Pink Floyd: the long and brutal history of Roger Waters and David Gilmour’s feud

Despite their huge success, selling millions of albums, completing world-beating tours and confirming themselves as one of the biggest bands the music industry has ever known, Pink Floyd members Roger Waters and David Gilmour have always shared a somewhat dysfunctional relationship. It’s a relationship that seems to be getting more acrimonious with time.

Blessed with a searing artistic vision, Waters has always been slightly hesitant towards the idea of collaboration and would much rather be the captain of his own ship. Gilmour joined Pink Floyd in 1968 with huge success, arriving shortly after lead singer Syd Barrett became an untenable leader. But as the years progressed, the two men were locked in a power struggle as their creative visions collided and, ultimately, Waters quit the band in 1985.

When Waters initially withdrew from the group, he immediately locked horns with Gilmour in a bitter legal battle that would rumble on for years. To announce his departure, Waters issued a statement to EMI and CBS invoking the ‘Leaving Member’ clause in his contract, and as the main creative force in the band, he didn’t believe Pink Floyd could continue in his absence. Therefore, in October 1986, Waters started High Court proceedings to formally dissolve Pink Floyd, labelling the group a “spent force creatively”.

However, David Gilmour and Nick Mason opposed the claims, stating that Pink Floyd would not fold and that Waters couldn’t declare it dead while the group were still trying to make new music. Waters eventually came to an agreement with his former bandmates, one which saw him resign after careful legal considerations in 1987. However, he did note that the resignation was entirely forced by commercial restraints: “If I hadn’t, the financial repercussions would have wiped me out completely”.

Speaking to the BBC in 2013, Waters admitted that attempting to dissolve the band was not the right way to go: “I was wrong! Of course I was,” he said, before adding: “Who cares? It’s one of the few times that the legal profession has taught me something.”

Detailing further, Waters added: “Because when I went to these chaps and said, ‘Listen we’re broke, this isn’t Pink Floyd anymore,’ they went, ‘What do you mean? That’s irrelevant, it is a label, and it has commercial value. You can’t say it’s going to cease to exist; you obviously don’t understand English jurisprudence.’”

Despite the unlikely reunion in 2005 for a performance at the charity Live 8 benefit, a show in which the band managed to put their differences aside for a cause much more significant than their own, the Waters-Gilmour days are long gone, and the chances of another Pink Floyd show is now seemingly impossible. However, there remains a lingering belief that all hope may not be lost; after all, in 2008, the duo still had differences, but they “agreed to roll over for one night only” to get through the show.

It goes without saying; the performance was an utter triumph. Following the comeback, Pink Floyd was then offered a mind-boggling $150million payout in return for a US tour following the Hyde Park appearance. To add credence to their initial claims that the reunion wasn’t about the cash, not even that kind of money could get Waters and Gilmour back on the road together again.

It’s remarkable that the duo managed to get on the same page for Hyde Park, even if it was just a one-off in aid of charity. One would assume that this would stop all the churlish digs they have hurled at one another over the years. However, despite Waters leaving Pink Floyd nearly four decades ago, he still manages to find things that irritate him about Gilmour.

In a five-minute video shared on his official Twitter page in 2020, Waters lamented the decision not to allow him access to the Pink Floyd social media channels despite Gilmour’s wife, Polly Samson, being able to use the platforms to promote her novels. “One and half million of you have viewed our new version of ‘Mother’, which is lovely – it really warms my heart,” Waters stated. “But it does bring up the question: why is this video not available on a website that calls itself The Pink Floyd website? Well, the answer to that is because nothing from me is on the website – I am banned by David Gilmour from the website.”

Waters added: “David thinks he owns it. I think he thinks that because I left the band in 1985, that he owns Pink Floyd, that he is Pink Floyd and I’m irrelevant and I should just keep my mouth shut.” Waters then took aim at Gilmour’s wife, sniping that some of his friends recently asked him: “Why do we have to sit and watch Polly Samson, year after year, month after month, day after day – and the Von Trapps reading us excerpts from their novels to get us to go to sleep at night?

“We’re not allowed to even mention [my projects] on the official Pink Floyd website,” Waters fumed. “This is wrong. We should rise up…or, just change the name of the band to Spinal Tap and then everything will be hunky-dory.”

The feud between the two men was put into context during an interview with Rolling Stone in 2018, as Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason speculated: “It’s a really odd thing in my opinion. But I think the problem is Roger doesn’t really respect David. He feels that writing is everything and that guitar playing and the singing are something that, I won’t say anyone can do, but that everything should be judged on the writing rather than the playing. I think it rankles with Roger that he made a sort of error in a way that he left the band assuming that without him, it would fold.”

He then added: “It’s a constant irritation, really, that he’s still going back to it. I’m hesitant to get too stuck into this one, just because it’s between the two of them rather than me. I actually get along with both of them, and I think it’s really disappointing that these rather elderly gentlemen are still at loggerheads.”

