by Ed Lopez-Reyes for Brain Damage
Roger Waters has worked with a remarkable roster of lead guitar players since the early days of Pink Floyd, beginning with David Gilmour but including behemoths such as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. 10 years ago, guitarist Gerry Leonard joined these ranks, working with Waters on The Last Mimzy soundtrack but also on a 'lost' Waters track.
Leonard, currently on a trans-Atlantic tour with Suzanne Vega, which is now travelling around the UK, sat down with Brain Damage to discuss the history of his work with Waters and David Bowie, among others.
Few artists get to work with the calibre of guitarists Waters has: Gilmour, Clapton, Beck, G.E. Smith, Andy Fairweather Low, Tim Renwick, Steve Lukather and Snowy White, to name a few. Most recently, Waters teamed up with guitarists Gus Seyffert and Jonathan Wilson to record the Is This the Life We Really Want? album. Waters is now on the road supporting that album: Seyffert, Wilson, and Dave Kilminster (from Waters’ two previous tours) in tow.
In this tremendous line-up of guitarists, Leonard’s limited volume of work with Waters may be the reason he is often overlooked. But his unique guitar style, his passion for expanding the instrument’s breadth of sound, depth, and boundaries, as well as his distinguished resume, are ample reasons to recognize his musical presence in the extended Pink Floyd family – and to hope for a future collaboration.
Leonard boasts an extensive and rich history of work with Bowie, (who was no stranger to the Pink Floyd saga) spanning work in the studio albums Heathan, Reality, and Next Day, as well as work following Mark Plati as Bowie’s musical director for the Reality tour (which eventually came to a halt in 2004, after Bowie collapsed from a blocked heart artery immediately after a show in Germany). Bowie’s last recorded live album, A Reality Tour, is an exquisite exhibit of Leonard’s playing and a testament to the incredible chemistry shared by the twain.
Bowie always held Leonard’s playing in high esteem. Leonard’s project, Spooky Ghost, which has yielded two albums, got particular praise from Bowie, who described the Ghost’s 2002 album The Light Machine as “quite the most beautiful and moving piece of work I have possessed in a long time.” Given Bowie’s passion for early Pink Floyd and his general musical taste, and considering how that taste shaped his own creativity, it is hard to take such a recommendation lightly.
One possible reason fans may overlook Leonard’s presence in the Waters collection is his work with Waters is embedded in the soundtrack for a movie that was difficult to categorize: on the surface, it is a family science fiction story, but dig a little deeper and there are overlapping plots and ideas, a complexity that has gained more appreciation over time; then there is that elusive second project with Waters that was never released to the public in its entirety (or officially).
Leonard was born in Clontarf, in Dublin but has, in all truth, become a New Yorker. Those paying keen attention to the live music scene in New York City will realize Leonard is a regular (between larger tours with the likes of Suzanne Vega and Duncan Sheik) at a little venue by the name of Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side – not far from Katz Deli, Russ and Daughters, and across from Georgia’s Eastside BBQ (“Heavy Metal Home Cookin’,” for those with a palate for the grill). Without doubt, Leonard’s gigs at Rockwood are one of the city’s best kept secrets: the shows are in the early part of the evening and usually draw close friends, associates, and devoted fans – a very local crowd, whatever that means in a city as vast, diverse, and eclectic as New York City. It is mind-blowing that a guitar player that helped shape a lot of Bowie’s latter works and has performed with so many other icons can play in such an intimate setting… and so accessibly. He always delivers and in many ways seems inspired and motivated by Gotham itself.
Brain Damage: Gerry, can you tell us about your childhood in Ireland and how you ended up living in New York?
Gerry Leonard: I grew up in Dublin – had all my bands growing up there, culminating in one of my bands, Hinterland, being signed to Island Records. With that band being signed to an international label, I started coming to New York a lot. I was very taken by this city and its energy and the way things are done here. The whole scene. When my band finished up, not having had resounding success and so on, things were put on the backburner. I had the option to start another band or make a move. At that point I was ready to make a move so I came to New York. I had a friend here – a producer and engineer – and he had a project they needed a guitar player for. I packed a bag, my guitar, 200 dollars, and hopped on a plane and came over and started to do my work.
