
Aside from being the opening track on Floyd’s monumental rock-opera album The Wall, the preceding tour in support of their 1977 album Animals was dubbed Pink Floyd: In The Flesh.
Disenchanted by stadium touring and the inherent lack of contact with the fans, Waters believed the audience would be non-the-wiser if a surrogate band appeared on stage instead of them; thus forming the basis for the track.
It seemed an appropriate name for the band to take.
The majority of them are in their 30s, guitarist Loar is 57 and current backing singers Fredi Wright and Meghan Callaghan are just 17.
“Fredi’s often locked away in a quiet dressing room revising for her exams while we’re setting up the gear,” laughs Chris. “Steve’s children are older than she is.”
When we spoke Meghan hadn’t done a show yet; her first being at London’s O2, “so no pressure” he laughs again.
All agree it’s a privilage to play Floyd.
“We’re all fans; I think people have become more the further we’ve progressed because we’ve had to delve deeper into Floyd’s music. Even for me, since I’ve been doing it I’ve been introduced to their music that I hadn’t heard previously so yeah it’s great.
“There’s obviously certain Floyd you have to play and if you don’t there’ll be uproar,” laughs Chris. “But we always try to put in some lesser known stuff, just because it’s not as well known doesn’t mean it’s not as good. It’s nice to be able to introduce people to older songs.”