Pink Floyd Biography
At the gates of dawn (1965-1968)
Just like Liverpool
was indissolubly wedded to the beginnings of The Beatles, Pink Floyd
have their roots in Cambridge. Three of them were born in Cambridge and
went to school there. These boys went fishing and bathing to river Cam,
learned to play guitar (Grandchester Meadows), and perhaps listened to
the Ely cathedral bells... The best childhood one could ask for.
The history of the band began a bit later in a melting pot of swing
and rock'n'roll - the 1960's Swinging London. In the age of love, drugs
and art, London became the home of many young bands. Most of them never
got any further from garages and gyms. The luckier ones were happy to
play a few covers in one of the underground clubs. The government was
considered progressive, it was an age of economic growth and the overall
atmosphere of the times was very relaxed.
Three young students of architecture, Nick Mason, Roger Waters and
Rick Wright were soon drawn into the maelstrom, when they started a band
called Sigma 6, which was quite untypical for the time and age. Waters
played the solo guitar, Wright played the backing guitar and Mason was
the drummer, while none of them was very good at playing his instrument.
Bass guitarist Clive Metcalf, singer Juliett Gale and singer Ken
Chapman were part of the band as well. Chapman was the leading figure of
the band then, bringing his own (slightly extravagant) repertoire and
promoting the band. As time went by, Waters became intolerant to his
extravagance and Chapmant left the band. The band then changed its name
to T-Set, sometimes Tea-set, then Megadeaths, Architectural Abdabs,
Screaming Abdabs or just Abdabs. Waters moved to Mason's flat and soon
after two more guys moved in, who insisted to play with the Abdabs. The
first one was Bob Klose, the other was a very extravagant hippie keen on
everything - Roger Keith "Syd" Barrett. After a five-minute talking
they both became part of the band.
Syd was not a guitar virtuoso, but he had a sense of improvisation.
Soon he became the lead guitarist of the band, Waters played the rhythm
guitar for a while, just to become the bass guitarist and fear becoming
the drummer for the next few months. Rick Wright began to play the
keyboards, having taken a few lessons of piano, and Bob Klose tried to
join Syd on the guitar. But Syd liked neither the name nor the style of
the band. There were hundreds of bands that played covers of old
evergreens and Syd did not take up with being one of a lot. So he
decided to "play something like blues, but in a different way -
alternative!" That resulted in something hard to describe. Blues and
jazz were still the basis, but Syd would often unpredictably start to
improvise. He experimented with his guitar, used a lighter, beat the
strings with his fist, rubbed the strings against the microphone stand
(like Gilmour did years later). Syd's style became known as the
"glissando guitar." Syd also suggested a new, slightly mysterious name
for the band - The Pink Floyd Sound, after Pink Anderson and Floyd
Council, two American bluesmen from Georgia.
One of the most important thinks to Pink Floyd was the alternative,
progressive Marquee club, where they would often play in the beginnings.
Soon they became the resident band of the club. Marquee is where their
first manager, Peter Jenner, first met Pink Floyd. Jenner is said to
have been impressed by Syd's free improvising and "not being sure, what
instruments he heard" during the instrumental parts. It was the
extravagance, not exclusively musical, that made Bob Klose, a calm,
precise guitarist, leave the band and let Syd become the leader. The
Pink Floyd Sound then enjoyed a great success with their first single,
Arnold Layne. The song told a (true) story of a guy who found pleasure
in stealing women's underwear from clotheslines in the neighbourhood.
The single made it to the 28th position of the British chart and the
recording industry became aware of the existence of the band. The
success of the following singles (most dominantly See Emily Play,)
helped Pink Floyd get signed to EMI and record their first LP named
Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. The name, lyrical themes and overall
atmosphere of the record were heavily influenced by Kenneth Grahame's
The Wind In The Willows, a classic of children's literature (and of
course, the "fairytale" age and place the record was made.) At the same
studios at Abbey Road The Beatles were making their famous Sgt. Pepper's
Lonely Hearts Club Band by that time. The only track not to be composed
by Barrett is Roger Waters' Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk.
Following the release of Piper, a golden age suddenly came. The album
was a great success and Pink Floyd became pop stars. The fans began to
adore the band like rock'n'roll heroes and Syd in particular attracted
lots of groupies. That was partly because of his behaviour, and partly
because of his enthusiasm for everything new and undiscovered. At his
flat, which he shared with several other artists, including the later
author of PF artworks Storm Thorgerson, there were always many famous
people as well as ordinary hippies and it all seemed to be a never
ending party. However, Syd began to help himself into the right mood
with LSD trips and he became addicted to drugs. That was quite common at
that time and the rest of the band, too, enjoyed marijuana and LSD,
along with alcohol, but in Syd's case, both the dosages and the
frequency were slightly over the top even for the sixties standards.
That resulted in Syd collapsing on the stage, where he often just stood
and didn't make a sound or repeated one tone over and over again. Once
he even attacked his girlfriend with a mandolin, because he thought she
wanted to kill him. Truth be told, his friends too did their bit. For
example, quite often they would lock him in a closet when he was on a
bad trip, just for fun. Plenty of such legends and hearsay about Syd
are told even today. That is one of the things that made him one of the
most adored personalities of the underground.
Soon it was no more a funny thing to the rest of the band. Although
Syd kept writing amazing lyrics and marvellous music, his unpredictable
behaviour was hurting the band. Despite that, Pink Floyd started working
on their second album, which was meant to be a sequel to the great
success of Piper At The Gates of Dawn. But during the recording
sessions, Syd's condition got so bad it was not possible to work with
him anymore. Waters, Mason, Wright and Jenner had to decide what to do.
Finally, when driving to one of the gig venues, they decided not to pick
Syd up and play the gig without him...
In 1968 Syd left the band for good. The thing that worked with Beach
Boys (the leader of the band not performing and only writing songs,)
failed to work with Pink Floyd. The band decided to finish Saucerful of
Secrets, even though many fans considered Syd's retirement the end of
Pink Floyd. Since none of the three players could play Syd's difficult
guitar parts, they had to find a new guitarist. David Gilmour, Syd's
childhood friend and a guitar prodigy, played along with Syd at first,
just in case he was not able to play, but then David became a regular
member. When Syd left, Gilmour tried to copy him until he found his own
The Saucerful of Secrets album was meant to be slightly different
from what Syd did because Pink Floyd wanted to show that they could get
around without him. The original aim was to record a series of short,
simple, radio-friendly songs. The result was a lengthy instrumental
composition, not very similar to the thing Pink Floyd resolved to make.
None the less, the record was a hit, especially when performed live.
Perhaps the best performance was the Live At Pompeii gig without
audience, which took place in a ruined ancient roman amphitheatre.
The Saucerful of Secrets album was another commercial success for
Pink Floyd, who shifted from Barrett's fairy-tale lyrical themes to a
whole new thing - the space (although Syd's influence is clearly audible
on the album - he recorded some of the guitar parts and wrote part of
the lyrics). The new "space sound" was the origin of one of the band's
nicknames - the space rockers. Pink Floyd then started to omit the "the"
in the name of the band and became just Pink Floyd. Later they began to
see their new style as a limitation, because they felt the fans
expected them to play what they were used to and the band couldn't do
things their own way.