Many people will remember a time when an English summer meant long, hot days lazing in long grass next to a bubbling stream, birds singing and the sound of church bells drifting in the gentle breeze, children's laughter, first kisses, long evenings... Sometimes a scent or a picture will trigger that distant memory and, very occasionally, music can do the trick, too.
So, who made the perfect soundtrack to an English summer? The answer is Pink Floyd, of course.
The band that made Dark Side Of The Moon, you mean? Then they got really depressing and mad. Never made any good records after that Syd Barrett left, y'know... etc, etc.
Well, yes and no.
There is a period in the history of Pink Floyd, some four years between 1968 and 1972, which deserves investigating from a very different angle. Syd Barrett, their lead singer, guitarist and visionary songwriter (in more than one way), had left the band after becoming terminally unreliable and unpredictable. Initially at least, there seemed to be no-one to take his place as leader, and the remaining members of the band, bass player Roger Waters, keyboard player Richard Wright, drummer Nick Mason and new guitarist David Gilmour all contributed songs and music in fairly equal measure. There were still the long, experimental pieces which had made the band's name in the hippy London underground of 1967, often taking up the whole of one side of an LP. There were extended guitar solos, trippy keyboards, resonating bass lines, shimmering percussion and, of course, the spaced-out lyrics of legend.
Some of those tracks were good, and some have not lasted so well, but hidden away on these albums, somewhat overpowered by the epic psychedelics and rarely the subject of long, stoned conversations, there is a mine of incredibly whimsical and nostalgic folk songs - and their subject matter and lyrics, in so many cases, seem to match the English summer of those memories.
The following, when put together on a CD, become the perfect lazy summer collection. Try them...
This opens with birdsong, a gentle guitar strum and an echoing voice singing, 'In a churchyard, by a river, lazing in the haze of midday, laughing in the grasses and the graves'. After a couple more lazy and evocative verses the song simply drifts off into a languid organ theme and more birdsong. It's really quite beautiful. (Album - More or Relics.)
'Biding My Time'
A wonderfully out-of-character Pink Floyd song, starting to a shuffling New Orleans jazz track and lyrics about lazing 'by the fireside in the warm light of the love in her eyes', it quickly builds into an hysterical work-out until everyone, especially Dave Gilmour, appears to have obliterated trad jazz for good. (Album - Relics.)
'The Crying Song'
A beautiful acoustic guitar and marimba-like keyboard piece with an amazing deep-dipping vocal, reminiscent of some of Syd Barrett's solo songs. (Album - More)
'Green Is the Colour'
A fantastically squeaky recorder solo keeps reappearing throughout this song, anchored by Rick Wright's typically bouncy piano. One of four songs here to originate from the More film soundtrack. The film was set in Ibiza, with the Pink Floyd songs simply playing in the background wherever appropriate, on the radio in a bar, on the stereo at a party etc. (Album - More.)
A very cool, Soft Machine-like song, which seems to be about a fashion model and a spy named Dr Strange who's always changing sides. (Album - More.)
'Wot's... Uh, The Deal'
Acoustic guitar and piano again, an evocative song with Crosby, Stills & Nash-style harmonies. Some of the lyrics seem to have hints of Dark Side Of The Moon subject matter - money, deals, growing old - but wrapped up in a lovely folk song. (Album - Obscured By Clouds.)
Starting with a familiar Pink Floyd drone, fading into an organ and guitar riff, Childhood's End is another hint at later Pink Floyd themes - 'Childhood's end, your fantasies merge with harsh realities' - but it fits our theme here just fine. (Album - Obscured By Clouds.)
Apparently a classic, simplistic list song ('If I were a swan I'd be gone, If I were a train I'd be late' etc.) but so gently sung and with such restrained backing that it becomes a little gem. One of two songs from Atom Heart Mother which suits this compilation. There is also a song on the album called 'Summer '68', but that one just doesn't fit somehow, seeming to be a regretful and rather grim tale of a one-night stand or something. (Album - Atom Heart Mother.)
'Fat Old Sun'
A little reminiscent of The Kinks' 'Waterloo Sunset', starting with distant church bells and laden with summer evening imagery, this is an excellent example of Pink Floyd's ability to sum up a time and a place to perfection: 'When that fat old sun in the sky is falling, Summer evening birds are calling, Distant bells, New-mown grass smells so sweet'. (Album: Atom Heart Mother.)
In a way, this seems like an extension of 'Cirrus Minor' - birdsong and splashes, water meadows, green rivers, it's all there. This was Roger Waters' solo piece on the Ummagumma album, where each member had a quarter of the LP to themselves, and it's easily the best track on there. It does end rather grimly with a fly being swatted, but that's all part of summer, you know. (Album - Ummagumma.)
'A Pillow Of Winds'
More gentle acoustic music and sleepy, ghostly lyrics with reference to changing seasons and warm winds. No idea what it's all about, but it's easy to drift away to this song. (Album - Meddle.)
Starting and ending with a football crowd singing 'You'll Never Walk Alone', a splendid old-style Pink Floyd song with a rising riff and layers of acoustic sounds and simple harmonies. Nice. (Album - Meddle.)
A French Summer now perhaps, and a whimsical European feel, but some people may have spent a bit of time in the South of France on a summer holiday. This song works just fine here. (Album - Meddle.)
'Wish You Were Here'
Perhaps the only song on this list that everyone - probably everyone in the world - will instantly recognise. It does hark back to those earlier, simpler songs but with the big production that all Pink Floyd's music was now endowed with. It's still a lovely track and it fits well on the summer compilation. (Album - Wish You Were Here or Echoes.)
The Best English Summer Album in the World... Ever
There it is:
- Cirrus Minor
- Biding My Time
- The Crying Song
- Green Is The Colour
- Wot's... Uh, The Deal
- Childhood's End
- Fat Old Sun
- Grantchester Meadows
- A Pillow Of Winds
- San Tropez
- Wish You Were Here