BD: What was your upbringing like? Did you come from a musical family?
GL: I didn’t come from a musical family. I came from a very ordinary family – my father worked for the post office. He didn’t play an instrument. We did have a piano in the house and were sent to piano lessons. My suspicion is my grandmother put up money for us all to take lessons – this is a basic kind of education. I wasn’t even that keen on the piano at that point but had a teacher at the school that was very musical and really got me interested in music in another way. I think he saw I had aptitude for music and he encouraged me to meet after school to show me some stuff – he wanted me to be in his accordion band. He taught me chords. He gave guitar lessons after school and I badgered my father for a guitar. After a tantrum my dad took me up the road: in the classifieds, in the back of the local newspaper, there was a guitar for sale, and we drove up and knocked on this guy's door on a drizzly, rainy night. I remember going in and my dad beating him down from 10 pounds to seven pounds. I walked out of there with a guitar that night. That was a big moment for me … it was as beautiful thing – it was a little nylon string guitar but for me it was like the world. It was shiny – nobody knew how to tune it or anything but I started guitar lessons and picked it up very quickly. I loved it. I got the buzz for it – and from the school band there were a bunch of other guys – one played drums, one sang, and one played guitars but we relegated him to bass, and suddenly we had our separate rock band. I think we even had a keyboard player. We learned folk songs, Beatles songs. And we played little concerts wherever we could. From the age of 12 I had a band and my dad would drive us and our gear to the gig – we would play at old folks’ homes or off the back of a lorry… wherever we could get a gig we would play. Then as I got older I got more interested in the electric guitar. I actually made my first electric guitar with my dad. We won a few town contests with that guitar and I still have it – a friend of mine just restored it and it still works – it’s very low-fi, I tell you. And then we got auditioned for a little movie that was being made – an educational movie for school… the upshot is instead of getting paid we got instruments and I got a Les Paul copy which was like a Cadillac to me. A local guy would show me how to play Stairway – I heard a lot of rock songs without hearing the record; some guys would show me how to play these songs and I would learn them before hearing the actual recorded versions. Then I went off to study classical guitar which was like relearning the guitar again. So in my 20s I had this weird combination of folk, classical, and electric guitar – it all became one thing.
BD: You studied at Dublin Municipal College of Music: a lot of guitars players are under the impression if they learn classical guitar they will be better blues or rock players – how much did your classical training influence your style and is that a misconception?
GL: Yeah, I think I studied classical because that’s all that was available in Dublin – it sounds kinda of fancy but I had two lessons a week: a practical class and a theory class and the rest was up to me. I think what the classical instruction gave me is it took the guitar apart for me, in a sense, and made it more like a polyphonic instrument – unlike what you experience in a lot of rock and folk music, where you tend to play the guitar in these more, what I would call, ‘idioms’ – like their particular patterns, pentatonics and what not. Power chords and barre chords. A lot of stuff is written in that way, whereas in classical, if you’re playing like a Bach, you have independent lines and you have a lot to do with fingering and tone. It put a different spin on the guitar for me and made me think of it as a more polyphonic instrument. In retrospect, it’s not really related to rock or blues because it’s such a different technique: when I started to study classical it was like starting all over again. I was 19 and had been playing for a while but had to go back to basics to learn that technique. So I don’t think they’re really linked. I know that over the years rock music and, like, classical baroque music… there’s more of a link with those styles and people tend to identify with those things and the harmony in the earlier music. It’s not like when you get into romantic classical, where there’s a lot of modulation and much more complex harmonies. So I think there’s a basic relationship there and people may have identified the two together but technique-wise it’s very different. [Pauses] You know, it shaped my style. So I wouldn’t take away from it in any way. I think any kind of grounding in music theory is good for anyone that is learning – it’s the building blocks, so… and it’s deep because it keeps going – we are always still learning.
BD: When people talk about your interest in the instrument’s harmonic possibilities, for those that don’t play guitar, what does that mean?
