Pink Floyd can be looked at as having a handful of distinctive chapters across their 50-year history with their ever-evolving sound that always managed to cover new ground experimentally but consistently offered something so beautiful and transcendent. But looking at it from a less granular level, there are two significant chapters for Pink Floyd: the first being the psychedelic 1960s Pink Floyd led by LSD enthusiast and creative mastermind Syd Barrett, and the second being the band after the recruitment of David Gilmour and subsequent departure of Barrett.
When they first formed in 1964 London, the band began playing mainly rhythm and blues compositions, but it wasn’t long before they set about sculpting a new abstract sound that would bend the formalities of rock music. Under Barrett’s leadership, the band were successful in becoming well known as one of the earliest psychedelic rock bands. By 1966 they had ditched the word ‘Sound’ from their original name ‘Pink Floyd Sound’ and had begun making a name for themselves in the underground music scene in London.
The early signs of psychedelia would be most notably expressed in long drawn out instrumental excursions accompanied by rudimentary light shows that were often achieved using colour slides over domestic light bulbs. Around this time, a Sunday Times article stated: “At the launching of the new magazine ‘IT’ the other night, a pop group called the Pink Floyd played throbbing music while a series of bizarre coloured shapes flashed on a huge screen behind them … apparently very psychedelic.”
In 1967, the band managed to sign with EMI and released their first single ‘Arnold Layne’ which reached number 20 in the UK singles chart despite having been banned from major radio stations due to its references to cross-dressing. With the bands second single, ‘See Emily Play’, the group started to become more well known across the UK and it wasn’t long before they would appear on television; first on the BBC’s ‘Look of the Week’ then shortly after on ‘Top of the Pops’ where they played their new single.
These television performances likely saw Syd Barrett at his peak and it was around this time, in August 1967, that the group released their debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Upon its release, the album was successful spending 14 weeks in the UK charts and boosted the group to a new level of stardom that saw them drawing swathes of hippies to their famous electric performances at the UFO Club. However, this spell of success over the spring and summer of 1967 soon took on a darker tone as Barrett’s drug use became a major issue for the band as it began to have an impact on performances and rehearsals.
Co-manager of the band June Child, who would later be married to Marc Bolan of T. Rex, described the scene at one of the performances during this period: “I found [Barrett] in the dressing room and he was so … gone. Roger Waters and I got him on his feet, [and] we got him out to the stage … The band started to play and Syd just stood there. He had his guitar around his neck and his arms just hanging down”.
In the autumn of 1967, Pink Floyd toured in the US for the first time, however, Barrett’s worsening mental state had caused some embarrassment during performances and interviews with the American press. In December, the band welcomed their friend David Gilmour into the line-up as a guitarist and vocalist as a tacit replacement for Barrett who would remain in the band for only a further five months before leaving on mutual terms.
This moment in Pink Floyd’s history was pivotal and saw the group take the form that would stride towards the dizzying heights of The Dark Side of the Moon and beyond. These early changes can be observed in the video below as Barrett’s twinkling Telecaster sections and psychedelically poetic lyrics make way for Gilmour’s gritty Stratocaster riffs and Waters’ more direct and conceptually-based lyrics.
The hour-long video below shows a collection of rare footage taken during Pink Floyd performances between 1967 and 1972; it reveals some of the most dazzling memories of Syd Barrett’s talent with which he helped to lay the foundations for one of the greatest rock bands of all time.