Robert Sandall – Mojo magazine 1994
The third coming
And it came to pass that the Syd Barrett Group became the Roger Waters Quartet, who became the David Gilmour Trio. And many various were the evils that befell them upon the highway.
Three decades and 140 million albums later, the sheer familiarity of the Pink Floyd phenomenon obscures the strangeness of it all. Unlike any of their contemporaries, for whom drastic changes in line-up have normally spelled disaster, The Floyd are well into their third coming. They opened their account as the Syd Barrett band, hoisted themselves into the international superleague as the Roger Waters quartet, and having survived the successive departures of two inspirational leaders and principal songwriters, are now continuing to hold their own as the David Gilmour trio. Small wonder the accepted wisdom holds that with Pink Floyd it is the sights and the sounds that matter; that for them, personnel are little more than technicians servicing a vast, high-tech _son et lumiere_ spectacle, or perpetuating a brand name. The band endorse and encourage this view of themselves as a personality-free zone, to the point of giving only one interview to mark the release of their new album, The Division Bell. “We don’t have to promote a Bono or a Mick Jagger,” drummer Nick Mason tells me. “The thing you have to remember is, we’re so wonderfully boring.”
What this thoroghly English remark conceals though is an equally English history of childhood friendships and teenage alliances, casting long shadows over the lives and careers of a group of young, now middle-aged, men. Most accounts of the origins of Pink Floyd begin at Regent Street Polytechnic, London in 1964, where three architectural students, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright, formed a college R&B band, later recruiting a student from Camberwell Art school, “Syd” — real name, Roger — Barrett. The true foundations of Pink Floyd though had been laid much earlier.
It is no coincidence that the band’s three leaders, Barrett, Waters and David Gilmour grew up together in Cambridge, in fairly comfortable middle- class circumstances. Their mothers, according to Gilmour, all had connections with Homerton, the nearby teacher’s training college. But the key to their knowing each other was the man whose ghost still hovers above the band: Syd Barrett. Waters and Barrett shared the same primary and grammar schools, and were drawn to each other, despite the age difference, partly because each had lost his father. Gilmour and Barrett, both a couple of years younger than Waters, became friendly aged 14, and ended up at Cambridge Tech together, studing ‘A’ levels. “We would hang around the Art Department, playing guitars every lunchtime. Teaching each other basically,” Gilmour recalls.
In the summer of 1964 the pair went busking in San Tropez, playing Beatles songs from the Help album on the streets of the fashionable resort, before getting thrown in gaol by the French police. “The thing with Syd was that his guitar playing wasn’t his strongest feature. His style was very stiff. I always thought I was the better guitar player. But he was very clever, very intelligent, an artist in every way. And he was a _frightening_ talent when it came to the words, and lyrics. They just used to pour out.”
There was never any doubt that Syd Barrett constituted the guiding spirit of the early Pink Floyd. The year after St. Tropez trip, he was down in London painting and studying fine art when Waters asked him to join a blues band called, rather unpromisingly, The Tea Set. At the time, Waters was an all purpose strummer, more interested in the idea of the group than in mastering any specific instrument, let alone the bass guitar. Mason, the drummer, was his best mate at college. Wright supplied what little musical expertise they had. One of Barrett’s first contributions was a proper name, decided at half time during a gig at RAF Uxbridge, there being two Tea Sets on the bill that night. With a typically swift and esoteric flourish, Barrett combined the Christian names of a couple of is favourite bluesman, Pink Anderson and Floyd Counsel.
Particularly delighted to have Barrett aboard was Rick Wright, the group’s keyboard player, who had dumped architecture and was now moonlighting at the London College Of Music. “It was great when Syd joined. Before him we’d play the R&B classics, because that’s what all groups were supposed to do then. But I never liked R&B very much. I was actually more of a jazz fan. With Syd the direction changed, it became more improvised around the guitar and keyboards. Roger started playing the bass as a lead instrument, and I started to introduce more of my classical feel.”
Together, they led Pink Floyd into the swirling psychedelic dawn of 1966, where the band’s reputation for uncompromising weirdness soon turned them into the darlings of the English underground, then centered on clubs like Joe Boyd’s UFO, located in the basement of an Irish pub on Tottenham Court Road. The idea of incorporating a light show Mason attributes to a lecturer from Regent Street Poly, Mike Leonard, whose house in Highgate they all lived in. “Mike thought of himself as one of the band. But we didn’t, because he was too old basically. We used to leave the house to play gigs secretly without telling him.”
