In 2010, Roger Waters began touring the world’s stages, formidably bringing to life ‘The Wall’, the rock opera that was first introduced in 1979 with his former band, Pink Floyd. Three years later, as the trek finally thundered to a close, it had become the most successful concert tour by a solo artist ever.
The scale of the production mirrored the towering symbolism of the wall that was physically constructed (and demolished) each night – the album’s narrative being embellished with blazing pyrotechnics, a life-sized Stuka dive bomber cascading from the heavens, local children dancing, and an inflatable pig soaring overhead, all underpinned by the colossal projections that visualise the individual themes of each song, and ultimately the collective message of this new incarnation of ‘The Wall’.
Originally an exploration into the alienation festering within Waters at the time of writing, manifesting itself in a giant barricade that secludes the main protagonist (Pink, a tormented rock star) from society, ‘The Wall’ was a tangibly personal album, drawing upon the death of Waters’ father in WWII, and the mental instability he witnessed in bandmate Syd Barrett. These themes were translated in the subsequent Pink Floyd tour of 1980 (featuring illustrations by Gerald Scarfe, and a 40-foot cardboard wall, the product of production architect, Mark Fisher) and the ensuing Alan Parker-directed movie, which cast Bob Geldof as the troubled Pink.
Roger revisited ‘The Wall’ in 1990, performing a one-off celebration in Berlin eight months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but in the interim years since, he has developed the story to encompass more universally resonant themes – namely, the pointlessness of war.
The refined point is hammered home from the beginning, as ‘The Thin Ice’ introduces Pink’s childhood loss, while the screens present pictures of casualties of war – including Waters’ own father – donated by fans. At the climax of ‘In The Flesh’ – which recount’s Pink’s delusions of being a fascist dictator – a maniacal Roger sprays the audience with bullets from a machine gun.
Roger Waters: The Wall is, essentially, a concert film. Co-directed by Waters and long-time creative director Sean Evans, it combines fantastic moments from throughout the entire tour into one dramatic visual masterpiece for the sake of posterity. Where it differs from other concert films, however, is in the insightful footage interwoven throughout the live spectacle that heightens the profundity of Waters’ affinity with the narrative.
In staged documentary footage, we find Roger on a road trip visiting the European war graves of his father and grandfather (who perished in WWI). In Anzio, Italy, he surveys the battle site where his father died, then, standing by his memorial, plays a solemn excerpt of ‘Outside The Wall’ on trumpet. Later, there are tears in his eyes as he reads the letter his mother received informing her of her husband’s death. Finally, surrounded by his children at his grandfather’s grave, the shared emotion is palpable.
The result is a compelling film that is at once personal and powerful. Conspiring to update a story that didn’t need improvement, Waters and Evans have succeeded in retelling ‘The Wall’ as a dramatic declaration of revolt. Clash met with Roger and Sean to find out more about its remarkable reconstruction.
But first, check out Clash's exclusive excerpt from the film:
Clash has interviewed artists who are content to just re-release their classic albums every 10 years and just coast on former glories. With this return of ‘The Wall’ it feels very different – you’ve created something entirely new and innovative out of it. Did you feel like there was unfinished business with ‘The Wall’ that you had to attend to?
