Vernon Fitch and Richard Mahon’s book “Comfortably Numb – A History of The Wall” was published last July and the book has already gotten much praise and publicity. It’s an outstanding piece of work documenting all aspects of one of the greatest albums of all time. I have enjoyed the book very much and I know many of you has already bought a copy. It’s a treat for me to share this Q & A with the authors…
Read my short review of the book here.
If you haven’t already bought the book, you can order a copy directly from PFAPublishing.Com.
- Congratulations with the book! It’s an overwhelming documentation of one of the greatest albums in rock history!
RM: Thanks! It took a lot of time and effort and I appreciate all of the positive feedback we’ve received.
- What was the initial idea behind writing about the Wall?
VF: Originally I was asked to write a very general book about The Wall album by a publisher back in the 1990s. That book never came to be, but the idea continued on. We expanded the idea to cover The Wall recording sessions, The Wall album, the preparations to stage The Wall live, The Wall stage shows, and the live Wall album.
- How long has it taken to write this book?
RM: We started the process back in late 1996.
- Was it difficult to decide what to write about and what to cut?
VF: No. The idea was to write a reference work about The Wall in which every piece of information about The Wall was to be included. We didn’t cut anything. The book is a collection of all known information about The Wall album and The Wall stage shows.
- I can imagine you got conflicting information from different sources. Was it difficult to choose which one to believe and how did you reflect that in the book?
VF: What I tried to do is to dig down and find out what really happened. If I received conflicting information from different sources, I went back and presented the conflicting information to both sources to see what they had to say about the conflict. I then asked other people about what they thought. In this way, we were able to work things out and eliminate the discrepancies correctly.
- Vernon, you’ve written what is considered by many to be the Floyd bible, The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia. Was it any different doing research for A History of the Wall compared to the PFE?
VF: Yes. The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia is an ongoing accumulation of topical information from thousands of different sources. Whereas, The Wall book was a matter of researching the history of Pink Floyd from 1978 through 1981 and then expanding on it by talking to people who were involved. The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia is an index of facts, whereas the Comfortably Numb book is an historical story.
- The book is packed with unique pictures of the band, handwritten notes and production drawings, some never before seen. Are they mostly from your own collections or did you get the chance to dig deep into the “secret” archives?
VF: They are from both The Pink Floyd Archives collection and numerous outside sources.
RM: Everyone who was contacted was asked if they had any pictures taken during that period. James Guthrie, Phil Taylor and Producers Workshop engineer Rick Hart were among the people who had wonderful pictures in their personal photo collections. Stage designer Mark Fisher also contributed his pictures and took the time to write captions for his sketches and photographs.
- One thing that impressed me was that you’ve published Roger Waters’ lyrics. It must be the first time anyone has done that. I assume you got the permission from Waters, but how did you approach him?
VF: Roger was sent a draft of the book and was very kind in giving us permission to publish the lyrics.
RM: This is the first time that Roger Waters has allowed the lyrics, as they are sung on the album, to be printed. They include the second verse of “Another Brick in the Wall, part 2” and the third verse of “Mother,” which are not even written out on the album sleeve.
- How did you research all the info about who is playing what on the studio versions?
VF: I started by compiling my own version of who I thought was playing on the different songs on The Wall album. I then sent my listing to David Gilmour and he corrected many of my entries. Then David sent the listing on to James Guthrie who used the studio logs and his memories to refine it even more. From there, it went back to David who finalized it and he then sent it back to me. David & James were able to get it 95% complete (keep in mind that neither David nor James were at all of the sessions so there was some information they were not aware of).
I then began tracking down the missing information myself. Bob Ezrin was a big help. He remembered some of the unknown session musicians off the top of his head (from sessions only he was at). For others, he either contacted old studio engineers that he had worked with at the time, or he gave me leads on where I might track them down. I spent a considerable amount of time on the phone tracking down session musicians and musical contractors through the musicians unions in New York and Los Angeles. I eventually got in touch with the musicians that played on the sessions (many of whom are still active today).
After the listings were complete, I then spent a lot of time talking with James Guthrie and Phil Taylor about the equipment used by every musician on each song. The amount of time spent in researching it all and putting it all together was quite monumental!
- Gilmourish.Com visitors are probably most interested in your documentation of David’s gear. How was it to have a source like Phil Taylor?
VF: Phil is a great guy and was a huge help. He knows so much about David’s equipment, and the band’s equipment in general. He and James Guthrie and I had many conversations about specific pieces of gear that were used at the time of The Wall recording sessions and The Wall shows, and it all appears for the first time in this book.
- One last question for the both of you… What’s your favourite song on the album and why?
RM: Actually, it starts at the beginning for me. If I had to pick one song then I’d say “In the Flesh?” What I love is the way that “In The Flesh?” and “The Thin Ice” set the tone for the rest of the album. The descending “In the Flesh?” riff sounds like the ultimate in doom and gloom. Hearing the Stuka bomber change into the baby crying and then the stark contrasts between Gilmour’s and Waters’ vocal styles in “The Thin Ice,” I can’t think of a better way to start an album.
VF: Comfortably Numb is my favorite song on the album. That is why the book focuses on it. I think I’ve probably heard this song thousands of times over the years, yet it still gives me shivers down the spine when I hear it.