The year is shaping up to be a kind of world tour of beloved classic rock bands and stars. The Rolling Stones are expected to announce a Milwaukee stop … at some point. Ringo Starr, 50 percent of the remaining living Beatles, is heading to the Riverside in October, the same month The Who will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a BMO Harris Bradley Center gig.
Also celebrating 50 years of existence: Pink Floyd, who’s hitting the stage for two shows on Thursday and Friday at the Riverside. Well, kind of.
Tribute band Brit Floyd will bring 50 years of its namesake’s iconic music, trippy visuals and memorable live show to the stage. Bobby Harrison serves as the guitarist for the tribute group, and before he does his best David Gilmour, he talked with OnMilwaukee.com about the show, his first Pink Floyd memories and why the band still lives on.
OnMilwaukee.com: When were you introduced to Pink Floyd’s music?
Bobby Harrison: From a very, very early age. I started playing guitar when I was 13, and with that came Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, as well as some of the late ’80s stuff I was into. Classic rock and blues kind of went hand and hand, and I started learning David Gilmour’s solos very early on.
I had this strange Pink Floyd rivalry with my sister growing up where we both listened to Pink Floyd, but different albums. I’d be listening to "The Wall," while she’d be listening to "Dark Side." It was very strange. (laughs)
OMC: What was it about "The Wall" growing up that appealed to you?
BH: It was just kind of the rebellion and imagery that went along with it. I remember from even at a younger age, when "Another Brick in the Wall: Part 2" was actually being played on TV, it used to absolutely terrify me: the teacher and all that. I was just fascinated by it. This was long before I played guitar as a musician, but I used to listen to the guitar solo and thought it was a great sound, that I wanted to do that one day. I always had this fascinating with "The Wall," but then "Dark Side" was more of an early teenage thing, and then I discovered "Animals," and that’s probably one of my favorite Pink Floyd albums. Great songs and great to play live as well.
OMC: How long have you been a member of Brit Floyd?
BH: Since the start, since our first gig back in 2011. But before that, a number of us were involved in another Pink Floyd tribute show, which I played a few tours with. But with Brit Floyd, it’s been four years.
OMC: What for you is the hardest part of performing as Brit Floyd?
BH: For me, it’s the music. It’s like a shared celebration of Pink Floyd’s music between the band and the audience. The audience hasn’t come to see us; they come to listen to the music of Pink Floyd recreated live. It’s like a shared experience because we’re performing it for them, but we’re also enjoying Pink Floyd at the same time. The people on stage and the people in the crowd are huge fans of the music.
OMC: What’s the hardest part of capturing that performance?
BH: I guess it’s nailing the guitar sounds. Not so much the tone or the expression, but the actual sounds is an ongoing process. It’s something we’re always going back to and revisiting. I’m on my third incarnation of my guitar rig, and I finally feel like I’m getting a far more authentic David Gilmour sound than ever before. The same applies to how people play those Rick Wright synth sounds that are just really out there, despite using nowadays relatively primitive synths. It’s a very difficult thing to replicate.
It’s a challenge, but it’s also a fun challenge because when you get the sound right or you get it as close as you’re going to get it, it’s kind of chilling.
OMC: What were the adjustments you’ve been making to these rigs?
BH: I used to have more effects than you could shake a stick it: pedals and midi-switches and stuff. The more stuff you add to your rig, the more chance there is of something going wrong. If one of your pedals goes down mid-solo – for instance, like if you lose a pedal during the "Time" solo – it ends up sounding like a shadow rather than Pink Floyd, and it can be quite embarrassing.
But the set-up I have right now is really, really good, and it’s a testament to the fact that you don’t need to spend thousands and thousands of pounds replicating David Gilmour’s rig in order to get the sounds. Because obviously when Mr. Gilmour goes out, he’s probably got three guitar techs and a backup for everything in case something goes wrong and he can use all that vintage gear because he’s probably got another thing on standby.
OMC: Between the two shows, are you planning different stuff for each?
BH: Yeah, that’s the idea. We’re actually – without revealing too much – going to try something for one of the shows that we haven’t tried before as Brit Floyd. We’re not sure which show it will be though, so that’s going to be just as much of a surprise for us.
OMC: Have you met any members of Pink Floyd in your time in Brit Floyd?
BH: No, I haven’t unfortunately. David Gilmour has a place actually not far from where I live, and several people I know have seen him walking around. But it would be very strange to see him and walk up to him and say, "I’m your stunt double." (laughs)
Damian (Darlington, lead singer, guitarist and musical director) did play for David Gilmour’s 50th birthday party, going back a few years now, and got to perform with him and Rick Wright. He’s met them a couple of times, but unfortunately I haven’t. But you never know; still could. Every time we play in London, we hope he’d be in attendance. I guess it’s only a matter of time really.
OMC: What is it about Pink Floyd and their music that has given the band such longevity?
BH: I think it’s the mass appeal of the music. Pink Floyd appeals to classic rock fans, prog rock fans, fans of dance music, even the metal crowd and blues fans. It just has that mass appeal.
I think also it’s possible to look at Pink Floyd with three different eras. You’ve got your Syd Barrett era that appeals to a certain crowd. Then you have your "Meddle" to the "The Wall" era, the very much Waters-led era. Then there’s the post-Waters stadium sound. But the songs are so strong and still so unique these days. People will get into bands who are influenced by Pink Floyd and retrace and discover Pink Floyd that way. It’s just very strong music that stands the test of time.
OMC: Which of those three eras is your favorite?
BH: I would say the predominantly Waters-led era. Pink Floyd, for me when I first discovered them, was "Meddle" to "The Final Cut." It was those albums that spoke to me first, and from there I went backwards to find the real gems on those earlier albums. They were very prolific around that time, and there’s some great material.
OMC: Have you ever done the "Dark Side of the Moon" with "The Wizard of Oz"?
BH: (laughs) Yeah, I did that as soon as I remember hearing about it back in the days before broadband was so common. As soon as people started releasing whole movies on YouTube and stuff like that, I gave that a go. It’s certainly interesting.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.