|A SHORT HISTORY OF PINK FLOYD|
The Floyds began their journey in early 1966 when Peter Jenner, a manager in search of a
band, was present at a Pink Floyd performance in London. He was impressed by the weird
instrumental passages between the psychedelic versions of their music and offered to make
them 'bigger than The Beatles'. From then on, they quickly progressed from experimental
freakouts in to a world renowned band.
The early Floyd was the brainchild of Syd Barrett. He gave the vocals, played the lead
guitar, wrote all the lyrics, and gave them their name. The name "Pink Floyd" is
a compound of two of his favourite blues artists, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Barrett
was an art-school student. Waters (bass), Rick Wright (keyboards) and Nick Mason (drums)
had studied architecture. Because of Barrett's idea of presenting 'music in colour', Floyd
were way ahead of their time in integrating music with visuals. They forged a legend with
their residency at the UFO Club in London's Tottenham Court Road, where, cloaked by a
dizzying lightshow, the Floyd stunned audiences with extended versions of their psychedelic
anthems, "Interstellar Overdrive" and "Astronomy Domine". But as well
as entertaining the acidheads of the UFO, Syd also nursed ambitions to make it on to Top
Of The Pops.
Pink Floyd signed to EMI and released a debut single, "Arnold Layne" in early
1967. Compressing all their hip weirdness into a crisp three-minute cut, it reached #20 in
the UK charts, not bad for an experimental 'art' group. A major breakthrough came at the
Games For May concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. They promised 'space-age relaxation for
the climax of spring, with electronic compositions, colour and image projections, girls
and the Pink Floyd'. It was their first major solo presentation, and the first concert to
feature 'sound in the round' by using an extra pair of speakers at the back of the
"Games For May" was also the title of a piece specially written for the event.
With a new title and a bit of nip and tuck, this emerged as their second single "See
Emily Play". A UK Top 5 hit, it was one of the best British singles from the Summer
Of Love and a superb taster for Pink Floyd's debut album, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn,
released in August 1967. One of the most original LPs of the 60s, it combined the
innovative soundscapes of the group's avant-garde experimentation with the cream of
Barrett's eccentric but brilliant songcraft.
The pressures of writing and recording, constant touring and careless experimentation
with LSD were taking their toll on Syd's psyche. Dave Gilmour had noticed him acting
strangely as early as the recording of "See Emily Play" in May. By autumn, he
was worse, his long awaited third single was the dissapointing "Apples &
Oranges", his contributions to the second album (including the "Vegetable
Man") were too disturbing to be used and his on-stage performance declined to
playing the same note all evening. After a brief interval, Barrett began his bizarre solo
As an old friend, Gilmour was the perfect choice to keep the group together, though at
first his role was merely to play all Barrett's parts and to help salvage the recording
sessions for what was to become the Floyd's second album. Despite the odds, A Saucerful of
Secrets (1968) turned out to be a surprisingly successful collection and, along with a
confident performance at the Hyde Park Free Concert in June 1968, it did much to silence
the critics who claimed that the Floyd were dead without Barrett.
After a couple of flop singles, the group decided to concentrate on weighty album
material that would more accurately reflect the extended improvisations of their stage
act. However, their first completely Barrettless work was More, a much underrated
1969 soundtrack album for French film director Barbet Schroeder. Completed in only a week,
it consisted of relaxed instrumentals, intercut with simple but atmospheric gems such as
"Cirrus Minor". That year's magnum opus, however, was Ummagumma, a double album
whose mystical-sounding title turned out to be a Cambridgeshire fenland euphemism for sex.
One album was live, the other featured 'avant-garde' solo compositions from each member of
the group. The latter were not a great success, and from this point on the band started
moving away from their underground pretensions towards a more conventional rock sound. The
next three albums, Atom Heart Mother, Meddle and Obscured By Clouds (another Schroeder
soundtrack), chart this progression clearly, though none has aged particularly well. Of
the three, Meddle has the most to offer, with the "Echoes" suite boasting some
moments of real power, but unfortunately quite a few longueurs.
In 1973, came the Dark Side Of The Moon and all the searching for new directions
finally came together. With its dominant themes of ageing, madness and death, the subject
matter was gloomy, but it retained a strangely comforting quality, perhaps because it
makes everyone's private concerns seem universal. It was an album so well integrated that
it was hard to imagine any of the songs being played without the context of the others.
After two years came Wish You Were Here. Recording it was sheer torture and the band
almost split under the pressure, but their efforts produced some of their strongest music,
their most affecting lyrics and undoubtedly one of the most intriguing album sleeves ever.
The key piece was the superb "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", a lengthy tribute to
Syd Barrett, whose spirit still seemed to haunt the band. Inspired by Gilmour's melancholic
guitar theme, Waters came up with some of his most poignant lines. The album's title said
Pink Floyd re-emerged in 1977 with Animals, perhaps best known for its sleeve picture
of a flying pig over Battersea power station. Two of the tracks, "Sheep" and
"Dogs", were over three years old, being rewrites of songs rejected from Wish
You Were Here, and although the album featured some stinging guitar work from Gilmour, it
lacked the excellence of the previous two.
Animals came out at the height of punk, when Pink Floyd were generally reviled as
dinosaur rockers, yet many of Waters' lyrics expressed a bitterness and cynicism that
should have been recognized by self-proclaimed nihilist punk groups. These strands were
prominent in The Wall (1979), a hopelessly ambitious album, concert tour and film project
(starring Bob Geldof as the alienated central character), first inspired by Waters' hatred
of the whole stadium-rock concept. Megalomania is the word here, but the conceit of
literally walling off the audience during the live performance was surprisingly
Roger Waters began to withdraw behind a wall of his own. He took over more and more
control of the creative process, treating the others as glorified session musicians. He
even allegedly engineering the departure of founder member Rick Wright. The next album,
The Final Cut, was subtitled, 'By Roger Waters, Performed By Pink Floyd'. Like Animals, it
was largely made from reheated leftovers (in this case from The Wall), but this time the
result was decidedly half-baked and brought about the band's fragmentation.
Roger Waters left the band in 1986, assuming that the Pink Floyd would be finished
without him. However Dave Gilmour was determined to press ahead with Mason, a newly
rehabilitated Rick Wright and an army of session musicians.
Their first effort, A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, showed that without Waters' lyrical
input, the new Floyd were pretty toothless. They followed this up in 1988 with The
Delicate Sound Of Thunder, a rather uninspired live album. Most disappointing of all was
Shine On, an expensively priced box-set that merely repackaged some Floyd favourites.
The Division Bell came in 1994. The album had a theme of poor communications and it
featured significant musical contributions from Wright and Mason, amidst the session men.
The accompanying world tour boasted an astonishingly elaborate light show and complete
performances of Dark Side Of The Moon, all captured on the recent live CD, P.U.L.S.E.,
with its flashing box.