ROGER: Not really, I don’t think, until I started working on how to make a show work. I was driven initially by having enjoyed the last tour I did. I didn’t really dip my toe back in to the water of touring until 2000, or something like that. I started off with little shows, and people were very wary, and then it grew, because I realised that I actually really enjoyed performing – which I discovered when I did a charity show with Don Henley back in 1992, a long time before. He was doing a show to try and preserve part of Walden Woods, and he did a thing at the Universal Amphitheatre in LA, and he asked me if I’d go and play a few songs. I hadn’t done anything since [1987 album] ‘Radio K.A.O.S.’ Anyway, I said, ‘Yeah, alright.’ I took [guitarist] Andy Fairweather-Low with me, and I used Don’s band, and we did three or four songs, and they loved it – you could tell the audience loved it – and I suddenly thought, ‘Wow, this is actually fun,’ in a way that I hadn’t experienced for years and years and years. Anyway, so I said, what can we do after the ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ tour that I did [in 2006]? I thought about doing ‘The Wall’, and I thought about all kinds of ways to do it without building a wall. And then I had a phone call with Mark Fisher. I went, ‘Mark, I’m thinking about doing ‘The Wall’ again. I’m thinking of doing it with the projections…’ And he went, ‘Bollocks to that,’ except he didn’t speak like that. (Laughs) He went, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ He said, ‘No, if you do it, you have to do it like we did it in ’79; you have to physically construct a wall. It’s extremely important – fundamentally important.’ I said, ‘But Mark, we couldn’t do it then because we couldn’t afford it.’ He said, ‘Things have changed. Tickets are much more expensive. Why don’t you go away and crunch the numbers. I think you’ll find it will work if there’s enough people come to see it, which they will.’ And he was quite right, of course, and so we did it. But that was the starting point. Then, when Sean and I and Andy Jennison, the editor that we work with, got into the little room in 21st Street, November 2009, and started to actually try and put it together, then it became clear that it had a life and that I was actually passionately trying to push it in a different direction.
Sean, when were you first approached to do this?
SEAN: I was approached in October 2009. I had worked on his previous tour – I worked on his ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ tour, which was a blast, very fun; it’s always good to make some weird psychedelic craziness. ‘Hey, you wanna do visuals for ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’?’ Yes please. ‘Hey, you wanna do visuals for ‘The Wall’?’ Yes please. For me, it’s one of those albums that sort of dictated – aided – my creative voice. It’s been in my life always. My brother and my friends and I would have long discussions when we were teenagers about what was going on in each song, and I think my brother learned to play bass based on ‘Hey You’. It was just one of those things that’s always been a benchmark for amazingness.
For the tour visuals, Sean, were you drawing upon those personal interpretations of the songs, or did Roger give you a brief?
SEAN: I think that anything that you do has your personal experiences in it, but yeah, there was a big approach to it, which is that the original record was very… Even though it wasn’t strictly autobiographical – Roger had elements of his own life – it also had elements of Led Zeppelin and Rolling Stones and other more volatile bands. The story as it was told was about a rock star being pained and going crazy. He didn’t want it to be about that. I remember when he started talking about doing the tour, he was like, ‘I can’t… I’m not that guy. We have to figure out a way to do this.’ When we first started talking about it, it was more making it about current social and political and religious walls – things that divide society or are problems. That approach to it was always there and people were already taking those songs and doing things with it, and this was just doing a very designed statement based on that.
Were the images created especially for each song?
SEAN: Yeah, we built everything from scratch. We knew that we wanted to do this more global version – speaking to a broader audience - not about the internal struggle of a rock star, and one of the songs that came together with that theme the earliest was ‘Thin Ice’, which starts out with Roger’s dad and then goes through a series of other people that were killed in war. We asked fans to send those in, so all of those, save Roger’s dad, is submitted from a fan. So that one came together the soonest. We basically had a whiteboard and for each song we would just scribble down ideas, and some of them just had a question mark – we didn’t know what we were going to do. We spent nine months building the show, which in terms of an arena show is a long time, but in terms of what we were trying to do, it was a really long time – just the technical, the rendering; it’s slow.
When it came to filming the concert, whose point of view were you trying to convey – the audience’s, Roger’s, Sean’s, or something else altogether?
