The story of Floyd in the 1967-68 timeframe is as much about transition in personnel as it was the evolution of their sound. At the beginning of the year, the band was comprised of Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright. This was to change..
It’s never been entirely clear to me what combination of events and their own personal psychic landscapes caused their musical direction, but by now Pink Floyd were heading firmly towards long-form, psychedelic, progressive rock. (Plus or minus a few commercial singles).
Throughout the 1966-1967 time period, Floyd alternated between playing live throughout England (with a brief excursion to the US West Coast) and recording. They were even part of a European tour headlined by Jimi Hendrix and once asked Frank Zappa to join them on guitar at a concert on the song “Interstellar Overdrive.”
They continued making friends wherever they went, bouncing between audiences who said, essentially, “How is this noise even music?” to those who “got” them and recognized their unique approach. (Pete Townshend, for one, seemed to really dig them). A news article said this: “Two young girls were mesmerized by the lights and music and had to be treated by the first aid unit.” Ok, it probably wasn’t the lights and music that “mesmerized” them, Jack.
As the year went on, the band inside Barrett’s head started playing a different tune and his demeanor changed considerably. Once reasonably outgoing, fans and friends would find him doing nothing but sitting and staring. One time he detuned a guitar on stage while the band was playing. This was the beginning of his apparent descent into schizophrenia, exacerbated by drug use and relentless touring. (Eerily paralleling his contemporary, Peter Green).
At this point in time Floyd were famed as much – or more – for their light show as anything else. But in terms of their sound, they were totally uncompromising. They would play their 10-minute free-form excursions for an all-night rave, a dance or – if it were to have occurred to anyone I suppose – a supermarket opening. If you came expecting hits you instead got blitzed.
Although “Set The Controls For the Heart of the Sun” wasn’t released till 1968, it was recorded during this trippy year of 1967. There are a couple of significant facts about this song. One is that Roger Waters, who would later become the driving force in the band, wrote it. The other thing is that both David Gilmour and Syd Barrett play guitar on it.
Given Floyd’s inherently cinematic sound, it probably should come as no surprise that they were frequently tapped to do soundtracks for film and TV. They even collaborated with ballet companies. One of the films, Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London, is VERY ’60’s and so, has no real plot or anything. Floyd provides the music and then-hip actors like Michael Caine and Julie Christie are in there somewhere.
Bonus – Floyd doing “Echoes” from a filmed performance at Pompeii. For whatever reason, they and the director chose to do this in an empty ampitheatre.
So the transition was under way. As mentioned, Gilmour joined and started recording with them in the late-67, early-68 time frame and for a brief while they were a five-piece band. And due to Syd’s increasingly erratic behavior, by April 1968 he was asked to leave the band. (In fact, one day they were going to a gig and – fed up with him – just didn’t pick him up).
By now, the band most people know as Floyd (Roger Waters, bass/vocals; Nick Mason, drums; Richard Wright, keyboards; David Gilmour, guitar/vocals) was in place. (Gilmour said he didn’t know what the fuck to play for the first six months. He said he felt “paranoid.” At one concert, Syd came and just stared at him from the audience, freaking him out).
Floyd continued touring and recording, refining their sound with each member contributing to the writing. Personally I had heard of the band and knew some of their stuff but in the late ’60’s-early ’70’s I would not have called myself a fan. They had by now toured the States once or twice and were reasonably well-known on the underground club circuit. But I wouldn’t yet call them a major force on the radio or with anyone I knew.
A song that was a staple of their live act for many a concert was another long, weird (but in a good way), “space-rock” number called “Careful With That Axe, Eugene:”
The first song of theirs that I really loved was from a 1971 album called Meddle. Floyd really seemed to pull themselves together here (they had personally disparaged some of their recent work) and released a fine, consistent album. There’s even a blues on it called “Seamus.”
My favorite from this album is a song called “One of These Days” and I count myself a fan from this point forward. The song is an instrumental with just the right amount of spaciness, rock feel and musicianship we now know to expect from these guys. It was just different than anything else out there and it was always cool to hear it explode from the radio:
Note – every time I do any research for my posts I’m surprised by some piece of information. Turns out that on a fair number of gigs in between playing long spacy jams they’d break out into a blues. You can check it out here if you’re so inclined. Not bad but let’s say no threat to Bluesbreakers. Space-blues!
Next post – Floyd goes from being a mildly popular band to unimaginable heights of mega-stardom. Because of one album.
The Hendrix Europe tour, 1970