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Flashback: Pink Floyd Play ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ With Original Vocalist Clare Torry

By Andy Greene

Andy Greene

Thirty years ago this month, 120,000 rock fans gathered at the grounds of the Knebworth House in Knebworth, England, for one of the biggest all-star concerts in the history of the U.K. The lineup featured Tears for Fears, Status Quo, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, Robert Plant with surprise guest Jimmy Page, Genesis, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins solo, Dire Straits, Elton John, Paul McCartney, and Pink Floyd .

Picking an act to close out the night probably wasn’t easy, but the organizers ultimately went with Pink Floyd. They hit the road in 1987 to promote their comeback LP A Momentary Lapse of Reason and proved that they could pack stadiums even without Roger Waters. They’d been off the road for nearly a year when Knebworth came around, but they put the band back together for a seven-song set heavy on Seventies classics like “Money,” “Comfortably Numb,” and “The Great Gig in the Sky.” “Sorrow” was the only selection from their newest album.

As a surprise, they brought out vocalist Clare Torry for “The Great Gig in the Sky.” (Check out video of the moment right here.) She delivered the haunting, wordless vocal performance on the original Dark Side of the Moon version, but she hadn’t done the song with them in concert since a one-off 1973 benefit performance with Soft Machine.

Back in 1973, Torry was brought in to Abbey Road studios near the end of the Dark Side of the Moon sessions to help them finish the song. Keyboardist Richard Wright had written the instrumental portion, but they didn’t quite know where to go from there.

“The only person that really said anything [to me] was David Gilmour,” Torry told writer John Harris in 2005. “That’s my abiding memory. I don’t remember really speaking to any of the others. I went in and they just said, ‘Well, we’re making this album, and there’s this track — and we don’t really know what to do with it.’ They told me what the album was about: birth, and death, and everything in between. And I said, ‘Well, play me the track.’ They did that, and I said, ‘Well, what do you want?’ They said, ‘We don’t know.’”

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On her first attempt, she tried out some generic lines like “Ooh-aah, baby, baby — yeah, yeah, yeah,” but they told her to try some longer notes and really lock into the emotion of the song. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘I really, really do not know what to do,'” she said. “And perhaps it would be better if I said, ‘Thank you very much’ and gave up.’ It wasn’t getting anywhere: it was just nothing. That was when I thought, ‘Maybe I should just pretend I’m an instrument.’ So I said, ‘Start the track again.’”

She then closed her eyes and delivered an emotional howl from the depths of her soul. The band told her to try it one more time, but halfway through she stopped. “I realized that I was beginning to be repetitive; derivative,” she said. “It didn’t have that off-the-top-of-the-head, instantaneous something. It was beginning to sound contrived. I said, ‘I think you’ve got enough.’ I thought it sounded like caterwauling.”

She left the studio that day not knowing if they’d use anything she did. It wasn’t until she bought the album and saw her name in the credits that she knew she made the cut. They gave her nothing more than thirty quid and free tickets to their concert at Earl’s Court for her efforts.

In 2004, she decided to sue the band for songwriting royalties. The matter was settled out of court and they’ve never talked about the resolution publicly, but the song is now credited to Wright/Torry.

Over the years, Pink Floyd and Roger Waters have played the song with numerous backing singers. They’ve all put their own wonderful spin on it, but none can quite compare to Torry’s original rendition. The royalties she now receives are well-deserved.

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Clare Torry’s Voice Is Seared Into Your Brain Whether You Know It or Not

Portrait of Craig Jenkins

Fame, at least lasting fame — the your-work-goes-down-in-history kind, often accompanied by fat royalty payments — is a club that thinks of itself as an unbiased meritocracy, blind to everything but aesthetic innovation and popular success. It’s never quite worked out that way. When we look at the past, we still see generations of great talents who never quite got their due critically or commercially, many of them left relatively unsung. In this ongoing series, our critics pick artists they feel remain underappreciated and tell their stories and sing their praises.

Success in the music industry is a spurious concept. You can keep a low profile on the charts but stay afloat through ad placements and endorsement deals, as the rapper Vince Staples does creating lean, anthemic music that kills in clubs, movie trailers, and Sprite commercials. You can have an inescapable presence on TV and radio and still be functionally penniless, as the R&B singing group TLC revealed at the 1996 Grammys, where they won two awards for the multiplatinum 1994 album CrazySexyCool, then shocked journalists by announcing that they were “broke as broke can be” at a postshow presser. The British singer Clare Torry knows the biz’s peaks and valleys; a life-changing evening phone call once landed her an indelible appearance on an album that would go on to sell over 45 million copies worldwide and create a lasting legacy as one of the finest moments in rock-and-roll history, but she was paid a day laborer’s wages for her contributions and she had to fight just to get her name on the finished product.

The album is Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. The song is “The Great Gig in the Sky,” the volcanic interlude that famously nudges the druggy, oceanic lilt of the single “Time” into an orgiastic frenzy. Torry’s performance manages to express the full range of human emotion without relying on words. She whoops and wails through octaves before collapsing into her lower register and trailing off into silence as the drums drop out and pianist Richard Wright and bassist Roger Waters pluck out a coda that sounds like an elegy. Dark Side producer Alan Parsons discovered Torry doing covers for Top of the Pops, a long-running compilation series that successfully sold convincing facsimiles of the hits of the day recorded by uncredited session musicians. Featuring Torry netted the band a timeless performance — the song is pea soup without her — but at the end of the night, she was paid just £30, and that much only because “it was double time on a Sunday,” as she’d later tell John Harris, author of The Dark Side of the Moon: The Making of the Pink Floyd Masterpiece .