SEAN: In terms of the concert bit of it, it was tricky because really the show is about Roger and the wall – and the music and the visuals – but it’s this big, huge thing, so that’s a tricky scale to be jumping between; to be focused on these guys playing the music but then to also show these big, crazy wide shots. When we thought about it at first, it seemed like a very tricky task, because the two are in complete opposite directions. So in the end, that was our approach: we’re not trying to replicate sitting in a seat because you can’t. It’s impossible; that experience of being there is that experience of being there. So what we were trying to do is give an experience that is additional to that; something that you couldn’t get by being there – something that you wouldn’t see or experience by being there: that intimacy of seeing the singers or the musicians playing up close, or seeing bits of the show that you wouldn’t see from behind the wall. Like in ‘Hey You’ – I’ve seen people go, ‘Oh, they’re probably not even playing back there.’ They are. It’s weird, but they’re back there playing.
Does the project come with a weight of expectation from the fans?
ROGER: It’s a bit like the movie: people have no idea what to expect when they go to the movie. They think they know what to expect, but everybody who sees the movie goes, ‘I wasn’t expecting that,’ because of the way the road narrative is interwoven into the thing, and I think because of the way I am exposed in it. In the show, I’m not acting a part, because when I’m singing the songs as me, I’m just being me, but then obviously I’m acting when I turn into the Nazi and start killing everybody.
You did look like you were having fun firing that machine gun.
ROGER: Yeah, it was terrific. It was fantastic. We actually shot that in Athens. It was a nightmare getting it there?
ROGER: No, some bloke had to drive down through Europe. That is a 1943 Schmeisser machine gun.
ROGER: No, it’s the real thing.
ROGER: Anyway, I don’t know what people expect. I think people have slowly come round – a lot of them – to understanding that this is always what I’ve done for a living; it’s what I did in Pink Floyd and it’s what I do now, and I’m the same bloke, and the fact that I’m not called Pink Floyd doesn’t really matter to people nearly as much as it did. Though there are still quite a lot of people that are still having that internal conversation.
So, the original intentions for the stage show was to make the themes of ‘The Wall’ less about your own personal links, but the road trip narrative that’s been added to the film makes it all extremely personal. Were you rediscovering something from an objective point of view, or just trying to get that narrative back in there?
ROGER: Well, no, the point about the road movie and the visiting of the grave[s]…is all trying to join in the main point that is being made in the show and in the rest of the film, which is: What the fuck are we doing here? (Laughs) We need to figure out better ways of resolving conflicts than murdering each other. So, the little road movie, and the ways that I exposed myself and my sorrow about my father’s death and with the letter and all of that stuff is really just to continue making the point that there’s something wrong with the methodology here, and that this is not a good way for us to be solving problems.
It’s a theme that has never really expired or changed since you first wrote it.
ROGER: No, unfortunately.
There are some differences though – when introducing ‘Mother’ in the film, you say that it was written by the “young, fucked-up Roger,” which suggests that you’re a different person now. It was written at a time when you were going through some of the issues that were being dealt with in ‘The Wall’ – alienation being the key one – that weren’t really spoken about in public, as opposed to today, where mental health is much less of a stigma, and we’re encouraged to discuss it more openly. Did writing ‘The Wall’ prove cathartic for you in working through those issues?
ROGER: Definitely, yeah. Absolutely. It’s super important to be able to talk about these things and be open about them. I mean, up until quite recently, I was terrified by all kinds of things. Let me think, [my son] Harry is 37 or 38… 1976 he was born, so how old is he? 39. So when he was 10, which was 29 years ago – 29 years ago I was… 39? No, 49. Anyway, he asked me to go and do something at his little boarding school. He was at the prep school for Bedales as a weekly boarder. ‘Dad, they do these things where people’s parents come in and talk about their jobs. Will you come in and do it?’ ‘Yeah, of course I will.’ It was a few months later, and I was absolutely terrified of doing that. In the end, I had to take Andy Fairweather-Low with me and make it into a performance, because I was just supposed to stand up and talk to them. And I cannot tell you – I was absolutely terrified. They were fucking eight-year-olds; why would that be frightening? I’ve still no idea why. I realised at that point that I was sort of terrified of exposure; I was frightened of public speaking of any kind - I couldn’t talk to a small group of people. I was alright on stage with 50,000 people out there, but to be confronted with that… And it was good to do that, because I noticed it at the time, and it’s something where I pushed myself into situations like that since, but somehow over the intervening years, I’ve now discovered that I don’t have that fear anymore. It’s a bit like in the movie when I go, ‘I don’t have to have that dream anymore.’
