The Wall, written by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and one of very few internationally-renowned rock operas, was given its biggest and most spectacular live performance in Berlin on July 21 1990, on the site of the Berlin Wall that had divided the city for 29 years. The event is regarded by many as the most spectacular live popular-music event of all time.
The Wall – Live in Berlinwas watched by a live audience of 350,000 and broadcast to more than 500 million people worldwide, was staged on what seven months previously had been a no-man’s land surrounded by the wall between Berlin’s landmark Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz.
The performance was produced and mostly cast by Tony Hollingsworth, the British producer and impresario who had witnessed a joyous crowd begin to dismantle the wall only seven months earlier. He had been Berlin to run an East-West media conference for television and music executives from both sides of a divided Europe.
Tony Hollingsworthwas asked by Waters to produce and book the talent for the show, but he at first refused the casting job because he was heavily involved in booking artists for his landmark Wembley Stadium global broadcast event celebrating the release of black African leader Nelson Mandela and broadcast around the world.
Later, however, he took over the recruiting job after Waters and his second-choice recruiter had succeeded in booking only one act. By late April, Waters was threatening to withdraw unless talent could be brought in immediately. He, himself, had hoped to bring in top musicians such as Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Rod Steward and Joe Cocker, but for one reason or another they all turned him down.
So Tony Hollingsworth took over the job and was immediately successful in bringing in talent and adding a different slant to the production.
How The Wall began
The idea to produce a live performance was born in the late 1980s and came from an unusual source: Mick Worwood, a live-event merchandiser who had produced T-shirts and souvenir programmes for the 1985 Live Aid. Worwood had become friendly with Leonard Cheshire, a celebrated and highly-decorated bomber pilot in the second world war, and a major charity figure in Britain after it.
Cheshirewaskeen to launch a charity to help people caught up in natural disasters, such as earth quakes, and major accidents. Worwood suggested the charity should be launched with a live performance of The Wall, one that was broadcast internationally, and in late 1988 approached Waters. Waters had recently lost a legal battle with his former band colleagues for control of the Pink Floyd name, but had the full rights for The Wall.
He was interested in staging a new performance of the rock opera – though only if it could be performed in an extraordinary place, such as Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, the Sahara Desert, Wall Street or on the site of the Berlin Wall – which, at the time, was still standing and a death-ridden site for would-be escapees from the Eastern half of the city.
Waters met Cheshire, liked the idea of the charity and related very strongly to Cheshire on a personal level. Waters, according to Tony Hollingsworth, “was touched by Leonard and his personal vision and wished to help. He had lost his own father in the second world war and had written the song, Another Brick in the Wall Part 1, near the beginning of the opera,” opening with the words
Daddy’s flown across the ocean
Leaving just a memory
Waters invited Hollingsworth to his house in Richmond in the late summer of 1989 to discuss with Worwood and himself whether the opera could be staged for a worldwide television audience. Hollingsworth told him “Yes – if you have enough big stars, an enormous production scale, a strong location and the whole thing is for the right cause”.
A short while later, on November 9, the Berlin wall was opened, followed by its demolition begun by people from the East and West. Soon after, talks started for the reunification of East and West Germany and of Berlin itself. The location for a new staging of The Wall became obvious. Cheshire contacted the mayors of east and west Berlin to ask if they would allow a performance of The Wall on the area around Potsdamer Platz – the most suitable of a number of locations along the wall – and they quickly agreed. Even if the mayors understood little about the music, a major popular event marking the fall the wall – plus its worldwide broadcast – could only strengthen its work of integrating the two communities.
Cheshireset up a team of bankers to help with the charitable side of the project. He also started talks with the German army about sweeping the location for possible mines. The huge respect which the military had for him played no small part in getting their cooperation. In the course of clearing the land, the military discovered weapons and ammunition and also a Nazi bunker, the SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler bunker (a different bunker from the Fuhrerbunker where Hitler committed suicide).
