The Pink Jungle: The 68/69 Pre-FM Recordings (Sigma 28)
Concertgebouw, Amsterdam, The Netherlands – September 17th, 1969: The Man (Introduction, Daybreak Part 1, Work, Afternoon Part 1 (Tea Break), Afternoon Part 2 (Biding My Time), Doing It, Sleep, Nightmare, Daybreak Part 2), The Journey (The Beginning, Beset By Creatures Of The Deep, The Narrow Way Part 3, The Pink Jungle, The Labyrinths Of Auximenes, Behold The Temple Of Light, The End Of The Beginning)
Paradiso, Amsterdam, The Netherlands – August 9th, 1969: Interstellar Overdrive (part), Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun, Careful With That Axe Eugene, A Saucerful Of Secrets.
Paris Cinema, Lower Regent Street, London, England – May 12th, 1969: Daybreak, Nightmare, The Beginning, Beset By Creatures Of The Deep, The Narrow Way
BBC Studios, 201 Piccadilly, London, England – June 25th, 1968: Introduction, The Murderistic Women, The Massed Gadgets Of Hercules, Let There Be More Light, Julia Dream, Conclusion
The announcement of Sigma 28 came as a bit of a surprise considering the stream of releases from the label in the last quarter of 2008, but indeed they’ve managed to slip in one more just in time for Xmas. While I figured it was only a matter of time before the contents of The Pink Jungle would eventually surface on a Sigma release, it should be be noted right away that there is nothing new contained within; all of these recordings have been released numerous times throughout the years in every conceivable format – however, on the plus side, it does this mark the first time Sigma’s superb and subtle mastering techniques have been applied to recordings made before 1970 (hopefully not the last), and the results are truly phenomenal; considering all of these performances were recorded for radio broadcasts, they were already of high quality, and Sigma’s treatment has yielded an excellent set which could easily pass for an official major label release.
All that being said, it appears there is some dissension “amongst the ranks” regarding the merits of this release; some have expressed disappointment over the fact it’s a somewhat redundant offering with so many of the previous releases containing this material still available, and that point is well-taken – if you already own these recordings (especially the most recent options), there is no added incentive to purchase The Pink Jungle really, unless you’re a fantatic Floyd collector or audiophile (any improvements are subtle). However, if you don’t own these in any form or haven’t upgraded since the 90’s, first of all you NEED to have them regardless of your level of interest in Floyd, and secondly, you’re probably not going to find a more comprehensive representation of this era than The Pink Jungle elsewhere.
Needless to say, as much as I’d like to live up to my reputation for dissecting recordings down to minute details, to answer all the questions that have been posed regarding this release compared to previous offerings would literally require a week or two of intense “forensic listening,” and while I may ultimately return to this review to contribute additional insights/facts/detailed comparsions, due to the sheer number of new releases on the horizon pending review here, for the time being this will be something of a “surface level” overview.
Disc 1 contains the September 17th, 1969 performance of Pink Floyd’s conceptual piece “The Man-The Journey” in Amsterdam, which culled together material both new and old into two lengthy suites, included a number of props/actors in live performance, and featured the bands’ Azimuth Coordinator heavily (essentially an early surround sound system that enabled the band to rotate and shift sounds around the audience – in essence, making them feel as if they were part of the event rather than merely witnesses). While most of the new musical content ultimately surfaced on More and Ummagumma, there are some small instrumental sections that have never been released otherwise, and the band never recorded “The Man-The Journey” as a complete work outside of this radio broadcast (though there are a handful of other performances of it available on other roios).
This widely-circulated recording has been offered on countless releases ranging from the fan-produced (MoLM, DFP) to Pro-CDR (Amsterdam 1969 Complete (Ayanami-137), Amsterdam ’69 (HRV CDR 003)) to factory pressed silver (The Man & The Journey (Great Dane GDR CD 9207), Amsterdam 1969 (Midas Touch MD 93911), and The Man Works Before The Afternoon (STTP 207/208) on Shout To The Top).
