Backstage with England’s psychedelic band Pink Floyd

No Lies Radio Music – By Teri Perticone – Sun March 12, 2023

Pink Floyd were an English rock band formed in London in 1965. Gaining a following as a psychedelic band, they were distinguished for their extended compositions, sonic experimentation, philosophical lyrics and elaborate live shows, and became a leading band of the progressive rock genre. They are one of the most commercially successful and influential groups in popular music history.

Pink Floyd were founded by students Syd Barrett (guitar and lead vocals), Nick Mason (drums), Roger Waters (bass and vocals), and Richard Wright (keyboards and vocals). Under Barrett’s leadership, they released two charting singles and a successful debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967). Guitarist and vocalist David Gilmour joined in December 1967; Barrett left in April 1968 due to deteriorating mental health. Waters became their primary lyricist and thematic leader, devising the concepts behind the albums The Dark Side of the Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), Animals (1977), The Wall (1979) and The Final Cut (1983). The band also composed several film scores.

Following personal tensions, Wright left Pink Floyd in 1979, followed by Waters in 1985. Gilmour and Mason continued as Pink Floyd, joined later by Wright. The three produced two more albums—A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) and The Division Bell (1994)—and continued to tour before quietly disbanding in 1995. In 2005, all the members except Barrett reunited for a one-off performance at the global awareness event Live 8. Barrett died in 2006, and Wright in 2008. The last Pink Floyd studio album, The Endless River (2014), was recorded without Waters and based almost entirely on unreleased material from The Division Bell recording sessions.

Pink Floyd are considered one of the first groups of British psychedelia and are credited with inspiring the development of genres such as progressive rock and ambient music. They had four albums that topped US or UK record charts; the songs “See Emily Play” (1967) and “Another Brick in the Wall” (1982) were the group’s only top 10 singles in either territory. The band were inducted into the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005. By 2013, they had sold more than 250 million records worldwide, with The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall two of the best-selling albums of all time.

By 1966, the group’s repertoire consisted mainly of rhythm and blues songs and they had begun to receive paid bookings, including a performance at the Marquee Club in March 1966, where Peter Jenner, a lecturer at the London School of Economics, noticed them. Jenner was impressed by the sonic effects Barrett and Wright created, and with his business partner and friend Andrew King became their manager.[22] The pair had little experience in the music industry and used King’s inheritance to set up Blackhill Enterprises, purchasing about £1,000 (equivalent to £18,300 in 2018[23]) worth of new instruments and equipment for the band.[nb 7] It was around this time that Jenner suggested they drop the “Sound” part of their band name, thus becoming the Pink Floyd.[25] Under Jenner and King’s guidance, the group became part of London’s underground music scene, playing at venues including All Saints Hall and the Marquee.[26] While performing at the Countdown Club, the band had experimented with long instrumental excursions, and they began to expand them with rudimentary but effective light shows, projected by coloured slides and domestic lights.[27] Jenner and King’s social connections helped gain the band prominent coverage in the Financial Times and an article in the Sunday Times which 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.”[28]

1967–1978: Transition and international success
1967: Replacement of Barrett by Gilmour

In December 1967, the group added guitarist David Gilmour as the fifth member of Pink Floyd.[60][nb 15] Gilmour already knew Barrett, having studied with him at Cambridge Tech in the early 1960s.[13] The two had performed at lunchtimes together with guitars and harmonicas, and later hitch-hiked and busked their way around the south of France.[62] In 1965, while a member of Joker’s Wild, Gilmour had watched the Tea Set.[63] Morrison’s assistant, Steve O’Rourke, set Gilmour up in a room at O’Rourke’s house with a salary of £30 per week (equivalent to £500 in 2018[23]), and in January 1968, Blackhill Enterprises announced Gilmour as the band’s newest member; the second guitarist and its fifth member, the band intending to continue with Barrett as a nonperforming songwriter.[64] Jenner commented: “The idea was that Dave would … cover for [Barrett’s] eccentricities and when that got to be not workable, Syd was just going to write. Just to try to keep him involved”.[65][nb 16] In an expression of his frustration, Barrett, who was expected to write additional hit singles to follow up “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”, instead introduced “Have You Got It Yet?” to the band, intentionally changing the structure on each performance so as to make the song impossible to follow and learn.[60] In a January 1968 photo-shoot of the five-man Pink Floyd, the photographs show Barrett looking detached from the others, staring into the distance.[67]