Bringing in the artists
Meanwhile, Waters had asked Hollingsworth to produce the opera, sign up broadcasters across the world and recruit the artists. He accepted the first two parts of the job but turned down the third: he had just been asked to produce a musical tribute that would be the official international reception for Nelson Mandela and “I couldn’t ask the artists twice”. So Waters turned to Harvey Goldsmith to recruit the artists as well as act as ticket-promoter. By the end of April, Goldsmith had started selling the tickets on the basis of a performance by “Roger Waters and friends”, but had booked no talent except the Scorpions, a major act in Germany if not so well-known elsewhere.
Waters himself had failed to bring in his friends or other top artists, such as Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Rod Stewart, Peter Gabriel, Stevie Winwood, Billy Joel and Mel Gibson.
The whole event was in jeopardy, with Waters threatening to pull the production. He called a round-table meeting of all “heads of department” and Hollingsworth was asked to book the talent. With his landmark Wembley concert-broadcast (Nelson Mandela Tribute for a Free South Africa) now out of the way, he could accept. But, he says, he laid down one condition: that Waters would fly with him to Los Angeles three days later “to be on call if I got interest”.
Waters had wanted a mass band and “the next day I flew to see my old conference contacts in East Berlin [including the head of the entertainment committee of the Ministry of Culture] and before the day was finished had booked the East Berlin Rundfunk Choir and Orchestra and the Military Orchestra of the Soviet Army (known as the Marching Band), stationed in East Germany.
“…it was a massive sign of the times that this was possible. In normal times orchestras and choirs are booked a year in advance but as the (East German government] was being dismantled they were free. I still find it amazing that we were able to book the Marching Band, but the Soviet Union was crumbling and all could see the writing on the wall.”
The next day, he flew back to London to discuss with Waters how the rest of the show should be cast. Waters at first resisted the idea that any women might be involved but when Hollingsworth suggested that Joni Mitchell sing Good Bye Blue Sky Waters agreed. They then flew to Los Angeles.
The first plan for the Trial sequence was to use Gerald Scarfe’s animations from the original 1980 performance of The Wall to tell the story but, says Hollingsworth, “I was worried that this would look too ‘un-live’”. Sitting with Waters by the pool of the Four Seasons hotel in Los Angeles, “I suuggested to Roger that we cast it with actors. Roger was unconvinced.” Waters rejected Hollingsworth’s first suggestion – that they approach Sean Connery to play the part of the Judge. He put forward several other names which Waters did not like, before agreeing to the idea of Albert Finney. “Roger latched on to that and soon we had cast the whole trial sequence with Albert, Tim Curry, Marianne Faithful, Thomas Dolby and Ute Lemper.”
Other top stars were brought in as guest vocalists and musicians. “I suggested that Joni Mitchell sing Goodbye Blue Sky and she accepted. Then followed Bryan Adams and the legendary members of the Band. Roger and I then went to San Francisco to meet Neil Young and Sinead O’Connor who had just had the massive hit Nothing Compares to U. She agreed to sing the part of the boy.” But Young, who had just received some bad family news, could not make the meeting.
“It was a difficult process as we were trying to match vocal styles to songs. Next came Ute Lemper, then mainly known in Germany for her Kurt Weill operas, to sing The Thin Ice, as well to play the wife in the Trial sequence. Then Paul Carrack and Van Morrison. Van was very interested but very unsure of the song Comfortably Numb. We had to arrange a rehearsal session in Nomis Studios so that Roger and the band could let Van try it out.”
“The whole cast came together in Berlin. Michael Kamen was rehearsing the choir and orchestra and Roger had already rehearsed The Bleeding Heart Band to perfection before going out to the Soviet Army base to rehearse the Marching Band. Then each star arrived in the week before the show and rehearsed their song with the band.”
Meanwhile, the finishing touches were being made to the huge, spectacular stage set being built by Mark Fisher and Jonathan Park, who had worked on the original Wall productions and on Hollingsworth’s two Mandela events at Wembley.
In 1979 and 1980, according to the website, www.rogerwaters.org, “The Wall had been a milestone in the staging of live rock shows. But with an undemonstrative band, long idiosyncratic guitar improvisations and projected animation in place of strutting performers, it was not good television.”
