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Rioting, bitter acrimony, and the story of Pink Floyd’s unsung masterpiece: Animals

An inflatable pig above Battersea Power Station
(Image credit: AFP / Getty Images)

“Yeah, yeah… Come on, boy… Come on, son, just another hundred yards…” Roger Waters’s voice rang out across Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. His middle-class accent had transmuted into a cockney growl as he barked instructions to Pink Floyd’s latest prop: a huge, helium-filled pig hovering overhead with light beaming from its eye sockets and its rubbery arse-cheeks wobbling. 

It was July 6, 1977. A Wednesday, but for most of the audience it might as well have been a Saturday night. The 85,000-strong mob was a mass of bodies, screaming, shouting, sounding air horns, throwing fireworks. Earlier, Waters had ordered them all to shut up while he tried to play a quiet acoustic song. Now his attention was split between the pig and a young male fan who was screaming at him and trying to reach the stage. 

“Come on, boy… just a bit further… there’s a good boy,” he urged, as if addressing both. One eyewitness insists he saw security guards haul the fan over the barricades, to be deposited at Waters’s feet. Waters recalls his victim clambering, unaided, up the storm netting separating the stage from what he called “the great unwashed”. 

What happened next, though, is not in question. 

“When he got close enough,” said Waters, “I leaned over and I spat right in his face.” The stunned fan, his cheeks running with rock star’s spittle, was tossed back into the crowd. 

“I thought, ‘Oh My God! What have I been reduced to?’” Waters said later. 

For the bassist it was a critical moment: the point at which his disgust with playing soulless stadium gigs, with his inattentive audience and with himself became too much to stand. 

Montreal was the final date of Pink Floyd’s 1977 tour; a six-month stadium trek to promote their latest album, Animals. In 2012, though, the pig on the cover of Animals is more famous than the record, which has been squeezed out of the picture by the Floyd albums on either side of it: 1975’s Wish You Were Here and ’79’s multi million-selling concept album The Wall.

Filled with self-lacerating attacks on capitalism and financial gluttony, Animals channelled as much righteous anger as any punk album. This bleak, powerful but undervalued record has aged well, and is as much a ‘great lost record’ as any album that has sold four million copies could possibly be. Meanwhile, the tour that followed its release was loaded with drama and foreboding. 

As Roger Waters said in 1992: “Animals signalled the end of Pink Floyd as it had been before.”

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Perversely for an album so dark, Animals was created in a set of converted clerical buildings. Pink Floyd bought the former church hall at 35 Britannia Row, Islington, North London, in 1975, before transforming it into Pink Floyd HQ complete with its own recording studio. Drummer Nick Mason described the finished facility as “fashionably austere”; Waters called it “a fucking prison”. But at least it was their “fucking prison”. 

In April 1976 the band started work in the studio with engineers Brian Humphries and Nick Griffiths. They already had two songs: Raving And Drooling and You Gotta Be Crazy dated back to 1974, but had been left off Wish You Were Here. Both had vicious lyrics (‘You gotta keep everyone buying this shit’), harsher than anything on The Dark Side Of The Moon or Wish You Were Here. It was a sign of things to come. 

“Animals started with those two songs,” recalled guitarist David Gilmour, who complained that You Gotta Be Crazy had too many lyrics for him to sing comfortably. Waters fixed the words, but also presented the band with a third song. 

“It had a different title, but it was about pigs,” said Gilmour. “And, having written Pigs, he looked at Raving And Drooling and You Gotta Be Crazy and realised how close they were to an animal concept.” 

Waters had several A4 notebooks in which he recorded thoughts and ideas. In one he’d “jotted down strange ideas for a film – lots of drawings using animal masks”. Waters’s story would be set in a dystopian world, where three sub-species represent the human race: tyrannical pigs, autocratic dogs and mindless sheep. 

The idea leaned heavily on George Orwell’s schoolkids’ set text Animal Farm. There were holes in the concept, but it gave the album a theme and offered Waters the chance to rail at sexual oppression, material greed and a world of haves and have-nots.

