Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pink Floyd 1968: Syd out, Gilmour in

On this day in 1968, David Gilmour replaced Syd Barrett as a member of Pink Floyd.

A wonderfully creative spirit, by all accounts, Pink Floyd founder and original leader Syd Barrett seems to have been rock’s first major drug-related casualty.

Pink Floyd built a following with the underground college and university crowd, by first playing a mixture of traditional rhythm n’ blues songs and original material. Soon, under new management with some financial backing, Floyd began playing shows that included coloured slides and lights that enhanced the trippy, instrumental narratives they created.

In early 1967, Pink Floyd signed with EMI and debuted with a top 20 single - “Arnold Layne.”

Pink Floyd – Arnold Layne (1967)

Pink Floyd - The Piper At the Gates of Dawn (Triple Disc Version) [Remastered] - Arnold Layne Pink Floyd - The Piper At the Gates of Dawn (Triple Disc Version) [Remastered] - Arnold Layne

Pink Floyd also scored with their second single, going top 10 with “See Emily Play” (more details below), and then released “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn,” considered by many as the finest psychedelic album ever made.

By the time of the record’s release in August ’67, the band had been suffering through Syd’s ability to cope and function for some time. Syd dabbled frequently in psychedelics, specifically acid, and it was catching up to him. At one famous (infamous?) show at London’s UFO club in April of that year, Syd was so far gone that the band somehow managed to get him on stage, where he stood with his guitar around his neck and his arms simply hanging down by his sides; the fans gasped at the sight.

On a short, but ill-fated tour of the States in the fall of ‘67, Pink Floyd performed “Apples and Oranges” on American Bandstand on November 4, and, "See Emily Play" on The Pat Boone Show the next day. Legend has it that Syd stared blankly at Boone during the band’s Q&A session, and was motionless during the mimed performance to the song, so Roger Waters stepped up to the mic to fill things in and make it look like someone was singing; the footage has yet to be reaired.

Moving forward, Floyd had to cancel gigs while they worked through Syd’s habit(s), including replacing him occasionally with other players at shows when he simply failed to turn up. The band knew they had to do something, and they brought in David Gilmour as an additional guitarist to fill out the lineup. Syd knew Gilmour from their days as fellow students at Cambridge Tech, where the two often teamed up to jam at lunch; two years earlier, in August ‘65, they hitch-hiked and busked their way through the south of France together.

The first four shows of 1968 featured Pink Floyd as a five-piece, with both Barrett and Gilmour on guitars. The decision to remove Syd as an active member of the live group happened on January 26, 1968, on the way to a show in Southampton; someone in the band’s van asked if they should stop by and pick up Barrett for the show, and they collectively decided not to bother. Based on the stories of his condition, it makes you wonder if Syd even noticed at all; he did, however, occasionally show up at gigs later, reportedly confused about things while staring down Gilmour as he played.

The group had planned to keep Syd involved as a contributing songwriter, mirroring what The Beach Boys had done with Brian Wilson, but it was soon determined that this scenario wouldn’t work, either, due to his continued deterioration.

A formal press statement about Syd’s departure from the band was made on April 6, 1968.

While the psychedelic era continued for a few years, it’s hard to say where Pink Floyd would have gone if Syd Barrett had remained in the group. Gilmour certainly helped maintain the band’s profile through a period where many wondered if they would even recover from the loss of Barrett, considered such an integral and vital part of Pink Floyd.

Among all the myths and legends surrounding the Syd-era, one includes a film of Syd’s first mushroom trip. Shot in 1966 by his film student friend Nigel Gordon, “Syd’s First Trip” features silent film footage of Syd tripping out, as well as additional footage of Floyd in ’67. The raw material is both intriguing and disturbing at the same time; something akin to watching a car crash. At the 2:30 mark, we see Syd staring into his hands: first, with playful interest, and then with shock and amazement at what he sees as he waves his hands around in front of his face.

“Syd’s First trip” is made up of two parts: part one is Syd tripping at Gog Magog Hills; part two was shot in April '67, featuring Pink Floyd right after they signed their first recording contract with EMI Records at Abbey Road Studios. As it was shot without sound, someone has dubbed music over it to make it somewhat easier to sit through. The song featured is called “Coral” by the band Dilate, from their album "Octagon"; it’s actually fairly suitable for something related to Floyd.

Although there's no storyline to follow here - it's more a collection of often poorly-shot random images, I caution that some may be disturbed at what they see here, so it’s your call on whether or not you wish to view this or move on to the next paragraph.

“Syd’s First Trip” (1966)

Pink Floyd fans had reason to be excited recently when it was announced that lost footage of the band performing “See Emily Play” on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops show on July 6, 1967 had been discovered in the private collection of “an eminent rock musician.” Believed lost for more than 40 years, the British Film Institute had a public screening of the footage for the first time last month – read more about it here. The footage has been turned over to band management and, with any luck, it can be restored to decent quality and released officially, one day.

Pink Floyd - The Piper At the Gates of Dawn (Triple Disc Version) [Remastered] - See Emily Play Pink Floyd - The Piper At the Gates of Dawn (Triple Disc Version) [Remastered] - See Emily Play