‘High Hopes’: a journey that began today, in 1946

by Ed Lopez-Reyes


Glenn Povey and Warren Dosanjh deliver a paramount volume in David Gilmour's biographical trail but have limited its production to 500 copies.

Born on this day, in March of 1946, the history of David Jon Gilmour we’re most familiar with begins in 1968, when he joined Pink Floyd. It includes the period when he took command of the band: its longest era, spanning 1985 through 2014 – or present day, depending on whom you ask, as well as his solo work in between and beyond. While Gilmour’s history with the band and as a solo artist is well documented, the origins of that journey are not.


Glenn Povey, founding former editor of Brain Damage, the world-renowned Pink Floyd fan magazine that got its start in print and is published online these days, partnered with Cambridge music historian Warren Dosanjh to fill the largest blank in Gilmour’s personal, recorded history.


Given what we know about Gilmour, it’s easy to imagine him balking at Povey’s and Dosanjh’s effort, but if you’ve co-piloted a band through some of the largest global successes in rock music history, it inevitably cultivates an appetite for knowledge of what engendered that creative capital and gumption.


While this interest might strike an artist like Gilmour – one of the two most taciturn members of Pink Floyd – as next level fanaticism, it serves an important purpose: it helps historians understand the socioeconomic and psychosocial dimensions that have shaped art. It is, in essence, a genuine educational and academic endeavour, something Gilmour could sympathize with as the son of educators.


But therein lies one of the more interesting accounts in High Hopes: early in the book you begin to realize Gilmour’s relationship with his parents shaped at least some elements of his personality, including (potentially) his perception of other people’s interest in his personal life and upbringing. In this, Gilmour shares a commonality with Roger Waters: although they both experienced similarly untraditional relationships with adult figures in their early lives, the reasons vary widely – each endured a different kind of absence, a recurring theme in Pink Floyd lyrics that usually pointed to Syd Barrett but increasingly shifted toward Waters’ experience and the broader narrative of rock musicians. While Waters’ reasons are well documented through Pink Floyd’s music, Gilmour’s reasons might be more cryptic – and he certainly hasn’t availed himself much to discuss these things in the many years he’s been a public figure. The extent to which his own experiences with absence are reflected in Pink Floyd’s music, particularly post The Final Cut, could be the subject of a different study altogether.


Although Gilmour’s history with Pink Floyd dates back, officially, to 1968, his presence around the band includes several important benchmarks that overlap its earliest iterations and roots. These are histories not just about Pink Floyd, but about Cambridge and the impact of American culture on this prominent college town. High Hopes doesn’t just document the early part of Gilmour’s life, it documents an important part of Cambridge history and the convergence of local culture with American blues and rock by way of armed forces members serving at RAF Alconbury, RAF Molesworth, and RAF Mildenhall, among others.


High Hopes, Dosanjh and Povey’s limited edition biography of Gilmour’s early years, fills gaps in the existing Pink Floyd library, giving readers a more thorough sense of the upbringing and social settings that shaped his creativity and his role in the band’s complex and (publicly over-simplified) internal politics.


High Hopes endows the reader with a sense of Gilmour’s psychology without prying, giving shape to a sense of how a person’s upbringing impacts creative output and how the interactions with your most immediate relatives and acquaintances shape your perception of others.


High Hopes is a deceivingly easy read: rich in well-referenced material (one of its principal sources is Gilmour’s brother, Peter, who makes interesting observations about their upbringing and doesn’t always agree with David’s perspective) it keeps you engaged all the way through and delivers far more material than you realized you were absorbing.


The photography is abundant – and although in other books it might be considered filler, in this case it serves the narrative exceptionally well: it satiates the curiosity of what’s happened to many of the landmarks mentioned in the writing, transporting the reader from Storm Thorgerson’s surreal visuals of a Cambridge childhood to a more visceral, and realistic perspective. This is an important step in constructing a clearer context for the history that shaped all these creative minds.


In addition to the personal dimensions and obscure landmarks we learn about in High Hopes, there are a number of broader historical milestones that are especially interesting – and although many of these are recorded in a number of other publications (including some of Povey’s previous books) they are all collected here with a focus on this specific period in Gilmour’s life in a more expansive perspective.


Revisiting Gilmour’s parents’ history in the United States and the personal cultural impact this may have had on a young Gilmour, Gilmour’s (likely) first attendance of a Pink Floyd show, documentation of an earlier invitation for him to join the band and of those the band had entertained recruiting before officially adding him later on, e.g., Jeff Beck, makes this an entertaining and engaging thread. It’s also fascinating to read about Gilmour’s busking in France, his run-ins with the law, and Claude Picasso’s (son of Pablo) subsequent rescue efforts – these type of things add colour to our otherwise limited knowledge of Gilmour’s early years.


The book provides additional narrative on Barrett’s role as the nexus between Waters and Gilmour in social circles (though it remains uncertain when they first met). It’s always interesting to revisit the brief period when the band was a five-man band – a period that apparently only lasted eight days.


One particularly notable thing, for those that are keen to visit the locations where this history unfolded, is the level of detail on the geographic points where Gilmour’s destiny, serendipity, and fate ushered him toward Pink Floyd: it isn’t uncommon for a music fan to revisit the site of great concert they attended at some point, for example; how many of you reading this haven’t stood in an empty Los Angeles Forum, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Radio City Music Hall, or the Royal Albert Hall - or even the smallest performance space at a club or university union where you witnessed a great and perhaps even historically significant show, and felt the spectre of those events and the energy of those that once stood there with you witnessing that moment? A similar satisfaction settles upon us when we visit the geographic points where these bands and these artists honed their skills: it’s hard not to visit one of these places and ponder the forces and influences that coalesced there to shape the minds that created those albums you (and the rest of the world) have heard over and over. It would be a shame to lose track of these geographic and historical landmarks.


The intersections of these historical characters, places, and cultural elements are too important to leave unrecorded. High Hopes does a great job preserving this history.


Though musicians can be a reclusive bunch, and Gilmour has often come across that way, this is the type of respectful and historically rich work musicians should appreciate: while they might find this obsession over detail excessive, this volume is evidence that, as time moves on, the ability to record these things becomes more fragile. In this case, a lot of what is documented pre-dates an abundant availability of video footage – the type we take for granted these days.


This type of documentation will be of value to Gilmour’s posterity, at a minimum. But given Pink Floyd’s impact on music history, there’s no doubt its value far exceeds that. Since only 500 copies of this book have been printed, let’s hope they land in the right, resourceful hands and that they contribute to the preservation of an important history that transcends any one person.


Even Fred’s.

For more information on High Hopes, visit www.mindheadpublishing.co.uk.


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