Old Reflectory, Student Union, University of Southampton, Southampton, U.K. – May 9, 1969
(50:40) Astronomy Domine, Careful With That Axe Eugene, Interstellar Overdrive, The Beginning, Beset By Creatures Of The Deep, A Saucerful Of Secrets
Earlier this year a restoration of Pink Floyd’s Southampton May 9, 1969 recording began to circulate to much acclaim from Pink Floyd enthusiasts. The work came from Hogweeds, many may be familiar with the name as they focused on audio restoration of many recordings of Genesis from 1971 to 1975. This was Hogweeds second Floyd project, the first was the Royal Albert Hall June 26, 1969 recording which is excellent, sadly the bootleggers did not take notice as there has yet to be a release in the collectors market of this work. Both of these recordings were taped by Nick Ralph and somewhat typical of my reviews, a bit of information from the project is included to help set the stage:
This is an audio restoration of a concert from the Floyd’s spring UK tour of 1969, the same tour during which the live Ummagumma album was recorded. This show was recorded on portable reel-to-reel from the audience by the late Nick Ralph (who also recorded the 1969 Royal Albert Hall concert, among others). Nick was a member of the student union Arts Committee, and one can only guess at his involvement in scheduling the Floyd to play and finding himself a nice location to record the ensuing event. His mono recording documents the complete concert, and is possibly the best sounding audience recording of the band from 1969.
The show was performed only a week after the Manchester Ummagumma date. Rather than perform the Man/Journey material during this phase of the tour, they were playing songs that were well worn in, possibly continuing the agenda of recording them. The only exception is the performance of ‘The Beginning’ (Green is the Colour) segueing into an improvisation which, although being quite unique, has nevertheless been credited as ‘Beset by Creatures of the Deep’ due to its close musical similarities with CwtAE. At first it sounds a little like they are going to do their usual CwtAE segue, but it doesn’t go there (understandably, as they’d just played it), instead becoming a slide guitar improvisation over an intensifying and then subsiding modal foundation. During this improv, a few of Dave’s phrases remind strongly of (The Doors) Robby Krieger’s playing on ‘The End’, also a largely modal piece. There are similar phrases heard during the build up and wind down of CwtAE, highlighting the improv as being a variation on that theme.
The talkativeness of the audience and somewhat restrained applause reminds me that at this point in their career, Pink Floyd were a band in transition. Although they were appearing at some prestigious city venues, more often they played to audiences around the regions. Indeed this was a second show of the day for them; they’d just come from playing a free festival in Camden. As that event started at 10pm, even allowing for them being on first, playing a short set, making a quick departure and prior setting up by the band’s crew in Southampton, they couldn’t have started until the wee hours of the morning. Maybe the hectic evening explains Roger announcing the first song as Astrominy Dominé.
It’s interesting to look at Pink Floyd’s activity during this period, they were in the studio recording what would become Ummagumma as well as working on a stage concept that made its debut at the Royal Albert Hall in April, The Man And The Journey suite, which basically got put on hold after making the decision to record a few live concerts to flush out Ummagumma. This recording from Southampton bridges the Ummagumma live dates and a U.K. tour that prominently features The Man And The Journey suite. The Floyd played two performances that day, the early set at the Camden Fringe Festival Free Concert in Hampstead Heath London some thirty miles away. This Southampton performance took place in the late hours of that day, possibly in the early morning of the 10th. Nick Ralph was in a good position and while this restoration project is culled from a 2nd generation tape source, it is a very good near excellent recording, more the latter after the work done by Hogweeds. Each instrument is clear and well balanced, with virtually no tape hiss there is just a tinge of distortion as one would expect, curious even in the most bombastic moments, the individual instruments remain in separate in the mix, for a recording that is 53 years old, it does not sound like it. Many collectors are familiar with this recording thanks to the very old bootleg Beset By Creatures Of The Deep (Highland HL194), a title I could never seem to acquire so I cannot compare.
The recording begins with a Roger introduction “This song’s called Astronomy Domine”, close listen you will hear this repeated thanks to an onstage echo unit. The sound is quite powerful, Nick Mason’s drumming stands out thanks to his placement in the recording, Hogweeds brought out a crispness in the cymbals and the bass drum has a nice punch. It’s interesting to hear the clarity of the vocals, David and Rick meld well together and Roger’s screams make for a interesting contrast. The ethereal middle section by Rick is beautiful, the eye of the storm so to speak. “Thank you. This is a much newer thing than that one, which is very old, and it’s an instrumental and it’s called Careful With That Axe, Eugene. It’s got a very quiet start”, this is a powerful version much more than the version on Ummagumma which sounds quite tame in comparison. Roger’s last vocal quip is interesting, the end of the song comes as a surprise, the audience seem to pause before their applause.
One of the best versions of Interstellar Overdrive you will ever hear, it’s abrasive and borders on metallic, the band hammer their instruments throughout, just when you think they will move into an ethereal interlude the rhythmic form begins again. From here The Floyd get into a few tunes from The Journey suite beginning with what else, The Beginning aka Green Is The Colour. This features Dave playing an acoustic guitar giving it an interesting feel compared to the latter versions when he would play it on the electric. Having already played Careful With That Axe, Eugene, they play an interesting variation. The tempo starts slow like Eugene but quickly builds in speed, Dave plays some really interesting slide guitar that one could assume would be equivalent to Roger’s screams and the band quiets down as the song ends.
Roger introduces the final number, “This is gonna be the last thing we do and it’s the title track off the last album we released and it’s called A Saucerful Of Secrets” and the band embark on an excellent 12 minute version of the song. While listening to this song the work done by Hogweeds can be fully appreciated, there is so much going on and the detail of the performance can fully be enjoyed and appreciated. So many times Nick Mason’s drums get lost in the chaos, thankfully they are well represented and the effects laden soundscape conducted by David Gilmour is simply incredible. I must admit, I am so used to the 70-71 long versions of this song one forgets how incredible these earlier shorter versions are, all four members playing for the betterment of the piece, quite inspiring if I must say. The gentle playing at the beginning of Celestial Voices finds Richard Wright playing some wonderful organ while Dave begins some picking which builds in simplicity and eventually power leading the culmination of the song. For those who just want to listen, check out http://floydpodcast.com/, the Hogweeds remaster is there as are several other classic Floyd recordings.
Thankfully Sigma has slowly been releasing Pink Floyd recordings from 1969, something which I applaud, better to be late to the party than to never come. This is an excellent performance and all thanks must go to Hogweeds for the excellent work done on this recording, for Pink Floyd enthusiasts do not hesitate any longer, buy this title now. The packaging is nice, the inserts feature well know common shots on a paisley backdrop, the picture on the CD is the best of the lot, a young and innocent Pink Floyd. Let’s hope Sigma goes back and releases the Hogweeds revision of the Royal Albert Hall concert as it’s excellent as well.