GL: The guitar and a lot of string instruments are very expressive and so they can operate in various ways. You can get an acoustic guitar and play very simple chords and accompany a song very beautifully. It can also be this very potent solo instrument so it can take on a more aggressive tone and become the soul of an ensemble – it can accompany or lead. Look at what people do with itt. Tapping, for example: it’s not my thing but it’s pretty impressive for people that are taking the instrument up. I think it’s very harmonic and rich and very useful as a textural instrument so when I do some looping and some processing it’s a sound source of these things unlike a synthesiser which is coming from an electronic space of oscillators that are essentially static – a guitar has got all these dynamics and squeaks and rumbles and scratches as well as all the musical parts so it becomes a very potent instrument for a textural basis – it has a lot scope – very dimensional in the way you attack the note and as to what notes you choose… it can be simple-complex or simple-simple but it has a lot of possibilities.
BD: Who are some guitar players that have influenced you?
GL: I’m not sure I ever had a person that I would follow in a die-hard way. There were some favourites. Like Rory Gallagher because he was an Irish blues man and a great player and soloist. There was Led Zeppelin: Jimmy Page has a beautiful guitar sound and was a potent force in the way he forged these classic rock riffs. Very smart in the way he played the guitar. I love Ry Cooder – I went through a Cooder period, especially when he worked on the Paris, Texas soundtrack: when he came up with that stuff it was very expressive and he had a beautiful tone. I have a great appreciation for someone like Jeff Beck: I’ve never been a huge fan of his music – his music is great, I mean, but it’s his playing that I’ve been keen on and of how it continues to grow. I went through a period of listening to blues – everyone from Huddy Ledbetter to Albert King – and that’s a pure and beautiful style right there. And then I love a lot of the New Wave stuff because that was my time. Those guys were influences at the time, whether it was Echo and the Bunnymen or The Police or The Stranglers – with any of those guys there was an attitude and commitment to simplicity that was very cool, so it really runs the gamut with me. You know, I also love Indian classical music – I love the expressiveness and soul of it. I really like a couple of Indian classical guitar players that play slide: you can hear their influence on someone like George Harrison. In the same way, these things filter down: I love George Harrison, I think he’s underrated. Another guy is Peter Green from the early Fleetwood Mac. To me he was, maybe, the greatest English blues guitar player – I know Clapton often gets that but I thought Green was the guy with that stuff – his playing… and then with Fleetwood Mac the arrangements they did were very modern and really set the stage for al lot of things. Mick Ronson, from David Bowie. The list goes on …
Some of these guitar players are more understated and more supportive. Personally, I like that role. I like when the music comes together as opposed to someone just showing off – I think in a weird way Jimmy Page was very supportive to the whole song structure. The way he played; Harrison too – beautiful playing but very supportive of the overall sound.
BD: It’s interesting you mention Page a few times; do you feel Page was an even better rhythm guitar player than lead guitar player? In rock music there’s a lot of focus on lead and how fast someone plays, but with someone like Page is it the texture of his rhythm guitar that sets him apart?
GL: Yeah, I think he’s more of a ‘completist’ – he’s not the most virtuosic soloist but there’s something very expressive about his solos and he was very creative on the guitar – he really understood the guitar and made it powerful – to understand the guitar like that and make it something powerful is something he was great at. To relegate him to either rhythm or lead diminishes his playing – he was very sculptural with the guitar. In terms of the way he understood the guitar and made it work, he’s right up there at the top of the list.
BD: Your sound was described as ‘spooky ghost’ by your Hinterland bandmate Donal Coughlan, who recently passed away, am I correct? What do you feel he meant in that description and how do you feel what you intend to project in your guitar playing is accurately described by that moniker?
GL: Well, I think at that point, when we were in the band together, I was interested in taking more of an atmospheric guitar sound: a combination of architectural parts that were distinct but also the underpinning of a guitar… texture. His idea was a nickname that fit that atmospheric style. In a higher octave range or organ type textures – I think he felt that’s what it fit – ‘doing that ghost thing’ – a nod to not playing blistering guitar solos but to find a texture that fit the song in a more mysterious and emotional way.