Syd permed his hair and they all took to wearing patterned satin-y shirts. By the summer of 1966, Pink Floyd had acquired a couple of young managers, Peter Jenner and Andrew King, and a strong London-based following. “You must never underestimate hown unpopular we were around the rest of England,” Mason insists. “They hated it. They would throw things, pour beer over us. And we were terrible, though we didn’t quite know it. Promoters were always coming up to us and saying, I don’t know why you boys won’t do proper songs. Looking back on it, I can’t think why we persevered.”
Syd was much of the reason. Encouraged by Jenner, he was beginning to write songs which adapted the melodic approach of The Beatles to the harsher sounds and spacey electronic atmospheres that dominated Pink Floyd’s rambling live shows. Early in 1967 EMI signed the band for an advance of 5,000 [pounds], a princely sum by the standards of the day, but less significant than a contract which, for the first time, required the artistes to deliver albums rather than just singles. And whatever they did, Pink Floyd could, for a while, do no wrong. Their Games For May concert at the Festival Hall introduced the world’s first quadrophonic sound system, built for the group by the boffins at EMI. Arnold Layne, See Emily Play, and the first album The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn were all rapturously received.
Six months later, the brightest hopes of the British psychedelic movement were in trouble. Barrett’s fondness for LSD had always been a little worrying, since he wasn’t the most stable character to start with. “You could see the occasional girlfriend with bruises,” one old friend recalls. By the end of 1967 he had been made virtually catatonic through a regime of daily tripping. The Floyd had had to field substitutes before, notably when Dave O’List, the guitarist of The Nice, stepped in to cover for Barrett on a couple of dates during their British tour with Jimi Hendrix. As 1968 came around, the were looking for a full-time replacement. Jeff Beck was considered, but rejected on the grounds that he would be too expensive and couldn’t sing. The only other serious candidate was Dave Gilmour, whose Cambridge-based band Jokers Wild had previously supported the Floyd, at Syd’s request.
The original plan was for the Floyd to continue as a five-piece, on the model of the Beach Boys, with Barrett cast in the roll of Brian Wilson, mainly staying home to write songs. Syd, in his more lucid moments, had other ideas, urging his partners to hire two sax players and a girl singer. [ouch!] By the spring, and after a number of chaotic appearances as a quintet, it became clear that Pink Floyd had a new line up, and that Syd Barrett wasn’t part of it.
“I loved the first album, but I thought the gigs were pretty interminable,” Gilmour recalls. “It was too anarchic. I was all for musicking things up a bit. I definately considered myself a superior musician and I remember thinking that I could knock them into some sort of shape.” The problem was Roger Waters. The pattern of the next 12 years, according to Mason, the band’s resident diplomat, boiled down to “Dave’s desire to make music, versus Roger’s desire to make a show”. In the early stages thought, the relationship was even simpler; it was pure Cambridge: “I was the new boy. Not only that, I was two years younger than the rest of them, and you know how those playground hierarchies carry over. You never catch up. Roger is not a generous spirited person. I was constantly dumped on. And to get my point across I had to make increasingly histrionic, stubborn gestures.”
Wright, who was to become progressively isolated from the other members of Pink Floyd during the 1970s, felt Barrett’s departure more keenly than was ever recognized. As well as losing a musical foil, he lost his only ally in a band which, as Gilmour robustly points out — and he should know — “was never a jolly bunch of friends. Things between the four of us were always pretty rocky”. Long before Waters called for Wright’s resignation in 1979, the two were at loggerheads. They began arguing at college. “We would never have been friends if it weren’t for the band.” As personalities, the two were clearly ill matched. Waters, abrasive and assertive; Wright, sensitive and slightly dithery. In addition, as Peter Jenner points out, “Rick was Roger’s real rival. He was better looking and he had the better voice.” The other non-Cambridge Floyder, Mason, stuck close to Waters, the college friend whose bolshy spirit of independence he, initially anyway, admired.
That left Gilmour, considerably more reasonable than Waters but equally hardheaded. All in all, the discovery that Wright nearly left the band when invited to do so in the spring of 1968 seems hardly surprising. “Peter and Andrew (Jenner and King, Floyd’s managers) thought Syd and I were the musical brains of the group, and that we should form a break-away band, to try to hold Syd together. He and I were living together in a flat in Richmond at the time. And believe me, I would have left with him like a shot if I thought Syd could do it.”