Clare Torry

Singer-songwriter (1947–)

Her wordless vocals on “The Great Gig in the Sky” are among the most indelible sounds in rock, but also check out “The Music Attracts Me,” in which her enraptured whooping makes lyrics about candy kisses and delightful flavors seem like coy innuendo.

Session work is rewarding but also nomadic and sometimes frustratingly anonymous. Great players participate in memorable work but shuffle along to the next before the accolades roll in. Their names are known only to bands, industry hawks, and intrepid diehards who comb album credits (insofar as these names ever make it into the credits). You can probably conjure the fleet disco beat of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” from memory, but the name of the player — Leon “Ndugu” Chancler, who was versatile enough to drum for everyone from Miles Davis to Lionel Richie — isn’t common knowledge. Torry’s singing career never quite reached the altitudes to which her elastic range and white-hot passion seemed destined. She started gigging on a lark to settle an overdraft fee with her bank in the late ’60s but stuck around because it felt natural. Early singles like “The Music Attracts Me” and “Unsure Feelings” bricked despite Torry’s lovelorn delivery, a mix of simmering intensity and complete control not unlike that of the American blue-eyed-soul singers Todd Rundgren and Laura Nyro, but companies like the U.K. airline British Caledonian tapped Torry for adverts.

The singer was never at a loss for work behind the scenes, but her push for solo stardom was met with relative indifference. Prime real estate in the middle of The Dark Side of the Moon didn’t change Torry’s luck as a solo artist, but the Pink Floyd connection did make her voice a respectable commodity to an eclectic lot of musicians. Her late-’70s oeuvre includes appearances on the French disco composer Cerrone’s “Angelina,” the Alan Parsons Project’s “Don’t Hold Back,” and albums by the singers Olivia Newton-John and Serge Gainsbourg. In the ’80s, Torry guested on Waters’s Radio K.A.O.S. and Tangerine Dream’s “Yellowstone Park” and had an international hit with Culture Club’s “The War Song,” on which she replicated her famous wordless wail in the middle of Boy George’s peace anthem.

Torry didn’t get her moment in the spotlight until she retired and finally listened to friends who were urging her to pursue further compensation for her finest hour. She sued Pink Floyd and its label, EMI, in summer 2004 for songwriting credits and lost wages for her work on “The Great Gig in the Sky.” The case was settled out of court in 2005, and further anniversary pressings of The Dark Side of the Moon have included Torry’s name as a co-writer on the track. In 2006, a collection of Torry’s early solo work was released; Heaven in the Sky is a glimpse at what should’ve been a successful solo career. “Theme From Film ‘OCE’ ” pulls the “Great Gig” vocal trick over a country shuffle that resembles Rundgren’s “The Night the Carousel Burned Down.” “Love for Sale” and “Heaven in the Sky” prove Torry can light up an electronic composition as confidently as she does a syrupy big-band romp.

The 1973 single “Carry on Singing My Song” is an unwitting mission statement for the rest of Torry’s career. It’s about picking up the pieces after a moment of misfortune. “Do you cancel the rest of your life?,” the singer muses in the first verse, then the chorus blasts in on a fanfare of horns and strings, and Torry’s mournful mood starts to soar. “I’ll just carry on singing my song,” she shouts, “carry on making my own kind of music.” The original lyric’s about a breakup, but it’s hard not to see the rest of her career through the lens of the line. Torry has lived out her words in the 47 years since the fateful winter-Sunday studio session that landed her within arm’s length of stardom. She honored her gift and burrowed her way into the company of rock and pop royalty even when support for her solo work flagged, then she finally saw her payday in retirement with ample time to sit back and enjoy it. That’s an ending as neat as a fairy tale’s.

*This article appears in the January 6, 2020, issue of  New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

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That Rare Time Clare Torry Sung “Great Gig in the Sky” with Pink Floyd

did clare torry tour with pink floyd

While recording The Dark Side Of The Moon, the band played the instrumental track for Clare Torry and asked her to improvise a vocal. At first, Torry struggled to divine what the band wanted, but then she was inspired to pretend that she herself was an instrument. She performed two complete takes, the second one more emotional than the first. David Gilmour asked for a third take, but halfway through Torry stopped, feeling she was getting repetitive and had already done the best she could. The final album track was assembled from all three takes. The members of the band were deeply impressed by Torry’s performance, but were so reserved in their outward response that she left under the impression that her vocals would never make the final cut. She only became aware they were used when she saw the album at a local record store, spotted her name in the credits and purchased it. Here’s one of the rare performances of the song with her, live at Knebworth in 1990.


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The Great Gig In the Sky: the story of Pink Floyd’s gem

did clare torry tour with pink floyd

This story is part of the book: Mama Mia Let Me Go! A journey through the most intriguing lyrics and stories in rock music

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“Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when he does not want to sign” . You could write about and debate this famous quote from Nobel Prize winner Anatole France almost endlessly, finding so many examples of unexpected situations that often affect our lives.

