On September 6 2007, Pink Floyd’s keyboard player Rick Wright performed live for the last time. Recognised by fans, critics and his bandmates as Floyd’s unsung hero, Wright joined bandleader and guitarist David Gilmour for a surprise jam at the Odeon cinema, Leicester Square. At the time, though, nobody knew this would be Wright’s final show.
The performance came after the premiere of Gilmour’s new film, Remember That Night: Live At The Royal Albert Hall, recorded during the tour for his UK No.1 album, On An Island. Wright later described the shows as “the happiest tour I’ve ever been on.”
Not every tour or session had quite such a pleasant experience. Rick Wright’s voice, keyboard playing and songwriting were integral parts of Pink Floyd’s sound. But he was a much more diffident character than his bandmates particularly, bass guitarist and ideas man Roger Waters. And that didn’t work in his favour.
Wright was squeezed out of the group during the making of 1979’s The Wall. By then, his contribution to Pink Floyd had dwindled somewhat. Wright returned to the band after Waters quit, but Floyd hadn’t toured or made a new album since ‘94’s The Division Bell.
Audiences worldwide were thrilled then when Wright joined Gilmour for the On An Island tour. And Wright, who’d wanted Pink Floyd to play again after they reunited for 2005’s Live 8 charity bash, was thrilled to be there. During the European dates, an over-excited audience member’s repeated cries for “Reechard” earned him a new nickname.
After a screening of highlights from Remember That Night, Gilmour joined writer/broadcaster Stuart Maconie for a Q&A session. He’d already treated the audience to a solo performance of the instrumental Castellorizon before the film. But there was nothing to suggest there’d be another performance, until Gilmour strapped on his guitar at the end of the interview.
He started a slow bluesy jam as roadies prepared the stage and his bandmates (guitarists Phil Manzanera and Jon Carin, bassist Guy Pratt, saxophonist Dick Parry and drummer Steve DiStanislao) drifted on from the wings. The biggest round of applause came when Gilmour introduced “Reechard” and Wright appeared and sat down behind his keyboard.
The Island Jam, as it was later called, lasted just under 10 minutes and sounded, in parts, a bit like Shine On You Crazy Diamond. But any hopes that we might actually get Shine On were soon dashed. “Thank you all for coming,” announced Gilmour. “And we’ll see you all again one of these days.”
We’d see Gilmour again. But not “Reechard”. Rick Wright was later diagnosed with cancer and died on September 15 2008. Two months earlier, The Sun ran a story claiming Gilmour had approached Glastonbury organiser Michael Eavis and asked if he could play that summer’s festival. Eavis said no because, The Sun claimed, he “wanted the event to appeal to a younger crowd.”
Ticket sales were slower than usual that year, and Eavis had been criticised by some for booking hip hop artist Jay Z as a headline act. Presumably, booking the closest thing you could get to Pink Floyd would be viewed as giving in to the critics.
But as David Gilmour later told the author, he wasn’t interested in headlining and didn’t care where he played on the bill. He’d asked Eavis as a favour because Rick Wright wanted to play one last gig before it was too late. Sadly, playing The Island Jam in a cinema in Leicester Square turned out to be that gig.