The most telling evidence of the enduring power of Barrett’s charsimatic talent and personality lies in the intense respect he still inspires in his childhood friend, Roger Waters. “Syd was the only person I know who Roger has ever really liked and looked up to,” says Peter Jenner. Long after Waters had stopped talking to the others, and was attempting to claim the credit for most of what Pink Floyd accomplished in the ’70s, he was unstinting in his praise for Barrett. “I could never aspire to Syd’s crazed insights and perceptions,” he told Q in 1987. “In fact for a long time I wouldn’t have dreamt of claiming any insights whatsoever. I’ll always credit Syd with the connection he made between his personal unconscious and the collective group unconscious. It’s taken me fifteen years to get anywhere near there. Even thought he was clearly out of control when making his two solo albums, some of the work is staggeringly evocative. It’s the humanity of it all that’s so impressive. It’s about deeply felt values and beliefs. Maybe that’s what Dark Side Of The Moon was aspiring to. A similar feeling.”
Fables of the reconstruction
Outside, an audience _in extremis_. Inside, strange things are happening. David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright relive the creative ferment of the 12 floyd studio albums.
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Along with Sgt Papper, the Floyd’s debut album was Britain’s enduring contribution to the Summer Of Love. In early 1967 Pink Floyd went into EMI’s Abbey Road studios with a stack of whimsical tunes about gnomes, scarecrows and bikes, psychedelic ditties that bore only a passing resemblance to the protracted spacey jams they were then famous for. Norman Smith, who had engineered for The Beatles, was the producer.
NM (Nick Mason): We were given Norman Smith by EMI, no arguments. So Joe Boyd, our original producer, got written out of the thing. Norman was more interested in making us sound like a classical rock band. It was a bit like the George Martin thing, a useful influence to have. But I think Joe would have given Syd his head, let him run in a freer way. We spent three months recording it, which was quite a long time in those days. Bands used to have to finish albums in a week, with session players brought in to play the difficult bits. But because The Beatles were taking their time recording Sgt Pepper in the studio next door, EMI thought this was the way people now made records. We were taken in to meet them once, while they were recording Lovely Rita. It was a bit like meeting the Royal family.
PJ (former manager Peter Jenner): Norman was being the perfect A&R man. He realised Syd could write great pop songs. If we’d put out what we were playing live, it wouldn’t have sold fuck at all. The one song here that was like the live shows was Interstellar Overdrive. They played it twice, one version recorded straight on top of the other. They doubletracked the whole track. Why? Well it sounds pretty fucking weird doesn’t it? That big sound and all those hammering drums.
A Saucerful of Secrets
Pink Floyd Mark 1 was already on the skids by early 1968 when work began on their second album. During the course of the recording Syd Barrett was eased aside in favour of the new boy, Dave Gilmour. Incorrectly sensing the end, managers Peter Jenner and Andrew King jumped ship.
PJ: It was really stressful waiting for Syd to come up with the songs for the second album. Everybody was looking at him, and he couldn’t do it. Jugband Blues is a really sad song, the portrait of a nervous breakdown. The last Floyd song Syd wrote, Vegetable Man, was done for those sessions, though it never came out. He wrote it round at my house; it’s just a description of what he’s wearing. It’s very disturbing. Roger took it off the album because it was too dark, and it is. It’s like psychological flashing.
RW (Rick Wright): I did the title track and I remember Norman saying, You just can’t do this, it’s too long. You have to write three-minute songs. We were pretty cocky by now and told him, If you don’t wanna produce it, just go away. A good attitude I think. The same reason why we’d never play See Emily Play in concert.
DG (David Gilmour): I remember Nick and Roger drawing out A Saucerful of Secrets as an architectural diagram, in dynamic forms rather than in any sort of musical form, with peaks and troughs. That’s what is was about. It wasn’t music for beauty’s sake, or for emotion’s sake. It never had a story line. Though for years afterwards we used to get letters from people saying what they thought it meant. Scripts for movies sometimes, too.
A 1969 double album of transitional character, Ummagumma was half live recordings, half individual solo pieces. The Hypgnosis-designed cover was more striking than much of the music, which mainly noodles inconsequentially along, coming to life only on the spooky, lights-out classic Careful With That Axe, Eugene, the first of many Floyd tracks about insanity.