Clare Torry probably didn’t think twice when Pink Floyd called her in January 1973 to go to the Abbey Road Studios: for her it was a job like any other and, although she was supposed to participate in the recording sessions of Pink Floyd’s new album , she wasn’t in any way excited or hopeful. By that time, she had already lost hope that she would become a recognised singer in 60s England. Everybody had told her that her voice was respectable and that she didn’t lack in any tone or skill, but the opportunity never came, seemingly continuously postponed by destiny. Or by chance.

While EMI was still suggesting that she recorded covers by other famous vocalists, the years had passed, and that aspiring singer-songwriter was now a woman who had placed her dreams in a drawer. Participating in the rock journeys of others was fine by her.


The track that she was supposed to sing on in was The Great Gig in the Sky , which had originally been titled The Mortality Sequence or The Religious Section . The author was Rick Wright, and the song was initially based on a long solo on a Hammond organ, surrounded by voices singing about death. When he wrote it, Pink Floyd’s keyboardist wanted to express the sense of gradual passage from life to death , with a characterisation of the piece in two distinct parts. The first showed the refusal to accept life’s end, while the second was resignation and quiet acceptance.

But Pink Floyd were not entirely convinced. The song was missing something, and their sound engineer seemed to have identified the solution. Alan Parsons persuaded them to introduce a female voice , which could bring more evocative passages to the song.


Madeleine Bell and Doris Troy were initially suggested, but Parsons pushed for Clare Torry, who had impressed him in the past with her vocal talents. Unlike Bell and Troy, Clare was white and when she arrived to meet Pink Floyd, the band was not impressed. David Gilmour would confess afterwards that the young girl had looked more like a common English housewife than a singer.

Gilmour told her that there was no lyrics for The Great Gig In The Sky . She was supposed to just sing as she thought about the passage from life to death . It was basically improvising. Ultimately, Pink Floyd gave her complete freedom, but at the same time it was clear that they had no clear idea what they actually wanted her to do.

Torry was surprised by the unusual request, but she tried immediately to follow the band’s guidelines. Her first performance was stopped almost immediately because she was singing “Oh yeah.” Pink Floyd had banned the lyrics . The keyword was improvising, and she tried to jump in. But that required something more than a simple chorus singer: it needed somebody able to turn themselves into an instrument and merge their voice with Wright’s sound.

On the second take, she tried to get into the song, but something was still wrong. She took a break and then tried for one last time. This time she decided not to follow the song: she would just be the song , imposing the emotional wave that moved inside her, letting go and really imagining the flow of life towards the inevitable end.

The sessions lasted three hours, then Torry left, not particularly convinced. She didn’t think that her contribution had been appreciated by Alan Parsons and the band, and she was sure that they wouldn’t choose her voice for The Great Gig In The Sky . For her performance, she received thirty pounds (twice the usual rate, since it was Sunday) and she returned to normal life.

Months later, she stumbled across a strange black album cover with a monolith in the middle and, intrigued, she picked it up and was surprised to read her name among the credits on The Dark Side Of The Moon . Her efforts had been rewarded.

Pink Floyd - The Great Gig In The Sky (2011 Remastered)

Clare Torry’s career didn’t change, but her participation in one of the most famous records in music history allowed her to build a name. She was hired to sing jingles on advertisements and gained some popularity, both in the studio (Alan Parsons Project, Tangerine Dream, Culture Club, Roger Waters) and for live events.

Then the years passed and something changed within Torry; she was no longer happy to be known as the “chorus singer on The Great Gig in the Sky“ . She wanted to seek a bit of acknowledgement after having being behind the scenes for so long. In 2004, she sued EMI and Pink Floyd, wanting to be recognised as a co-author of the song along with Rick Wright, rather than just a performer. She won the court case and, through an out-of-court agreement, she was refunded for the years during which her part on the record had not been truly recognised.

The dramatic and fascinating The Great Gig In The Sky would not have become such a world-renowned gem without Clare Torry’s contribution. The emotional wave of those vocals, lying on the carpet of sound that was so meticulously put together by Richard Wright, really manage to express the flow of existence and deliver a sense of passage between life and death .

Who knows what would have happened, if Torry’s name had never come to light: her voice wouldn’t have entered into the history books, and perhaps Pink Floyd would have left The Great Gig In The Sky as an instrumental. It would have been a massive loss for everybody.

But luckily, this time, the pseudonym of God did want to sign.

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Hear How Clare Torry’s Vocals on Pink Floyd’s “The Great Gig in the Sky” Made the Song Go from Pretty Good to Downright Great

in Music | April 5th, 2017 14 Comments

Smack in the mid­dle of Pink Floy­d’s clas­sic Dark Side of the Moon sits a song many lis­ten­ers may hear as an extend­ed bridge between the two true cen­ter­pieces, “Time” and “Mon­ey.” But I’ve always thought of “The Great Gig in the Sky” as the album’s true cen­ter, a swirling, swing­ing, soul­ful prog-rock mas­ter­piece, car­ried to stratos­pher­ic heights by British singer Clare Tor­ry. The song’s word­less gospel vocal makes it an ecsta­t­ic, even hope­ful, tent pole sup­port­ing  Dark Side’s  bril­liant­ly cyn­i­cal songs about the banal­i­ty and injus­tice of mod­ern life.