Working with Barrett eventually proved too difficult, and matters came to a conclusion in January while en route to a performance in Southampton when a band member asked if they should collect Barrett. According to Gilmour, the answer was “Nah, let’s not bother”, signalling the end of Barrett’s tenure with Pink Floyd.[68][nb 17] Waters later admitted, “He was our friend, but most of the time we now wanted to strangle him”.[70] In early March 1968, Pink Floyd met with business partners Jenner and King to discuss the band’s future; Barrett agreed to leave.[71]

The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)

Released in March 1973, the LP became an instant chart success in the UK and throughout Western Europe, earning an enthusiastic response from critics. Throughout March 1973, The Dark Side of the Moon featured as part of Pink Floyd’s US tour.[115] The album is one of the most commercially successful rock albums of all time; a US number 1, it remained on the Billboard chart for more than fourteen years, selling more than 45 million copies worldwide.[116] In Britain, the album peaked at number 2, spending 364 weeks on the UK chart.[47] Dark Side is the world’s third best-selling album, and the twenty-first best-selling album of all time in the US.[117] [118] The success of the album brought enormous wealth to the members of Pink Floyd. Waters and Wright bought large country houses while Mason became a collector of expensive cars.[119] Disenchanted with their US record company, Capitol Records, Pink Floyd and O’Rourke negotiated a new contract with Columbia Records, who gave them a reported advance of $1,000,000 (US$5,080,297 in 2018 dollars)[120]. In Europe, they continued to be represented by Harvest Records.[121]

Pink Floyd – Dark Side Of The Moon

Pink Floyd – “Us And Them”

Wish You Were Here (1975)

After a tour of the UK performing Dark Side, Pink Floyd returned to the studio in January 1975 and began work on their ninth studio album, Wish You Were Here.[122] Parsons declined an offer to continue working with them, becoming successful in his own right with the Alan Parsons Project, and so the band turned to Brian Humphries.[123] Initially, they found it difficult to compose new material; the success of The Dark Side of the Moon had left Pink Floyd physically and emotionally drained. Wright later described these early sessions as “falling within a difficult period” and Waters found them “tortuous”.[124] Gilmour was more interested in improving the band’s existing material. Mason’s failing marriage left him in a general malaise and with a sense of apathy, both of which interfered with his drumming.[124]

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

Despite the lack of creative direction, Waters began to visualise a new concept after several weeks.[124] During 1974, Pink Floyd had sketched out three original compositions and had performed them at a series of concerts in Europe.[125] These compositions became the starting point for a new album whose opening four-note guitar phrase, composed purely by chance by Gilmour, reminded Waters of Barrett.[126] The songs provided a fitting summary of the rise and fall of their former bandmate.[127] Waters commented: “Because I wanted to get as close as possible to what I felt … [that] indefinable, inevitable melancholy about the disappearance of Syd.”[128]

While Pink Floyd were working on the album, Barrett made an impromptu visit to the studio. Thorgerson recalled that he “sat round and talked for a bit, but he wasn’t really there”.[129] He had changed significantly in appearance, so much so that the band did not initially recognise him. Waters was reportedly deeply upset by the experience.[130][nb 24] Most of Wish You Were Here premiered on 5 July 1975, at an open-air music festival at Knebworth. Released in September, it reached number one in both the UK and the US.[132]

“Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is a nine-part Pink Floyd composition written by Roger Waters, Richard Wright and David Gilmour. It is a tribute to former band member Syd Barrett. The song was first performed on their 1974 French tour, and recorded for their 1975 concept album Wish You Were Here. The song was intended to be a side-long composition (like “Atom Heart Mother” and “Echoes”), but was ultimately split into two parts and used to bookend the album, with new material composed that was more relevant to this song, and to the situation in which the band found themselves.

