In October 1969 Pink Floyd released their fourth album, the superbly titled – Ummagumma. The album consisted of a Live LP and a studio recorded LP. At just under 90 minutes in total it is an oddball of a record that is endearing in its quite unique make-up.
The Live album recorded in both Erdington, Birmingham and The College Of Commerce, Manchester largely offers live versions of songs that had been already released.
Astronomy Domine (Barrett) is pretty much a straight run through the album version (The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn) and only goes to underline what a loss Syd Barrett was, not only to Pink Floyd, but to music in general.
Careful With That Axe Eugene (Waters / Gilmour / Wright / Mason) gets its first album airing via Ummagumma and is another great early / post Barrett – Pink Floyd track. Instrumental heavy it builds to a cry of the song title and it would have fitted well on any of the preceding albums in studio version format. That said, there’s not a lot wrong with this live version.
Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun (Waters) does not need another write up here (check the A Saucerful Of Secrets post).
A Saucerful Of Secrets (Waters / Gilmour / Wright / Mason) is a superb piece of music that again needs no re-write up. It does sound sharp live even if this version does not top the Live At Pompeii version which was to follow.
So, onto the studio album part of Ummagumma which is a strange beast. Each of the four members of Pink Floyd essentially write a song each. This gives the album a strange shape and is an experiment that arguably goes too far.
Sysyphus (Wright) at almost thirteen minutes long is avant-garde classical music. Keyboard heavy it lulls all over the place and although both ambitious and enjoyable is fairly hard to follow as the listener.
Grantchester Meadows (Waters) starts almost like The Orb would mimmick years later. Birdsong gives way to a very soft acoustic piece even if it too appears to have no real structure.
Several Species Of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together In A Cave And Grooving With A Pict (Waters) deserves an award for the title alone. It is very experimental and offers the sound of various animals really just making noises with Roger Waters vocally jamming with them. Most bands would not get away with this sound but Pink Floyd are one of the few that could pull this off even if it a song you would not necessarily want to listen to again in a hurry.
The Narrow Way (Gilmour) is the most accesible studio piece thus far on Ummagumma. Acoustic guitar emerges fairly quickly and sounds more like the post Barret – Pink Floyd. Electric guitar adds to the soundscape after a while before veering into a drone of sound. Vocals soften the vibe before drums finally enter to give the track a more solid sound at its very death.
The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party (Mason) is, unsurprisingly, a drum inspired track that again offers heavy experimentation. Shards of noises pad around the drums and it really is quite a difficult listen even if it feels like it had good intentions.
Ummagumma is a difficult album by a band that had not yet become huge. It was a bold step. It looks physically great but the group certainly took a gamble releasing this and it could only have been released in the timeframe that is was. The fact that it hit Number 5 in the U.K. Charts only reflected really how strong the bands preceding three albums had been…