“The Great Gig in the Sky,” that is to say, pro­vides much-need­ed emo­tion­al release in an album that can sound, writes Alex­is Petridis , “like one long sigh.” Yet if you know the sto­ry of Dark Side of the Moon and of Clare Torry’s defin­ing con­tri­bu­tion, you’ll know that her incred­i­ble soar­ing vocal was sheer hap­pen­stance, an impro­vi­sa­tion by a young unknown singer brought in at the last minute by pro­duc­er Alan Parsons—and one who wasn’t a par­tic­u­lar fan of the band. (“If it had been The Kinks,” she remem­bered, “I’d have been over the moon.”)

Tor­ry reluc­tant­ly stepped into the stu­dio and asked the band, “’Well, what do you want?’” Basi­cal­ly, she says, “they had no idea.” An ear­ly instru­men­tal mix of the song from 1972 (top), fore­grounds Nick Mason’s propul­sive drums, Richard Wright’s Ham­mond organ, and sam­ples from Apol­lo 17 trans­mis­sions. (These were replaced in the final ver­sion with a snip­pet from con­ser­v­a­tive writer Mal­colm Mug­geridge.)

When Tor­ry went into the vocal booth and put on the head­phones, she would have heard an even more stripped-down mix. Giv­en no oth­er instruc­tion than “we don’t want any words,” she decid­ed, “I have to pre­tend to be an instru­ment.”

Torry’s vocal is so dis­tinc­tive that she even­tu­al­ly won a set­tle­ment in 2004 for a co-song­writ­ing cred­it with Wright—an out­come some  song­writ­ing experts agree was ful­ly jus­ti­fied since she essen­tial­ly cre­at­ed a new melody for the song. In the inter­view above, hear Tor­ry describe how she “had a lit­tle go” and, after some guid­ance from David Gilmour and a can of Heineken, casu­al­ly knocked out one of the most thrilling vocal per­for­mances in rock his­to­ry.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Doc­u­men­taries on the Mak­ing of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here

Dark Side of the Rain­bow: Pink Floyd Meets The Wiz­ard of Oz in One of the Ear­li­est Mash-Ups

Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” Pro­vides a Sound­track for the Final Scene of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

Josh Jones  is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at  @jdmagness d

by Josh Jones | Permalink | Comments (14) |

did clare torry tour with pink floyd

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Comments (14), 14 comments so far.

I always found all the best on open­cul­ture =D

Real­ly inter­est­ing to read some­thing of the back­ground to this icon­ic track. Can’t lis­ten to the voice­less back­ing track with­out hear­ing her voice in my head, glad she got the reward and recog­ni­tion she deserved even­tu­al­ly.

This was an amaz­ing piece of music jour­nal­ism. Thank you. I have always viewed her as a “co-rid­er“, and you’re post­ing of the ver­sion with­out her in it, sum­mar­i­ly proves it

Clares voice has been the last sound and thought I had many nights over 5 decades. Her haunt­ing chan­ti­cle is the anthem I play in my head so often that it has become a part of me. She will nev­er know how close­ly we are con­nect­ed all through my life. Jack

To me, Clare Tor­ry’s per­for­mance, like the best of impro­vised solos be they from musi­cal idioms of jazz, clas­si­cal, rock, rhythm & blues, gospel, et. al., is one of the cer­ti­fied touch­stones in rock vocal his­to­ry. To learn that she did­n’t even have much of a chart to go by, much less the usu­al har­mon­ic and melod­ic under­pin­nings that set off most all impro­vi­sa­tions, makes her cre­ation all the more spec­tac­u­lar and improb­a­ble.

Even though I’ve seen pho­tos and videos of her, when I close my eyes and lis­ten, the sound I hear, the sto­ry, the cry, the wail­ing, the empa­thy, the strug­gle and the sur­vival, to me reflect the soul of an African-Amer­i­can woman.

For me, this under­scores the truth of our inter­con­nect­ed­ness as mem­bers of the human fam­i­ly. Our pain, our plea­sure, our hopes, fears, tragedies and tri­umphs, stream across the sky and beam through all of us simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. Tap­ping into that real­iza­tion is a risky propo­si­tion because it requires total self­less­ness on one’s part. You gain uni­ver­sal­i­ty by let­ting go of your own sta­tion. Let­ting go like this is not an easy thing to do, even for the musi­cal­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed.

That’s why, to me, Clare Tor­ry’s per­for­mance tran­scends musi­cal utter­ance. And that accounts for its last­ing, trans­for­ma­tive pow­er.

I was in my senior year in high school and we planned an ambi­ence per­fect par­ty for the first lis­ten­ing of this Album. To this day Clare’s vocals can bring tears to my eyes. Sheer vocal genius..

purest grace of the great gig in the sky..

I agree with some­one ear­li­er, hav­ing sung “Great Gig”, which Btw took some years to master.…I have to say that Clare Tory was the real genius of that song. Cer­tain­ly the intro and chords are beau­ti­ful but her vocals are transcendent.…I used to describe it as an “a rock aria of orgas­mic pro­por­tions” and that is pure­ly to do with her! What a shame she didn’t team up with some great song­writ­ers post Dark Side…,I think the Wirkd missed out.

Agree entire­ly Larry…,see my com­ments in the Blog

So agree with you Make.…nothing musi­cal­ly ever came close to this in it’s pow­er to cut through. See my com­ments below.

