Richie Unterberger Presents Early Pink Floyd, Larry Deniston

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On November 2, 2019, Richie Unterberger, rock historian, author and music reviewer, returned to The Shops at Hilltop in Richmond for a review of the music and the band members of early Pink Floyd.  Richie discussed Pink Floyd’s formation and evolution through the Syd Barrett period of the group. Syd Barret was the visionary and lead guitarist of early Pink Floyd.  

Following the introduction Richie started with a film clip from June 1967 around the time Pink Floyd’s first album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, came out.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTfDUyUkVYE) The video definitely demonstrates the band’s inclusion of lighting and special effects (such as they were in 1967) as an important part of their performance.  Piper at the Gates of Dawn was certainly part of the psychedelic era of the time. 

Syd Barrett grew up in Cambridge, UK.  Syd originally intended to be a visual artist, but his friendship with Roger Waters drew him into the music end of the art scene.  Due to mental illness Syd would only contribute and play as a full member on the first Pink Floyd album, though he wrote one song and plays on a bit of their second album.  Very early on Pink Floyd sounded like most any other British rock band playing American blues, soul and rock (e.g. I’m a King Bee which was also on the Rolling Stones first album).  Then they started moving to writing original material – almost exclusively written by Syd Barrett. With the introduction of original music and regular gigs, Pink Floyd started to gain recognition and established a following playing regularly at the UFO club in London.  Floyd got their name from combining the first names of two blues musicians with tracks on records in Syd Barrett’s collection: Floyd Council and Pink Anderson.

One of the challenges Pink Floyd had was translating their live performance art (light shows, guitar improvisations and sound effects) onto a record that would be marketable to the rock audience.  In an interview of Syd and Roger discussing their music on an interview clip they said they’re not into just “reading the dots”, but more improvising similar, but not the same as jazz.  

Richie then showed part of an “avant-garde” film clip with Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive” song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJvctntEoXs) on their first album.  Producer Joe Boyd produced “Arnold Layne”, but due to some contractual requirements, he wasn’t allowed to produce the album – which was produced by Norman Smith.  Pink Floyd signed with EMI record label (same label as the Beatles) with their first single being “Arnold Layne” which also has a music video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFEU_BQL6dc).  Richie then played “See Emily Play” music clip.  “See Emily Play” was released as a single in the UK, but was included on the Piper at the Gates of Dawn US version of the album.  While the video quality was subpar, the music sounded quite good (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6KXSb6wuJg).

After we took a break – Richie showed a video clip of “The Scarecrow” which was on the “B” side of the “See Emily Play” single.  “The Scarecrow” was a song had sound effects that would exemplify the Pink Floyd “sound” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yBvhIC8d5U).  

While Pink Floyd was experiencing some great success with the release of their first album and strong concert attendance when Syd Barrett started exemplifying troubles with mental issues.  Syd started showing up in the same clothes for weeks and not singing or playing at concerts. The first American shows were at Winterland and the Fillmore in San Francisco in late ’67, as well as a couple in Los Angeles, but his incapacity led to cancellation of the rest of his American tour.  

Richie then showed a clip of “Apples and Oranges” and an interview of Syd and Roger Walters on the Dick Clark show where Syd was fairly lucid, but his drug use and mental issues continued to progress.  The remaining band members had little choice, but to find a replacement for Syd. They brought in David Gilmour at the end of ’67 to play Barrett’s parts. Early on during this arrangement the band told David Gilmour to “play like Syd Barrett” leaving Syd to concentrate on writing, but unfortunately, this arrangement didn’t work out as Syd’s mental illness continued to spiral downward leading to Syd being fired from Pink Floyd in early ’68.  

As Pink Floyd proceeded to continue on without Syd their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, was a mixture of compositions, with one song written by Syd (“Jugband Blues” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yBvhIC8d5U) and the other band members have some songwriting credits on the album, though most of them were for Roger Waters and Rick Wright.  This was the last Pink Floyd album Syd Barrett performed on. 

Syd tried to go out on his own after being let go and ultimately Syd did produce two post-Pink Floyd albums that were not very successful.  Syd remained in Cambridge and was under care until his death in 2006 at age 60.  

Richie’s fascinating historical perspective of the beginnings and growth of Pink Floyd was enjoyed by all that attended this great event.   

Please let us know if you’d like to hear more Rock History events from Richie and what group(s) you’d like to learn more about: query@sfaudiophilesociety.com

San Francisco Audiophile Society

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