by Brian Currin, 1999, updated 2002
The journey from R&B cover band to globe-straddling megastars has not been an easy one for Pink Floyd. The myths and the madness have taken their toll in various ways, but the music has always been majestic and mind-blowing.
THE EARLY YEARS
Roger Keith 'Syd' Barrett (born 6 January 1946, Cambridge, England; guitar/vocals), Roger Waters (born 9 September 1944, Cambridge, England; bass/vocals) and David Gilmour (born 6 March 1944, Cambridge, England; guitar/vocals) were pupils and friends at Cambridge High School. Barrett and Gilmour undertook a busking tour of Europe prior to Barrett's enrollment at the Camberwell School Of Art in London. Waters was meanwhile studying architecture at the city's Regent Street Polytechnic. Roger formed Sigma 6 in 1965, with fellow students Nicholas 'Nick' Mason (born 27 January 1945, Birmingham, England; drums) and Richard 'Rick' Wright (born 28 July 1945, London, England; keyboards). This early line-up included bassist Clive Metcalfe with Keith Noble and Juliette Gale (who later married Wright) on vocals. The group took a variety of names, including the T-Set (NOT of "Ma Belle Amie" fame), the Meggadeaths (I wonder if Dave Mustaine knows about this?) and the Abdabs (sometimes known as the Screaming Abdabs).
The nucleus of Waters, Wright and Mason brought in some new talent, jazz guitarist Bob Close and Syd Barrett. Barrett's blend of blues, pop and mysticism was at odds with Close's traditional
outlook and the Abdabs fell apart at the end of 1965. Almost immediately Barrett, Waters, Mason and Wright reconvened as the Pink Floyd Sound, a name Syd had suggested, inspired by an album by ancient Georgia bluesmen Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
Pink Floyd (having dropped the "Sound" from their name) attracted notoriety as part of the counterculture scene centred
on the London Free School. This self-help organisation inspired the founding of Britain's first alternative publication, International Times. The paper was launched at the Roundhouse on 15
October 1966; it was here Pink Floyd made its major debut.
By December the group was appearing regularly at the UFO Club, spearheading Britain's psychedelic movement with extended,
improvised sets and a highly visual lightshow. In comparision the band's singles were short slices of pop psychedelia from the mind of Syd Barrett, featuring his quirky melodies and lyrics.
'Arnold Layne', a tale of a transvestite who steals ladies' clothes from washing lines, escaped a BBC ban to rise into the UK Top 20. 'See Emily Play', originally entitled 'Games For
May' in honour of an event the group hosted at Queen Elizabeth Hall, reached UK #6 in June 1967. It was succeeded by THE PIPER AT THE GATES OF DAWN, which encapsulated Britain's "Summer of
Love". Largely Barrett-penned, the set combined childlike fantasy with experimentation, where whimsical pop songs nestled beside riff-laden sorties, notably the lengthy and powerful
'Interstellar Overdrive'. 'See Emily Play' was only released on an album on the US version of PIPER.
Chart success begat package tours which, when combined with a disastrous US tour,
wrought unbearable pressure on Barrett's fragile psyche. His indulgence in hallucinogenic drugs exacerbated such problems and he often proved near-comatose on stage and incoherent with
interviewers. His colleagues, fearful for their friend and sensing a possible end to the band, brought Dave Gilmour into the line-up in February 1968. Plans for Syd to maintain a backroom role,
writing for the group but not touring, came to naught and his departure was announced the following April. He subsequently followed a captivating, but short-lived, solo career.
SECRETS AND SOUNDTRACKS
Although bereft of their principal songwriter, Pink Floyd completed A SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS. It featured two pieces destined to become an integral part of their live
concerts, the title track itself and 'Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun'. Non-album singles 'It Would Be So Nice' (a rare Wright original) and 'Point Me At The Sky' were also
issued; their failure prompted the group to avoid the single format for 11 years. A film soundtrack, MORE, allowed Waters to flex compositional muscles, while the part-live, part-studio
UMMAGUMMA, although dated and self-indulgent by today's standards, was at the vanguard of progressive space-rock in 1969.