Mal­colm Mug­geridge? No, he had a very dis­tinc­tive voice, and he was not Irish. I thought it was a road­ie who did the philo­soph­i­cal bit.

Absolute­ly made the song what it is. I have no doubt what­so­ev­er with­out her voice, this song would nev­er have become so well known. Pure deep and from from the soul. The only oth­er back­up singer I can think of that would be her equal is Mer­ry Clay­ton per­form­ing Gim­mie Shel­ter by the stones.

I only heard about Clare Tory singing on the track recent­ly. I just lis­tened to the track with­out the vocals added. I pre­fer the orig­i­nal with the Apol­lo 13 dia­log. It takes me back when the album first came out. I remem­ber always skip­ping this track. The vocals total­ly took me out of the oth­er world­ly expe­ri­ence that epit­o­mized lis­ten­ing to Pink Floyd.

Alan Par­sons’ choice to bring in Clare Tor­ry to ele­vate the oth­er­wise flat mid­dle of Dark Side of the Moon will always be seen as bril­liant. But it was also informed by oth­er pro­gres­sive mile­stones of the times. Annie Haslam had done the same on Renai­sance’s Ash­es are Burn­ing a year ear­li­er and was doing it again on their 1971 album Turn of the Cards.

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So Much Great Music

  • June 26, 2020


One of the best-known songs on what remains the longest charting album in rock music history (by a lot) features none of the band’s four members, has no words, and spotlights only a session singer who initially turned down the gig offer to attend a Chuck Berry concert. ‘Great Gig In The Sky,’ the song on which the indescribable, non-lexical vocals by an unknown named Clare Torry appear, off of Pink Floyd’s transcendent and everlasting “Dark Side Of The Moon” album, consists merely of just over a minute of simple piano chord progressions, two sharp snare drum hits at 1:08, and then…it’s all Torry.

Pink Floyd were in the studio – Abbey Road studios, as it happens – with this as yet only loosely formed composition by keyboardist Richard Wright, when the album engineer Alan Parsons (yes, the same Alan Parsons who would later create his own Project) suggested that the tune could be filled out by some 25-year-old vocalist with whom no one else was even familiar. Torry was eventually brought in, without a clue as to what she would be asked to perform, and was greeted by the typically cheeky direction of Roger Waters: “There’s no lyrics, and it’s about dying,” he said. “Now, have a bit of a sing on that.” “We wanted to put a girl on there, screaming orgasmically,” described the only somewhat more helpful David Gilmour. “We had to encourage her a little bit, give her some dynamic hints – maybe you’d like to do this piece quietly and this piece louder – but after that, she was fantastic.”

The band played the backing instrumental track for her and asked that she improvise a vocal without really knowing what they wanted. Torry started singing “Ooh-aah, baby, baby – yeah yeah yeah…” and was unceremoniously halted. “No, no, no, no,” she recalls hearing, “We don’t want any actual words!” Struggling to divine what exactly they were looking for – something, it seemed, of which even the band members themselves had precious little idea – Torry was ultimately struck by inspiration, the type of inventive flash without which you almost can’t imagine “Dark Side Of The Moon” even existing. What was her revelation? “I had to pretend to be an instrument.”

It’s unclear just what instrument she envisioned or embodied, but Torry soon performed two complete, spontaneous and emotionally draining takes, her performance ranging from operatic trilling to caterwauling shrieks and on to moaning dirge. Gilmour asked that she try a third one, but she stopped midway through claiming exhaustion, a sense of repetitiveness, and saying she felt she’d already done the best that she could do. And with that, after only a couple hours in the studio, she left, utterly convinced by the lack of any outward reactions by either Parsons or the band – typically reserved behavior, one might say, on the part of the five Brits – that her thunderous, spiritual aria would never see the light of day and make the record. “They hadn’t commented,” Torry recalled. “They hadn’t said ‘great,’ ‘awful,’ (just) nothing. I didn’t give it all much thought because I never believed anybody would hear it. I did feel at the time it was probably an experiment, y’know, that they weren’t quite sure (how to complete the song), that they might very well put a saxophone on it, or, I dunno…a string quartet.” For her remarkable but unremarked upon contribution she was paid 30 pounds (equivalent to about 400 pounds, or $500, in 2020).

Nothing further was communicated to her after departing either. Many months had gone by, in fact, until one night Torry, who had no idea when the album was actually coming out, was walking home to her flat¹ where she passed a record store and spotted the now iconic prism-with-a-rainbow-beam-projected-through-it cover, alongside a sign that read “Pink Floyd’s new album,” and thought to herself, ‘Ohh, I wonder if that’s what I did.’ I Had no idea.” She walked in and opened the gatefold, scanning the tracks until she spotted ‘Great Gig In The Sky – with vocal by Clare Torry’ (the song hadn’t even been given a title at the time she’d made her recording). “And so I thought, ‘Ooh, I’ll have to buy that,’” Torry giggled. She took it home, put some headphones on, and listened to it from beginning to end – her part, it turned out, having been edited together from among the three takes she’d done – and thinking it sounded, in her words ‘really good.’ “And then that was it, on to the next job,” she said. “Never gave it much thought.” Several months later she was back doing another session at Abbey Road and ran into Alan Parsons, who excitedly apprised her “The album’s doing really well,” to which she responded dryly “What album?” Parsons exclaimed, “You know, “Dark Side Of The Moon,” it’s selling really well in America!” and Torry simply replied, “Jolly good.”

