I can’t really imagine Pink Floyd as an R&B outfit. Even listening to the early couple of R&B tracks that have been released doesn’t help. They still sound like Pink Floyd. But an R&B band they were until Syd Barrett discovered LSD and it opened up worlds of possibility for his mind to invent sounds that had never previously existed. He investigated the guitar for noises and bleeps that nobody else had discovered before. He utilised feed-back, distortion and weirdness to harness it into strange new songs.
This was the mid-sixties age of experimentation. Nobody took it further than Syd and Jimi. Pink Floyd were all turned on by it and excavated a seam of music that had never been explored. They invented a psychedelic world inhabited by fantasy gnomes and Sci-fi excursions through the wonders of the galaxy.
On the West Coast of America Acid Rock was rampaging out of control as the Alternative Hippie culture invaded the citadels of mainstream America and took over the radio station, TV and bemused Music Industry. In London the alternative Underground was just as pervasive and giving rise to a cacophony of explorations with Indian Ragas, Jazz improvisation, Progressive Rock, Raw Chicago Blues and Electronic surrealism. British Beat groups had evolved to investigate every available avenue of possibility. It was adapt or die; the survival of the weirdest. This was the arena into which the Pink Floyd emerged.
They soon established themselves as the darlings of the new psychedelic dungeons of London. Their light shows, stolen from the West Coast scene, and hypnotic sounds were legendary from the beginning and formed the backdrop to the all-night events and happenings such as the infamous ‘Games for May’.
The first couple of singles flopped. The rest of the country weren’t ready for them. But then they had a couple of hits that brought them to the attention of everybody else other than the small London cognisee. The release of their first album signalled their arrival and established them as a major force. It was as much an event of the year as Sgt Peppers.
Their songs were just as importantly accompanied by wacky videos that served to accentuate the weird and wonderful dadaesque world of Pink Floyd. The new spacey sound was a million miles away from the Blues of Pink Anderson and Floyd Council from whom their name had been plucked.
The Underground scene took off like Apollo 12 and was augmented by a host of benefits, free concerts and festivals that were expressions of the new alternative culture. This was no longer all about making money. It was about sharing and community. Pink Floyd were there at the forefront. They were the mainstays of the scene, the premier psychedelic band. They started recording their second album and disaster struck.
Syd had been imbibing large quantities of LSD and had begun acting strange. He had always been eccentric but this was becoming more pronounced. It became harder to communicate with him and he became increasingly erratic. At some shows he would stand there and not play anything. In the end they brought in Dave Gilmour to cover for him.
Management were torn. They saw Syd as the creative force. They went with him and imagined the band would simply fall apart. Unfortunately it was Syd who fell apart while the band went from strength to strength. They consolidated the psychedelic spaceyness of the first album and came up with a successful second while Syd’s career stuttered and fizzled out.
Pink Floyd continued their psychedelic journey into the seventies with numerous experimental albums and maintained their status as the leading light in the Underground.
In the mid-seventies, when other Prog Rock bands like Yes, Emmerson Lake & Palmer and King Crimson had descended into tedious self-indulgence, Floyd produced the most amazing album of their career – and that’s saying something! Dark Side of the Moon catapulted them to a new level of brilliance.
It was a new type of experimental music based on what had gone before. Pink Floyd had become masters of the recording studio with their tape loops and quirky sounds.
The sound was to continue through the equally brilliant Wish you were Here, Animals and The Wall. They were the biggest band in the world.
Coupled with the music were extraordinary live stadium shows with huge inflatables and lavish stage sets. They were the masters of putting on an extravaganza. Their shows were the best.
Even when Roger Waters left they continued as a trio and carried on producing excellent albums and shows. They remained one of the best bands on the planet and a immensely creative force both visually and audibly. All that artistic ability had not gone to waste.
I still miss Syd and those early psychedelic times though. Those were the days. That was the place to be.
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