The Pink Floyd were famous in their wild years when they agreed to perform at the “Blackhills Garden Party” in London’s famous Hyde Park in 1970. Two years after the official departure of former guitarist, lyricist and frontman Syd Barrett, the Floyd have adopted a very experimental, and very fuzzy, approach to creating new music. After the soundtrack of the film After and the half-life / half-studio disaster Ummagoum, the band weren’t close to finding a solid identity or direction into the future, so they just decided to keep moving forward.
Around this time, the group began to favor longer, more progressive compositions that contrasted with the short, psychedelic songs of their past. Even in their original incarnation, songs like “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” were extended to long jams, but from the title track of their second LP A Saucerful of Secrets, Pink Floyd began to explore suites as a potential fulcrum on which to build their second-generation lineup.
With 1970 came a new concept: filling an entire side of an LP with a single song. While the group later perfected this idea with ‘Echoes’, the first attempt at this format will come in the form of ‘Atom Heart Mother’, the 23-minute composition which will cover one of their fifth studio album, also titled Mother Heart Atom.
Taken from a number of instrumental tracks the individual members have worked on, “Atom Heart Mother” is a bizarre listening experience even for the biggest Floyd fans. While bands like The Grateful Dead or Santana built their long compositions on free-form improvisations, Pink Floyd had their tracks containing specific sections and themes, composed entirely and with little variation. With brass and backing vocals and various sound effects, the Floyd left no clue on the editing room floor.
When it came to performing the piece live, the band decided to employ both a large choir and a brass ensemble to bring the recorded sounds to life. This would prove to be another misstep for a band that was practically groping on itself at the time: vocals and brass came and went, and a lack of adequate rehearsal meant the results were less than perfect.
For one of the suite’s first live performances, the John Alldis Choir and the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble were invited to accompany the group during their performance in Hyde Park. This performance is possibly the best the group has ever scented from “Atom Heart Mother”: yet to be released to the public, the group was eager to show off their new material and sophisticated progression from the listless scrambling and experimentation that was. closely associated with their A line-up without Barrett.
The band managed to get almost an hour’s worth of performance from just five songs from their setlist, which at the time included live favorites such as “Careful With That Ax, Eugene” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun ”. Despite being the freshest and most potent, ‘Atom Heart Mother’ still sags under its own weight here, as the composition just isn’t focused or memorable enough in its individual sections to warrant the engagement. major that its length and instrumentation required.
“Atom Heart Mother”, however, represented a more solid foundation on which the band could build. Reproduce the format of Mother Heart Atom was the following year Mingle, a much more deliberate and determined album that saw the band begin to refine their new musical style. Even though ‘Echoes’ was a breakthrough for the group to combine length and strong musical ideas, it also represented an end point. From there, Pink Floyd still wanted to explore thematic ideas and cohesive narratives, but decided to eliminate the winding jams that held them back.
In January 1972, Pink Floyd decided to debut their last track at Brighton Dome, tentatively titled Eclipse. However, after encountering technical issues, the band decided to perform the sequel “Atom Heart Mother” instead. It wouldn’t last. A little after, The dark side of the moon would be polished to something resembling its final form (with the only differences including “On the Run” being a blues jam called “The Travel Sequence” and Bible readings used in place of gospel-tinged moans on “The Great Gig in the Sky”, then known as “The Religion Song”), and it replaced “Atom Heart Mother” as the must-see sequel.
Check out the performance of “Atom Heart Mother” in Hyde Park below.