Week 4 : 23rd January 1977 : Pigs Might Fly

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Pink Floyds ‘Animals’ turns 40


Accompany music : Pigs (3 Different Ones) Roger Waters – Mexico 2016

img_2058Early January 1977, the governor for Georgia, Jimmy Carter is inaugurated as the 39th President of the USA. A couple of months later, Carter would visit Britain and Newcastle. I went with my family  to witness him standing alongside the Prime Minister Jim Callaghan and the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Cllr Hugh White (who coincidentally was the father of one of my drinking buddies, Paul). Carter would receive freedom of the city and with a ‘Howay the Lads’ would charm the North East. It’s the only time I have seen a President or a Prime Minister in the flesh, and it is strange to think both men would last only one term. History would (unfairly in some cases) see them as fairly ineffectual leaders. Carter would do many honourable things, including striving for peace in the Middle East (and do many more after his presidency) but was viewed as not being strong enough on foreign policy. Meanwhile Callaghan had in the previous year taken over from Wilson, and was shoring the parliamentary party with deals with the liberals. A year later  a continued policy on pay restraint would tip the balance and the Winter of Discontent would cause his downfall. In 1979 in Britain, the public turned towards a very different politician, Margaret Thatcher and in 1981, America would take it a stage further by electing former actor and Governor of California. Ronald Reagan.
photo-16In 1977, (as a 9 year old) I had little or no interest in Politics, I knew who the leaders were and the main people in parties (as you would see them on the news or Parkinson). I didn’t connect them to all that happened in society. I remember 3 day weeks, rolling power cuts and a year later, the strikes during the Winter of Discontent, but I didn’t necessarily link them to the policies of politicians. As I got to 13 in 1980, I started to pull these strands together. I could start to see the policies of the Conservatives were further right and were already causing issues to the North East of England and I feared leaving school and not having a job. In ’81 I remember Reagan being elected, wondering what had America done and worrying whether the world would survive.

I have previous written about a turning point in my political understanding was when I read the book Animal Farm by George Orwell. I summed it up in the post as (in my allotted 140 letters), ‘A dystopian allegory of Russian Revolution, with the slide from uprising to how power corrupts through use of doctrine, propaganda & violence’. Most of all it give me the understanding that political revolution and change  is sometimes necessary…. but beware of who you put in power because they are possibly worse than those you have deposed.

So on 23rd January 1977, Pink Floyd release Animals. A concept album that is roughly based on Orwells novel, with Capitalism instead of Stalinism being the target. This time 3 animal types tell the story, the authoritarian powerful dogs, the ruthless manipulative pigs, and the unquestioning sheep. With the latter in this group rising up to take down the Dogs. The album made up of loosely connected tracks echoing the changes within British Society at that time. As with the Orwell novel, Animals presents a dystopian, dark world of moral decay, of political manipulation, discrimination and violence.  Even when the underdogs rise, the light at the end of the tunnel is not so bright as they would hope.

img_2059The album starts and finishes with ‘Pigs on a Wing‘, which seems a little out place with the dark subject matter within the rest of the album. Waters voice and acoustic guitar reminds me of ‘Wish you were here’ but the lyrics in part 1, seem to focus on loneliness and isolation whereas part 2, I feel, moves towards a more happier place with the importance of working together. Both tracks are sublime and give light to the main dark filling of the album.

The distinctive off beat acoustic guitar riff, and fading organ herald the track Dogs. The subject matter places Dogs as the heads of business with Waters superb lyrics like “club tie and a firm handshake, a certain look in the eye and an easy smile” and the ruthlessness which they show “to pick out the easy meat…to strike when the moment is right”. Takes a moment to realise that this is Gilmour singing with such relish. Surprisingly for a track of this nature, it is so laid back, slow in pace with Gilmour (as usual) not hurrying and stretching every note. Add some Floydesque long keyboard and guitar solo’s and it’s epic.

img_2056Pigs (3 Different Ones) starts with pig noises, electronics and we are into a track similar to that of Money or Have a Cigar. We aren’t told who the 2 of the 3 pigs are directly (the 3rd one is mentioned as moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse) but the lyrics seem to describe those who think themselves as a class above (“Big man, pig man, ha ha, charade you are You well heeled big wheel, ha ha, charade you are”), of moralising (“You’re trying to keep our feelings off the street”), of digging through dirt (“With your head down in the pig bin”), and spreading untruths. I love the groove of this track that goes along with Waters drawl of lyrics and change in menace in choruses reminiscent of the Beatles.  Theres also some great elements such as the repeated choral organ and Gilmours soaring solo.