Waters’s world-view stemmed partly from the success of The Dark Side Of The Moon. The bassist/singer, whose mother had been a Labour Party supporter, struggled to justify his new wealth with his socialist principles: “I always thought that having a lot of money, as a child, was wrong. Those feelings of guilt can’t ever be truly exorcised.” 

Waters had criticised keyboard player Rick Wright for buying a country pile in rural Cambridgeshire. But the others weren’t tortured by the same feelings. “I had already reached the assessment that I liked being a musician,” said Gilmour. But Waters wouldn’t be swayed. 

Animals took shape through the spring and summer of 1976. You Gotta Be Crazy was re-titled Dogs; Raving And Drooling turned into Sheep. The third song became Pigs (Three Different Ones) and used a lyric Waters had written 18 months earlier. It was inspired by Mary Whitehouse, the head of the National Viewers And Listeners’ Association, a pressure group opposed to sex and violence on TV. Whitehouse had complained to the BBC about an episode of Doctor Who in which a character was strangled by a plant, condemning the show as “teatime brutality for tots”.

You stupid motherf**kers. F**k off"

Rogers Waters to a New York audience

“I was incensed by Mary Whitehouse, and people who foster sexual guilt and shame,” said Waters, expressing his ire in the lyric ‘Hey, you, Whitehouse… You house-proud town mouse…’ before bitching about a ‘fucked-up old hag’." 

“Animals was a very angry record,” Gilmour later said, with some understatement. In Waters’ mind, the balance of power within Pink Floyd had also changed. 

“It was the period when Roger really began to believe he was the sole writer of the band,” said Rick Wright. “It was partly my fault, because I didn’t have much to offer. Dave, who did have something to offer, only managed to get a couple of songs on there.” 

Gilmour co-wrote and sung lead vocals on just one Animals song, Dogs. But he contradicted Wright, insisting that he “didn’t feel remotely squeezed out”, and also suggested that “Rick didn’t seem to be pulling his weight at the time”. 

Wright, the band’s most diffident character, was going through a painful divorce. “It wasn’t a fun record to make,” he said. “I didn’t have anything to offer, material-wise, so I was in a difficult situation.” 

“There wasn’t any room for anyone else to be writing,” said Waters, defending his position later. “If there were chord sequences there, I would always use them. There was no point in Gilmour, Mason or Wright trying to write lyrics. They’ll never be as good as mine.”

Waters and Wright’s relationship had been tense since their student days. Years later, Waters loved to tell interviewers about the young Wright locking his cornflakes in a kitchen cupboard, or quibbling over a restaurant bill. Wright was forever cast as tight-fisted. It was schoolboy stuff, but as time wore on there was a darker side to the Waters/ Wright dynamic. “There was a heavy personality problem,” said Wright. 

In between recording sessions, the band were being interviewed for a documentary on London’s Capital Radio. DJ Nicky Horne’s rock show, Your Mother Wouldn’t Like It, was the station’s rival to the BBC’s John Peel show. Horne had been introduced to Nick Mason, who was keen to address Floyd’s “anonymous and distant image”. 

The Pink Floyd Story was due to be broadcast in several parts, leading up to an exclusive premiere of Animals. Horne grabbed precious time with each of the group. “I expected them to be bolshie and guarded. But I spent a day with Roger Waters, and you could tell that when he’d had a couple of joints you could delve deeper and deeper. Wright was very reticent, though. He didn’t really engage. Gilmour did. He quite liked taking the piss out of me, gently.” 

Before long, though, the gang mentality would kick in, compounding Mason’s theory that life in Pink Floyd was like “being in a small army unit or a prep school”. 

“There were sessions when the four of them were together,” says Horne. “Gilmour would start, and they’d all jump in. It was like a feeding frenzy.” 