BD: Do you feel your guitar sound is afforded more room for expression with certain artists? It seems your live playing with someone like Sheik affords your guitar more space to navigate – is that an accurate perception?
GL: Yes, Duncan is very generous in that sense. Duncan is a great guitar player himself but focused more on singing and other guitar parts and was generous in giving me that space. He gave me free reign, especially when we started making records together: he would encourage me to find my own parts, which is my favourite thing to do when we work on songs. I like to find parts that are original and non-derivative. So he gave me a lot of room to experiment, which I am grateful for. He was a generous guy.
Heckled by Bowie and Rocking the Soundtrack with Waters
One of Leonard’s first projects, once he had established himself in New York, was Laurie Anderson’s Bright Red album. In 2001, while working with Anderson, Bowie and Leonard crossed paths in a recording studio in SoHo. During a Spooky Ghost gig sometime after that meeting, Bowie showed up. In a 2013 interview with Richard Byrne Reilly, Leonard described the scene: “The place had 50 seats. I got word that David was coming down to the show. And it was great. He was heckling me from the audience which helped break the ice.”
After heckling Leonard, Bowie called him, asking him to record one track on his forthcoming album, Heathen: Leonard would go on to record several tracks and toured with him in support of that work. Although Leonard ended up doing a lot more than he had anticipated doing with Bowie, it was only the beginning. As related by Reilly: (In 2003) “guitarist Gerry Leonard was in the back of a livery cab driven by his friend Carlos, a one-armed Dominican, when his cell rang from a blocked number. Leonard was on his way to a gig in Manhattan. Looking at the blocked call, the guitarist had a hunch to pick it up. He’s glad he did. ‘It was David. He said, “do you want to be musical director?” I couldn’t believe it. So I said, “Can I think about it?” He said, “yes.”’ The result was Bowie’s album Reality and the aforementioned tour that was cut short when Bowie became ill after suffering from a heart attack.
Bowie wouldn’t perform full live shows again after that but made a handful of special appearances, including one with Gilmour at the Royal Albert Hall, in 2006.
BD: Were you surprised when Bowie played with David Gilmour at the Royal Albert Hall? Were you in contact and aware of what he was doing in the period before that?
GL: It was a surprise when I saw that – I was glad to see him do it and didn’t know he was doing it – he probably didn’t feel the need to share that with anyone. You could be close to David but just know what he really wanted you to know. He spent his time off the road really doing a lot of cataloguing and retrospective stuff, including the giant project that became the exhibition – or the DNA of it, at least – it wouldn’t have happened without someone taking stock of things. David had a lot of other interests in reading and art; he was a deep character that didn’t always feel he needed to be out there with new records… I think he liked what Gilmour was playing and decided he wanted to do that – these things are very cherry-picked and who knows how it came together.
BD: How did you connect with Roger Waters for The Last Mimzy?
GL: That was a very New York moment, in a sense. I remember being home – first of all it was a real thrill to get asked to do that – but I remember I had a movie soundtrack of my own that I was working on and I had cleared a two week period in my schedule to work on it. And in the middle of that I got a call, what looked like a mobile phone number, saying something about a 'movie soundtrack.' And I had a feeling, 'oh obviously, some small movie that’s been made and they want me to come down,' and I’m thinking 'I’ve got my own stuff I’ve just cleared my schedule for…' but I got on the phone with the person I needed to connect with and it was Sandra Parks [music contractor for The Last Mimzy], who does the orchestral work on a lot of these big budget movies. I guess what had happened was that Roger had this track that he had worked on with Howard Shore for the picture, Mimzy – a New Line Cinema production – and I think Roger had been procrastinating finishing it. There was a guy called Paul Broucek from New Line and it was his job to get this picture done. So they had the session booked and at the last minute needed a guitar player to help finish the track. My name came up because Paul had seen me play with Bowie. Sandra knew of me too and so they called me and said “look, there’s a session going on tomorrow, Tuesday: it’s gonna be Roger Waters and Howard Shore and Steve Gadd on drums – would you be available?” I was like, “what time is that session again…?!” So I said “sure!” I loaded up the car with a whole bunch of stuff that night and went there the next day. I ended up working on the track for a couple of days. So it was like that – out of the blue – but it was a great honour to get asked to do it. And the session was a great success. Everyone seemed pleased.
