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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Pink Floyd - Games for May 1967

Space Age Relaxation for the Climax of Spring

Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 5/12/67

Games for May
Games for May
Pink Floyd performs the first-ever surround sound concert at “Games for May”, 12th of May 1967, a lavish affair at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall where the band debuts its custom-made quadraphonic speaker system. The technological breakthrough not only amazes and confuses the mass of stoned concert-goers, but it goes on to raise the standard of what audiences would come to expect from a live rock performance.

Billed as a unique show, this event was based closely on the 12th May 1967 outing at its original venue, the intimate Queen Elizabeth Hall on London’s South Bank. This Hall was only opened in March 1967 by HM Queen Elizabeth so Pink Floyd were indeed unique in not only securing this brand new classical establishment but also in presenting the first rock concert in a ‘proper’ concert hall ever!

Games for May
Games for May
The concert (setlist below) featured material from the band's debut album, "Piper At The Gates Of Dawn" (which came out later that year) and was a ground-breaking multi-media event. With a primitive yet revolutionary sound mixer, quadraphonic sound was used to wow an audience whose senses were already being assaulted by a light show, taped effects, on-stage carpentry, the distribution of hundreds of daffodils (which were trodden into the carpets) and bubbles filling the air (and stained the upholstery!).

Games for May
Games for May
It was the first concert in Britain to feature both a complex light show and a quadraphonic sound system. The show was introduced with a series of tape recordings. Roger Waters created the opening dawn tape effects by using bird calls and various natural sounds (an effect he would use in both "Cirrus Minor" and "Grantchester Meadows"). The bubbles at the end of the show were created by Rick Wright while the ending piece was constructed by Barrett.[1] At this time "See Emily Play" was known as "Games for May."

Games for May
Games for May
The Floyd were in the middle of recording sessions for their debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, when their management team was approached by Christopher Hunt, a music promoter with a taste for avant-garde theater. Pink Floyd had been assaulting their audiences with both sound and light, incorporating rudimentary light shows, complete with abstract films and bubbling, psychedelic oil slide projections, into their live sets, so Hunt figured they were the perfect band to break new ground by offering a true multimedia event.

Games for May
Games for May
The show was given the name “Games for May” and set for May 12. Hunt described it in press materials as “Space age relaxation for the climax of spring — electronic compositions, colour and image projections, girls and THE PINK FLOYD.” The chosen venue, the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London’s upscale South Bank performing-arts district, complete with suited ushers and upholstered seats, was usually only used for classical concerts, so the whole affair took on a peculiar whiff of high art. With the appropriate hype in place, Pink Floyd knew they had to produce something special to rise to the occasion.

Games for May
Games for May
Roger Waters remembers, "I remember the Games For May concert we did at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in May 1967. I was working in this dank, dingy basement off the Harrow Road, with an old Ferrograph. I remember sitting there recording edge tones off cymbals for the performance - later that became the beginning of Saucerful Of Secrets. In those days you could get away with stuff like chasing clockwork toy cars around the stage with a microphone. For Games For May I also made "bird" noises recorded on the old Ferrograph at half-speed, to be played in the theatre's foyer as the audience was coming in. I was always interested in the possibilities of rock 'n' roll, how to fill the space between the audience and the idea with more than just guitars and vocals." 

Games for May
Games for May
The group returned to an idea it had first experimented with at EMI’s Abbey Road studios a few weeks earlier. An engineer had hooked up an additional set of speakers to the usual stereo pair and set them at the back of the room, creating a surround-sound effect. The band was eager to test how this four-speaker setup would work in a live context — most concert clubs in London were only rigged for mono — so they asked one of Abbey Road’s techies, Bernard Speight, to pull together a system they could throttle up to full gig volume.

Games for May
Games for May
Speight also designed a unique device for controlling how the sound was to be distributed among all the speakers in the proto-quadraphonic rig. He built a box with four separate 90-degree potentiometers, one for each speaker, all controlled by a single joystick. This invention was given the fittingly futuristic name of the Azimuth Coordinator.

Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason described how it worked once it was placed on top of keyboardist Richard Wright’s organ, “If the joystick was upright, the sound was centered, but moving it diagonally would dispatch the sound to the speaker in the equivalent corner of the hall,” Mason writes. “Rick could send his keyboard sounds swirling around the auditorium, or make footsteps — supplied from a Revox tape recorder — apparently march across from one side to the other.”

Those footsteps, among other effects, were supplied by the band, who prepped special four-track tapes to feed through the Azimuth Coordinator. The various members recorded passages filled with electronic blips and backwards cymbal crashes. Bassist Roger Waters supplied maniacal laughter and synthetic bird sounds.

The band played for a full two hours that night — an exceedingly generous amount of time for a musical act in those days. The show began with an artificial sunrise created by the Floyd’s lighting crew, who bathed the stage in red. The set was mostly made up of originals from the “Piper” album including the stretched-out jam vehicles “Interstellar Overdrive” and “POW R TOC H.” Barrett even wrote a new original for the gig titled “Games for May” — it would soon be renamed “See Emily Play” and go on to become the band’s next hit single.

The proper songs were intercut with bursts of taped sounds and organ swells, all fed through the quad system and sent bouncing around by the Azimuth Coordinator.

“The sounds traveled around the hall in a sort of circle, giving the audience an eerie effect of being absolutely surrounded by this music,” Roger Waters later remembered.

There was also a theatrical element to the show. Mason sawed through a log with a microphone attached to it, Waters threw potatoes at a large gong and arranged bouquets of flowers in various vases, and Barrett went to town with a plastic ruler, feverishly sliding it up and down the neck of his guitar with his amplifier cranked all the way up. Organist Wright operated a bubble machine that complimented the pulsating lights and projections with gigantic soap bubbles. The band’s roadies tossed daffodils into the crowd.

Games for May
Games for May
The administrators of the Queen Elizabeth Hall were less impressed. The bubble machine and the flower petals had made a mess of the seats and carpet, and the venue banned Pink Floyd from ever playing there again. Worse yet, the Azimuth Coordinator was stolen after the show.

Nevertheless, everyone involved recognized a bar had been raised.

Games for May
“In the future, bands are going to have to offer more than a pop show. They are going to have to an offer a well presented theater show,” Syd Barrett said after the fact.

“I think Games for May was one of the most significant shows we ever performed,” Nick Mason said.


1) Tape Dawn, Taped sound effects of birds etc. recorded by Roger Waters. Served as introduction to the show and was played in the foyer of the theatre prior to the show.
2) Matilda Mother
3) Flaming
4) Scarecrow
5) Games for May (Written for this occasion and later rewritten and retitled to See Emily Play)
6) Bike
7) Arnold Layne
8) Candy And a Currant Bun
9) Pow R Toc H
10) Interstellar Overdrive
11) 'Tape Bubbles' Taped sound effects by Rick Wright to accompany soap bubbles filling the theatre (Later used on "Sysyphus")
12) 'Tape Ending' Taped instrumental piece by Barrett (Later used on "Grandvizer's Garden Party" by Nick Mason)
13) Encore: Lucifer Sam

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