Gilmour has resisted retaliation to Waters’ latest snarls. However, he didn’t hold back when he offered an opinion on his former bandmate to Rolling Stone in 2014, stating: “Why on Earth anyone thinks what we do now would have anything to do with him [Roger] is a mystery to me. Roger was tired of being in a pop group. He is very used to being the sole power behind his career.”

Adding: “The thought of him coming into something that has any form of democracy to it, he just wouldn’t be good at that. Besides, I was in my thirties when Roger left the group. I’m 68 now. It’s over half a lifetime away. We really don’t have that much in common anymore.”

Waters has attempted a peace summit between his bandmates during the last few years at an airport hotel, but, alas, it ended in disaster and confirmed that there would be no truce between the two men. They are no longer the same people they once were, and their careers have taken different routes – but it’s hard not to hold out hope that they can repair their friendship. The fractious nature of the two creators hasn’t quelled the desire from fans of the band calling for a reunion of the two powerhouses of Pink Floyd. Even as recently as 2022, the two men were once again fighting in public.

Waters made a statement after the re-release of the 1977 record Animalswas shelved: “Gilmour has vetoed the release of the album unless these liner notes are removed. This is a small part of an ongoing campaign by the Gilmour/Samson camp to claim more credit for Dave on the work he did in Pink Floyd, 1967-1985, than is his due,” Waters stated. “Yes he was, and is, a jolly good guitarist and singer. But, he has for the last 35 years told a lot of whopping porky pies about who did what in Pink Floyd when I was still in charge.”

Before these inflammatory statements, Gilmour spoke to Rolling Stone about the release, stating: “A very lovely Animals remix has been done, but someone has tried to force some liner notes on it that I haven’t approved and, um, someone is digging his heels and not allowing it to be released.” Quite obviously referencing Waters, Gilmour went on, “he’s just getting a bit shirty. You know how he is, poor boy.” Asked about the hope of a reunion, Gilmour flatly noted: “Pretty unlikely, I’m afraid.”

Off the back of those comments, Waters saw his press exposure on the rise once more, and he chose to use this opportunity to voice his outspoken political views. This was far from out of character for the rocker, explaining: “As far as my contemporaries, I am monumentally surprised how fucking scared my fellow musicians are to stick their heads out.”

However, he was largely criticised for his uncouth political comments on this occasion. In October 2022, the musician penned an open letter to the Ukrainian first lady, Olena Zelenska, calling for her to instruct her husband to sue for peace with Russia. This move would essentially shake hands on the current standings with Vladimir Putin, to whom he also penned a letter. Thus, his letter has since been condemned by many commentators who have criticised the ethics of acquiescing to a war criminal. However, the musician has said that the war crime accusations are “lies, lies, lies,” in a recent Rolling Stone interview.

Waters stated that he believes that his claims have put him on a Ukrainian kill list. While an extremist Ukrainian organisation are behind a website that lists supposed ‘enemies’, this site is by no means an official channel. Even the heavily condemned individuals behind it say the list is also merely a source of public “information for law enforcement authorities and special services”.

Subsequently, Waters claims that his decree that no war crimes have actually taken place comes from the fact that they have only been reported by Western media. “It’s exactly the obverse of saying Russian propaganda; Russians interfered with our election; Russians did that. It’s all lies, lies, lies, lies,” he told James Ball. The former Pink Floyd man later bolstered his political claims during an interview with Joe Rogan, during which he said: “In my opinion, Israel has a right to exist as long as it is a true democracy, as long as no group, religious or ethnic, enjoys more human rights than any other,” Waters added later. “But unfortunately that is exactly what is happening in Israel and Palestine. The government says that only Jewish people should enjoy certain rights. So it can’t be described as democratic.”

Given his lingering association with Pink Floyd, Gilmour’s wife, Polly Samson, has seen fit to call out these claims and distance the band from Waters’ controversial assertions. “Sadly, Roger Waters you are antisemitic to your rotten core,” Samson tweeted. “Also a Putin apologist and a lying, thieving, hypocritical, tax-avoiding, lip-synching, misogynistic, sick-with-envy, megalomaniac. Enough of your nonsense.”

Soon after, Gilmore supported Samson’s comments, adding: “Every word demonstrably true.” As of yet, Waters hasn’t responded, but needless to say, the hatchet remains far from buried.

Gilmour and Waters have spent close to 40 years locked in a vicious feud, and it appears to only be escalating further. And Waters is certainly not one to back down, even away from the tempestuous world of music he happily believes that he still might have made enemies in a civil occupation: “I could have been an architect, but I don’t think I’d have been very happy. Nearly all modern architecture is a silly game as far as I can see.”

Despite its irreparable nature, this bitter dispute is still a source of sadness for millions of Pink Floyd fans on the planet. Even if a reunion is firmly out of the window, putting the bad blood behind them would at least offer a sentiment of peace for their supporters.

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