BD: Who were the other musicians?
GL: Steve Gadd was the drummer, Roger played bass, and Henry Hey was on keyboards. And they had Howard Shore there for orchestration and the film score work. James Guthrie was there for engineering work. He was there at the helm. [Then 6-year old actress Rhiannon Leigh Wryn also contributed vocals].
BD: How did Roger end up working on that project?
GL: My suspicion is Howard was contracted to do the score and then they were looking for a big name for this closing sequence… and Roger’s name came up. I’m not sure how the big wheels work – but they must have felt he was a good fit because they co-wrote the song. In the end, even the subject matter of the song seemed like a Pink Floyd song. So I’m pretty sure it would’ve come about that way.
BD: Had the song been developed and recorded to a pretty substantial point when you came in or were they pulling it all together when you showed up?
GL: They had a temporary version, probably written in orchestral form by Howard – there may have been some singing on it that Howard sketched out – there was a lot of arranging done on the first day I was there. Being a movie piece, timing and length matter. The film dictates that so you work backwards and make the song fit that – the visuals are important. Despite it being a closing song, Roger was very concerned with the timing. It turned out long, about six minutes. But once they had the temporary arrangements sketched out, Steve played drums by himself to the track. And then it was pretty much the guitars. There was a lot of music to do. We spent the next two days working on the guitars.
BD: You recorded all the guitar parts?
GL: I’m pretty sure I did – there was nothing there except a guide vocal and a click track when I arrived, and then Steve’s drums and some basic harmony… but nothing else. We had come up with the idea of doing acoustic guitars and then we filled that in with the electric guitars.
BD: Fans don’t normally think about how the nature of soundtrack pieces dictate their structure. Did you feel that was a stylistic departure for you?
GL: What was interesting in working with Roger was that I’d come up with ideas as I normally do: I’d say “what if we did this?,” and Roger was very supportive, he’d say “yeah, let’s try this.” And then I would go back and I would start doing it and he would give me direction, taking the basic idea… as a producer he would suggest changes and then James would record something and triple track it and explain “that’s what we do, how we get the Floyd sound.” So I would say “that’s how you do it? OK, that’s how we do it – let’s do it!”. Especially with the acoustic guitars: we would do these multiple tracks of things and do it very precisely so it sounded like one instrument but had the body of three. And then we would put on the next layer and it would be like “we need something here” and I would try something until we agreed. Roger guided most of that as a producer.
You know, over the course of those two days, I have to say, it really did feel… I feel like my personality was in the track but it did really beget the sound of Pink Floyd – through Roger’s sensibilities and his instincts. I mean, I think it was harmony in the way it was written, it was in that genre. My suspicion is Howard probably sketched out the initial song and Roger probably came up with the melody and the lyrics … I’m not sure but that’s what my guess is. So in making music for movies it does become a very collaborative process between the movie director, the composer, and the artist. You’re there as a guitar player to fill in all of that.
BD: What do you recall most from that effort?
GL: Well, you know, it was a thrill to meet Roger and to work with him and see his process. You always learn so much from that – because he has such a distinct voice in the musical cannon – and I mean that not only literally but also in terms of the way he conducts the music and suggests things. So it was a great thrill.
A big surprise was on the long outro: I played a lead guitar part and there was going to be all this orchestral stuff with it. I was kind of sensitive to that so I played this kinda minimal part because I thought there would be a lot of string parts: I wanted what I played to kinda weave in and I think when I heard the final recording the guitar turned out to be the centrepiece of that. It was curious that in the end Roger wasn’t as keen on the string ideas that had been put forward and ended up featuring the guitar more: that was a little thrill for me. When the guitar really became more front-and-centre it was a nice surprise. It felt like I got to be on it in a really featured way – I got to be featured on a Roger Waters track… it was a trophy for the mantelpiece, you know?