NM (Nick Mason): This was absolutely not a band album. The live stuff sounds incredibly antiquated now, although the fact of Pink Floyd playing at Mothers in Birmingham was considered a bit of an event at the time. We were looking for new ways of constructing an album, although I think what this demonstrates is that our sum is always better than the parts. EMI was very hidebound in those days. It was still run by guys in white coats. I was prevented from editing my own tapes by a studio manager who told me I wasn’t a union member.
DG: I’d never written anything before. I just went into the studio and started waffling about, tacking bits and pieces together. I rang up Roger at one point to ask him to write me some lyrics. He just said, No.
Atom Heart Mother
Up to their ears in avant-garde experimental ideas, the Floyd teamed up with the electronic composer Ron Geesin to create the 23-minute title piece which fills all of Side 1. The album’s title was randomly taken from a newspaper headline. By now the group were producing themselves.
NM: It’s an averagely recorded album but a very interesting idea, working with Ron Geesin, an orchestra and the Roger Aldiss choir. Roger and I were quite friendly with Ron. I think I met him through Robert Wyatt. The thing that Ron taught us most about was recording techniques, and tricks done on the cheap. We learned how to get round the men-in-white-coats and do things at home, like editing. Ron taught us how to use two tape recorders to create an endless build up of echo. It was all very relevant to things we did later. Now I listen to it with acute embarrassment because the backing track was put down by Roger and me, beginning to end, in one pass. Consequently the tempo goes up and down. It was a 20-minute piece and we just staggered through it.
On the other side, Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast was another great idea — gas fires popping, kettles boiling, that didn’t really work on record but was great fun live. I’ve never heard Roger lay claim to it, which makes me think it must have been a group idea.
DG: At the time we felt Atom Heart Mother, like Ummagumma, was step towards something or other. Now I think they were both just a blundering about in the dark.
This was the album which streamlined and established the hallmark of the Floyd’s mature style: a dense and colourful weave of actuality sounds (notably the football chant on Fearless) original electronic textures, and more conventional rock instrumentation. It was recorded at Abbey Road and at Air London in 1971.
DG: We did loads of bits of demos which we then pieced together, and for the first time, it worked. This album was a clear forerunner for Dark Side Of The Moon, the point when we first got our focus.
NM: We spent a long time starting the record. We’d worked through the Sounds Of Household Objects project, which we never finished. The idea was always to create a continuous piece of music that went through various moods and this was the album that established that. Rick was the guy who got it off the ground with that one note at the beginning.
RW: I was playing around on the piano in the studio but it was actually Roger who said, Would it be possible to put that note through a microphone and then through the Leslie? That’s what started it. That’s how all the best Floyd tracks start, I believe.
Dark Side of The Moon
The future began here. Recorded at Abbey Road on the new 16-track desk, seamlessly constructed and employing a thematic ‘concept’ to link the songs, Dark Side was the album which swiftly projected the Floyd from cult band to cornerstones of rock culture. A Quadrophonic mix by Alan Parsons, authorised by EMI and launched at the London Planetarium, caused a rumpus, with the band refusing to attend. This aside, the album was a huge success, and is still their biggest in commercial terms, with 28m copies sold worldwide.
NM: Dark Side started as a sequence called Eclipse. Most of it was developed in rehearsals for live shows, and we played it live at the Rainbow in London and opened shows with it in America in 1972. The concept grew out of group discussions about the pressures of real life, like travel or money, but then Roger broadened it into a meditation on the causes of insanity. The linkinhg of all the sounds and the voices was very well done, I think, and we introduced an early synthesizer, the DCS3 [VCS3???], right at the end. The recording was lengthly but not fraught, not agonised over at all. We were working really well as a band, But it wasn’t only the music that made it such a success. EMI/Capitol had cleaned up their act in America. They put money behind promoting us for the first time. And that changed everything.
DG: The big difference for me with this album was the fact that we’d played it live before we recorded it. You could’t do that now of course, you’d be bootlegged out of existence. But when we went into the studio we all knew the material. The playing was very good. It had a natural feel. And it was a bloody good package. The music, the concept, the cover, all came together. For me it was the first time we’d had great lyrics. The others were satisfactory, or perfunctory or just plain bad. On Dark Side, Roger decided he didn’t want anyone else writing lyrics.
Wish You Were Here
The starkly elegiac mood of this album is in striking contrast to the more dispassionate brooding of its predecessor. By 1975, Roger was missing Syd; the busines was getting to him (“And by the way, which one’s Pink?” from Welcome To The Machine [NOT! from Have a Cigar!] was an actual quote by an American record exec). The album also shows Gilmour making his strongest individual contribution yet, with several fine extended guitar solos and some of the most heartfelt vocals the Floyd have ever committed to disc.