In between the ruthless wind-ups, Waters presented the band with a new tune for Animals to balance out what he called “the three angry songs”. Pigs On The Wing was an acoustic piece made up of just two verses. Unusually, it was a love song. Waters had recently split from his wife and childhood sweetheart, Judy. Pigs On The Wing was written about his new girlfriend, Carolyne Christie. 

“The first verse poses the question: ‘Where would I be without you?’” he explained. “The second says: ‘In the face of all this other shit… I know you care about me, and that makes it possible to survive.’”

Like Waters, Judy was a staunch socialist. In contrast, Carolyne was the niece of the then Marquess Of Zetland, a peer with estates in Scotland and the north of England. She was working for Pink Floyd’s future producer, Bob Ezrin, and still married to Rock Scully, the Grateful Dead’s manager, when she met Waters. 

“Judy kept Roger on the socialist straight and narrow,” said one Floyd insider. “And then he was with this very aristocratic woman and he seemed to change completely.” 

In November 1976, Carolyne gave birth to Waters’s son, Harry. Before long the bassist would buy his own country pile in Sussex. 

“Having a family changed my perspective,” he said. “I want things for them, but the money still makes me uneasy.” 

Wright was incensed: “I said: ‘Roger you’re a hypocrite. He said: ‘Oh, I didn’t want it, my wife wanted it.’ Absolute bullshit!’” 

Waters took the decision to split Pigs On The Wing into two parts, with one verse opening the album and the other closing it. “I thought it was very necessary,” he explained. “Otherwise the album would have just been a scream of rage.” But splitting the song in two also doubled his songwriting royalties. 

“This was the kind of issue that would later prove contentious,” said Mason.

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The album was completed in November, and Waters turned his attention to the cover. The design team Hipgnosis had been responsible for all Floyd artwork since 1968. Hipgnosis’ Storm Thorgerson had grown up with Waters in Cambridge. Hipgnosis and Floyd were inseparable. Or so it seemed. 

Storm presented the group with two ideas: a drawing of a child clutching a teddy bear and watching his parents having sex (“Copulating – like animals,” he explained), and a specially staged image of real ducks nailed to a living room wall. But there was a problem. 

“They didn’t like my kid, and they didn’t like my ducks,” said Thorgerson. 

Waters thought he could do better, and suggested the image of a pig flying between the towers of “the doomy and inhuman” Battersea Power Station: “I liked the crude symbolism… and the four phallic towers, and I saw the pig as a symbol of hope.” 

Storm and his team staged a three-day photo shoot, and created an image now almost as famous as the prism on The Dark Side Of The Moon. On January 19, 1977 EMI held a press playback of Animals at Battersea Power Station. Despite wanting to tackle their “anonymous and distant” image, none of Pink Floyd showed up, and journalists were ordered not to take notes while listening to the album. 

The day after, Nicky Horne was listening to arch-rival John Peel’s show. The Pink Floyd Story had been running in instalments since before Christmas. It was a job well done. But Horne would be brought back to earth. 

“We made a big deal of how we had the exclusive on Animals,” he recalls. “And the night before, John Peel played side one of the album. I was beside myself. After six weeks of us going on and on about our exclusive, we had got our comeuppance.” 

There was a further twist of the knife: “I think Gilmour had given him a copy.” 

Animals was released on 23 January, and went to No.2 in the UK and No.3 in the US; hardly a failure – but not No.1. 

“I never expected it to sell as much as Wish You Were Here or Dark Side,” said Gilmour. “There’s not a lot of sweet, singalong stuff on it.” 

Aside from Pigs On The Wing, Animals was harsher than anything Floyd had done before. Lyrically, the inclusive ‘we’re all mad together’ message behind Dark Side had been replaced by one that could be loosely translated as ‘life is shit’. 

Dogs contained the line: ‘Just another sad old man, all alone and dying of cancer’; Pigs (Three Different Ones) was a creepy hard rock number filled with nasty honks and snorts; Sheep included a bastardised verse from the 23rd Psalm: ‘He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places… He converteth me into lamb cutlets’. 