3 new recordings appeared in March 1970 on the ZABRISKIE
POINT soundtrack, a hippy-flick from Michaelangelo Antonioni, alongside tracks by The Grateful Dead and Patti Page (yes, really). ATOM HEART MOTHER was a brave, if flawed, experiment, partially
written with avant-garde composer Ron Geesin. Roger and Ron also collaborated on MUSIC FROM THE BODY, a bizarre soundtrack album for the film "The Body". The music on MEDDLE contained
some classic pieces, notably 'One Of These Days' and the epic side-long 'Echoes', but was again marred by inconsistency. February 1972 saw Pink Floyd premiering a new live piece, titled
'Eclipse' or 'Dark Side Of The Moon', but this was not their next album. OBSCURED BY CLOUDS, another hippy-flick soundtrack, was recorded for the film "The Valley" directed by Barbet
Schroeder, who also directed "More".
THE GLORY YEARS
Pink Floyd finally exploded in March 1973 with DARK SIDE OF THE MOON. It marked the arrival of Waters as an important
lyricist and Gilmour as a guitar hero. Brilliantly produced, the album became one of the biggest-selling records of all time. Alan Parsons was the engineer on this masterpiece of sonic
brilliance. Sound effects, stereo imaging, voice-overs and hidden snippets encouraged the listener to immerse himself in this epic album of alienation and paranoia. Its astonishing run on the
Billboard chart spanned over a decade and at last the group had rid itself of the spectre of the Barrett era. Perhaps with this in mind, a moving eulogy to their former member, 'Shine On You
Crazy Diamond', was one of the highpoints of WISH YOU WERE HERE. However it was with ANIMALS that tension within the band leaked into the public arena. Two of its tracks, 'Sheep' and 'Dogs', were
reworkings of older live material and, as one of the world's most successful bands, Pink Floyd were cited as one of the dinosaurs that sparked the 1977 punk movement.
At the end of the
year, almost as a backlash, Nick Mason produced The Damned's MUSIC FOR PLEASURE. Wright and Gilmour both released solo albums in 1978 as rumours of a break-up abounded. In 1979, however, the
group unleashed THE WALL, a Waters-dominated epic that has now become second only to DARK SIDE OF THE MOON in terms of sales. A subtly screened autobiographical journey, THE WALL allowed the bassist to vent his anger and scorn on a succession of establishment talismen. It contained the anti-educational system diatribe, 'Another Brick In The Wall', which not only
restored the group to the British singles chart, but provided them with their sole number 1 hit. A film followed in 1982, starring Bob Geldof as Pink, and featuring ground-breaking animation by
Gerald Scarfe, who designed the album jacket.
AFTER THE WALL
The success of THE WALL did nothing to ease Pink Floyd's internal hostility. Considered by many to actually be the
"first" Roger Water's solo album, THE FINAL CUT was a stark, humourless set that Waters totally dominated. The following year Waters began a high-profile but commercially moribund solo
career. Mason and Gilmour also issued solo albums (Wright completed his in 1978), but none of these releases came close to the success of their former group. Waters released THE PROS AND CONS OF HITCH-HIKING, RADIO KAOS and contributed to the WHEN THE WIND BLOWS soundtrack.
In 1987 Mason and Gilmour decided to resume work together under the Pink Floyd banner; Rick
Wright also returned, albeit as a salaried member. Waters instigated an injunction, which was over-ruled, allowing temporary use of the name. A MOMENTARY LAPSE OF REASON, sounded more like a Pink Floyd album than its sombre "predecessor," despite the muted input of Wright and Mason. Instead Gilmour relied on session musicians, including Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music. A massive
world tour began in September that year, culminating 12 months and 200 concerts later. A live set, DELICATE SOUND OF THUNDER, followed in its wake but, more important, the rigours of touring
rekindled Wright and Mason's confidence. Roger Waters led an all-star cast (Van Morrison, Bryan Adams, Cyndi Lauper, amongst others) for an extravagant adaptation of THE WALL, performed live on
the remains of the Berlin Wall in 1990. Despite international television coverage, the show failed to re-ignite his fortunes. In 1994 his former colleagues released THE DIVISION BELL, an
accomplished set that may yet enter the Pink Floyd lexicon as one of their finest achievements.