DG: After Dark Side we were really floundering around. I wanted to make the next album more musical, because I felt some of thse tracks had been just vehicles for the words. We were working in 1974 in this horrible little rehearsal room in Kings Cross without windows, putting together what became the next two albums. There were three long tracks, including Shine On You Crazy Diamond, which I wanted to record, and Roger said, No, let’s take Shine On, divide it into two, and put in other material around the same theme. And he was right, I was wrong.
RW: The whole album sprang from that one four-note guitar phrase of Dave’s in Shine On. We heard it went, That’s a really nice phrase. The wine came out, and that led to what I think is our best album, the most colourful, the most feelingful. Shine On was in the process of being recorded, the lyrics about Syd were written. I walked into the studio at Abbey Road, Roger was sitting, mixing at the desk, and I saw this big bald guy sitting on the couch behind. About 16 stone. And I didn’t think anything of it. In those days it was quite normal for strangers to wander into our sessions. Then Roger said, You don’t know who that guy is, do you? It’s Syd. It was a huge shock, because I hadn’t seen him for about six years. He kept standing up and brushing his teeth, putting his toothbrush away and sitting down. Then at one point he stood up and said, Right, when do I put the guitar on? And of course he didn’t have a guitar with him. And we said, Sorry Syd, the guitar’s all done.”
NM: This was much a more difficult record to make. Roger was getting crosser. We were all getting older. We had children. There was much more drama between us, people turning up to the studio late, which we generally hate. There was more pressure on me to make the drumming more accurate and less flowery. But I think as an album it flows really well. It’s like a descedant of Meddle in terms of the use of repeating themes, and the pacing.
The concept belonged to Waters, but two of the four beasts here had been heard before under different names: Sheep was a re-working of Raving And Drooling. Dogs was a makeover of You Gotta Be Crazy. Waters and Gilmour were beginning to tussle for control, sharing production credits and engaging in a lengthy wrangle over the album’s publishing royalties which wasn’t settled for 10 years.
NM: This was a bit of a return to the group feel, quite a cheerful session as I remember. We did it in our own studio, which we’d just built. By now Roger was in full flow with the ideas, but he was also really kepping Dave down, and frustrating him deliberately.
RW: I didn’t like a lot of the writing on Animals, but unfortunately I didn’t have anything to offer. I think I played well but I remember feeling not very happy or creative, partly because of problems with my marriage. This was the beginning of my writer’s block.
DG: On Animals I was the prime musical force. Roger was the motivator and lyric writer.
The loss of 2m [pounds] in investments led the band into tax exile in the South Of France in 1978, to record a double concept album whih proved to be their Rogerest project yet. While there, the Pink Floyd Mark 2 partnership finally started to dissolve.
DG: I still think some of the music is incredibly naff, but The Wall is conceptually brilliant. At the time I thought it was Roger listing all the things that can turn a person into an isolated human being. I came to see it as as one of the luckiest people in the world issuing a catalogue of abuse and bile against people who’d never done anything to him. Roger was taking more and more of the credits. In the songbook for this album against Comfortably Numb it says Music by Gilmour and Waters. It shouldn’t. He did the lyrics. I did the music. I kept finding hundreds of little things like that. Shouldn’t bitch, but one does feel unjustly done.
NM: The recording was very tense, mainly because Roger was starting to go a bit mad. This was the record when he fell out badly with Rick. Rick has a natural style, a very specific piano style, but he doesn’t come up with pieces easily, or to order. Which is a problem when other people are worrying about who did what and who should get the credit. There was even talk of Roger and Dave elbowing me out and carrying on as a duo. There were points during The Wall when Roger and Dave were really carrying the thing. Rick was useless, and I wasn’t very much help to anyone either.
DG: Generally Nick worked hard and played well on The Wall. He even worked out a way of reading music for the drums. But there was one track called Mother which he really didn’t get. So I hired Jeff Porcaro to do it. And Roger latched on to this idea, the way he always did with my ideas, and began to think, is Nick really necessary?
