35 Years Ago: Pink Floyd’s Richard Wright Goes Pop With Zee
The only album released by Richard Wright’s band Zee will be remastered 35 years after its arrival. Sadly, the late Pink Floyd keyboardist isn't here to see if this synth-pop detour receives a better welcome than it did in 1984.
Zee was a short-lived collaboration between Wright and Dave Harris, frontman of the New Romantic band Fashion, and Identity was their only release. Based heavily on the Fairlight CMI, then a cutting-edge synthesizer and audio workstation, its electronic sound failed to inspire fans of either parent band, and it sank without trace. Later, even Wright called it an “experimental mistake.”
The partnership was formed after Harris left Fashion in 1982, and was told by saxophonist Raff Ravenscroft that Wright was in a similar position. “Raff mentioned that Rick had been fired by the band, and Rick was looking to set up a new band,” Harris told A Fleeting Glimpse in 2018. “When we got back to London, I met up with Rick, Raff and some other musicians who had been selected. From here we had two or three rehearsals. The other musicians were mainly session guys and had a heavy workload. Therefore the number of players started to change every time due to their work constraints. … I suggested we did the album as a two-piece, and worried about the players when we came to gig. Rick agreed and the plan was set.”
Harris moved into Wright’s home to be closer to the studio where the Fairlight could be used. “We spent hours and hours just experimenting with it at first,” Wright said soon after the record’s release. “The great thing about the Fairlight is that every time you go back to it, you learn something else. We had to get control over it though, because it would have been very easy just to have ended up making funny noises.”
“Rick wanted to take a more modern approach to this new album,” Harris added, noting that the keyboardist was going through “an insecure period in his life.” Ultimately, that meant Wright abandoned plans to sing lead vocals. “I came up with the name Zee after the album was recorded," Harris said. "I just liked the sound of it and the look; Identity was a good name because of the two different characters involved."
Whatever he came to think of it, the album offered Wright a rare moment to work outside the confines of his legacy with Pink Floyd. "For me it is exciting working with Dave because there were things that he was doing that I had not done before and vice versa," he once mused. "I think that Zee has given us musical opportunities that quite frankly neither of us were able to explore in our previous groups."
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Harris told A Fleeting Glimpse that he'd been unaware of the LP’s poor reception on release, only discovering it as social media expanded. At the same time, however, he said easier global communication meant Harris heard from others who actually loved Identity. “Rick wanted to do a follow up album straight away,” Harris said. “I had been offered a co-production of an album for another artist [and] I took the production job. Obviously, I wasn’t as financially well off as Rick, and couldn’t afford to take another year off writing a new album.”
Wright didn't issue another solo album for 12 years, and by then he'd already served a stint with David Gilmour and Nick Mason with a reunited Pink Floyd. In keeping, Broken China focused on more typical prog sounds, rather than the synthy experiments of Identity. "We made the whole record on the Fairlight, which was an amazing machine at the time," Wright told M. Blake in 1996, "but which now seems rather dated."
Identity remains, Harris admits, a product of its era. “The main thing I wish is that the Fairlight wasn’t so strong in the compositions," he told A Fleeting Glimpse. "Having said that, it was the keyboard and the new sound and sequencer of the time, so that’s that. I wish Rick had been up to singing some lead vocals, and writing some lyrics.”
The remastered, extended version of Identity – which Burning Shed describes as “one of the most intriguing pop music partnerships of the 1980s” – will be released on May 24. Harris is thrilled with the results: “The digitalization and subsequent EQing has brought out a lot of frequencies," he said in a news release, "especially bottom end which have become available because of the new amazing software plugins that are available."
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