Pink Floyd – Shine On You Crazy Diamond 1990 Live Video

1978–1985: Waters-led era

The album was supported by “Another Brick in the Wall (Part II)”, which topped the charts in the US and the UK; it was Pink Floyd’s first single since “Money”.[162] The Wall was released on 30 November 1979 and topped the Billboard chart in the US for fifteen weeks, reaching number three in the UK.[163] The Wall ranks number three on the RIAA’s list of the all-time Top 100 albums, with 23 million certified units sold in the US.[164] The cover, with a stark brick wall and band name, was the first Pink Floyd album cover since The Piper at the Gates of Dawn not designed by Hipgnosis.[165]

Pink Floyd – Another Brick In The Wall (HQ)

Pink Floyd – Another Brick In The Wall, Part Two (Official Music Video)

The Final Cut (1982)

Released in March 1983, The Final Cut went straight to number one in the UK and number six in the US.[176] Waters wrote all the lyrics, as well as all the music on the album.[177] Gilmour did not have any material ready for the album and asked Waters to delay the recording until he could write some songs, but Waters refused.[178] Gilmour later commented: “I’m certainly guilty at times of being lazy … but he wasn’t right about wanting to put some duff tracks on The Final Cut.”[178][nb 37] Rolling Stone magazine gave the album five stars, with Kurt Loder calling it “a superlative achievement … art rock’s crowning masterpiece”.[180][nb 38] Loder viewed The Final Cut as “essentially a Roger Waters solo album”.[182]

“A spent force”, Waters’ departure and legal battles

Gilmour recorded his second solo album, About Face, in 1984, and used it to express his feelings about a variety of topics, from the murder of John Lennon to his relationship with Waters. He later stated that he used the album to distance himself from Pink Floyd. Soon afterwards, Waters began touring his first solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking.[183] Wright formed Zee with Dave Harris and recorded Identity, which went almost unnoticed upon its release.[184][nb 39] Mason released his second solo album, Profiles, in August 1985.[185]

Following the release of The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, Waters publicly insisted that Pink Floyd would not reunite. He contacted O’Rourke to discuss settling future royalty payments. O’Rourke felt obliged to inform Mason and Gilmour, which angered Waters, who wanted to dismiss him as the band’s manager. He terminated his management contract with O’Rourke and employed Peter Rudge to manage his affairs.[185][nb 40] Waters wrote to EMI and Columbia announcing he had left the band, and asked them to release him from his contractual obligations. Gilmour believed that Waters left to hasten the demise of Pink Floyd. Waters later stated that, by not making new albums, Pink Floyd would be in breach of contract—which would suggest that royalty payments would be suspended—and that the other band members had forced him from the group by threatening to sue him. He then went to the High Court in an effort to dissolve the band and prevent the use of the Pink Floyd name, declaring Pink Floyd “a spent force creatively.”[187] When his lawyers discovered that the partnership had never been formally confirmed, Waters returned to the High Court in an attempt to obtain a veto over further use of the band’s name. Gilmour responded by issuing a carefully worded press release affirming that Pink Floyd would continue to exist. He later told The Sunday Times: “Roger is a dog in the manger and I’m going to fight him.”[188] In 2013, Waters said he had failed to appreciate that the Pink Floyd name had commercial value independent of the band members, and was wrong to have attempted to stop the others using it.[189]

Pink Floyd The Final Cut HD

1985–1994: Gilmour-led era
A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)

In 1986, Gilmour began recruiting musicians for what would become Pink Floyd’s first album without Waters, A Momentary Lapse of Reason.[190][nb 41] There were legal obstacles to Wright’s re-admittance to the band, but after a meeting in Hampstead, Pink Floyd invited Wright to participate in the coming sessions.[191]

Pink Floyd – Learning To Fly (Official Music Video HD)

The Division Bell (1994)

For several years Pink Floyd had busied themselves with personal pursuits, such as filming and competing in the La Carrera Panamericana and recording a soundtrack for a film based on the event.[210][nb 45] In January 1993, they began working on a new album, returning to Britannia Row Studios, where for several days, Gilmour, Mason and Wright worked collaboratively, improvising material. After about two weeks, the band had enough ideas to begin creating songs. Ezrin returned to co-produce the album and production moved to the Astoria, where from February to May 1993, they worked on about 25 ideas.[212]

Pink Floyd spent more than two weeks rehearsing in a hangar at Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, California, before opening on 29 March 1994, in Miami, with an almost identical road crew to that used for their Momentary Lapse of Reason tour.[220] They played a variety of Pink Floyd favourites, and later changed their setlist to include The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety.[221][nb 47] The tour, Pink Floyd’s last, ended on 29 October 1994.[222]

