Pink Floyd Biography

One of the most predominant and celebrated rock bands of all time, the origins of Pink Floyd can be traced to Cambridge High School in England. Syd Barrett (Roger Keith Barrett, 6 January 1946, Cambridge, England, d. 7 July 2006, Cambridge, England; guitar/vocals), Roger Waters (b. George Roger Waters, 9 September 1943, Great Bookham, Surrey, England; bass/vocals) and David Gilmour (b. 6 March 1946, Cambridge, England; guitar/vocals) were pupils and friends there. Mutually drawn to music, Barrett and Gilmour undertook a busking tour of Europe prior to the former’s enrolment at the Camberwell School Of Art in London. Waters was meanwhile studying architecture at the city’s Regent Street Polytechnic. He formed an R&B-based band, Sigma 6, with fellow students Nick Mason (b. Nicholas Berkeley Mason, 27 January 1944, Downshire Hill, Birmingham, England; drums) and Rick Wright (b. Richard William Wright, 28 July 1945, London, England; keyboards). The early line-up included bass player Clive Metcalfe - Waters favoured guitar at this point - and (briefly) Juliette Gale (who later married Wright) but underwent the first crucial change when Bob ‘Rado’ Klose (lead guitar) replaced Metcalfe. With Waters now on bass, the band took a variety of names, including the (Screaming) Abdabs and the Tea Set. Sensing a malaise, Waters invited Barrett to join but the latter’s blend of blues, pop and mysticism was at odds with Klose’s traditional jazz outlook and began to create tension. Barrett, Waters, Mason, Wright and Klose reconvened as the Pink Floyd Sound, a name Barrett had suggested, inspired by an album by Georgia blues’ musicians Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Within weeks the quartet had repaired to the Thompson Private Recording Company, sited in the basement of a house. Here they recorded two songs, ‘Lucy Leave’, a Barrett original playfully blending pop and R&B, and a cover version of Slim Harpo’s ‘I’m A King Bee’. Although rudimentary, both tracks indicated a defined sense of purpose, but Klose left the line-up shortly afterwards leaving the remaining members to continue as a quartet.

Ditching the now-superfluous ‘Sound’ suffix, the Pink Floyd attracted notoriety as part of the nascent counter-culture milieu centred on the London Free School. A focus for the emergent underground, this self-help organisation co-founded by John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins, Peter Jenner, Andrew King and Joe Boyd, inspired the founding of Britain’s first alternative publication, International Times. The paper was launched at the Roundhouse in London on 15 October 1966; it was here Pink Floyd made its major debut. By December the band was appearing regularly at the newly founded UFO Club on Tottenham Court Road, spearheading Britain’s psychedelic movement with extended, improvised sets and a highly visual light show. Further demos ensued, produced by UFO-co-founder Boyd, which in turn engendered a recording contract with EMI Records. Surprisingly, the band’s hit singles were different to their live sound, featuring Barrett’s quirky melodies and lyrics. ‘Arnold Layne’, a tale of a transvestite who steals ladies’ clothes from washing lines, escaped a BBC ban to rise into the UK Top 20. ‘See Emily Play’, originally entitled ‘Games For May’ in honour of an event the band hosted at Queen Elizabeth Hall, reached number 6 in June 1967. It was succeeded by The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, which encapsulated Britain’s ‘Summer of Love’. Largely Barrett-penned and produced by former Beatles engineer Norman Smith (b, 22 February 1923, London, England, d. 3 March 2008), the set deftly combined childlike fantasy with experimentation, where whimsical pop songs nestled beside riff-laden sorties, notably the powerful ‘Interstellar Overdrive’. Chart success begat package tours - including a memorable bill alongside the Jimi Hendrix Experience - which, when combined with a disastrous US tour, wrought unbearable pressure on Barrett’s fragile psyche. His indulgence in hallucinogenic drugs exacerbated such problems and he often proved near comatose on-stage and incoherent with interviewers. A third single, ‘Apples And Oranges’, enthralled but jarred in equal measures, while further recordings, ‘Vegetable Man’ and ‘Scream Thy Last Scream’, were deemed unsuitable for release. His colleagues, fearful for their friend and sensing a possible end to the band, brought Dave Gilmour into the line-up in February 1968. Plans for Barrett to maintain a backroom role, writing for the band but not touring, came to naught and his departure was announced the following April. He subsequently followed a captivating, but short-lived, solo career.

