“It’s a mad and unjust attack”: Pink Floyd’s reunion in support of Ukraine | pink floyd

A few weeks ago, Pink Floyd guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour was asked if he had seen the Instagram feed of Andriy Khlyvnyuk, frontman of Ukrainian rock band BoomBox. Gilmour had performed live with BoomBox in 2015, at a benefit concert in London for the Belarus Free Theater – they performed a brief and endearing set songs by Pink Floyd and solo pieces by Gilmour – but events had evolved considerably since then: at the end of February, Khlyvnyuk had abandoned the American tour of BoomBox to fight against the Russian invasion.

On his Instagram, Gilmour found a video of the singer in military fatigues, a rifle slung over his shoulder, standing in front of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral in kyiv, singing an unaccompanied version of Oh, the red viburnum in the meadow, a 1914 protest song written in honor of the Sich skirmishers who fought in both World War I and the Ukrainian War of Independence. “I thought: it’s quite magical and maybe I can do something with it,” says Gilmour. “I have a big platform that [Pink Floyd] worked for all these years. It is a really difficult and frustrating thing to see this extraordinarily insane and unjust attack by a great power against an independent, peaceful and democratic nation. The frustration of seeing this and thinking ‘what can I do?’ is somehow unbearable.

The result is Hey Hey, Rise Up!, a new single from Pink Floyd that samples Khlyvnyuk’s performance, which will be released Friday at midnight with proceeds going to Ukrainian humanitarian aid.

Most observers assumed that Pink Floyd was long dead. They last released new original music 28 years ago, although in 2014 Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason reunited to turn excerpts from their 1994 album The Division Bell into The Endless River, largely instrumental, in homage to the band’s late keyboardist, Rick Wright. At the time, Gilmour insisted it was the finale of a band that started in 1965 and sold over 250 million albums. Pink Floyd couldn’t tour without Wright, who died of cancer in 2008, and there was to be no more music: “It’s a shame,” he told the BBC, “but it’s the end”.

David Gilmour records new Pink Floyd song. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

The invasion of Ukraine changed Gilmour’s mind. “I hate it when people say things like ‘As a parent, I…’ but the practicalities of having an extended Ukrainian family are part of it. My grandchildren are half-Ukrainian, my daughter-in-law Janina is Ukrainian – her grandmother was in Kharkiv until three weeks ago. She is very old, disabled, in a wheelchair and has a caregiver, and Janina and her family managed to get her across Ukraine to the Polish border and now they have managed to take her to Sweden, literally the week last.

After “finding the chords for what Andriy was singing and writing another section that I could be” – Gilmour rolls his eyes – “the rock god guitarist”, he hastily called a recording session the week last with Mason, longtime Pink Floyd bassist Guy. Pratt and musician, producer and composer Nitin Sawhney on keyboards, layering their music over Khlyvnyuk’s sampled vocals; Gala, daughter of Rick Wright, was also present. They also shot a video for the song, with Mason playing drums decorated with a painting by Ukrainian artist Maria Primachenko (the fate of her paintings remains unknown following the bombing of a museum in Ivankiv).

“I phoned Nick and said, ‘Look, I want to do this thing for Ukraine. I’d be really happy if you played on it and I’d also be really happy if you agreed to let us release it as Pink Floyd. And he was absolutely up for it.

“It’s Pink Floyd if it’s me and Nick, and that’s the biggest promotional vehicle; it’s, like I said, the platform I’ve worked on my entire adult life, since I was 21. I wouldn’t do that with much more, but it’s so vital, vital that people understand what’s going on out there and do everything in their power to change that. And the thought, too, that mine and Pink Floyd’s support for Ukrainians might help lift the spirits in those areas: they need to know that the whole world has their backs.

Andriy Khlyvnyuk is greeted by a fan in Kyiv on March 2.
Andriy Khlyvnyuk is greeted by a fan in Kyiv on March 2. Photography: Marcus Yam/LOS ANGELES TIMES/REX/Shutterstock

“When I spoke to Andriy, he was telling me about the things he had seen, and I was like, ‘You know that’s been on the BBC here in England, and on TV around the world? Everything? the world sees these terrible things happening. And he said, ‘Oh really? I didn’t know. I don’t think most people there have such good communication and they don’t really understand that in done, the things they go through are shown to the world.

Gilmour says it took him a while to find Khlyvnyuk, browse Instagram and try out phone numbers. Eventually he found an email address. “He wanted to talk on FaceTime – I think he wanted to be sure it was me. The next time I saw him he was in the hospital, wounded by a mortar. He showed me this little quarter-inch shrapnel that had embedded itself in his cheek. He had kept it in a plastic bag. But you can imagine that if that sort of thing happened, it might as well have been a piece over an inch in diameter, which would have ripped his head off.

Nick Mason during the recording session.
Nick Mason during the recording session. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

Before the band’s unexpected revival, Pink Floyd’s post-1987 output — and the solo work of their late founder, Syd Barrett — was pulled from streaming services in Russia and Belarus as part of a cultural boycott. Their most famous work, from the 1960s and 1970s, was not removed, leading to rumors that moves to it had been blocked by former Pink Floyd member Roger Waters, whose relations with his former bandmates are legendarily strained. A week before Russia invades Ukraine, Waters told an interviewer on Russia Today that talking about a Russian invasion was “bullshit…anyone with an IQ above room temperature knows [an invasion] is nonsense”; he subsequently condemned the invasion calling it “an act of gangster”, while condemning “propaganda to demonize Russia”. This is a subject Gilmour will not be drawn to. “Let’s say I was disappointed and let’s move on. Read in there what you want.

Gilmour last spoke to Khlyvnyuk on Tuesday. “He said he had the most hellish day you could imagine, going out and picking up the bodies of Ukrainians, Ukrainian children, helping with the cleanup. You know, our little problems become so pathetic and tiny in the context of what you see him doing.

Nonetheless, Gilmour sent him the song and was “pleased and relieved that he liked it.” I can tell you what he said,” he nods, reaches for his cell phone, and reads Khlyvnyuk’s message. “Thank you, that’s fabulous. One day we’ll play together and we’ll have a good stout after, on me. He smiles. “I said, ‘yes, let’s do that’.”

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