For the live audience and Hollingsworth’s very large international television audience, “the cameras needed continuous live action. In addition, the Potsdamer Platz site called for a set twice the size of the original. This all meant that, to keep the continued attention of both television and live audiences, there would have to be a shift in scale both physically and in terms of action: the storyline had to be strengthened into a clear narrative with an unambiguous message.”
Fisher and Park built a massive stage set on which a wall, 600 feet long and 60 feet high, could be built in the first act and torn down in the last – “a tremendous spectacle in itself”, according to Hollingsworth.
The cardboard bricks used in the original production were not strong enough to support the increased loading of a wall almost twice the height. Polystyrene bricks had been discounted on cost and ecological grounds, but one of the German production assistants, Werner Graf, discovered that they could be made from fire-retardant polystyrene foam by a German company. The company manufactured 2,500 bricks which could be recycled afterwards as construction insulation (www.rogerwaters.org).
The set involved a huge mechanical operation. On either side of the stage, built into the scaffolding supporting the brick storage, were two 164ft high tower cranes with 131ft jibs. A long bridge was built across the stage, lifted by hydraulic motors, to enable the stage hands and extras to build the rising wall. Two large rectangular openings were made in the wall, one of either side, for video screens to help the audience follow what was going on (large spectator video screens were also erected on huge light towers the back of the audience). The hotel scene in the rock opera was also held in an opening high up in the wall. .
In front of the wall, there was a long two-lane forestage, wide and strong enough to take limousines, motorbikes, military trucks and the Marching Band. The Russian army, still resident in East Germany but with little to do, provided most of the vehicles, though it baulked at the idea of lending tanks.
The production used giant puppets, including a inflatable black pig at the top of the wall, and a wide range of spectacular graphics. These included Gerald Scarfe cartoons and drawings from the original production as well as new Scarfe work, projected on to the wall or on a large circular screen immediately behind the wall. Fisher and Park strengthened the narrative to make the show more contemporary and used the design group 4i to produce strong graphics, which worked well – both in contrast with Scarfe’s images and when used own their own, according to www.rogerwaters.org. A wide range of images were used, including a montage of press cuttings about 20th century conflicts, graffiti on the Berlin wall itself, and fascist architecture.
Ironically, the producers asked the Berlin authorities to retain part of the original wall behind the backstage area so that there would be no need to build a security fence.
According to reviewer Michael Simone in Brain Damage magazine No.22, the production was “musically and theatrically a spectacle of sight and sound unequalled anywhere in the world”. Another reviewer, Paul M Roy, on the website concertdvdreviews.com, summed up the show as “truly a one of a kind event that turned out remarkably well, considering the insane logistics that must have been involved”.
The Walldeals with loneliness and failed communications, using the metaphor of a wall built between a rock artist and his audience – a barrier that Waters had seen himself part of. Berlin played no part in the original, but now gave the opera a political as well as personal theme. The physical production of The Wall – Live in Berlin also made the rock opera quite different from its earlier performances – as did the strengthened story line and the use of different singers (the rest of the Pink Floyd and were, of course, no longer with Waters).
Waters also added or dropped the occasional song, extended some instrumental sections and provided new arrangements for the backing orchestra and choir. A key role was played by Michael Kamen, who had worked on the original album, and in Berlin conducted the orchestra, choir and marching band. There were further changes as a result of Hollingsworth rehearsing the artists in a way that would be suitable for a large international television audience rather than just a live concert.
There were technical glitches on the actual night, most notably when the power failed soon after the start. After the show was over, the relevant singers and musicians stayed behind to record the affected songs again – for slotting into the CD and video recordings that were being made. Only a “too grand” Sinead O’Connor refused to stay behind, according to Waters on the special edition DVD made in 2004, but her dress-rehearsal recording from the day before was used instead. The dress-rehearsal recordings were also slotted into the “live” broadcast of the event.
The Wall – Live in Berlinwas watched by a live audience of about 350,000. Tickets are said to have been sold to about 250,000 people but, with a large crush of people outside, the gates were opened and perhaps another 100,000 saw the show free.
The television audience was estimated at 500 million people. Broadcasters in 52 countries showed the event live and there were up to five repeat broadcasts in 20 or so countries. Sixty-five countries broadcast the show on radio. A double CD and a two-hour post-produced video were distributed by Polygram.