“How did it happen?” Clare Torry asked of herself decades later, about one of the single most dramatic and momentous rock vocal productions ever, of the episode Roger Waters is said to have described as “a happy accident, what happened in the studio that evening.” How indeed. “I’ve often wondered,” she begins, “if it was the devil grinning up at me or God smiling down on me. I still haven’t figured out which one had the final say.” Divine intervention or a deal with the devil, who’s to know. This much, though, is true: In 2004, more than thirty years after the song’s release, Torry actually filed suit against Pink Floyd and their record label, EMI, for songwriting royalties, on the basis that her contribution to “Great Gig In The Sky” constituted co-authorship along with Richard Wright. An out of court settlement was reached shortly thereafter – terms were not disclosed – but as of 2005 all pressings of the still high-selling album have listed the composition as by “Richard Wright and Clare Torry.” Seems that God and the devil were able to strike a deal.

¹I’m adopting that British-ism for the purpose of historical accuracy here.

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The story of The Great Gig In The Sky and the best £30 Pink Floyd ever spent

One of the highlights of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side Of The Moon, Clare Torry's vocal on The Great Gig In The Sky lifted the song to celestial heights

A woman singing into a megaphone with the colours of the spectrum emerging from its horn

Pink Floyd first played The Great Gig in the Sky – then titled The Mortality Sequence – at the Brighton Dome in January 1972, more than a year before it was finally released on The Dark Side Of The Moon, and getting the song to the finish line was quite the journey. 

Built around a Richard  Wright piano solo, The Great Gig in the Sky was originally embellished by a reading of  The Lord’s Prayer  and a recording of author and satirist Malcolm Muggeridge pontificating. Work on the studio version began at Abbey Road as the middle of the year approached, but touring, holidays and other commitments kept the band distracted.

Eventually Roger Waters completed work on the song – a typically sensitive contemplation of death – which began with Wright's solemn keyboards and gave the unsuspecting listener little indication of the wild ride they were about to enjoy. And what a ride it was: one of The Dark Side Of The Moon 's most memorable sections, provided by someone who wasn't even in the band. 

25-year-old singer Clare Torry was working as a staff songwriter for EMI when the call came. She wasn't a big Pink Floyd fan, but engineer Alan Parsons had worked with her before, having originally heard her sing on a  Pick Of The Pops  covers album, and brought her into the studio on January 21, 1973, to see what she might bring to the track. 

"When I arrived they explained the concept of the album to me and played me Rick Wright’s chord sequence," said Torry. "They said: 'We want some singing on it,' but didn’t know what they wanted. So I suggested going out into the studio and trying a few things. I started off using words, but they said: 'Oh no, we don’t want any words.' So the only thing I could think of was to make myself sound like an instrument, a guitar or whatever, and not to think like a vocalist. I did that and they loved it.

"I did three or four takes very quickly, it was left totally up to me, and they said: 'Thank you very much.' In fact, other than Dave Gilmour , I had the impression that they were infinitely bored with the whole thing, and when I left I remember thinking to myself: 'That will never see the light of day.'" 

Torry was wrong, of course, and the band knew they'd captured the purest of magic. The vocal you hear on the album was stitched together from those takes, and the result was a jaw-dropping wail that elevated the track to near-celestial heights.

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“We wanted to put a girl on there, screaming orgasmically," Gilmour recalled. "Alan had worked with her previously, so we gave her try. And she was fantastic. We had to encourage her a little bit, we gave her some dynamic hints: ‘Maybe you’d like to do this piece quietly, and this piece louder.’"

Torry was paid a £30 session fee, double the usual rate because it was recorded on a Sunday, and only became aware her parts were used when she saw the album at a local record shop and spotted her name in the credits. "If I’d known then what I know now I would have done something about organising copyright or publishing," she told Mojo in 1998. "I would be a wealthy woman now."

It's possible Clare Torry may well be a wealthy woman now. Six years after that interview she sued Pink Floyd – while remaining on good terms with the band – arguing that her contribution to The Great Gig in the Sky constituted co-authorship. She petitioned the High Court for royalties she believed were due, a half-share of copyright ownership, and a 50% share of past and future income. The band and record company EMI settled out of court – although details of the out-of-court settlement were never disclosed – and the song is now credited to both Wright and Torry. 

And that's gotta be a nice little earner. 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.  

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The Dark Side of the Moon: Clare Torry's Great Gig in the Sky | reviews, news & interviews

The dark side of the moon: clare torry's great gig in the sky, from pink floyd to pilchards, the session singer who took just three hours to create an immortal vocal performance.

did clare torry tour with pink floyd

The Dark Side of the Moon and Frankie Howerd’s Roman-era television farce Up Pompeii! aren’t as unlikely bedfellows as it first seems. The link comes from Clare Torry, whose voice opened the show each week. She also provided the unrestrained vocal on The Dark Side of the Moon’s Rick Wright-penned “The Great Gig in the Sky.”

As one of the most in-demand British session singers from 1970 to her retirement in 1996, Clare sang on ads for British Caledonian airlines and Glenrick pilchards. She appeared on French iconoclast Serge Gainsbourg’s Rock Around the Bunker album and sang the gentle theme to long-running television series Butterflies . She also lent her voice to nihilistic pre-punk weirdos The Doctors of Madness. She was on Culture Club’s “War Song”.

