17 October 2008, Plomerus @ 7:35 pm
Atom Hyde Park (Godfather Records GR 320)
Hyde Park, London, England – July 18th, 1970
Intro (2:27), Embryo (10:32), Green Is The Colour (3:43), Careful With That Axe Eugene (8:17), Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (12:21), Atom Heart Mother (23:13)
“Blackhill’s Garden Party – Hyde Park Free Concert” was a wildly contrasting, 5-hour-plus event featuring the likes of Third Ear Band, Kevin Ayers And The Whole World, The Edgar Broughton Band, DJ Jeff Dexter, and of course, Pink Floyd.
For The Floyd, this concert represents one of the few performances of “Atom Heart Mother” with the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and John Aldess Choir (conducted by Aldess) at an open air festival, and gave those in attendance a stunning preview of their forthcoming album, which would be released in the UK on October 2nd.
Previously, this recording was only available via download or on fan-produced CDR’s such as Hyde Park and Black Hills Garden Party. Thus, Atom Hyde Park marks the silver debut of this recording, and although it is a bit rougher than much of the output on Godfather Records, due to its historical value and rarity, Godfather elected to press it regardless. I certainly applaud the label for striving to produce new factory-pressed titles as opposed to simply rehashing the same concerts over and over like some of the other labels are often prone to do.
As always, Atom Hyde Park is housed in a gorgeous tri-fold cardboard sleeve, featuring several photos from the actual performance and some background information on the concert. Godfather’s packaging is always the epitome of professionalism, and unique also for the use of brighter colours than many of the other labels.
Of course, it is the content that matters the most here, and sonically I’d characterize this recording as favoring the mids, more or less bereft of low end, and no extreme high-end. Due to the frequency range, there is a mild amount of upper-end distortion during some of the louder passages but on the whole, the music comes through much clearer than on some of the other festival performances of 1970. It should be noted also that this recording is remarkably free of the hiss that often plagues sources of this era and there are no drop-outs to report, but the tape does sound worn in spots. The only cuts present are prior to “Atom Heart Mother,” after Roger Waters explained there would be a pause to bring out the choir and brass ensemble, and for 1 second at the 1:51 mark of the same song.
Atmospherically, being that this was an open air festival, the wind sometimes plays a role in the sonic character of the recording, so occasionally there is something of a panning effect, however in my opinion this only enhances the trippy, psychedelic nature of the setlist!
David Gilmour’s guitar and Richard Wright’s organ tend to dominate this recording instrumentally, yet all of the vocals are clear, thus despite the “raw” nature of the recording, it is quite enjoyable to listen to. The audience are obviously mesmerized, listening intently, and primarily only audible between songs (barring a couple instances during softer passages, where the chatter actually contributes in a good way!).
The recording begins with a gentle fade-in during the “Intro” already in progress; it’s unclear how much is missing here, but I can’t imagine much. Though it’s more or less the standard “Pink Blues” that was usually reserved for many an encore, we are treated to a fabulous bluesy solo from Mr. Gilmour, supported by sustained chords from Wright’s Hammond. Jams like these make it very clear that Gilmour is every bit the blues-master as Clapton or Page, albeit with pitch as consistent as his vocals, even during his most expressive bends. (That’s no slight on Clapton or Page mind you, just pointing out that Gilmour deserves no less respect in this regard!)
“Intro” segues seamlessly into “Embryo,” where the tempo picks up without missing a beat, and this arrangement actually works very well. The aforementioned wind factor impacts the first couple minutes of “Embryo” the most, but almost functions as an additional layer along with the audience, leading into and through the “seagull” section. According to Mark Blake’s fabulous Floyd bio Comfortably Numb, “the sound of children giggling and chattering echoed around the park, causing many looks of stoned confusion amid the crowd, until they realised that the sounds were actually coming from Richard Wright’s keyboards.” Trippy indeed. While nowhere the length it would reach during concerts the following year, and fairly restrained overall, ”Embryo” still makes for a great opener.
The pastoral “Green Is The Colour” was often the most tuneful song performed during this era, and the concert at Hyde Park is no exception, unfolding from a soft, sentimental folk melody and building dynamically to a rocking climax before abruptly shifting into “Careful With That Axe Eugene.” This is not necessarily their best segue for this pairing, ending with a sudden bang (possibly a small cut), but Wright’s haunting organ almost instantly pulls you back in here.
This is a fairly mature, subdued rendition of “Careful With That Axe Eugene,” but totally in line with rest of the performance – perhaps the band had some timing restrictions to take into account being that this was a festival or maybe they just didn’t want to “freak out” their choir and brass section with psychedelic excess? It’s an enjoyable version nonetheless, full of the haunting atmosphere we all love this song for. Despite being a bit in the background, there is a wicked flurry of percussion courtesy of Nick Mason worth mentioning beginning at the 5:00 mark that builds to a fantastic crescendo before the calm ensues again some 34 seconds later.
One of the highlights of this set is the amazing version of “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun,” introduced by Roger Waters as being “the last oldie before we do something new.” Metamorphosing from an introspective meditation first into a raga-style freak-out roughly 4 minutes in, replete with Roger’s gongwork and Mason’s frenzied percussion, then onto a deep space reflection lead by Wright’s delayed keyboards and garnished with Gilmour’s delayed slidework, before the final recapitulation of the verse/chorus. Absolutely transcendental, and extremely enjoyable to navigate, it’s quite possible that I was as transfixed as the audience (from 7:22-10:00 in particular)!
As noted above, there is a brief cut before “Atom Heart Mother,” I assume to conserve tape while the additional musicians took to the stage, but no music is missing (even the 2nd cut at 1:51 affects only a fraction of a second). Officially christened “Atom Heart Mother,” only two days prior at the BBC Paris Cinema, the name was taken from newspaper headlines at the last minute so the band could register the song for the purpose of royalties.
This performance cycles from the brass ensemble to the band before yielding to the haunting chorale and onto the funky mid-section. The massive work culminates in a powerful reprise with all of the musicians performing together. It should be noted that the brass and choir do come through with great clarity on this recording as well.
When all is said and done, Atom Hyde Park is a welcome and worthy addition to the collection of any serious Floyd aficionado, and although it is a bit rough around the edges, it does sound better than many of the other festival recordings of Floyd from 1970. The drums and bass certainly suffer the most, but the other elements are very much audible and remarkably clear for an open air audience recording this old. I reckon this is one of the more “tripped out” recordings of Floyd for the plethora of reasons detailed above, and there is no disputing the rarity or value of this concert, thus I applaud Godfather once again for giving the real collectors something fresh to savor.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)
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