Waters released his AMUSED TO DEATH album with inspired guitar-work from Jeff Beck. With Wright a
full-time member again and Mason on sparkling form, Pink Floyd embarked on another lengthy tour, judiciously balancing old and new material. The band also showcased their most spectacular
lightshow to date during these performances. The 2CD set PULSE cashed in on the success of the tours and was a perfectly recorded live album. The album, which featured a full-length live version
of DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, achieved number 1 status in both the US and UK. A limited edition of only 2 million copies (how many bands would love to say that?) featured a flashing LED on the very unique packaging.
Pink Floyd have a huge and ever-increasing fanbase, a great number of whom were born after DARK SIDE OF THE MOON and are unaware that Syd Barrett was ever a member. Pink Floyd has always been bigger than the individuals that created it and those that continue to nurture it. The legend lives on and on...
Postscript (March 2002): Roger Waters started his "In The Flesh 2002" world tour in Cape Town on the 27th February. Meanwhile Dave Gilmour admits, in the February 2002 issue of Classic Rock magazine, that he finds it difficult to get into a Pink Floyd frame of mind these days.
Written by Brian Currin and originally published on the Images Of Rock website in 1999.
- The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967)
slightly different track listing in US and UK - US version includes 'See Emily Play', for example
- A Saucerful Of Secrets (1968)
- More (1969) soundtrack
- Ummagumma (1969) half-studio/ half-live
- Zabriskie Point - Various Artists (1970) soundtrack featuring 3 rare Pink Floyd tracks
- The Best Of Pink Floyd (US-only compilation) (1970)
- Atom Heart Mother (1970)
- Relics (compilation of rarities) (1971)
- Meddle (1971)
- Obscured By Clouds (1972) soundtrack for 'The Valley'
- The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973)
- A Nice Pair (1974) 'Piper' and 'Saucerful' repackaged
- Masters Of Rock Volume 1 (1974) Europe-only, same as 'The Best Of Pink Floyd' from 1970
- Wish You Were Here (1975)
- Animals (1977) 8-track version is slightly different, more here...
- The Wall (1979)
- A Collection Of Great Dance Songs (compilation) (1981)
- The Other Side Of The Wall South Africa-only re-packaging of 'Wish' & 'Animals' (1982)
- The Final Cut (1983)
- Works (US-only compilation) (1983)
- A Momentary Lapse Of Reason (1987)
- Delicate Sound Of Thunder (Live) (1988)
- Shine On (9CD Box Set) (1992)
- The Early Singles (1992) only available as part of 'Shine On' box set
- A CD Full Of Secrets (compilation) (1992) radio only promo disc
- The Division Bell (1994)
- Pulse (Live) (1995)
- London '66-'67 (1995) mini-album with 2 long & rare tracks from 1967
- Zabriskie Point - Various Artists (1997) 2CD re-issue now featuring 7 rare Pink Floyd tracks
- Is There Anybody Out There? - The Wall Live 1980/81 (2000)
- Echoes - The Best Of Pink Floyd (November 2001)
- Music From The Body (with Ron Geesin) (1970)
- Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking (1984)
- When The Wind Blows - Various Artists (soundtrack, half of album by Roger Waters) (1986)
- Radio KAOS (1987)
- The Wall Live In Berlin (1990) with various guests
- Amused To Death (1992)
- In The Flesh (Live) (2000)
- Flickering Flame - The Solo Years Volume 1 
These CDs are part of my series of imaginary compilations, where official CDs are non-existent or inadequate in my opinion.
This website is part of the
South African Rock Encyclopedia.