Sean, did you feel voyeuristic filming the road trip scenes? Did it feel like you were invading Roger’s privacy as he reacted emotionally?
SEAN: It was very planned, and we knew that there were, in particular, two sections that were going to be very emotional, and he was going to need to really be raw in front of the camera. We’ve worked together for 10 years – he’s a good friend of mine – and it’s strange to see your friend bare, but when it’s going on and he’s in that space, you just need to let it go on, because that’s the meat; that‘s what you want. I knew he would be able to do it. That thing of going to the memorial at the end, I mean, the death of his father has so been a part of his persona and his creative energy for all of his life, and it was such a driving force behind ‘The Wall’, and his job has been to roam Europe – roam the world – playing shows, and he must have passed that thousands of times and he never stopped. It’s clearly full of emotion. It felt like such an amazing bookend, not only to this film and to this tour, but to the ideas that were stated in the 1980 version, the original version, about what ‘Another Brick In The Wall Part 1’ is saying and what ‘Thin Ice’ is saying and that feeling of losing your dad, and then all these years later to go and confront that.
The road trip weaves in so well with the narrative of the show. You wouldn’t be missing out on anything if you were at the show and didn’t see the film, but when you see it all together it makes so much sense.
SEAN: When we wrote it, we didn’t know how we were going to do it, but we’ve worked together enough that we knew that if we had a solid story that we would figure it out – we’d come up with transitions and come up with ways for it to be elegant. That’s kind of the fun part, figuring that out - once you’ve got all the bits, assembling it is fun.
Roger, were you apprehensive about those scenes, or did you just go in and do them?
ROGER: No. By the time we made this film, I think I was sort of over all of that, and so some of it is sort of contrived. Reading the letter from Major Witheridge to my mother and whatever - I gave that letter to Sean months before. I said, ‘Sean, I’ve only ever read this letter once, and I will read it once more, and you better make sure there’s film in the camera, because I’m only doing this once, and whatever happens happens. There might be nothing happen, or I may weep, or I may not - I have no idea, but it will be a real re-exposure to these words. An amazing man, Witheridge. He was locked up for the rest of the war, and when he was in Stalag 14 or wherever he was, he decided that, having seen so many young men die around him at Anzio, which is where he was commanding my father’s company, he determined that when he got home to London, he was going to start a boys club because he wanted to help young men in London. He raised money in the POW camp by having meetings and organising events and things like that. He would say to people, ‘I want you to contribute to this. I’m going to start a boys club in London when I get home and I want your contribution.’ They’d go, ‘Fucking hell, I can’t give you anything, I’m in a bloody prisoner of war camp.’ He’d say, ‘Write me an IOU.’ And he collected IOUs from other prisoners of war, and when he got home, he went round and said, ‘Hey, you said you’d give me four quid,’ or whatever it might be, and he collected money like that and he started a boys club and they spread all over London. Isn’t that amazing? He died a few years ago. I so wish that I… I so with that he had lived long enough for me to go around and go, ‘Oi, I’m this bloke’s son. Thank you.’
Do you think this will be the last time that ‘The Wall’ is constructed?
ROGER: Probably, yeah. I mean, I’ve stored the hydraulics with Tait Towers, and I did tell everybody that if the US government and the Israeli government ever get round to giving the Palestinians a bit of land to live on and a bit of peace and quiet, I will go back there when that wall has been torn down and put this one up and do a big free gig for everybody. But apart from that, yeah, it’s done.
Roger Waters The Wall is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and digital download now.
Roger Waters The Wall Soundtrack is available on CD, vinyl LP and digital download from 20th November.