Plays Montreux (Highland HL476/477)
Festival de Musique Classique, Pavilion de Montreux, Montreux, Switzerland – September 18th, 1971
Disc 1 (50:37): Echoes, Careful With That Axe Eugene, Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun
Disc 2 (63:05): Cymbaline, Atom Heart Mother, A Saucerful Of Secrets
Pink Floyd’s went through an interesting phase of their career between 1971 to 1972. In composing the multi-part, semi-orchestral piece “Atom Heart Mother,” there was the idea that they represented a new direction for progressive rock into respectability in the world of classical music and the fine arts. Their appearance at Ossiach earlier in the summer plus their collaboration with the Roland Petit ballet in Marseilles in November 1972 is evidence. Among this is their appearance in the two day Festival de Musique Classique in Montreux / Vevey on September 18th (evening show) and on September 19th (afternoon).
There had been speculation about which show the recording belongs to (some of the early releases gave both dates), but it is from September 18th. It appeared on the vinyl title Live In Montreux 1971 (The Swinging Pig TSP 071-3) and was copied on CD on Live In Montreux 1971 (Swingin’ Pig TSP-CD-071-2), Long Times Gone (Swindle Records SWN 022), a copy of the Swingin’ Pig but missing “Echoes” and “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun,” and on White Witch (Oil Well RSC CD 071) and Black Wizard (Oil Well RSC CD070) which both run too slow. Plays Montreux presents the very good quality audience recording complete with tunings between tracks and runs at the correct tape speed. This show was released after the Highland in 2008 on Labyrinths Of Coral Caves (Sigma 18).
The tape begins right at the very first “ping” in “Echoes.” With the track already recorded and mixed for its release the following month on Meddle, it is present in its final form with the albatross lyrics replacing the planets but they drop the slow coda at the end of the piece. “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” stumbled along at a slow pace and doesn’t really do much until it hits the nine-minute mark when Gilmour spits out a distorted and biting solo enveloping the crowd in a hazy cloud of feedback. The following number “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” is similarly uninspired, sounding as if the band were nervous and playing the song from rote memory.
“Cymbaline” as played in Montreux has been singled out as a highlight of the performance. The laidback upscale audience even cheer when Gilmour comes in with the words. His singing is passionate especially on the chorus, “It’s hhhiigggghhhh time / Cymbaline… please wake me!!” The ensemble becomes very subtle during the quiet moments and the footstep interlude is very clear.
The set culminates in the “Atom Heart Mother” suite played with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. This twenty-eight minute performance would be the final time the piece would be played live with an orchestra. Unlike the Ossiach version earlier in the summer, which is notable for its tight and epic sweep, this version lacks the excitement. The beginning is painful to hear since the brass are too loud in the mix in the song’s introduction. The french horns, which carry the melody at the beginning, are the pushed back in the mix in favor of the bass guitar. At the twenty-minute mark the piece picks up more steam and Wright plays an interesting keyboard interlude afterwards before the song comes to a screeching finale. The set ends with a moody twenty-minute performance of “A Saucerful Of Secrets” which unfortunately has some speed fluctuations in the “Celestial Voices” section. This is the only true flaw in what is a solid effort by Highland.