While some of the earlier versions of this show were released incomplete on a single disc (for example, the aforementioned Great Dane release), almost all of the releases containing the complete performance separated the suites onto two discs including the STTP version and even the Ayanami – which was produced by the same folks as The Pink Jungle, albeit several years ago. This, of course raises the question of how Sigma manages to fit the entire performance on a single disc (which at it’s absolute maximum can just barely accomodate 80 minutes of content) – unfortunately, there is no easy answer comparing track lengths to The Man Works Before The Afternoon, as some songs clock in shorter, while others are actually longer (typically 2-6 second variations)! What I can tell you for certain is that if Sigma altered the speed of certain parts, it’s subtle as nothing sounds unnatural, and even songs like “Careful With That Axe Eugene” were typically played at a quicker tempo during this era anyway. For your reference, the STTP release has a total length of 81:30, the Ayanami clocked in at 80:32, and this Sigma version is 79:58 – due to the sheer number of tracks involved, song-to-song comparisons will be left to the listener, however I will say that the greatest discrepencies involve “Doing It” and “The End Of The Beginning.” The only edit occurs between the two suites and is virtually inaudible unless you’re listening very intently with headphones.
For the sake of those who are unfamiliar with “The Man-The Journey,” it is likely that you will recognize a good portion of it considering it includes the following songs: “Grantchester Meadows,” “Biding My Time,” “Cymbaline,” “Green Is The Colour,” “Careful With That Axe Eugene,” “The Narrow Way (Part 3),” “Pow R. Toc H.,” and “A Saucerful Of Secrets” – albeit with different titles and sandwiched between the said new instrumental passages. The concept of “The Man” suite was simply the daily routine of the average man (awaken, eat, work, sleep, have sex, dream, and repeat), while “The Journey” highlights various tribulations man may face.
The band perform both suites effortlessly, having done so several times throughout the previous 5 months, however as with The Wall and other conceptual works that relied heavily upon visual enhancement, there are sections that probably made more sense in person (for example, “Tea Break”). Nick Mason really contributed significantly to this performance, evidenced by the percussive workouts on the appropriately titled “Work” and “Doing It,” and Richard Wright’s keyboards help to smooth out various transitions as well. The only real downside to this performance is how Gilmour struggles vocally on “Green Is The Colour” and “The Narrow Way Part 3,” but considering the astounding sound quality of this recording along with the value of this document, this can be pardoned!
Moving on to disc 2, we’re presented with the predominantly instrumental August 9th, 1969 Amsterdam session (which was a failed attempt at recording for a Hilversum 3 radio show, never broadcast due to problems with the vocal mics), the BBC “Night Ride” program from May 12th, 1969, and the BBC “Top Gear” performances from June 25th, 1968 – essentially rendering this disc a copy of Rover Records’ Celestial Voices (RR CD 002) which was very-well received here at CMR. It should also be noted that the BBC portions of this disc were also recently made available on At The Beeb Volume 1 (PFATB6769) on the Culombia label and like “The Man-The Journey” are available on zillions of releases of varying quality, thus the rare Hilversum 3 session is perhaps the true point of interest here (provided you don’t own the Rover Records title).
When Sigma 28 was announced, there were a couple questions brought up that I’ll address here, primarily of interest to the fanatics; aside from the fact the vocals are almost completely inaudible on the Hilversum 3 portion, “Interstellar Overdrive” was presented incomplete on Celestial Voices, and sadly the same 4 minute excerpt is all that is included here.
Regarding the “glitches” in “Grantchester Meadows” from the Paris Cinema BBC session that were apparent on Celestial Voices but NOT on At The Beeb Volume 1, they are again smoothed over on The Pink Jungle, but I did notice Sigma’s mastering has brought out a bit more of the percussive sounds from the guitar picks during this portion as well as a couple tiny passages of tape deterioration. Overall The Pink Jungle is “the best of both worlds” compared to these previous releases as far as quality and continuity (no drastic differences in terms of normalization here).
When all is said and done, yes, for long-time Floyd collectors, The Pink Jungle is for the most part a redundancy – however, it does possess the absolute best sound quality possible as far as most of these recordings are concerned, regardless of how subtle the improvements are.
For new collectors or those who haven’t upgraded from older 80s-90s versions (or in the case of Disc 2 here, missed the recent Rover Records release), this set is absolutely essential! Seriously, click over to your favorite mailorder or hit the pavement over to your local import shop right now; You will not be disappointed with the quality of this release at all, and “The Man-The Journey” era is one of the most interesting phases in Floyd’s career!
While there are plenty of other concerts badly in need of the “Sigma treatment,” and several that I believe most of us would’ve preferred to have for Sigma 28, the fact remains that this is consistent with the label’s standard for ultra-high quality productions, and really, factory pressed silver releases of 60’s Floyd are long overdue from this camp!
Happy Holidays! Much more to come in ’09!