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Roger Waters: I’m happier when it’s accepted that I’m the leader of the band

In a candid interview, Roger Waters discusses Pink Floyd in-fighting, his teenage dreams – and the impact of Syd Barrett’s decline

What are my preoccupations at 16? Trying to have sex, obviously. And listening to lots of Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday and Art Blakey. My friends and I used to sit up all night listening to jazz, then drag ourselves to school the next day.

My mother was a primary school teacher but school didn’t work well for me. I was never very academic and I was naturally very anti-authority. The usual way to teach children is to say, okay we’re going to study the history of the civil war and you have to learn these names and dates and then we’ll test you on it. It bores children silly. We have to give children the power that comes from self-belief. We have to encourage them to think for themselves, not tell them how to think. So kids get the idea that life after school is about confronting problems and making decisions. Our brains can be trained, they’re just machines. I have no idea if I’d have been more academically inclined if I’d been taught differently. I could probably have been encouraged to pursue the natural sciences, that’s what I was interested in.

I think I was quite a bossy kid. Because I was frightened, and fear usually manifests itself by being aggressive. I don’t think I was a bully but bullies are people who feel bad about themselves and are insecure. When I was a kid I was afraid of death – not unnaturally, I don’t think – my father had been killed in the war when I was five months old. And I was frightened that we’d all be incinerated in a nuclear war. Quite rightly. That was a rational fear. It’s faintly extraordinary it never happened. When I got older I marched for nuclear disarmament. Let’s hope our friend Mr Corbyn can get rid of the independent nuclear deterrent that is still in the Firth of Forth or wherever it is.

I was frightened that we’d all be incinerated in a nuclear war. Quite rightly

I wasn’t creative as a kid. I played cricket and football. But I lived round the corner from Syd [Barrett, Pink Floyd’s original frontman/lyricist], and we went to the same school, though he was two years younger than me. We always had the plan that we were going to move to London together and go to college and we’d start a band. So after I went to architectural college in London I bought a guitar. I had a bit of a band together by the time Syd came up and he joined us and that was the beginning of Pink Floyd.

I didn’t start writing until Syd went crazy and couldn’t write any more. Who knows what might have happened if he’d been able to carry on. At first there wasn’t anything different about what we were doing – we were a blues band, we couldn’t even play many pop songs. Gradually Syd started writing and we became a bit experimental. But I don’t think I learned anything from Syd’s method of writing songs because it was very idiosyncratic. And not really where I was coming from at all. But I loved his songs, I loved his work. I mean, Dave [Gilmour] and I sort of co-produced his first album… Was it called The Madcap Laughs? I think it was. It was a huge tragedy that he succumbed to the illness and stopped writing.

What happened to Syd did have a big impact on me. If something happens to someone you love, and are very close to, as happened to Syd, it drives home to you that there but for the grace of God go I. You never know what’s round the corner. Life is very short. It focuses your attention on making the most of the very short time you have.

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If I could go back I think I might change some of the production on The Final Cut [the last Floyd album]. There’s something artificial about some of the sound. But I think we made quite a few records that were quite… perfect. Certainly The Dark Side [of the Moon] and The Wall were pretty flawless in my view. And my solo record, Amused to Death, I find that pretty flawless when I listen to it.

Being in a band has advantages because you’re working with people who have their own talents. But it has disadvantages in that you have to fight your corner in order to express yourself in the way that you want to. I love working with people but I don’t like working with people who want to argue all the time. And as is well known, I came up against that in Pink Floyd. I felt it more and more and in the end I had to leave. That’s not to say I regret any of it or denigrate the work we did together – I don’t, it was fantastic.

My solo record I find pretty flawless when I listen to it

I’m happier when it’s completely accepted that I’m the leader of the band. So everybody knows, this is Roger’s band, we’re all here enjoying ourselves like a big family, and it’s great fun but it’s his band and that’s all there is to it. I do think art has to be a single vision. So for me, it’s easier to work with session musicians than people who want to have an equal say. I’m a creative person and I have very strong opinions on how things should sound and how they should be arranged. But I think I’m better as a social animal than I would be if, say, I was a painter and spent the whole time working in a studio on my own. Though I can see how some people like that. I paint and draw a little bit myself so I do understand that.

I don’t think I’m much like the 16-year-old Roger at all. Though I do like to think there’s a depth of conviction in my work that he would recognise as coming from him. When I think about him, for some reason I think about the beginning of The Final Cut album. “Tell me true, tell me why, was Jesus crucified. Is it for this that daddy died? Was it for you? Was it me? Did I watch too much TV? Is that a hint of accusation in your eyes? If it wasn’t for the nips, being so good at building ships, the yards would still be open on the Clyde. And it can’t be much fun for them, beneath the rising sun, with all their kids committing suicide. What have we done, Maggie, what have we done. What have we done to England? Should we shout, should we scream, ‘What happened to the post-war dream?’ Oh Maggie, Maggie, what have we done?” The teenage me would have fought for what he believed in till his last breath. And he’s still alive and well inside this old body. Would I give him advice for the future? Nah, fuck him, he can find out for himself.

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