RW: Roger came up with the whole album on a demo, which everyone felt was potentially very good but musically very weak. Very weak indeed. Bob [Ezrin], Dave and myself worked on it to make it more interesting. But Roger was going through a big ego thing at the time, saying that I wasn’t putting enough in, although he was making it impossible for me to do anything. The crunch came when we all went off on holiday towards the end of the recording. A week before the holiday was up I got a call from Roger in America, saying come over immediately. Then there was this band meeting in which Roger told me he wanted me to leave the band. At first I refused. So Roger stood up and said that if I didn’t agree to leave after the album was finished, he would walk out then and there and take the tapes with him. There would be no album, and no money to pay off our huge debts. So I agreed to go. I had two young kids to support. I was terrified. Now I think I made a mistake. It was Roger’s bluff. But I really didn’t want to work with this guy anymore.
DG: We had a studio in the south of France where Rick was staying. There rest of us had rented houses 20 miles away. We’d all go home at night, and we’d say to Rick, Do what you like, here all these tracks, write something, play a solo, put some stuff down. You’ve got all evening every evening to do it. All the time we were there, which was several months, he did nothing. He just wasn’t capable of playing anything.
The Final Cut
The closest thing to a Roger Waters solo album that ever went out under the name of Pink Floyd. The material had been written for The Wall and rejected at the time by the rest of the group. Now effectively reduced to a duo of Waters and Gilmour, the sessions featured long arguments between the two which resulted in Gilmour removing his name from the production credits.
DG: I said to Roger, If these songs weren’t good enough for The Wall, why are they good enough for now? We had the most awful time of my life. Roger had got Rick out, Nick wasn’t around much and now he was starting on me. A most unpleasant and humiliating experience.
A Momentary Lapse of Reason
After the departure of Waters in 1985 and a tense period of well-published wrangling over rights to the group name, Gilmour began to put together a new Pink Floyd album in 1987 using the American producer of The Wall, Bob Ezrin, and working on songs with a squad of assistants, including Phil Manzanera. Like its predecessor, A Momentary Lapse Of Reason eventually turned out to be a solo album in all but name.
DG: Both Nick and Rick were catatonic in terms of their playing ability at the beginning. Neither of them played on this at all really. In my view, they’d been destroyed by Roger. Nick played a few tom-toms on one track, but for the rest I had to get in other drummers. Rick played some tiny little parts. For a lot of it, I played the keyboards and pretended it was him. The record was basically made by me, and other people and God knows what. I didn’t think it was the best Pink Floyd album ever made, but I gave it the best damn shot I could.
NM: Dave was under a lot of pressure to come up with songs and he looked for help where he could find it. It was fun recording on the boat (Gilmour’s floating studio at Hampton-on-Thames) but then we went to America and hired all these sessions musicians who could knock things off quickly. At the time it seemed like a reasonable route to go but that was quite alarming for me.
RW: I wasn’t a member of the band. By now they didn’t know me. We hadn’t played together for years. I was paid a wage on the sessions. I did get royalties on the album. Not as many as Dave and Nick though.
Delicate Sound of Thunder
Only the second live album of their career, and one that features eight musicians in addition to the three Floydian principals, this document of the Floyd’s longest ever tour was recorded in various European stadia in August 1988.
DG: At the beginning of the Momentary Lapse Of Reason tour Gary Wallis was playing all the drums, because Nick couldn’t, and I got Jon Carin to play the keyboards, because he can do Rick Wright better than Rick Wright can. But then I encouraged them both, and by the end of the first three-month leg Nick and Rick were playing great. Their confidence was restored. That tour brought them back to being functioning musicians. Or you could say I did.
The Division Bell
The brand new back-to-basics album, which took a year to record on and off Gilmour’s boat, painstakingly attempts to re-constitute the group as something more than a one-man brand name with a famous repertoire. While not breaking any significant new ground musically, the sound here is more cohesive and delicately textured than anything the Floyd have recorded since the glory days of the 1970s. The tone is quieter, the guitar playing features Gilmour in lyrical, rather than screaming, mode. Wright, now a junior partner rather than paid employee, is heard more clearly here than he has been for the last 15 years. Gilmour’s search for a lyricist has ended for the time being, with many tracks co-written by his new-ish girlfriend, journalist Polly Samson. Bob Ezrin has again helped out with the production.
NM: There’s more of the feel of Meddle here than anything else. This started as a group album, with the three of us spending a fortnight together just jamming. We put down over 40 sketches in two weeks, then things moved on. Some of those initial ideas might actually end up on a satellite album. [Yes! Yes!]
RW: I’ve written on it. I’m singing on it. I think it’s a much better album than the last one. it’s got more of the old Floydian feel. I think we could have gone further, but we are now operating as a band. Only Nick has played the drums, and my Hammond organ is back on most tracks.