BD: You worked with Rufus Wainright and he’s a vocal libertarian – do you feel in this divisive political climate, one that Roger Waters hasn’t shied away from, it is good for artists to be expressing their views or do you feel they should be playing a different role in that discourse – maybe even a more agnostic one? What is your sense as a musician that has navigated such diverse political spaces, including two artists like them, when it comes to political views?
GL: It boils down to personalities, in a sense. Rufus is a very outspoken person as is Roger. Even in the early days, Roger was always political and Orwellian in his discourse. Rufus is openly gay and an outsider in a sense. I think maybe with some artists, when they get some notoriety and have a soap box to stand on it tends to amplify that part of their personality. Myself, I am not that kind of person: I don’t see how my political views… I am much more… I hate what is going on at the moment – it is so much the wrong direction and lopsided and not for the people but for the money and that is upsetting. But is it something I will start shouting about at my gigs? Probably not, because it just isn’t my personality. I’m not the guy, even at the dinner table, who will bring up politics and start ranting away about it all. Although maybe we all do that [laughs], but you know I think there’s a place… you know, David Bowie never brought politics into his public persona even though he had strong views we all align with – he would occasionally make a statement like he did on Valentine’s Day, the way he made a statement on that record and video where he is holding up the guitar in the same way Charlton Heston would hold up a gun or whatever … it’s a comment – but it was subtle. I think it’s OK. I get a little tired when people won’t let it go and use it for their advantage but I think it’s OK when people have influence and they use it. Like Bono. I think it can be much at times, it can be preachy but at the same time if someone has influence and they can bring awareness, that’s not a bad thing. Certainly, people with less to say in the other direction have no problem crowing from the rooftops their crazy beliefs, so it’s ok to bring a bit of sanity to this thing. But I think ultimately it has more to do with personalities and the weird thing is what happens when people get notoriety and fame and what they choose to do with that. I don’t think it’s an essential component of music and you have to be careful. I have written songs that have never seen the light of day that have a little bit more of a statement: after a while they start to feel like it’s not really me so I don’t put it out. I’m glad I wrote it, maybe, but I don’t think I need to introduce them into my set because it would be like “what… where did that come from?” I much prefer things that are more like questions so people draw their own conclusions. We all have a conscience.
BD: What is on the cards next for Spooky Ghost?
GL: Spooky Ghost – I’ve been working on performing the stuff live and working out a solo set – it makes the things a lot more affordable… it means that I can play in Europe or New York… in the past it was always something I did in my spare time but I’ve been working on carving out its identity in a stronger way so if summoned to do something I have the set of songs and the gear clearly defined for that. It’s always been a fan box for me – a testing ground where I can experiment and try new things before I can even bring them to another artist. It has been something other artists can use to get a picture of what I am trying to do. I am still writing and have a lot of stuff written… it’s weird the way I have been procrastinating about it but I need to make the third Spooky Ghost record and I think that’s pretty close to getting done; I just need to line up a few things – the new record and more live shows – to develop the Ghost brand.
Hello (I Love You) and The Child Will Fly
If you haven’t given Hello (I Love You) a spin in a while, it’s well worth it: the song evokes a strong Pink Floyd vibe (including references to Pink Floyd lyrics) and has aged well over the past 10 years. If you listen to Leonard’s work on it, it is precisely the way he describes it: those familiar with it will get a sense of the guitarist’s tone and style but also get a glimpse of how it filters through Waters’ vision.
The song deserves more recognition but has (to a degree) blurred into the handful of stand-alone tracks Waters recorded before his latest release this year. In the 25 years between Waters’ Amused to Death and Is This the Life We Really Want?, these tracks gave you a sense of the musical space that Waters was inhabiting. Hello (I Love You)’s lyrics and sound may be the closest the artist came to that classic Pink Floyd sound. At least until Is This the Life We Really Want, which boasts so many similarities to Animals – in a barebones way that highlights his strength as a lyricist.
I ask Leonard if he’d like to work with Waters again: “If I had the opportunity to work with Roger again I would and I would absolutely jump at the chance if it came along. I know he has a stable of players he has used over many years so I don’t expect that anytime soon but if something came along I would like to do it – I mean Roger is one of the great icons of our time so it would be a great honour.” He then adds: “I did work with him on one other thing that he did for charity…”
So… what happened to that project?
