Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Richard Wright (1943 - 2008)

As the world now knows, Pink Floyd’s enigmatic keyboardist Richard (Rick) Wright died on 15 September of cancer, aged 65. He now joins Syd Barrett in the Great Gig in the Sky.

I wonder how many of us who watched the Floyd play the Live8 concert in London’s Hyde Park in July 2005, when Roger Waters joined the remaining three to play as the original line up for the first time in 25 odd years, realised that this would be the last time we would see them as a complete unit.

I have fragmented memories of Richard, mainly because he was slightly in the shadow of the Waters/Gilmour axis, but nevertheless he had his moments. One of my favourite Pink Floyd albums is the oddments collection, ‘Relics’ which I bought very cheaply when it was originally released on the budget Starline label in the UK. It comprises a strange assortment of tracks and includes two Wright compositions, ‘Paintbox’, originally a ‘B’ side to ‘Apples and Oranges’ and ‘Remember a Day’ lifted from ‘Saucerful of Secrets’. Both these compositions are overtly memorable; being snapshot examples of late 1960s post psychedelic Englishness. They stand easily against Waters’ solid musicianship and Barrett’s brittle genius and I was impressed.

Another memory involves his trademark single line keyboard ‘noodles’ which pepper the live versions of both ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ and ‘Careful With That Axe Eugene’ from ‘Umma Gumma’. Mike Oldfield once said that it was this technique that inspired parts of ‘Tubular Bells’. It is their spiralling invention that keeps you listening even though it is essentially a very simple idea.

But of course, Richard’s lasting legacy will be the melancholy grandeur of ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ with its beautifully evocative chord progressions under Clare Torry’s wailing vocals. It is music of the highest order.

Farewell Richard, we’ll miss you. And say hello to Syd for us.


TR1-Guy said...

Keyboardists have a tendency to get overlooked. There are some exceptions... Keith Emerson, Elton John, Little Richard... but for the most part are friends of the ivory keyboards are stuck behind monsterous instruments that do not put them into the limelight like us guitar playing folks (yes, even a bass player like me got more attention then our lonely keyboard player).

But, I've always loved the piano and other assorted electronic versions of keyboards. Where would the Moody Blues be without Mike Pinders' melotron? There are tons more exampmles, but I'm tired this morning, so I'll move along.

Having built several synthesizers in my day back in the late 70s, I was a keyboardist in the making. I took lessons, had a piano along with my stack of PAIA synthesizers. And it is keyboardists like Mr. Wright that inspired me to be a musician just the same. Sure, I am a bass player (actually, I played clarinet from 4th grade until my 2nd year in college, so really, I'm a woodwind player first) but the point is these silent but necessary players of almost any band need our attention. Mr. Wright's playing was a solid foundation for Pink Floyd, even though Waters and Gilmour took the spot light. Can you imagine what "Dark Side of the Moon" would have been without Mr. Wright's skills? Dull and flat. We should all go back and take listen to some of our most popular bands and realize, hey, there's a piano or organ or synth' in the background... and who played that?

A sad day in music that a great player like Rick has now moved on.

musicobsessive said...

Hi TR. Some of my favourite musicians are keyboard players - Rod Argent, Jon Lord, Thijs Van Leer, Ray Manzarak and yes, even Rick Wakeman. And I just love singers who can really play a piano like Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, Tori Amos and Nerina Pallot - it makes all the difference.

Clarinet eh? Funny that, I played Bassoon in my teenage years before deciding that a rock 'n' roll guitar would be more fun!!