At the end of the song the beasts turn on their masters, accompanied by Gilmour’s fabulous heavy metal guitar solo. Since Floyd’s 1971 album Meddle, Waters had been determined to write about “inner space” rather than outer space. On Animals he had succeeded. 

In August 1976, during the making of Animals, the Notting Hill Carnival had erupted into violence. A police van was set alight and more than 60 people arrested. Sheep, and its theme of civil disorder, chimed with the times. 

“It’s a song about revolution,” Waters said in 1976, adding later: “It was my sense of what was to come down in England. And it did with the [1981] riots in Brixton and Toxteth.” 

Police take shelter at the 1976 Notting Hill riots

Police take shelter during the 1976 Notting Hill riots (Image credit: Kypros / Getty Images)

Waters’s social conscience and Animals’ tougher sound caught a prevailing mood of change. In November ’76 Floyd’s EMI labelmates the Sex Pistols released their debut single, Anarchy In The UK

The Pistols and other punk groups were presented as a younger, hungrier antidote to platinum-selling millionaires such as Led Zeppelin and, inevitably, Pink Floyd. The Sex Pistols rehearsed in the same building in London’s Denmark Street in which Hipgnosis had their studio. 

The rival factions routinely passed each other in the corridor and traded friendly insults. One day, Rotten appeared outside the studio in a Pink Floyd T-shirt. Above the band’s name he had written the words ‘I HATE’. 

“I said to him: ‘Are you fucking having a go at me?’,” recalls Aubrey Powell, Thorgerson’s Hipgnosis partner. “Rotten said: ‘Yes! You and all that other lot.’ We were forever playing Crosby Stills Nash & Young to try to drown out the Pistols’ terrible racket. Most of the time, though, they were terribly nice and polite.” 

“When was punk?” asked Waters. “I think I missed it.” 

Floyd may have been untroubled by their younger rivals, but they also felt little affinity with some of their peers. 

“I think [Rotten] took us as a kind of symbol, because we were a target with substance,” said Gilmour. “It would have been too boring to have ‘I Hate Yes’ on his T-shirt.” 

Despite Pink Floyd being on the wrong side of the fence, Animals drew some of their best reviews yet, even in the punk-friendly NME: “Great, generous, healing rock music.” But it was Melody Maker writer Karl Dallas’s critique that had the most impact. Dallas had been at the Battersea Power Station playback, and bootlegged the album on a tape recorder hidden in his bag. He wrote an insightful review, which ran a week before the album’s release. 

EMI had dropped the Sex Pistols after they swore on live TV. Dallas began his review pointing out that EMI was now “about to release an album which features obscenity, profanity and a dastardly attack upon a well-known public figure”. He applauded Animals as “an uncomfortable taste of reality in a medium (‘progressive’ rock) that has become increasingly soporific”. 

Soon afterwards, he received a letter from Waters. It read: “Dear Karl Dallas, This is the first and probably last time I shall write to a member of your normally ignoble calling. I thought your piece on Animals in the MM was extremely perceptive, lucid and humane. To at last receive tangible evidence that someone has copped it all, and explained it all so well to the great unwashed, lightened the load no end. Thank you!”

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Waters had told Nicky Horne that he’d found Floyd’s last tour, in 1974, “unpleasant, unnerving and upsetting”. The band were under-rehearsed, their stage props unreliable. In Seattle, Waters had phoned Judy at home, only to hear another man answer. 

Now, Waters faced the challenge of getting his message across to the “great unwashed” without alienating them. The shows were designed to be a spectacle. The set featured a huge inflatable nuclear family, comprising a corpulent businessman, his wife and their 2.5 children, that rose up during Dogs

At outdoor shows a 30x15-foot inflatable pig appeared above the stage during Pigs (Three Different Ones), at indoor ones it ‘flew’ through the venue, suspended from a steel cable. The pig disappeared behind the stage, where it was replaced by a cheaper version that would reappear and burst into flames. 

