The date of the above picture is somewhere in the late 1964 – early 1965 time period. The band may have been known as the Tea Set at this point but changed their name because of a conflict with another group. Clearly visible on the left is Syd Barrett, on the right, Roger Waters. The singer is a long-forgotten RAF man named Chris Dennis, soon to be off to Bahrain.
The liner notes for the 1962 Blind Boy Fuller album Country Blues read “Pink Anderson or Floyd Council – these were a few amongst the many blues singers that were to be heard in the rolling hills of the Piedmont (in the Southeastern US), or meandering with the streams through the wooded valleys.” As Roger Waters later said, thank God Pink Floyd didn’t go with Anderson Council as it would have sounded like a local authority.
It would be difficult in a brief post to sort out all the comings and goings of numerous players in various bands that led to Pink Floyd. (Most of the band are from Cambridge). The short version is that Tea Set/Floyd were playing the usual blues and R&B in London in 1964 while a band called Jokers Wild (with guitarist David Gilmour) were playing more pop-oriented stuff like The Four Seasons’ “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” (Gilmour knew the members of Floyd but wouldn’t join them for a couple of years).
But with the departure of Dennis in early 1965, Syd Barrett stepped up to become lead singer as well as main songwriter and guitarist. In October of that year, the first band we think of as Pink Floyd played a private party. One of the other performers on the show was Paul Simon who had moved to England for a while. How is that not awesome?
With Barrett as songwriter, the band increasingly turned away from blues/R&B and – at least initially – towards a poppier, more commercial sound. This being the Sixties, their live conceerts were backed by a psychedelic light show. Floyd were known as much for visuals as music, seeing themselves as a multimedia event as much as they were a rock band.
So much so in fact, that by the early ’70’s, loading in their equipment required “two fork-lift drivers, six stage hands, two electricians, two soundmen, eight follow-spot operators and one house electrician.” And two 40-foot tractor trailers to lug it all.
Eventually the band came to the attention of EMI who signed and recorded them. I’ll skip over their first single “Arnold Layne” and go right to “See Emily Play.” I personally think it’s a more interesting representation. Not only does it employ some of their trademark studio gimmicks such as backward tapes, but apparently Gilmour visited the studio during this time and started to notice personality changes in his old friend Syd. (By his own admission, Barrett was a big inspiration to David Bowie who covered this song a few years later):
In 1966-67, Floyd started gigging (with increasingly more sophisticated light show) at the famous, if short-lived, UFO club. This attracted the local freaks of the London scene who were looking for what they might then have called a “happening.”
(I never thought about it prior to researching this but there are definite cultural, if hardly musical, parallels between Floyd and the Dead). The British press got all over the band, insinuating that their concerts were a vehicle for LSD use. Well, maybe but at that time most of the band were pretty straight-laced.
One of the things that was astonishing to me on researching these posts is just how much touring the band did. They slogged endlessly from the UK to the continent, back to the UK to play and record. Then eventually on to the States and back again. They don’t appear to have taken much, if any, time off.
Floyd started recording their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, at Abbey Road in early ’67, around the same time as The Beatles were working on Sgt. Pepper. The band, in fact, were invited in to watch The Fab Four record “Lovely Rita.” (Did Floyd’s psychedelia rub off on them one wonders?)
The first song, “Astronomy Domine,” shows just how far from the blues, not to mention conventional commercial pop, Floyd had by now wandered. Odd chord progression but it works.
Despite their radio-friendly singles, when they played live, Floyd tended to favor long, mind-blowing ten-minute-plus excursions. These went over well in London, not so much in the provinces. But the band slogged on, true to their mission, undaunted by those who came to hear pop hits, got something else altogether.
As Melody Maker so succinctly whined:
“Are Pink Floyd being quite honest when they make coy and attractive records … then proceed to make the night hideous with a thunderous, incomprehensible, screaming, sonic torture that five American doctors agree could permanently damage the senses? ”
Well, when you put it like that, no.
Next: Syd flips out, Gilmour joins. The band’s following grows.
Sources: The Complete Pink Floyd, Wikipedia