A Review of the 40th Anniversary Edition of Piper at the Gates of Dawn

by Vernon Fitch

*** originally published in Hey You, issue #11, December 2007 ***

© copyright 2007

The brand new, 40th anniversary edition of Piper at the Gates of Dawn is absolutely fabulous. It includes BOTH the stereo mix of the album, and the mono mix of the album (which is different-you can hear alternate instruments on the mono mix). I have to admit that I have always preferred the mono mix, even though I have numerous copies of each one. And here you get them both, wonderfully remastered by James Guthrie. They really sound amazing.

And, as if that isn’t enough, the deluxe set includes a third bonus disc. Now this disc is a real gem. It includes remixes of their first three singles, a rarely heard version of “Interstellar Overdrive” that was previously released only in France, plus a stereo version of “Apples & Oranges,” complete with studio chatter at the beginning and end. And then comes the diamond of the whole set. A studio outtake of Matilda Mother, or I should say “Matilda’s Mother.” A little background is in order.

In the late 1890s, a British-educated poet named Hilaire Belloc wrote a collection of cautionary tales for children. These tales were poems about children who did not behave, and as a result, met their just demise. Among Belloc’s Cautionary Tales, which were published in 1907, were three tales of relevance here.

The first was called “Jim, who ran away from his nurse, and was eaten by a lion." It tells the tale of a boy named Jim who, on a trip to the zoo, strayed from his nanny, despite being told not to. The boy’s fate is told as such:

He hadn't gone a yard when--Bang!
With open jaws, a lion sprang,
And hungrily began to eat
The Boy: beginning at his feet.
Now just imagine how it feels
When first your toes and then your heels
And then by gradual degrees,
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,
Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.
No wonder Jim detested it!

Needless to say, Jim certainly paid the price for not obeying!

A second Cautionary Tale of interest was named “Henry King, who chewed bits of string and was early cut off in Dreadful agonies.” This tale was about a boy that liked to chew and swallow string. He swallowed so much string that it became tied in knots in his stomach, causing him to die. Just before his death, Henry warned others that the only things one should consume are breakfast, lunch, dinner, and tea!

A third Cautionary Tale is called “Matilda, who told lies and was burned to death.” In this one, a young girl named Matilda constantly told lies, which of course lead to her demise. One day when she grew tired of playing, she called up the London Fire Brigade and told them her house was on fire even though it wasn’t. They rushed over to put out the blaze, smashing windows and ruining pictures, only to find that Matilda had lied about the fire. A few weeks later, Matilda was left at home, and a fire did break out. Despite her calls for help, no one heeded her because of her previous lies, and the house burned down, with Matilda in it. As is apparent from reading these tales, Belloc thought children should know the dire consequences of bad behavior!

In the 1960s, Belloc’s Cautionary Tales were very popular with the younger crowd in Britain, one of whom happened to be Syd Barrett, whose band, The Pink Floyd, was becoming popular around London. Barrett loved children’s tales so it is not hard to imagine how he came to read Cautionary Tales. Barrett was writing songs during this period, and one of his songs was inspired by the Cautionary Tales of Jim, Henry, and Matilda. In a whimsical twist, the song was titled “Matilda’s Mother,” and was about a mother reading cautionary tales to a child. In Barrett’s song, the first verse was about Jim, the second verse about Henry, and the refrain about Matilda, with a chorus of “Oh mother, tell me more,” which was the child asking Matilda’s mother to read them more. This early Pink Floyd song was performed by the band around London in late 1966.

The Pink Floyd turned professional on February 1, 1967. After contacting various record companies, including EMI Records, about a possible record deal, EMI decided to book a studio session for the band to see how they handled recording work. So on a Tuesday night, February 21, 1967, three weeks after they had turned professional, The Pink Floyd entered EMI Recordings Studios (the famous studio in London that was later to be called Abbey Road Studios) for their first recording session as a professional band. The song they decided to record was Barrett’s whimsical song about bad children, “Matilda’s Mother.” Six takes were recorded, with Norman Smith producing. The session was not intended to produce a recording for release, and was not logged as such. It appears to have been just a test session by EMI to see how the band worked in the studio with their people (EMI insisted on using their own producer and engineers). Two days later, on Thursday, February 23, 1967, Norman Smith and engineer Peter Mew did a rough mix of take 6 of “Matilda’s Mother,” presumably as a demo for EMI management to hear. It must have made an impression, as five days later, on February 28, 1967, EMI signed the group to a recording contract (which covered their recordings beginning on February 20, 1967-thus including the recording of “Matilda’s Mother” from the 21st). Here began the professional recording career of Pink Floyd.

For over 40 years, the demo of “Matilda’s Mother” that helped give the band their start remained locked in the EMI vaults. No one outside of a few insiders had ever heard it. Yet it could be said that this was the recording that launched Pink Floyd as professional recording artists. True, a version of the song, renamed “Matilda Mother,” was officially released on the band’s first album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn. But it was a different version, with different lyrics, and a different name (perhaps it was renamed to make it sound more mysterious, although doing so caused it to lose its historical relevance). The version of “Matilda Mother” on the album Piper at the Gates of Dawn is a wonderful song, but the original has much more significance.

Well, the legendary demo recording of “Matilda’s Mother,” the first recording the band did after turning professional, is on the deluxe edition of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn! And it’s a revelation. It is certainly one of the most important recordings in the history of Pink Floyd. It is really thrilling to finally be able to hear it.

Also on the bonus disc is an outtake of the song “Interstellar Overdrive,” which is another song recorded during this very early period at EMI Studios. It is a completely different version from anything that has been heard before. This psychedelic instrumental evokes the feeling of the early days of the UFO Club, with The Pink Floyd on stage playing to a small crowd from the London Underground in the late 1960s. Wonderful stuff, indeed.

Needless to say, the entire deluxe edition of Piper at the Gates of Dawn is incredible, so don’t hesitate to buy it. It’s really worth every penny, and then some.