A circular screen at the back of the stage flashed up images of reptilian robots, steel insects and seas of blood. Due to the number of guitar overdubs on Animals, for the live shows the band had been joined by a second guitarist, session player Terence ‘Snowy’ White. The show began with White playing the bass-driven intro to Sheep, which confused the audience who had no idea who he was but knew he wasn’t Waters or Gilmour. 

To ensure the music matched the visuals, the show ran to a set of audio cues known as a click-track. Waters wore headphones so he could hear his cues, which seemed to isolate him from the audience. The Floyd songbook was hardly party music, and the Animals material was especially desolate. 

In March the Sunday Times praised the show at Wembley Empire Pool as “a brilliant staged theatre of despair”; an aggrieved fan who’d been to the same show wrote to Melody Maker saying they’d spotted David Gilmour yawning. 

But it was in the US when the real problems began. The In The Flesh tour opened in Miami on April 22. It included some of the largest venues the band had ever played. Two million dollars’ worth of equipment was bussed from city to city in 26 trucks and looked after by a crew of 60. The scale of the operation only created a distance between band members. 

“In the days when we were all driving around in one van, we had to avoid falling out with each other otherwise it would have been impossible to carry on,” said Nick Mason. Now, everyone was in their mid-30s, with wives, families and added complications.

David Gilmour was joined by his then wife, Ginger, and their baby daughter Alice. Roger Waters was accompanied by Carolyne. At San Francisco’s Oakland Coliseum, promoter Bill Graham filled a backstage pen with pigs as a publicity stunt. Ginger, a strict vegetarian, demanded that the animals be released. 

There were, as one eyewitness recalled, “whirlpools of psychic agony going on backstage”. 

“The wives did not see eye to eye,” said a Floyd insider. “Carolyne was landed gentry and had all the attitudes associated with her class. She seemed to have this huge effect on Waters.”

On stage, the band could escape from bickering spouses. But there were other dangers. One night, the pig nearly crashed into the PA, prompting a mad dash of roadies to manhandle the beast over the stack. One roadie from the time recalls crew members dipping into the contents of an aluminium briefcase containing a stash of cocaine whenever fatigue got the better of them. 

The shows were a visual extravaganza. Every night audiences would whoop their delight when the nuclear family ballooned into view. In the US, the family came with their own symbols of all-American excess: a Cadillac and huge refrigerator. But the satire was lost on those who’d simply come to chug beer, smoke weed and lose a few brain cells, and didn’t care whether it was Pink Floyd at the Atlanta Omni Coliseum or Led Zeppelin playing the same venue three days earlier.

“You felt that you were there to provide the music at someone else’s party,” said Gilmour. “Roger felt completely cut off from that. I had a rather different view but it was hard to hang on to sometimes. It changed the music because we couldn’t do the quieter things we used to.” 

Waters kept telling manager Steve O’Rourke he wasn’t enjoying the tour, only to be told: “Yeah, well do you know we grossed over four million dollars today.” 

The bassist took to shouting out the number of gigs left to go in the middle of the show. Some said it was so he could identify each gig when listening to bootlegs later, others that he was counting down the days until he could go home. Waters was isolating himself offstage, rarely socialised with the rest of the band, avoided parties or after-show meals, and spent as much time playing golf as possible.

You were there to provide the music for someone else’s party. Roger felt cut off from that.”

David Gilmour

Perhaps inevitably, he turned his anger on Rick Wright. After one bust-up, Wright flew home. “I was threatening to leave, and I remember saying: ‘I don’t want any more of it,’” he said. “Steve [O’Rourke] said: ‘You can’t. You mustn’t.’” 

Wright was talked into coming back. But, as Mason said, “Roger seemed to be getting crosser and crosser.” 

Waters’s health was also suffering. He didn’t yet know why. Doubled up with stomach cramps before the show in Philadelphia, the tour doctor diagnosed food poisoning and gave him three tranquillisers. 

