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"UMM, PINK FLOYD" said Homer (Simpson)
on 16 November 2001
The word Ummagumma was a slang word for sex, now there is good sex and there is bad sex. Ummagumma certainly lives up to that for me. The package is made up of 2 CDs. The first CD is four long compositions performed live. This one disc is essential Floyd. Astronomy Domine is nothing like the versions found on 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' (Floyd's first album), 'Echoes' and 'Pulse' (the 1995 live album). There is no narration of the solar system at the beginning, just quiet keyboards. The keyboards return during the mid section of this 8.30 minute version. (Mike 'Tubular Bells' Oldfield stated that he was heavily influenced by that keyboard break, when he chose the track on BBC Radio 1's "My Top 10". Circa 1983. Listening to his 70's albums one can hear that influence).
Careful With That Axe, Eugene' is next up. At just under 9 minutes it is a very similar version as to the one found on 'Live In Pompeii' video. There is one important difference though. The scream actually gives the impression that someone is being cut into little pieces (and it's not Jimmy Young!). I love this piece and is played live by The Australian Pink Floyd Show to a rousing reception. It is a very moving instrumental which builds to a murderous mid-section and then dies away, slowly. A classic.
Another classic, and again the best official released version is found in 'Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun'. 9 minutes long here, it knocks the excellent studio version into touch.
A Saucerful Of Secrets' completes the disc. It is similar to the studio version except for Gilmour's more pronounced vocal on the 5 minute outro. (The same finale as to 'The Man and the Journey').
The studio album could have pages written about it. It was going to be an experiment using household utensils. Thankfully that idea fell apart. What was released is a right mixture of solo efforts. Firstly, Wright with his musical version of Homer's Greek character Sysyphus pushing his rock infinitely almost to the top of a hill only to let it slip roll down again. To me it is a total waste of 13 minutes. It is the sort of noise that kids would make on BBC's "Music Time". (Who remembers that programme?)
Next two gems from Waters. The beautifully serene 'Grantchester Meadows' and the very silly, but stunning 'Several Species...' A Pict being slang for a Scot. Apparently to get the full drift of the hidden messages on this one track you need to play the vinyl at 16rpm/33rpm/45rpm/78rpm backwards and forwards. Don't worry if you've only got a CD player it is still great fun. Waters contribution comes in at 12.30 minutes.
Gilmour didn't have faith in his lyrics on his 12.20 minute piece 'The Narrow Way'. His voice is deliberately hidden in the mix of part 3. So the lyrics were not printed in the booklet. However, they are easy to find on the net. OK, the lyrics aren't outstanding but they aren't bad for an early attempt. The music is good; moody and powerful if just a little chaotic at times.
8 of Mason's 8.40 minutes are, for me anyway, a waste of time. Again reminders of "Music Time". But were Led Zeppelin inspired by the flute ending on part 3 for their intro to, oh what's the name of the most popular song ever written, oh..., "Stairway To Heaven".
Don't worry that the live album is spoilt by audience noise (like Delicate Sound Of Thunder) it isn't. This was recorded in England in June '69 when the crowd gave polite, respectful silence during each track, just like on 'Yessongs' by Yes. And just like 'Yessongs' the sound quality is superb. Remember this is years before digital recording. This album is only enhanced by being remastered. Finally, great packaging (even if some photos are from the 70's) from Storm Thorgerson who worked on the original album but it is nice to refer to that vinyl to see the original presentation showing different photos and Floyd's second album in one of the mirrors on the wall.
Thanks for reading this long essay, but it is impossible to describe this double CD in only a few words.