Although bereft of their principle songwriter, the realigned Pink Floyd completed Saucerful Of Secrets. It featured one Barrett original, the harrowing ‘Jugband Blues’, as well as two songs destined to become an integral part of their live concerts, the title track itself and ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’. Excellent, but flop singles, ‘It Would Be So Nice’ (a rare Wright original) and ‘Point Me At The Sky’ were also issued; their failure prompted the band to disavow the format for 11 years. A film soundtrack, More, allowed Waters to flex compositional muscles, while the part-live, part-studio Ummagumma, although dated and self-indulgent by today’s standards, was at the vanguard of progressive space-rock in 1969. By this point Pink Floyd were a major attraction, drawing 100, 000 to their free concert in London the following year. Another pivotal live appearance, in the volcanic crater in Pompeii, became the subject of a much-loved, late-night film.

Pink Floyd’s first album of the 70s, the UK chart-topper Atom Heart Mother, was a brave, if flawed experiment, partially written with avant garde composer, Ron Geesin. It featured the first in a series of impressive album covers, designed by the Hipgnosis studio, none of which featured photographs of the band. The seemingly abstract image of Meddle, is in fact a macro lens shot of an ear. The music within contained some classic pieces, notably ‘One Of These Days’ and the epic ‘Echoes’, but was again marred by inconsistency. Pink Floyd’s festering talent finally exploded in 1973 with Dark Side Of The Moon. It marked the arrival of Waters as an important lyricist and Gilmour as a guitar hero. Brilliantly produced - with a sharp awareness of stereo effects - the album became one of the biggest selling records of all time, currently in excess of 40 million copies. Its astonishing run on the Billboard chart spanned well over a decade (it was the first of the band’s American chart-toppers), finally ending its initial chart sojourn in July 1988. It later returned to the charts to notch up a few more million sales.

At last Pink Floyd had rid itself of the spectre of the Barrett era. Perhaps with this in mind, a moving eulogy to their former member, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, was one of the high points of the follow-up Wish You Were Here. Barrett apparently showed at Abbey Road studio during the sessions, prepared to contribute but incapable of doing so. ‘Have A Cigar’, however, did feature a cameo appearance by Roy Harper. Although dwarfed in sales terms by its predecessor, fans now regard this 1975 transatlantic number 1 album as the band’s artistic zenith.

Pink Floyd’s next album, Animals, featured a scathing attack on the ‘clean-up television’ campaigner, Mary Whitehouse, while the cover photograph, an inflatable pig soaring over Battersea power station, has since passed into Pink Floyd folklore. However it was with this album that tension within the band leaked into the public arena. Two of its tracks, ‘Sheep’ and ‘Dogs’, were reworkings of older material and, as one of the world’s most successful bands, Pink Floyd was criticised as an anathema to 1977’s punk movement. At the end of the year, almost as a backlash, Nick Mason produced the Damned’s Music For Pleasure. Wright and Gilmour both released solo albums in 1978 as rumours of a break-up abounded. In 1979, however, the band unleashed The Wall, a Waters-dominated epic that has now become second only to Dark Side Of The Moon in terms of sales. A subtly screened autobiographical journey, The Wall allowed the bass player to vent his spleen, pouring anger and scorn on a succession of establishment talismen. It contained the anti-educational system diatribe, ‘Another Brick In The Wall Part II’, which not only restored the band to the British and American singles’ charts, but provided them with their sole number 1 hit when it topped the UK list. The album topped the US charts for an impressive 15 weeks. The Wall was also the subject of an imaginative stage show, during which the band was bricked up behind a titular edifice. A film followed in 1982, starring Bob Geldof and featuring groundbreaking animation by Gerald Scarfe, who designed the album jacket.

