In this section, Bill Kopp presents exclusive content not available in the book.
Guitarist Davy O'List was a member of The Nice (also featuring a keyboardist named Keith Emerson) when he got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
As 1967 neared its end, Pink Floyd was becoming increasingly popular in England. But the band's front man, primary songwriter and guitarist/vocalist Syd Barrett was becoming erratic and unreliable; sometimes showing up late for gigs, and – on at least two occasions – missing a performance altogether.
When the latter happened, Barrett's band mates – bassist Roger Waters, keyboardist Rick Wright and drummer Nick Mason – faced a tough decision: cancel the gig and risk embarrassment (or worse), or draft someone to play guitar in place of the missing-in-action Barrett. On December 3, 1967 at a gig in Nottingham, they chose the latter option, calling on a friend of Barrett, guitarist David Gilmour.
But Barrett went AWOL on at least one other occasion, fifteen days earlier, in the Beatles' hometown of Liverpool. On that night, Pink Floyd called upon Davy O'List to fill in.
I spoke with Davy O'List about this episode (and other topics) in connection with my research for Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon, to be published February 2018. Excerpts from our conversation are featured in the book. Today I present additional reminiscences from O'List about his one-night-only tenure as Pink Floyd's guitarist.
Bill Kopp: The music that The Nice were making at the time was very, very different from what Pink Floyd were doing. How familiar were you with Pink Floyd's music before the gig?
Davy O'List: Well, I'd like to say the music that we were doing was not very far different. Because we were slightly in line with the psychedelic sound that Pink Floyd had got, and I would often go off into soloist bits, something which might fit Pink Floyd's [sound], and I think that's why Pink Floyd came to me. Because they knew that I could just fit in, and play their music using my experience that I had with The Nice.
The Nice and Pink Floyd were together on the '67 Jimi Hendrix tour. I understand that the way that those went, everyone's set was fairly short. It was, “get up there, play a few songs, get off and then the next band.” Is that accurate?
At the shows, were you able to kind of take in their live set at all? Or were you too busy getting ready for your own set, or finishing up?
I really, really loved the Pink Floyd. To see the way they played was just mind-blowing. And then to actually do a tour with them was a dream come true. So I used to go out to the audience every night and watch their set at the back. And that was how I learned their stuff, really, because I was very interested in their sounds and very interested in Syd and what he was doing with his echo effects. I picked up on most of their stuff, and it just was embedded in my memory and I knew what they were doing; I knew what it was. So when it was presented to me, you know, “Now, play it,” I knew what it was. So it wasn't hard.
I've heard live recordings from that period; with the benefit of hindsight, their live set was quite different from their records. Did you find it to be very different as well?
Some of it was, but some of it was the same. “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” for example, was pretty much the same.
Do you remember what songs you did when you played with them?
I did “Interstellar Overdrive.”
That was it? Just the one?
Yes. But it went on for a very long time. Because The Pink Floyd, The Move and Jimi Hendrix had the longest spots. The Nice, I suppose we had about ten minutes; they had at least 15-20. So we did about 20 minutes of “Interstellar Overdrive,” and I did a ten-minute guitar solo.
I'm assuming that there was nothing in the way of rehearsal with the band ahead of you stepping in...
Yeah, there wasn't any rehearsal. They knew what I could do, and I knew their music, so we just hit it, really. And it just gelled; it was great.
How exactly did events transpire that you got to play with them? Who asked you: one of the band or one of the guys from their management team Blackhill Enterprises?
Well, we were in Liverpool and we were playing the Liverpool Empire Theatre. And I went out with The Nice's drummer Blinky [Brian “Blinky” Davison] to see the Cavern Club in Liverpool. Of course you have to see the Cavern Club if you go to Liverpool. But it was closed!
So we walked back to the theatre – which is just around the corner really – and went up to the dressing room. The Pink Floyd was standing in my dressing room, and [one of them] said, “Is that is Syd just walking off ? We're just about to go on!” They asked if I would step in. They said, “We know you can do it, because we've heard your stuff with The Nice. You'd fit in okay.” I was pretty flabbergasted; it was an awesome thing for someone to say to me.
And I said, “Well, you know, how can I appear in front of all these screaming teenagers? They're expecting Syd. They've been watching on television for all this time and they're going to notice that it's not Syd." They said, “Don't worry about that. We've got Syd's hat. You just wear it, and they'll think you're him.”
So I wore his hat, this big black hat. I came out and they were all screaming. And I don't know if they knew the difference, actually.
I've read one account that said that you filled in for Syd multiple times, and others say just once.
It was just one, but at that point the rest of the band were re-thinking what they were going to do. When I [played] with them their music suddenly changed, because I was doing 10 minute guitar solos... proper lead guitar solos, which didn't quite do; because [Syd] had been making noises and sounds. And I think that they realized their direction would change from that point.
Then after that they came along to see me play a few times with The Nice, and I thought that they were trying to get me into the band. I was a bit shy to talk to them at that point and they could see that The Nice were doing so very well, so I don't think they felt like they could pull me away. I think it was like that.
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