2005–2016: Reunion, deaths, and The Endless River

On 2 July 2005, Waters, Gilmour, Mason and Wright performed together as Pink Floyd for the first time in more than 24 years, at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park, London.[224] The reunion was arranged by Live 8 organiser Bob Geldof; after Gilmour declined the offer, Geldof asked Mason, who contacted Waters. About two weeks later, Waters called Gilmour, their first conversation in two years, and the next day Gilmour agreed. In a statement to the press, the band stressed the unimportance of their problems in the context of the Live 8 event.[112]

They planned their setlist at the Connaught Hotel in London, followed by three days of rehearsals at Black Island Studios.[112] The sessions were problematic, with disagreements over the style and pace of the songs they were practising; the running order was decided on the eve of the event.[225] At the beginning of their performance of “Wish You Were Here”, Waters told the audience: “[It is] quite emotional, standing up here with these three guys after all these years, standing to be counted with the rest of you … we’re doing this for everyone who’s not here, and particularly of course for Syd.”[226] At the end, Gilmour thanked the audience and started to walk off the stage. Waters called him back, and the band shared a group hug. Images of the hug were a favourite among Sunday newspapers after Live 8.[227][nb 49] Waters said of their almost 20 years of animosity: “I don’t think any of us came out of the years from 1985 with any credit … It was a bad, negative time, and I regret my part in that negativity.”[229]

Pink Floyd Reunion – Time

Music video by Roger Waters, Van Morrison, The Band performing Comfortably Numb. (C) 1990 The World Memorial Fund For Disaster Relief.

Though Pink Floyd turned down a contract worth £136 million for a final tour, Waters did not rule out more performances, suggesting it ought to be for a charity event only.[227] However, Gilmour told the Associated Press that a reunion would not happen: “The [Live 8] rehearsals convinced me [that] it wasn’t something I wanted to be doing a lot of … There have been all sorts of farewell moments in people’s lives and careers which they have then rescinded, but I think I can fairly categorically say that there won’t be a tour or an album again that I take part in. It isn’t to do with animosity or anything like that. It’s just … I’ve been there, I’ve done it.”[230] In February 2006, Gilmour was interviewed for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, which declared: “Patience for fans in mourning. The news is official. Pink Floyd the brand is dissolved, finished, definitely deceased.”[231] Asked about the future of Pink Floyd, Gilmour responded: “It’s over … I’ve had enough. I’m 60 years old … it is much more comfortable to work on my own.”[231] Gilmour and Waters repeatedly said that they had no plans to reunite.[232][nb 50]

Deaths of Barrett and Wright

Barrett died on 7 July 2006, at his home in Cambridge, aged 60.[234] His funeral was held at Cambridge Crematorium on 18 July 2006; no Pink Floyd members attended. Wright said: “The band are very naturally upset and sad to hear of Syd Barrett’s death. Syd was the guiding light of the early band line-up and leaves a legacy which continues to inspire.”[234] Although Barrett had faded into obscurity over the decades, the national press praised him for his contributions to music.[235][nb 51] On 10 May 2007, Waters, Gilmour, Wright and Mason performed at the Barrett tribute concert “Madcap’s Last Laugh” at the Barbican Centre in London. Gilmour, Wright and Mason performed the Barrett compositions “Bike” and “Arnold Layne”, and Waters performed a solo version of his song “Flickering Flame”.[237]

Wright died of an undisclosed form of cancer on 15 September 2008, aged 65.[238] His former bandmates paid tributes to his life and work; Gilmour said: “In the welter of arguments about who or what was Pink Floyd, Rick’s enormous input was frequently forgotten. He was gentle, unassuming and private but his soulful voice and playing were vital, magical components of our most recognised Pink Floyd sound.”[239] A week after Wright’s death, Gilmour performed “Remember a Day” from A Saucerful of Secrets, written and originally sung by Wright, in tribute to him.[240] Keyboardist Keith Emerson released a statement praising Wright as the “backbone” of Pink Floyd.[241]

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PS Roger Waters & David Gilmour are both still performing.

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