The project included a number of well-known artists: Shakira, Clapton, Pedro Aznar, and the late Gustavo Cerati. Practically everyone involved with the project has stated the track was clocking in at around 13 minutes before the endeavour became a bit of a mystery. Cerati, who was a well-known guitar player in South America in his own right, suggested during a radio interview in 2009 that with all the additional musicians that kept coming on board they would all ultimately each get a smaller piece of real estate on the track. But it was all speculation – and perhaps made in jest (he joked about his guitar solo taking a back seat to Clapton’s).
The reason why the track was never released has never been clear. Some Spanish language press indicates there were internal difficulties in the organization around 2009. But those difficulties didn’t have a permanent, negative impact on the organization. And when Waters toured South America during The Wall Live he filmed footage in Argentina for the song’s video. A short version of the song (under three minutes long) was released, along with that footage, in 2014. This release may have been a leak, rather than a proper publication, however. And the reasons we haven’t yet heard the full version remain an enigma. So it is uncertain how much of Leonard’s work is woven into the song’s final mix. What is certain is that it was a period in Waters’ career that Leonard maintained a presence in. It wasn’t until 2010, however, that Waters went full throttle again since the end of The Dark Side of the Moon Live tour in 2008 (which overlapped both projects Leonard was involved in). At that point Waters assembled Kilminster, Smith, and White in the guitar rotation (with bits and pieces of guitar work by Jon Carin and Waters himself throughout The Wall Live shows).
Leonard’s sound fits well in the extended Pink Floyd eco-system. He has a distinct guitar voice – one that truly fits what each member of Pink Floyd has projected within the band and as solo artists. It would be a pity to not see further collaborations with Leonard in this camp.
Fans of Waters and Bowie should make an effort to catch Leonard live: but particularly at his solo Spooky Ghost gigs – he is incredibly accessible, passionate about his instrument and music, and a real treat to spend time with. His ethereal music in these intimate live performances at Rockwood Music Hall synthesize many of the elements that caught the attention of so many iconic musicians like Anderson, Bowie, Sheik, Vega, Wainwright, and Waters. But, ultimately, there is something very unique and other-worldly about Leonard’s live work. Something that is unique to Leonard. For an hour, despite being in one of the busiest cities in the world, you’ll be transported to an entirely different place. And you get to experience what attracted these icons to his guitar work.
Whether Leonard works with Waters again is probably something we won’t know about until the actual work is done. Leonard is great at keeping a secret.
Speaking to The Independent in 2014 about his last album with Bowie, The Next Day, Leonard expressed his sense of awe at the opportunity to work with Bowie. The Next Day was an album recorded in absolute secrecy and Leonard went to great lengths to keep the project classified.
Much of the album was constructed in Leonard’s home, about an hour from Manhattan, in the region of towns and villages that runs along the Hudson River: “I keep telling myself I'm just a guitar player from Clontarf, but it does seem a bit crazy when you have David Bowie singing in your kitchen and you can't tell anyone about it.”
According to the interview in the Independent, Leonard hadn’t played with or for Bowie since 2004 and was surprised to hear from the singer in 2010. Bowie sent him an email where he asked Leonard to keep the project an absolute secret. Leonard explained: “The subject line of the email was 'Schtum' and David asked me not to tell a soul. It was a huge pressure, but I realised if I could keep it quiet, I would be part of the wonderful process of David Bowie coming back to music.”
Leonard kept schtum. And he may do so if he ever collaborates with Waters again. Only time will tell.
In the meantime, do yourself the favour of seeing one of Leonard’s live shows at Rockwood if you are fortunate enough to coincide with one – without doubt, one of New York City’s best kept live music scene secrets. You will walk out of the show and into the streets of New York City with quite the musical buzz.
For more information about Gerry Leonard and Spooky Ghost, visit gerryleonardspookyghost.com. For Rockwood Music Hall gigs in New York City, make sure to visit rockwoodmusichall.com. David Bowie performance photo courtesy of gerryleonardspookyghost.com.