In 2005, her melodic contribution to 'The Great Gig in the Sky' was recognised in court

But the appearance with Pink Floyd  always crops up when her name is mentioned. That single session – held between 7pm and 10pm on Sunday, 21 January 1973 – overshadows everything else she has done.

As a jobbing session singer, Clare thought nothing of the request to turn up at Abbey Road studios and bring her voice to one of the many bands passing through the doors made familiar by The Beatles . Beyond their early single “See Emily Play,” she wasn’t aware of Pink Floyd. The request for her to sing with the band came via engineer Alan Parsons. Her fee was £30.

Clare arrived to find a band that didn’t know what it wanted – she told me that Dave Gilmour suggested she sing something “emotional.” After abandoning a soul style, she found what proved right for a second take. The melody was left to her. At the time, she thought what she’d captured was “caterwauling” and that it wouldn’t be used. She only discovered she was on the album after buying a copy.

That’s how it was for session singers and musicians. Often uncredited, they did their bit and moved onto the next job. Torry, however, had been a potential pop star. After appearing as a minstrel in a 1967 Malcolm Muggeridge -presented BBC documentary on the pilgrimage to Canterbury Cathedral, The Road to Canterbury , she began trying her luck with record labels and was signed to EMI’s publishing company Ardmore and Beechwood. “I was taken on as a staff songwriter and paid £10 a week,” Clare said. “I had to provide them with a certain amount of songs a year. I started to meet producers, arrangers and musicians. [Future Led Zeppelin member] John Paul Jones used to be around a lot.” She was 17.

"The Music Attracts Me” became Clare’s debut single in August 1967. It barely sold. A second 45 released in October 1967, “Unsure Feelings”, suffered a similar fate. “I was rather disappointed that nothing happened,” she said. “But when you’re young, you keep going.”

Listen to “The Music Attracts Me”, Clare Torry’s 1967 debut single

Clare kept going. In March 1968, she sang on her first BBC radio broadcast, with the jazz band The Harry Roche Constellation. With members including Kenny Clare and Don Lusher, this ever-changing band of session regulars offered Clare even more experience – and music industry contacts. Even though she was still in her teens, she was learning. “I had no intention of being a singer,” she explains. “I wanted to be a songwriter. But once I started singing, I thought ‘Ooh, this is fun.’ It snowballed.” More singles – one in 1970 under the name of Alice Pepper – failed to click.

“At the end of the Sixties I got a letter from the Midland Bank saying I was seven pounds overdrawn,” she remembered. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, what can I do to earn a quick buck?’ I decided to ring up people I’d met – arrangers and producers – and say, ‘Have you got any work?’ A couple came up trumps.” She was soon a session singer.

Although Clare's liaison with Pink Floyd was fleeting, her appearance on The Dark Side of the Moon ensured the band were never far. Rick Wright gave his blessing for her to reprise the “Great Gig in the Sky” style on TV for a Nurofen ad. She appeared on Roger Waters' Radio K.A.O.S. album and sang with the band at Knebworth in 1990. In 2005, her melodic contribution to “The Great Gig in the Sky” was recognised in court. From then on the song was credited to Wright/Torry. Not what she imagined barely three hours in the studio over 30 years earlier would amount to.

'The Great Gig in the Sky' performed live in 1974

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Appertaining to " up pompeii, wow, always thought this was, not a musical expert, but it, am i on my own in believing, million percent

Million percent much royalties etc did she or does she get???? I hope she does 

Absolutely superb. i was

This song has always sounded, the most sexually explicit, add comment.

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Behind Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky” and Why the Vocalist Was Sure It Wouldn’t Make the Cut

by Melanie Davis March 24, 2024, 9:20 am

Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky” has become a defining moment of the band’s magnum opus, ‘Dark Side of the Moon.’ With its wordlessly anguished vocals and iconic piano intro, the song closes out the LP’s A-side with a whisper, then a bang, then a whisper again. 

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But if you were to have asked the song’s vocalist, Clare Torry, about the song that night at Abbey Road studios, she might’ve told you it was never going to make the album.

Background Vocalist For Hire

Around the time British psychedelic rock band Pink Floyd was recording what would become one of their most commercially successful and well-known albums, fellow U.K. musician Clare Torry was looking for work as a studio background vocalist. Weeks before ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ would be released in March 1973, the band and Torry’s paths crossed in a way that would define the record—and their respective careers—forever. 

From an organ instrumental to a piano track overdubbed with NASA mission soundbites, “Great Gig in the Sky” took on multiple incarnations before reaching its final form. Deep in the throes of mixing, Pink Floyd decided to make one last pass at what would become the Side A closer. Pink Floyd requested the studio contact a female background vocalist to sing over the instrumental. Abbey Road contacted Clare Torry. Although scheduling conflicts threatened to prevent the now legendary session from ever taking place, Torry eventually made her way into the studio on a Sunday evening in January 1973. In a 2005 interview with author John Harris, Torry recalled receiving little musical direction from the band. Besides the album’s general theme (life, death, and the in-between), the band gave Torry no notes on what they wanted to hear. They did, however, have some notes on what they didn’t want.

