Comfortably Numb: When David Bowie joined David Gilmour for a Pink Floyd classic

1 July 2024, 09:26

Your eyes don't deceive you: David Bowie and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour did perform on stage together.
Your eyes don't deceive you: David Bowie and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour did perform on stage together. Picture: Getty

By Thomas Curtis-Horsfall

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A tale of two Davids.

Despite their appearances throughout their respective careers, David Bowie and Pink Floyd's David Gilmour weren't worlds apart musically.

Both artists made their names for writing immersive, narrative-driven songs as well as their world-building tendencies from album to album.

Bowie even admitted that his earlier sound was shaped by Pink Floyd's output, namely the Syd Barrett-era of their first two albums, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and to a lesser extent, A Saucerful of Secrets.

"His impact on my thinking was enormous," Bowie once said. "A major regret is that I never got to know him. A diamond indeed."

Well, on 29th May 2006, Bowie got his chance to sing a Barrett classic 'Arnold Layne' alongside Floyd's long-time guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour during the latter's concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

But it was their duet on Pink Floyd's evocative and enduring 'Comfortably Numb' which brought the proverbial house down.

David Bowie joining David Gilmour on stage was a true one-off. (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images)
David Bowie joining David Gilmour on stage was a true one-off. (Photo by Brian Rasic/Getty Images). Picture: Getty

Gilmour had recently released his 2006 album On An Island, which gave him his first ever UK number one album outside of Pink Floyd.

Celebrating the victory throughout the accompanying tour, Gilmour booked out a three-night residency at the splendrous Royal Albert Hall to close out the national dates.

Across three evenings in the capital, he invited the likes of David Crosby, Graham Nash, Robert Wyatt, former Floyd drummer Nick Mason, and Bowie all to perform alongside him, with Floyd's keyboardist Richard Wright and Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera joining his touring band.

Despite the all-star lineup, it was Bowie's two-song encore alongside Gilmour which roused the crowd the most - especially an epic, eight-minute rendition of 'Comfortably Numb'.

DAVID GILMOUR with DAVID BOWIE 『 Comfortably Numb 』

Given the rapturous roar they received as soon as the first chord rang out, the audience knew they were in for something special, a rare meeting of two friends and generational talents.

With Bowie providing the tortured vocals throughout the chorus with his typical transatlantic lilt - which would've usually been sung by Roger Waters - he steps into the shadows to let Gilmour take centre stage for the most part.

The emotional gravitas of the song isn't quite met without the two distinctly differing vocals working in tandem, so recruiting Bowie as his foil was a masterstroke from Gilmour.

It was two years since Bowie brought his A Reality tour to a premature end in 2004, due to suffering a heart attack, and only seldom performed live from then onwards.

So his appearance at Royal Albert Hall was one to savour, let alone singing a beloved Pink Floyd number.

Hilariously, a moment from prior to the concert recently made its way back into the public consciousness, with Bowie teasing Gilmour about his age.

The concert was filmed for a future DVD release, so a camera crew was documenting the night unfolding.

Filming a conversation with Bowie backstage, he begins by saying: "I’d say I’m a big Pink Floyd fan."

Just as he starts talking, Gilmour walks through a stage door behind him, with Bowie beckoning him to come over so he can "embarrass" him by offering a compliment.

"The first time I saw them," Bowie continues, "my parents dragged me along when I was six or seven. I saw them at the Marquee I think."

"Six or seven?" Gilmour smirks disbelievingly. "I think not!" Bowie then adds: "So, really, I have to blame my parents for this great love I’ve got of the Floyd."

"I think he's exaggerating a little bit!" Gilmour replies, before the pair embrace.

The shared respect between the pair was friend was evident - despite Bowie's jesting - with Gilmour offering a seal of approval for Bowie's cameo in front of the Royal Albert Hall, stating: "He really let it all out, didn't he?"