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In Memory of Richard Wright

I have been listening to a lot of Pink Floyd lately in preparation for our concerts in May 2019 of ATOM HEART MOTHER (more on that soon)... and surfing around YouTube (as one does) I stumbled upon a live performance from Royal Albert Hall of Richard Wright accompanied by David Gilmour and his cracking band performing Rick's composition "Wearing the Inside Out".

It just so happens that today is the 10th anniversary of Richard Wright’s passing, and so I've spent a few hours investigating this song and I'd like to share my thoughts with you. What follows are my comments on this particular song and Mr. Wright's immense contributions to Pink Floyd which are somewhat overlooked by the talented and accomplished tandem that makes up Roger Waters and David Gilmour.

IN MEMORIUM: RICHARD WRIGHT

 

It was ten years ago today that we lost a great musician and songwriter: Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright. Rick was the talented yet unassuming keyboardist who created the harmonic underpinnings in many of Pink Floyd’s greatest songs. His soft, sweet, melancolic keyboard beds dreamily accompany David Gilmour's vocals and guitar solos so beautifully that one has to admit that Wright has made so much of their music as timeless as it is. This is what made the Floyd stand out from their "forefathers" the Beatles who were a 2 guitar, bass and drums classic rock line up; their later use of Billy Preston as a sideman, much as the Stones would use Al Kooper and later on Chuck Leavell, helped to expand their sound, yet Preston and the others were never really members of the band, simply hired hands in the studio and on stage.

 

 Rick Wright's keyboard work as a member of the band made him absolutely integral to Pink Floyd’s creative process, somewhat akin to Gregg Allman's contribution to the Allman Brothers Band with the warmth of a Hammond B3 circa 1969 to 1971. (By the by, whenever David Gilmour plays the console pedal steel as he often does, it reminds one of Duane Allman's exceptional slide guitar work.)

 

The harmonic language that Rick utilises generally mixes Major sevenths and ninths with straight triads as well as his bluesier use of the dominants; he often surprises the listener by inventing certain chord progressions that are unique to him. In this particular song "Wearing the Inside Out” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CfM5dmt8VYstarts at 3'57"), the verse chord progression is Cm9/EbMa7/BbMa7/F and the chorus is Gm/F x 4. There’s a second verse, but then Wright surprises us with a transition Ab/Cm/Gm/Ab and then a bridge with Fm/G7b9/Ab/Bb finishing with the lyric of the title "Wearing The Inside Out".

 

A first exchange of soloing from Gilmour and Dark Side saxman Dick Parry on the verse chord progression is accompanied with a Hammond sound from 2nd keyboardist Jon Cairn. After another verse and chorus, the band heads directly on to the Coda with the Gm to F6 chord progression. Rick contents himself to playing discreet piano arpeggios with his Kurzweil synth while the guitar exchanges solos with the sax. The song ends with a surprising Bb chord that seems to come out of nowhere yet has a distinct feeling of déjà vu for any attentive Pink Floyd listener. In fact a Bb chord is the launch pad for a majestic and magical moment from Dark Side Of The Moon. After “Time” finishes in B minor, Rick on the solo piano famously modulates from there to Bb major (via an F with a flat 5th); Gilmour’s upwards glissando from the pedal steel lifts off for one of rock’s greatest moments: Clare Torrey's virtuosic vocal on Wright’s timeless chords for "The Great Gig In The Sky". It is certainly no surprise that this crowning achievement belongs to the often unsung hero of the Pink Floyd sound, Mr. Richard Wright.

 

As a coda to this article, I highly recommend that you listen to a track from David Gilmour’s album “Rattle That Lock”: his achingly beautiful elegy to his departed bandmate “A Boat Lies Waiting”. Mr. Gilmour pays homage to Wright with David Crosby and fellow Englishman Graham Nash in soulfully sung 3 part harmonies. It’s a fitting testament to Rick Wright’s ability to speak to us from the past like some kind of melodic and chordal king!

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