“God knows what he gave me, but it was some heavy muscle relaxant,” he said. “Those were the longest two hours of my life, trying to do a show when you could hardly move your arm.” 

Waters would later discover that he had contracted hepatitis. His delirium would be recalled in the lyrics to Comfortably Numb. “It’s a feeling I think you get when you’re going crazy,” he said. “That everything is suddenly wrong.”

Even without drugs, Waters couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was wrong. It was at New York’s Madison Square Garden on July 3 that all the anger of Animals spilled over into his performance. Many in the audience had stocked up on fireworks before the 4th of July celebrations, and when they weren’t shouting “rock and roll!” or calling for the band to play their US hit Money, they were rolling fireworks down the aisle or tossing them on stage. 

When Waters started his love song Pigs On The Wing, the audience refused to be quiet. It was an exploding firework that tipped him over the edge. “You stupid motherfuckers!” he roared, before urging everyone to “shut up or fuck off”. 

“I felt more and more alienated from the people we were supposed to entertaining,” he admitted. “A lot of people were there because it was the thing to do.” 

“The days of our audiences sitting in rapt silence, listening attentively to everything we did were definitely over,” said Mason. 

Three days later the touring party rolled into Montreal for the final date of the tour. Surveying the purpose-built Olympic stadium, David Gilmour was disheartened to see one of the huge cranes used to build the venue still looming over the arena. Nobody had bothered to dismantle it. Before the show, a plane buzzed the mostly French-speaking audience, trailing a banner that read ‘C’est fantastique’. 

But, as Snowy White recalled, the mood backstage was anything but: “There was a weird vibe that night.” 

The show began, as always, with the ominous, rumbling Sheep. But any lull in the music was punctuated by the noise of fireworks and air horns. Waters began Pigs On The Wing, but stopped after a few chords when another explosion rang out. “Oh, for fuck’s sake stop lighting fireworks and shouting and screaming. I’m trying to sing a song.” 

His tone became increasingly petulant and terribly English. “If you don’t want to hear it… Fuck you…” But Waters, outnumbered by 85,000 to one, was fighting a battle he could not win. Snowy White saw something that he now realises was the infamous spitting incident. Immediately after, the band took a 20-minute break. But the mood hardly improved. 

As a final encore they returned for an instrumental blues jam, while the crew dismantled the set around them. But there was no sign of Gilmour. He was sat at the mixing desk, letting the band finish without him. “I thought it was a great shame to end a six-month tour with a rotten show,” he said.

Back in Britain, Pink Floyd found the office at Britannia Row full of accountants. The investments they’d made in an attempt to stave off cripplingly high tax bills had left them liable to even more tax. Now they faced bankruptcy. Animals and its vitriolic attack on fat-cat businessmen seemed painfully ironic. Tax worries, high-maintenance wives and intra-band friction would all take their toll. 

“I remember Steve O’Rourke telling me he didn’t think Pink Floyd would make another album after that tour,” claimed one Floyd insider. 

In the years since then, Animals has been relegated. Roger Waters claimed, dramatically, that it “was only released because we succumbed to material greed”. Gilmour has described it as “not one of my favourites”. 

When the guitarist reconvened Pink Floyd without Waters in the mid-80s, songs from Animals were noticeably absent from the set-lists. Gilmour admitted that many of the lyrics were too personal for him to sing. Perhaps, in the end, the brilliant but brutal Animals was always destined to live in the shadow of what came next. 

Backstage in Montreal on the last night of the tour, Roger Waters got into a playfight with Steve O’Rourke and cut his foot open. The bleeding Waters was bundled into a limo and driven to hospital. In the car with him was his girlfriend Carolyne, her boss the producer Bob Ezrin and a friend of Ezrin’s, a psychiatrist. 

As the vehicle wound its way through Montreal’s late-night traffic, Waters opened up and shared his thoughts. 

“He started talking about his sense of alienation on the tour,” recalled Ezrin. “And how he sometime felt like building a wall between himself and the audience. My friend, the shrink, was fascinated.”