Bill Kopp Discusses Book About Pink Floyd’s Early Years
Reinventing Pink Floyd is a creative and informative peek into the early years of one of classic rock’s most iconic bands. All rock music fans think they know Pink Floyd, but this book is filled with delicious tidbits and interesting details focused around that cloudy era between Syd Barrett’s departure and the release of Floyd’s seminal album, The Dark Side of the Moon.
Bill Kopp has created a compelling book for any fans of classic rock, whether they be a Floyd fanatic or not. I was drawn into the anecdotes about the enigmatic Barrett, the arrival of David Gilmour, and eventually Roger Waters wresting control of the band. In between are countless compelling stories and factoids.
After thoroughly enjoying Reinventing Pink Floyd, I connected with Kopp to learn a bit more about the book, and the legendary band behind the stories.
Bill Kopp Interview
Cretin: Let me start off by saying that I am a casual fan of Pink Floyd’s music. I learned to appreciate some of their early music in the 80’s, when I played some of the deeper cuts on a late night rock show in college. Still, being only a casual fan, I found much of the detailed information in the book quite fascinating.
Bill Kopp: Well thank you. I’ve had some people say it’s a book for Pink Floyd fanatics. On one hand that’s great, but that’s not who I wrote the book for. My idea was to try to draw in people who were familiar with the well-known stuff, and if you were familiar with The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals and The Wall, you may want to check out this stuff because The Dark Side of the Moon didn’t create itself out of nothing. There’s a really interesting musical road they went down and that stuff is worth hearing.
Cretin: You’ve written about many musicians throughout your journalistic career. What drove you to create this Pink Floyd book?
Bill Kopp: They were one of the earliest bands that I first got into when I was a kid. I was 9 when The Dark Side of the Moon came out, and I heard the rest as they came out. I was interested in the band’s music from an early age and once I started enjoying that stuff, I dove into their back catalog while I waited for the next album to come out. The first thing I wrote as a music journalist was an essay which took the reader from the beginning of Pink Floyd through the early 2000’s… When I started thinking of different book ideas one of the things that came to me was “Why not discuss that early work of Pink Floyd?”
Cretin: In the book, you mention how much the band changed post-Syd Barrett, do you think they would have ever been successful commercially with Syd at the helm?
Bill Kopp: If they had continued making the kind of music they did with Syd, I think that they probably would have had continued success on some level. The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was very successful and the singles that came before it were hits, so they were on a roll. But, I don’t think they would have had anything like the success of Dark Side of the Moon.
On the other hand, I think if Syd had not left the band as he did, he still would have left eventually. He only did two solo albums… very few gigs, and then he put the guitar down and never picked it up again. I think the band would have fallen apart if he had stayed.
Cretin: It does seem that by the late 60’s, the rest of the band had kind of had it with him.
Bill Kopp: He made it very difficult on them… He had become so erratic and undependable that something had to give.
Cretin: You mention in the book how people today are fascinated with Barrett. Were they in the late 60’s or is that a legend that sort of grew for romantic reasons?,
Bill Kopp: In the London scene, oh yeah, he was a very big deal. People like Jimi Hendrix were talking about him. People knew who he was and he was seen to have great promise. Those early singles and first album seemed to exemplify the British version of the Summer of Love. There were high hopes for where the band was going to go with him. People were shocked and dismayed by how quickly he crashed and burned.
Cretin: What song would you recommend casual fans listen to sort of understand his genius?
Bill Kopp: (After thinking for a beat) There’s a track called “Effervescing elephant” which is a goofy little song that he actually wrote when he was 14. When he was in the studio working on his second album, David Gilmour encouraged him to take out his notebook of old songs. It’s a silly little song, but it doesn’t follow any rules about rhyme and meter, and the song structure is emblematic of the way he approached songwriting.
Cretin: The Steve Howe anecdotes were interesting. Fun to imagine where the band would have gone with him instead of Gilmour…Was that ever a possibility?
Bill Kopp: I wouldn’t think permanently. He already had a good gig with the band Tomorrow. (I knew they had toured with Pink Floyd) but I had no idea that he had been asked to fill in for Syd one night until I spoke with him. When they started looking for guitarists, they found Gilmour pretty quick. Gilmour was a known quantity as Syd and David had grown up together.
Cretin: You provide great insight into the music that bridges the years 68-73. Some weird stuff in there, but “A Saucerful of Secrets” was just amazing. Sounds like early version of Floyd of the mid-70s. but it seemed they got away from that for about five years.
Bill Kopp: Well, they still did little bits of it. I think of a ‘grand piece’ as something that combines pop conventions, exploratory stuff, ambient sound effects and abstract free-form playing. “A Saucerful of Secrets” was their first grand piece. “The Man and a Journey” was another one, the “Atom Heart Mother” suite was the third. Then, “Echoes” and Dark Side. Whether or not they knew it at the time, they were moving towards making something like The Dark Side of the Moon right there in ’68.
Cretin: On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve always thought “Free Four” was the most unusual Pink Floyd song and was actually surprised to read it was a Waters composition. You described it as a “jaunty singalong and peppy.”
Bill Kopp: (laughing) Yeah, the man actually has a sense of humor. There are a number of really odd-ball songs in their repertoire. If you’ve never heard, I’d direct you to a song on Relics, called “Biding My Time”. It’s a blues jazz thing with a trombone solo from Rick Wright. It’s really out there and sounds nothing like Pink Floyd.
Cretin: It was fascinating the way you described the Dark Side of the Moon creative process, that they had done the live “practice performances” of The Dark Side of the Moon before actually recording – was it like 40 times?
Bill Kopp: I have 47 bootlegs, they did more than 47 shows. In January of 1968, they rented warehouse space from the Rolling Stones and started routining this new work which at the time they were calling Eclipse – A Piece for Assorted Lunatics. By late January, they had not written all of the songs. From night to night the work developed. The reason it was completely realized is that it was written to be performed as recorded in the order on the album and they worked that out in front of an audience. They were almost able to focus-group the material.
Cretin: In your opinion, was The Dark Side of the Moon the point where you felt that Pink Floyd reached their creative zenith?
Bill Kopp: Yes. But I love just about all of it. Some critics think Wish You Were Here gets the nod. I don’t feel the need to rank them but the difference is that Dark Side was the culmination of 5 years working to a collaborative common goal. Wish You Were Here, was where the balance of creative power shifted to Roger Waters.
Cretin: During your research, what was the one thing you discovered that surprised you the most?
Bill Kopp: I had always known they did a lot of film work and (had recorded several soundtracks). But what really fascinated was they had an interest in film and the creative nexus where rock music and motion pictures overlapped. It could be seen in the fact that they had more and more visuals in their shows as it went on. The fact that they had done so much film work and how much that had influenced and guided them on the path to becoming better songwriters… and I think that helped them a lot.
Cretin: Anything else you would like to share before we wrap up?
Bill Kopp: Something you said earlier. Just the fact that you were a casual Pink Floyd fan and you found the book worthwhile – that was really my goal. There have been loads of books written about Pink Floyd. My idea was to take a different approach and say “If you like that, you should check this out, and here’s why.”
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