Today, following the announcement of his death at the age of 65, it seems more than a little appropriate that it was Richard Wright who wrote "The Great Gig In The Sky" on Pink Floyd’s classic album Dark Side Of The Moon. Yesterday’s news marked the closing of an extraordinarily career during which he was seen as one of the legendary bands leading musical lights.
During the mid sixties he was a founder member of Pink Floyd alongside the late Syd Barrett, Nick Mason and Roger Waters and brought to it his inspirational keyboard and synthesiser work, song-writing and vocals on albums such as Piper At The Gates of Dawn, Ummagumma, Meddle and Dark Side Of The Moon, among many others. He was nothing short of a creative pioneer helping to produce ground-breaking music and writing, and co-writing, many of the most memorable Floyd tracks.
It was Syd Barrett who wrote the lion share of the early Floyd material but it was often Richard Wright who added the near indefinable, psychedelic and yet sometimes classical influenced element to his creations through his remarkable innovative skill on the keyboards. The interplay between them, Barrett’s searing guitar and Waters’ bass played almost as a lead helped place Floyd at the top of the psychedelic pedestal. "See Emily Play" and "Arnold Layne" gave an early insight but perhaps it was the release of 1967’s The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn that really propelled the band forward and on into a remarkable career. By the time Saucerful Of Secrets followed in 1968 Syd had succumbed to his growing mental problems and was being eased into the background. David Gilmour’s arrival signalled a change in direction towards extended pieces none of which would have been possible without the skill and influence of Richard Wright. It was Wright who co-wrote Saucerful Of Secrets’ opener.
His song writing evolved and resulted in him being credited with some key moments on both Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother. On Meddle he co-wrote the prog classic “Echoes”. His influence and musical knowledge was also particularly noticeable on Obscured By Clouds. However it was 1973’s Dark Side Of The Moon that is arguably Pink Floyd’s most commercially and artistically successful album for which Wright not only wrote “The Great Gig In The Sky” but also “Us And Them”. By the time the band’s dedication to Syd Barrett, Wish You Were Here, appeared Wright’s influence was obvious and crucial to their development. His contribution to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” will perhaps be remembered as one of his greatest moments.
Following Animals Roger Waters began work on what would become The Wall. It proved to be a difficult period for Pink Floyd in general as internal tensions reached crisis point. The working relationship with Waters proved impossible for Wright who despite being a fellow founder member of one of the worlds most successful bands decided he had to leave. From that time on his appearances for live performances of The Wall were only as a salaried musician which, despite increasing the tension, ironically saved him from some of the huge costs involved in staging the shows.
Following Waters’ departure Wright returned to Floyd and helped write material for Momentary Lapse Of Reason and The Division Bell albums but in truth Floyd’s greatest days were finally behind them. His solo career included albums such as Wet Dream in 1978 and Broken China in 1996. He also briefly collaborated with the New Romantics band Fashion on an album called Identity. One of his last major appearances came during the Live8 concert in London which marked the first appearance of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon line up since the acrimonious split. Wright also appeared on David Gilmour’s 2006 solo album On An Island. He was reported to have been working on some instrumental pieces for a possible solo release. His death has finally drawn a line under any possible Floyd reunions called for after the Live8 concert.
Never one to seek the spotlight the incurably modest Wright was an essential element of the Pink Floyd phenomenon. Let’s hope Richard Wright is today enjoying that “Great Gig In The Sky” alongside Syd Barrett and the other greats the world has lost along the way.
As part of the ‘Classic Eurorock’ series a review of Pink Floyd’s 1967 debut The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn will appear shortly as a tribute to both Richard Wright and Syd Barrett.Powered by Sidelines