Such success did nothing to ease Pink Floyd’s internal hostility. Long-standing enmity between Waters and Wright - the latter almost left the band with Barrett - resulted in the bass player demanding Wright’s departure. He left in 1980. By the early 80s relations within the band had not improved. Friction over financial matters and composing credits - Gilmour argued his contributions to The Wall had not been acknowledged - tore at the heart of the band. ‘Because we haven’t finished with each other yet, ’ was Mason’s caustic reply to a question as to why Pink Floyd was still together and, to the surprise of many, another album did appear in 1983. The Final Cut was a stark, humourless set that Waters totally dominated. It comprised songs written for The Wall, but rejected by the band. Mason’s contributions were negligible and Gilmour showed little interest - eventually asking that his production credit be removed - and Pink Floyd’s fragmentation was evident to all. One single, ‘Not Now, John’, did reach the UK Top 30, but by the end of the year knives were drawn and an acrimonious parting ensued. The following year Waters began a high-profile solo career. Mason and Gilmour also issued solo albums, but none of these releases came close to the success of their former band. The guitarist retained a higher profile as a session musician, and appeared with ex-Roxy Music singer Bryan Ferry at the Live Aid concert in 1985.

In 1987, Mason and Gilmour decided to resume work together under the Pink Floyd banner; Rick Wright also returned, albeit as a salaried member. Waters instigated an injunction, which was over-ruled, allowing temporary use of the name. The cryptically titled A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, although tentative in places, sounded more like a Pink Floyd album than its sombre ‘predecessor’, despite the muted input of Wright and Mason. Instead Gilmour relied on session musicians, including Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music. A massive world tour began in September that year, culminating 12 months and 200 concerts later. A live set, Delicate Sound Of Thunder, followed in its wake but, more importantly, the rigours of touring rekindled Wright and Mason’s confidence. Galvanised, Waters led an all-star cast for an extravagant adaptation of The Wall, performed live on the remains of the Berlin Wall in 1990. Despite international television coverage, the show failed to reignite his fortunes.

In 1994, Pink Floyd reconvened again to release The Division Bell, an accomplished and highly successful set (it was the year’s bestselling UK album release and restored the band to the top of the UK and US charts) which may yet enter the Pink Floyd lexicon as one of their finest achievements. ‘It sounds more like a genuine Pink Floyd album than anything since Wish You Were Here ’, Gilmour later stated, much to the relief of fans, critics and the band themselves. With Wright a full-time member again and Mason on sparkling form, the band embarked on another lengthy tour, judiciously balancing old and new material. They also showcased their most spectacular lightshow to date during these performances. Critical praise was effusive, confirming the band had survived the loss of yet another nominally ‘crucial’ member. Pulse cashed in on the success of the tours and was a perfectly recorded live album. The packaging featured a flashing LED, which was supposed to last (in flashing mode) for six months.

Following this burst of activity in the mid-90s, Gilmour, Wright and Mason put Pink Floyd on hold once again. A series of reissues kept the band in the public eye, however, most notably the 2003 Hybrid SACD release of Dark Side Of The Moon which allowed listeners the chance to hear the album in 5.1 Surround Sound. In July 2005, the classic line-up of Waters, Gilmour, Wright and Mason performed together for the first time in more than 20 years at the London Live 8 concert. The importance of the event enabled the quartet to put aside their differences for the 15 minutes on stage. It is highly unlikely that this will lead to a reunion, but the legacy of those ‘faceless’ record sleeves is irrefutable; Pink Floyd’s music is somehow greater than the individuals creating it, and that in itself should be a testimony to their collective art.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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