Freaking out with the Pink Floyd
Terrapin #12, Oct 1974
Being asked to interview the Pink Floyd – Is an ordeal I would have wished only to my worst enemies. I was shaking like a leaf an hour before our first midday appointment.
The thought of having to talk to a psychedelic group brought me out in sugar-cube shaped goose pimples. What language do these musical Martians speak? Would they hallucinatory gaze turn me into an orange? What would be the horrible consequences of freaking out with a bunch of transvestites in Cambridge Circus? Pre-conceptions flooded my already busting mind. This was going to be sixteen hours of terrifying, heart-halting experiences.
Nervously I tiptoed to the door of lead guitarist Syd Barrett’s house just off busy Cambridge Circus in the middle of London’s vice-ridden West End. The font door was painted an ominous purple. Why wasn’t I being paid danger money? Was this one trip on which all expenses weren’t going to be paid? Oh, to be golf correspondent on International Times and forget these blasted astronomic, hippie rebels. Syd Barrett tumbled out of his bed and donned his socks. I peeked around the small attic room looking fr women’s clothing that the Pink Floyd say Arnold Layne tries on in front of the mirror. Instead his girlfriend materialised at the door and brought in a cup of coffee. Well so far there was little evidence of the terrible Arnold Layne being in the vicinity — the Pink Floyd were covering up well. I’ll shoot Barrett a [question?]
“Syd, why did you write such a dirty, filthy smutty immoral and degrading son as “Arnold Layne”?”
Syd blinked blankly: “Well I just wrote it. I thought “Arnld Layne” was a nice name, and it fitted very well into the music I had already composed”.
“But isn’t it true,” said I, “that Radio London, quite rightly, banned the record because they thought it was “smutty”?”
Instead of reeling into the wardrobe and revealing a cupboard full of feminine clobber, Syd began to explain : “I was at Cambridge at the time. I started to write the song. I pinched the line about “moonshine washing line” from Rog, our bass guitarist – because he has an enormous washing line in the back of his house. Then I thought, “Arnold must have a hobby”, and it went on from there. “Arnold Layne” just happens to dig dressing up in women’s clothing. A lot of people do – so let’s face up to reality. About the only other lyric anybody could object to, is the bit about, “It takes two to know” and there’s nothing “smutty” about that!”
“But then if more people like them dislike us, more people like the underground lot are going to dig us, so we hope they’ll cancel each other out.”
Organist Rick Wright walked in said : “I think the record was banned not because of the lyrics, because there’s nothing there you can really object to – but because thery’re against us as a group and against what we stand for.”
It’s only a business-like commercial insult anyway,” thought Syd, “It doesn’t affect us personaly.” Roger the bass, and Nick Mason the drummer joined the happy throng. “Maybe they were the evil people,” I thought.
“Let’s face it,” said Roger seriously, “the pirate stations play records that are much more “smutty” than “Arnold Layne” will ever be. In fact, it’s only Radio London that have banned the record. The BBC and everybody else plays it. I think it’s just different policies — not anything against us.”
That sounds like sense. Syd got up and moved stealthily to the tape recorder. Ah-hah, they’re going to try subliminal brainwashing. They’re going to lock me in a revolving echo chamber full of laughing gas and pipe Stockhausen through the portholes while Suzy Creamcheese writhes on the transparent roof in a “Matey” bubble bath, being watched intensely by the inmates of the Asylum of Clarentoe under the direction of the Marquis de Sade.
Syd put on one of the new Pink Floyd album tracks instead. And, Gadzooks, it’s foot tapping stuff. Quite interesting pop music actually. “Avant garde” I think it’s called.
Warming to the Floyd’s tape of numbers like “interstellar” and”Flamin'”, I began to think that maybe I was wrong — maybe beneath the hustle and bustle of the in-crowders and the newspapers reports, here was a group not quite as weird as everyone makes out.
“Let’s go for a drink,” they said. A drink? surely hippies don’t drink? But sure enough there we were in the pub dowing good old fashioned brown beer. And another, and another.
And then it was off to EMI studios for the group’s recording session. Quite a normal affair. No kaleidoscopic lighting, no happening or freaking — just a lot of hard work.
Where does the group think they fit in the pop music structure?
“We would like to think we’re part of the creative half in that we write our own material and don’t just record other people’s numbers or copy American demo discs”, said Nick Mason. Our albums shows parts of the Pink Floyd that haven’t been heard yet.”
“There’s part we haven’t even heard yet” chipped in Roger. It’s bringing into flower many of the fruits that remained dormant for so long” added Nick. “It all comes straight out of our heads” says Syd, “and it’s not to far out to understand. If we play well on stage I think most people undestand that what we play isn’t just a noise. Most audiences respond to a good set.”
And despite those terrifying premonitions and the misinterpreted facts, and the blown-up rumours, interviewing this so-called “psychedelic” group was an enjoyble experience. They were very normal people.
In a cacophony of sound played to a background of multi-coloured projected lights, the Pink Floyd proved they are Britain’s top psychedelic group before the hip audience at UFO Club, tottenham Court Road, on Friday night. In two powerful sets they drew nearly every conceivable note from their instruments but ignored their two hit singles. They include “Pow-R Toc-H” and a number which received its first hearing called “Reaction in G” which they say was a reaction against their scottish tour when they had to do “See Emily Play”. Bass player Roger Waters gave the group a powerful depth and the lights poured onto them on an impressive scene. Many of the audience found Pink Floyd’s music too much to sit down and in more subdued parts of the act the sound of jingling bells from their dancing masters joined in. It is clear that the Floyd prefer plaing to UFO-type audiences rather that provincial ones and at their best in an atmosphere more acceptable to them. Supporting the Pink Floyd were the Fairport Convention making their first appearance.