The physical production of The Wall – Live in Berlin was financed by Waters and by Cheshire’s new charity, the Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief. Hollingsworth’s company Tribute financed the television and radio production and also looked after the artists. Waters planned to donate all profits – beyond his initial investment – to the charity, but the physical production costs went well over budget. Even with the revenue from the live event, television and radio, and the CD, Video and laserdisc releases, the charity did not make money.
The main reasons for the over-expenditure on the physical production were currency movements, which the charity’s panel of banking advisers surprisingly failed to hedge against. The expenditure was made in Deutsche Marks, sterling and US dollars and the income came in Deutschmarks and sterling – but at different times.
Tony Hollingsworth later produced a special DVD of the event, released in 2005, and the royalties from this continue to go to the Cheshire charity, which uses the money to fund a university chair researching the trauma effects on children living through war.
What they said about the Mandela events
Quoteby Mike Terry, Executive Secretary, Anti-Apartheid Movement, in a letter of January 18 2003: “Before the first event, the prospect of Nelson Mandela's imminent release from prison seemed completely unrealistic. Yet within 20 months he walked free and I have no doubt that the first event played a decisive role in making this happen. This was implicitly acknowledged by Nelson Mandela, himself, by his decision to participate in the second event.”
Quoteby Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, President of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, in a letter of July 12 1995: “The result of his [Hollingsworth’s] efforts helped to generate the pressures which secured the release of Nelson Mandela.”
Quoteby the African National Congress, in a message on its website and in the programme for the International Tribute for a Free South Africa: “...the worldwide campaign for the release of Nelson Mandela and political prisoners made a decisive contribution...One event in particular symbolised that campaign - the ‘Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute’...The ANC owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the artists and performers and all those who made that event possible...”
Quoteby Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Tribute for a Free South Africa, April 16 1990: “I would like to take advantage of this occasion to extend our special thanks to the artistes of the world who have, for many years, lent their talents to the common effort to end the apartheid system. We thank you especially for what you did to mark our 70th birthday. What you did then made it possible for us all to do what we are doing here today.”
Full list of artists and songs at the live performance.
In the Flesh - Scorpions
The Thin Ice - Ute Lemper, Roger Waters
Another Brick in the Wall (Part 1) - Roger Waters, Garth Hudson (of The Band)
The Happiest Days of Our Lives - Roger Waters, Joe Chemay, Jim Farber, Jim Hass, John Joyce
Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) - Cindi Lauper and:
Solo 1 – Rick DiFonzo
Solo 2 – Snowy White
Solo 3 – Peter Wood
Solo 4 – Thomas Dolby
Mother - Sinead O’Connor, The Band
Goodbye Blue Sky - Joni Mitchell, James Galway
Empty Spaces - Roger Waters
What Shall We Do Now? - Bryan Adams
Young Lust - Bryan Adams
Oh My God, What a Fabulous Room - Jerry Hall
One of My Turns - Roger Waters
Don’t Leave Me Now - Roger Waters
Another Brick in the Wall (Part 3) - Roger Waters
Goodbye Cruel World - Roger Waters
Hey You - Paul Carrack
Is there Anybody Out There? - Orchestra and choir ,Rick DiFonzo , Snowy White
Nobody Home - Roger Waters
Vera - Roger Waters
Bring the Boys Back Home - Rundfunk Orchestra and Choir , Marching Band of the Soviet Army
Comfortably Numb - Roger Waters, Van Morrison and The Band, Rick DiFonzo, Snowy White
In the Flesh – Scorpions, Roger Waters, Rundfunk Orchestra and Choir, Marching Band of the Soviet Army
Run Like Hell - Scorpions, Roger Waters
Waiting for the Worms - Scorpions, Roger Waters, Rundfunk Orchestra and Choir, Marching Band of the Soviet Army
Stop - Roger Waters
The Trial - Rundfunk Orchestra and Choir
Refrain - Roger Waters
Tim Curry – Prosecutor
Thomas Dolby – Teacher
Ute Lemper – Wife
Marianne Faithful – Mother
Albert Finney – Judge
The Tide is Turning - The company