Bleets of sheep are interrupted by the opening organ notes of Sheep. The track builds with the organ and a bass line which reminds me of an an old school Doctor Who theme. Then suddenly leaps into desperate leaping verses with Waters lyrics flying towards the listener (‘Harmlessly passing your time in the grassland away, Only dimly aware of a certain unease in the air…) driven along by Waters bass and spiky guitar and sci-fi organ interludes. Halfway through a vocoder version of Psalm 23 can be heard spoken in the background leading to the final verse of revolution as the sheep rise up “Bleating and babbling we fell on his neck with a scream, Wave upon wave of demented avengers, March cheerfully out of obscurity into the dream’. The end of the track returns the bleats as the sheep return to normal life.

img_2053Needless to say I really like this album for its grandiose tracks and meaning. It is an album which you can listen to in the background and it is kind of calming with a great groove to the music throughout. But listening closer the additional musical elements and nuances add complexity and the gently spoken lyrics drip with spite, cruelty and resentment. It’s a revelation that took me quite a while to appreciate fully. I think at the time, after Dark Side and Wish You Were Here, a similar feeling was felt about this album. It lacks the variety and length of those two albums but makes up for in meaning and passion and is a perfect lead in to ‘The Wall’. It should also be put into context, that this was a 1977 anti-establishment album in the height of Punk and an full 10 months before for the Sex Pistols NMTB album to arrive. Floyd seem to have had picked up the vibe that people were sick of the current establishment and working systems. As discussed above industrial issues were rife and the establishment were telling people how to behave including censorship by public serving groups. A change was going to happen and the ballot box was the way to do it. So the sheep had their say, bye bye, to Callaghan. Hello Thatcher.

I think voting is really difficult. Too many politicians are corporately similar and when parties start vying over the same policies and the same centre ground, it’s almost impossible to distinguish the good from the bad. I believe in peoples power to get rid of establishment, the oppressors and those who do not listen. I appreciate that sometimes to do this, people may need to side with those, who you may not always agree with (and you will have to live with that afterwards). Popular movements are springing up at every election, challenging the established political system and removing the centre ground. Instead people are stretched out across the whole political scale with greater numbers in the far left and right camps. I am happy in elections when turn outs are high, and people have their say…. I just wish they think of the consequences before doing so. As I said in the last post, change is a good thing but people need to consider what it leads to and who it puts into power.

It is strange how history repeats. In 2017, a new revolution at the polls within referendums and elections at difficult times,  brings new leaders, May and Trump. And now 36 years later, I find myself having those similar feelings as I had as a teenager of a fear of being unemployed and a worry of the world ending. 

Look, it all might be okay…. and pigs might fly.

img_2054The card for Animals is based on one of my favourite rock stories. The classic cover of Animals was conceived by the band with the genius Storm Thorgerson, and depicts a pig flying over Battersea power station. For the shoot Floyd got a giant 30 ft pig balloon made and floated it over the Power Station ready for photographs. A marksman stood by in case in escaped. Unfortunately, the shoot lasted for a 2nd day, someone forgot to book the marksman and of course the pig escaped. It floated over Heathrow causing mayhem and was spotted by planes, went missing and was eventually found in a farmers field in Kent where it had crash landed.

So a sky blue card is used and photographs of the Power Station (faded with pink) is cutout and attached to front and card. There is no pig on the front. Inside there is a pop up consisting of 4 cloud shapes, all v folded and glued in one behind the other. These are all on top of a piece of white card shaped like a cloud. Next a strip cut from stiff transparent plastic is used to support a pink pig and this is glued/taped in behind one of the clouds giving the impression of the pig flying. A guide rope is attached to one leg and additional clouds and a plane is added to the inside.

Billy (aged 9 at time of album release)

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