The Session’s Rocky Start

With little instruction, Torry fell back on the oohs and oh babies typical of her past session work. Torry told Harris the band immediately rejected the pop-centric vocals, saying, “‘If we wanted that, we’d have got Doris Troy.’” So, Torry shifted gears. Rather than approaching the song like a singer, she pretended to be an actual instrument. It worked. 

Torry performed two more takes of her vocalization, though she stopped halfway through the third take for fear that she was becoming repetitive. “I said, ‘I think you’ve got enough,’” Torry said, “I thought it sounded like caterwauling. I think Rick Wright [Pink Floyd’s keyboardist] had subsequently said I was embarrassed. And I was!” 

After listening back to her vocal take in the control room, Torry said the members of Pink Floyd didn’t say much. She took their muted reaction as a sign that she hadn’t accomplished what they’d wanted. Torry assumed the song would never see the light of day, took her money, and left to get dinner with her boyfriend.

From Timid to Timeless

In the 2003 documentary “Classic Albums: Making of the Dark Side of the Moon,” Torry said she learned about “Great Gig in the Sky” like everyone else. She walked into the shop and bought it. While walking past a local record shop, Torry stopped to look at a massive window display advertising Pink Floyd’s latest release. Curious as to whether ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ was the album Torry had sung on, she walked inside and opened the LP’s sleeve. 

Sure enough, the record’s credits listed her as the vocalist of Track 5: “Great Gig in the Sky.” (Torry hadn’t known the song had a title when she was working in the studio weeks earlier.) She listened to the record at home and, although impressed by its final production, didn’t think much of it afterward. Torry ran into Parsons at a different session, where he informed Torry of the album’s incredible success in the States. “I said, ‘Oh, fine, jolly good. That was it really,’” Torry recalled in the “Classic Albums” documentary. 

Torry later sued Pink Floyd for songwriting royalties, considering her improvisational melody was the main feature of “Great Gig in the Sky.” Torry and the band settled out of court in 2005. All subsequent editions of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ now credit Richard Wright and Clare Torry as songwriters.

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did clare torry tour with pink floyd

Who Is The Little-Known Singer Behind Pink Floyd's The Great Gig In The Sky?

Clare Torry sitting on grass

All true Pink Floyd fans are more than familiar with their song, "The Great Gig In The Sky," from their classic 1973 album, "The Dark Side of the Moon," whose iconic prism cover is well-known to people who don't even know the band. " The Great Gig In The Sky " is a major part of what has made the album resonate with listeners for decades after its release, so much so that its place in eternity is all but certain.

Like so many great songs, "The Great Gig In The Sky" took some time and experimenting before it became the track that's so beloved today. According to Far Out Magazine , the song started off as an organ instrumental piece with Bible verses spoken over it. However, at some point in the creative process, the decision was made to turn it into a piano-driven rock song with female vocals, a choice that wasn't made until "The Dark Side of the Moon" had to be delivered to the band's label, Harvest Records.

Clare Torry's time with Pink Floyd

Luckily, the album's engineer Alan Parsons (of The Alan Parsons Project fame) happened to know a female singer who could do what the band wanted — Clare Torry who, at the time, was a session vocalist with few credits to her name. As per Far Out Magazine , Torry was brought in to record the track and was instructed by the band members to think about dark subjects like death while she improvised her vocals. In just two-and-a-half takes (Torry stopped midway through her third take as she felt she'd already given everything she had), she produced the powerful vocals that would become defining to the song. Torry was so kept in the dark about the project that she didn't even know that her voice had ended up on the album until she bought the record at the store and noticed her name in the credits.

Far Out Magazine features Torry's fascinating account of recording the song in the studio with the band: Apparently, Torry's first attempt at singing over the track was shot down because she was articulating actual words, and was directed to sing longer notes. She stated, "that was when I thought, 'Maybe I should just pretend I'm an instrument ... Alan Parsons got a lovely sound on my voice: echoey, but not too echoey. When I closed my eyes –- which I always did -– it was just all-enveloping; a lovely vocal sound, which for a singer, is always inspirational."

Later life and career

Unfortunately, providing the stellar vocals for one of rock's most legendary tunes wasn't enough to propel Clare Torry's career very far. According to Vulture , the singer only appeared on a handful of recording credits in the 1970s, including songs for Olivia Newton-John and Serge Gainsbourg. She even teamed up with the man who recommended her to Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons, for his Project's track, "Don't Hold Back." Torry had a little more success in the 1980s, with her voice being heard on Tangerine Dream's "Yellowstone Park" and Culture Club's "The War Song," as well as rejoining Pink Floyd's Roger Waters for his solo album "Radio K.A.O.S." for a couple of songs.

But still, Torry largely remained out of the public consciousness. That is until she was persuaded by friends to sue Pink Floyd and their record label EMI in 2004. According to Vulture, the purpose of the lawsuit was for songwriting credits and lost wages for "The Great Gig in the Sky," which was eventually settled out of court but included her as a co-writer on future releases of "The Dark Side of the Moon." Her renewed time in the spotlight was followed by the release of a collection of her previous solo work called "Heaven in the Sky" in 2006 so that listeners can appreciate her great talent, even when she wasn't singing on "The Great Gig in the Sky."


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    About Press Copyright Contact us Creators Advertise Developers Terms Privacy Policy & Safety How YouTube works Test new features NFL Sunday Ticket Press Copyright ...