So I thought we would start off with a lesser known show in the Pink Floyd bootleg canon. Live at Ulster Hall, Belfast, Ireland, UK June 10th 1969.
The sound quality is fairly decent but not super if you’re a real audiophile of which I am not, but definitely listenable. only to be cut off my either the taper’s gesture of saving space to get the songs on to his cassette or by whoever put the album out to conserve space to fit it on to a single CD. Either way we are blessed to have this recording regardless.
The early Floyd shows really give you a sense of where they came from and were heading to but also, the eeriness of how some of these songs sounded live. With only four songs in go with we are left with a short but sweet listen of the Floyd not too long after the Barrett era. Albeit, the Floyd have had at least a year away from Syd now so they began working on what would become their definitive sound in songs and albums to come.
Track listing for this album is as follows;
- Careful With That Axe, Eugene
- A Saucerful of Secrets
- Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun
- Green is the Colour
This being the meat of their set lists during this period it gave the Floyd a chance to, like the Beatles in their Hamburg days, to really hone their craft and expand their sound.
The opening track, Careful with that Axe, Eugene leaves a stain on your mind as it swirls its way through the opening bass two note riff. Roger, always the gatekeeper here echoes and whispers his voice through the ambiance of the song as Rick Wright’s haunting keyboards creep across the floor like a snake in the fog. Mason’s drumming here taps the cymbals like rain falling from the roof on to the marble ground below at some ancient amphitheater. Gilmour adds to the ghostly atmosphere here with the falsetto vocal and annexation of guitar notes that wave and bounce throughout. Mid way though we are pelted with Waters’ hallowing screams as they shriek in and out of focus and Gilmour drops the dive-bombing guitar crescendo on to the track and his ad in to the vocalizations to accompany Roger’s blood curdling wails. Mason’s drumming stays steadfast and commenting on on the cacophonous terror that the song erupts in to before it settles down back to its former state of ambiguity and released tensions. Rick constantly flows the swirling dervish keyboard sounds as they emanate their lavish attention to the songs’ mysterious facade. Winding down to a gentle wave on the sea the song ends in a fade-out sadly before we can hear the audience’s reaction to it. In other shows one can hear a brief pause from the audience before their applaud due to the fact that their senses have just been stripped of their ability to function from the onslaught of sound that just pierced their minds.
A Saucerful of Secrets, a song that is best served live. The album version never did this song justice being multi-tracked in a studio and processed out. Still arguably the best version, or at least one of the best versions is from the October 1971 Pompeii performance filmed Adrian Maben but lets see how we do here.
The build up is that of a room full of insane animals scurrying around in a frenzy of noises drawn from nothingness to a droning bass and keyboard collaboration of notes to cymbal rolls and eventually gong and cymbal smashes and from the metal slide running up and down the guitar strings. The intro titled, “Something Else” gives you just that before it crashes in to Syncopated pandemonium, the repeated drum pattern that here is a tad slower than other live versions but this one here gives you that tribal drumming that stays its course as they rest of the band dance around their instruments in a clash of electrified fortitude. Slightly shorter than later live renditions of the song we are given a vision of what is to become but by its halfway mark around 6.5 minutes the section known as Storm Signal entered in by Rick Wright’s keyboards plays out like a series of spectral hymns in a church with no congregation present. The drums add in their slow dirge roll as the song segues in to Celestial Voices that builds up to a full on band sincerity of in-your-face take that! The finale ending of the song we are blessed with a choral solo vocal by Gilmour that starts off rather quiet then we can hear his voice more to the forefront as he belts it out giving the song its due diligence. A tight ending and the audience is heard briefly in the background cheering on the victory of the song’s spoils that’s just been laid over them like an air raid of sound and left them where they sit, appreciative of what they just experienced.
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, a personal favourite and a song title that you can’t say three times fast is presented here like an ancient rite of passage as it is every time. A shorter intro than later versions again of course but in this stage of their career they too themselves were only several steps in to their own passage. Waters’ vocals are dominant here as he dictates and regales the story of a demented space captain addressing the crew to head towards the sun. With lyrical direction provided by borrowing segments from the poems of T’ang Dynasty Roger leads a command performance vocally here with Gilmour adding in the short but necessary echoing before the chorus. The song is carried by mason’s tympani style playing using mallets on the toms and bass drum with cymbal hits in the right places to give your eyes a jar as you blink every time they’re hit. The song builds up in to a fury of multi-layered psychedelic wonder as the cymbals overpower here and drown out the remainder of the band until Gilmour kicks in the wah pedal with what sounds like a hint of phaser thrown in till it climaxes and they all drop off to the shadowy refrain of Rick Wright playing a series of notes that leaves you wondering what’s just happened and are we still alive? The bass comes in to sweep away the debris as it repeats a set of notes that throws off the timbre just slightly leaving Gilmour and Mason to ad lib a few notes before they join back in with Roger and Rick to complete the final verse. Perhaps the captain didn’t get to go in to the sun because we “witness the man who raves at the wall”, gone insane and locked away for good as the song slowly dwindles down to a crawl and fades out in to obscurity and silence as the audience absorbs it all in feeling as if they too are locked away within some other cerebral part of their mind they never knew existed.
Green is the Colour, the final song on this album complete with bird songs in the background to add to the atmosphere of a gentle song to finish our journey here in Belfast ’69. A short love song from the soundtrack to the French film More by Barbet Schroeder. A strange little film about drug use, experimentation, discovery, love and all things Ibiza. However this version of the song comes out before the film’s release which was August 4th 1969 so we are revered with an early rendition of this song, perhaps still working the bugs out phase that the Floyd often did live before going in to the studio to complete it. Sadly this songs fades out right as it ends which leads me to believe that it may have been the start of the merging of Green is the Colour and Careful with that Axe, Eugene which became a main staple for the two songs for a couple years until it demise in the 1971 tour of Japan and Australia and just Careful was carried forth in tours until October 1973. The song also does merge with Careful back then because of their Man and the Journey series of shows they performed in 1969 which this could very well have been one of those shows but due to editing and chopping up of the songs we will never know until a newer or more complete recording of this show makes its way in to the light of trading circles, fingers crossed! The song here flows beautifully with a warbling organ sound from Rick Wright and a semi-driving bass line by Roger to give it some substance of depth. Mason’s drums lightly gallop over and throughout standing out and pulling back as need be here and finally Gilmour’s guitar work is softened only by his voice that became distinctly a recognizable tone in the Pink Floyd’s songs for years to come. A simple explanation to a simple song, the end.