Pink Floyd’s Battle With Paul McCartney at Knebworth
David Gilmour and some of his backstage colleagues recalled some of the most memorable moments from Pink Floyd’s big concert in Venice in 1989 and another at Knebworth in 1990.
While Gilmour remained diplomatic about some of the negative aspects of the shows in the final episode of his The Lost Art of Conversation podcast series, his companions were more forthcoming about the problems – including a battle between Floyd manager Steve O’Rourke and Paul McCartney’s manager Richard Ogden at Knebworth.
Floyd managed to find a way through the legal fight with former member Roger Waters and had released A Momentary Lapse of Reason, their first LP without him. As part of the associated tour, Gilmour accepted an invitation to perform on a giant floating barge in Venice.
“The whole city of Venice had promised us everything,” he said. “Loos, food for the massive amount of people who were going to be there. … It seemed as if the entire town council disappeared on holiday for that weekend, because I think an awful lot of the audience couldn’t find food, couldn’t find public toilets. There were logistical nightmares to do with it. There was supposedly some damage to one or two buildings, which they blamed on our fireworks, but obviously wasn’t – they were out over the water somewhere. There was a little bit of bother about the whole event.”
He also remembered the challenge of watching a countdown clock during the show, which was there to remind performers to not run long since it was being broadcast live. “We weren’t used to doing an hour, we were used to doing two and a half hours, so it was very, very tricky,” he said. “Trying to concentrate on singing and playing while keeping an eye on the clock, saying, ‘Am I going on too long on this solo? Well obviously, yes, because I always do!’ … My abiding memory of it was looking at this red digital clock, ticking down: ‘I’ve got to get this song finished, start the next one.’”
Sound engineer Andy Jackson remembered the fireworks show once the concert was over. “We climbed on top of a Portakabin or something to watch the fireworks," he explained. "I was sitting there with David … he turned to me and said, 'This is the first time I’ve played support to a fireworks show!’ It really was quite unbelievable. The climax to a normal fireworks show was how it started, then it ramped up from there. ... It was a weird event … the gondoliers had tried to extort money out of Steve, who’d told them to go away. They said, ‘We will sound our horns through the show.’ And he said, ‘Good luck!’ And you can hear in the gaps, beep-beep-beep … parp!”
The Knebworth concert the following year was billed as the "Best British Rock Concert of All Time” and featured Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Genesis, Eric Clapton, Elton John and others. However, the argument over who should close the show came down to a battle between Floyd and McCartney.
“I can remember saying to Steve, ‘Tell them we want an hour of darkness’,” Gilmour said. “That was our only prerequisite. It’s in the summer, so darkness happens quite late, so I think it meant that we closed the show, which some people were slightly grumpy about. But we got our hour of darkness – and half an hour of rain! ... It was wet. … Those huge winds, slashing rain coming straight on to us. I must have been using a radio mic on the guitar at that time, because it would have been too dangerous to be that wet with all that electronic equipment."
Album artist Aubrey Powell was there too, and he recalled that "there had been a great debate about who would finish the show. … One of my better memories was the two managers of Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd arguing by the side of the stage at the closing moments of Paul McCartney’s set – which was running over, probably quite deliberately – and of Steve O’Rourke saying, ‘Get Paul McCartney off the stage right now!’ And Richard Ogden, who was Paul McCartney’s manager, saying, ‘Well, you go and drag him off then!’ They were nearly at blows with each other."
Still, he said, "much more dramatic was … the most horrendous squall" that blew in right as the show started. "This was a storm of unprecedented proportions," Powell said, noting that in the broadcast, viewers could see Gilmour "virtually being blown off the stage. It somehow added to the drama of the day. I’m sure it was most unpleasant for the participants in the band, but actually for everybody in the crowd it was pretty remarkable.”
Gilmour reflected that it was a "great show. I remember thinking, ‘You can hide from this rain or you’ve got to embrace it. There’s only one thing to do: Get out there and enjoy it.'”
You can listen to the podcast below.