DG: On this album both Nick and Rick are playing all the stuff that they should be playing. Which is why it sounds much more like a genuine Pink Floyd record to me than anything since Wish You Were Here. It has a sort of theme about non-communication, but we’re not trying to bash anybody over the head with it. We went out last time with the intention of showing the world, Look we’re still here, which is why we were so loud and crash bang-y. This is a much more reflective album.
No man’s land
The Pink Floyd were on course for psychedelic pop stardom until their frail visionary fell in with “some heavy, loony, messianic, acid missionaries.” After that he was being locked in the linen cupboard.
DG: I noticed it around the time the Floyd were recording See Emily Play. Syd was still functioning OK then, but he definately wasn’t the person I knew. He looked through you. He wasn’t quite there.
RW: We were supposed to do a session for the BBC one Friday, and Syd didn’t turn up. Nobody could find him. He went missing for the whole weekend and when he reappeared again on the Monday, he was a totally different person.
JB (June Bolan): [Blackhill Ents’ secretary, later Mrs Marc Bolan] I went through all Syd’s acid breakdowns. He used to come round to my house at five in the morning covered in mud from Holland Park when he’d freaked out and the police chased him. He used to go to the youth hostel in Holland Park, get wrecked and spaced and walk to Shepherd’s Bush where I was living.
JM (John Marsh) [Floyd lighting man]: He lived for a time in a flat in the Cromwell Road with various characters, acid-in-the-reservoir, change-the-face- of-the-world acid missionaries. Everyone knew that if you went round to see Syd, never have a cup of tea, never take a glass of water unless you got it yourself from the tap, because everything in that flat was spiked.
PJ: 101 Cromwell Road was the catastrophic flat where Syd got acided out. He had one of our cats and they even gave the cats acid. I don’t think they were evil geniuses deliberately trying to fuck with Syd’s mind, they were just heavy, loony messianic acid freaks. As soon as we realised what was going on we moved him out of Cromwell Road into a flat in South Ken, where he lived with Storm and Po (Thorgerson and Powell, Hypgnosis), but by then it was too late.
JB: One of the last British gigs Syd played with Floyd was the Technicolor Dream at Ally Pally. First of all we couldn’t find Syd, then I found him in the dressing room and we was so gone. I kept saying, Syd, It’s June. Look at me. Roger Waters and I got him on his feet, got him out to the stage. We put the white Stratocaster round his neck and he walked on stage and of course the audience went spare because they loved him. The band started to play and Syd stood there, he just stood there, tripping out of his mind. They did three, maybe four numbers and we got him off. He couldn’t stand up for a set, let alone do anything else.
NM: Syd went mad on the first American tour in the Autumn of ’67. He didn’t know where he was most of the time. I remember he de-tuned his guitar on stage at Venice, LA, and just stood there rattling the strings, which was a bit weird, even for us. Another time he emptied a can of Brylcream on his head because he said he didn’t like his curly hair.
JM: Some A&R man was taking them around Hollywood for the classic tour of stars’ homes, and Syd’s wandering around the place, wide-eyed, and reckless. Gee, he says. It’s great to be in Las Vegas.
JMe (Jonathan Meades) [then a RADA student, now author and restaurant critic]: In late ’67 Syd Barrett and some other people, one of whom I knew, lived in Egerton Court, a mansion block opposite South Ken tube station. I went there at the time when Syd had either just left the band or was ready for the final heave-ho. Syd was certainly the crazy of the party and one got the impression that he was also rather disliked. There was this terrible noise. It sounded like heating pipes shaking. I said, What’s that? and my friend sort of giggled and said, That’s Syd having a bad trip. We put him in the linen cupboard.
RW: We ended up living together in a flat in Richmond in early ’68. The five- man band idea really wasn’t working out, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to tell him. So when I went off to play gigs, I’d tell Syd I was going out to get cigarettes. It was awful.
JF (Jenny Fabian) [starfucker author of Groupie]: Syd was so beautiful, though I only ever lay beside him, nothing more could be accomplished. I only hung around him for two or three weeks just before he flipped. Years later I found him again, living in a room in a flat in Earls Court. He was sitting in a corner on a mattress and he’d painted every other floodboard alternate colours, red and green. [Cover of Madcap??] He boiled an egg in a kettle and ate it. And he listened over and over again to Beach Boys tapes, which I found a bit distressing. He was still exactly the same, only now he was Syd Barrett the has-been rather than Syd Barrett the star.
