“If I pass you something during the gig tonight, you didn’t see it OK…and you definitely mustn’t tell your dad.” I was fifteen and sitting on the sofa next to Charlie Hill in a tower block somewhere in London’s East End. Charlie was my step-mum’s first husband, and in keeping with the underlying parental trauma at the heart of the show we were about to witness had been drafted in at the last moment by my dad to take me to see Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ at Earls Court.

Charlie’s pronouncement was intriguing. And what was that thick honeyed smell of vegetation in the room? Similar it turns out to the smell mingling with the rows of hammer emblazoned flags that filled the ceiling of the giant Earls Court arena. In fact it looked like we’d turned up at a 1930’s style rally rather than a rock gig as we sat high up on the left waiting for the show.

Pink Floyd had first entered my consciousness when I was five or six and crouched down in the footwell of a Lotus Europa (there was no back seat), as the opening plaintive piano and mellotron chords of ‘Echoes’ burnt their melancholy onto my brainstem. Seeing them tonight was beyond exciting and equalled only by a stunning astrological alignment two years earlier when the Beatles episode of Tony Palmer’s ‘All You Need is Love’ TV series had coincided with a rare weekend break from my boarding school, and Nicol Henderson had said I could go and stay with him and his parents, meaning we could watch the programme. Live. On TV. Unfuckingbelievable.

Back in Earls Court there’s a man in a tuxedo on the stage. He’s burbling on about the band being held up or something as ‘In the Flesh’ explodes from the quadraphonic sound system. For the next two hours we disappeared. Somewhere.

Looking back thirty-four years later, I still can’t think of another gig quite like it. In fact gig is completely the wrong word. Here was rock’s self-infatuation taken to its ultimate conclusion. This was not just another dinosaur 70s band, bloated on excess and refusing to look down at the ground punk had ripped away from under it’s feet. This was the world’s biggest ever psychotherapy session brought to life in a huge cavern in South West London.

Let’s examine the cast - flying Stukkas, flying pigs, isolation, fear, whirring helicopters, war, parental death, totalitarian state control, ritual educational child abuse, soul sucking vampiric females, mind-numbing drugs, smashed hotel rooms, groupies, a grotesque giant towering judge. And all this unleashed by one life-changing moment at a concert in Montreal a few years earlier when Roger Waters found himself spitting on someone down in the front row. Pink’s dream had ended there and then leaving our protagonist with a choice - as Waters says himself: “To deny my addiction and embrace that comfortably numb but magic-less existence or accept the burden of insight, take the road less travelled and embark on the often painful journey to discover who I was and where I fit. The wall was the picture I drew for myself to help me make that choice.”

Thankfully for us Waters was himself at that moment in the centre of a stunning astrological alignment. Not only had he had the thought but he also possessed the means, determination and sheer will to see it through. ‘The Wall’ was a monumental achievement. A one-off moment in time that finally made sense of the notion of joining rock and opera that many had attempted as popular music searched for new and ever bigger stages.
For me I was beginning right at the end, blissfully unaware of any context. Imagine you’ve just had your first joint and one of rock’s finest guitarists is standing silhouetted at the top of a giant wall playing the solo from ‘Comfortably Numb’.

Oh, and I did tell my dad…just the other day in fact.

Sorry, Charlie.

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