NM: Whether it was attributable to bad acid, bad trips, I don’t know. I actually think there was some sort of damage there to start with.
PJ: It was his latent madness which gave him his creativity. The acid brought out the creativity, but more important, it brought out the madness, and the darkness in his personality. The creativity was there, smoking dope was enough to get it going. What happened was catastrophic. All his talent came out in this great flood; then it burnt out.
The manager’s tale
The first edition of Pink Floyd was a six-way partnership, a vital piece of which was Peter Jenner. But when Syd left, he jumped ship.
I remember seeing them for the first time at the Marquee in 1966 and being fascinated because I couldn’t work out where the music was coming from. It was basically blues, like Louie Louie or Bo Didley numbers, with weird breaks. They weren’t blues solos. Some were on the guitar, some on the organ, some on both, but you didn’t really know what they were. Sort of psychedelic waffle. At the time I wanted to do this hippy label with Joe Boyd, who was then with Elektra UK, the idea being to put out avant-garde anything. And I realised that to make the label work we needed a pop band, because they could sell records.
They were the sort of chaps I could relate to, being another middle- class boy. I’d spent some time with Eric Clapton before them, and that wasn’t so easy. The Floyd all came from comfortable backgrounds. I remember being amazingly impressed that Nick Mason’s parents had a swimming pool. He didn’t care about money, none of them did really; and it’s always to deal with people who aren’t bothered about money.
And like all middle-class boys, they were all run by their women. Especially Roger. Under the influence of Jude, who was ‘Trot’, he began giving his money away. With Carolyn [his wife], it got into a very American rock story thing, with helicoptors, nannies and the south of France.
My main contribution at the time was to tell them to do more of their own material. Also Andrew [King] and I built their first light show. It was very crude, with domestic light switches.
None of them did drugs when I met them, except Syd, and he would only smoke dope. Then with the Summer Of Love and all that bollocks, Syd got very enthusiastic about acid, and got into the religious aspect of it, which I never did. The others were very straight. They were much more into half-a-pint of bitter than they were into drugs. One of the reasons I got on with Syd was because he and I used to smoke a lot of pot together. Rick would take a puff now and again, but Roger and Nick would never go near it. Syd was very much the artist, while the other two were the architects, and I think that’s an important way of looking at what happened. Syd did this wild, impossible drawing, and they turned it into the Pink Floyd.
The strongest image I always have of Syd is of him sitting in his flat in Earlham Street with his guitar and his book of songs, which he represented by paintings with different coloured circles. I was an immense Syd fan. You’d go round to Syd and you’d see him write a song. It just poured out. He wrote all those songs in a two-year period.
You could talk to Roger about all kinds of things. Roger was argumentative, the one in the group I was least friendly with, but had most respect for as a businessman. He was this giant ego striding across the landscape. He was the one who had the courage to drive Syd out, because he realised that as long as Syd was in the band they couldn’t keep it together. The chaos factor was too great. Roger looked up to Syd and he always felt very guilty about the fact that he’d blown out his mate.
Rick was the strongest musician, he would tell the others which harmonies to sing but he didn’t have the force of character, he was quite fragile, a very shy, private person. Fame was very hard for him to deal with. They were overnight successes. We started in the Summer of 1966 and by Christmas they’d had a double-page spread in the Melody Maker and a big feature in Queen by Nik Colin without even having a record out. All the records were hits. In business terms, it was incredibly easy. I knew the band were breaking when I came up to the UFO Club and seeing all these kids flooding round the corner with their gear and their bells jingling.
The gig I most remember was the 24-hour Technicolour Dream concert at Alexandra Palace. We’d got back from Holland the same night, I was driving the van, and Syd and I were both doing acid. The band played at dawn with all the light coming through the glass at the Palace, the high point of the psychedelic era for me.
When the rest of the band said, You don’t think we can do it without Syd do you?, well I didn’t. I couldn’t see them doing it with Roger, and I didn’t really know Dave. I just knew him as really good guitar player who could do Jimi Hendrix. The idea that Roger was going to write the songs and sing them would have made me collapse with laughter, though I might have put money on Rick as the leader. And I’m happy to admit I was absolutely wrong.
Andrew and I have always been very well taken care of by the Floyd ever since. We originally had a six-way partnership, which they have never queried. They’re incredibly honourable. The Floyd’s yearly royalty cheques have kept the wolf from the door on many occasions.