Everybody is familiar with Syd Barrett's descent into madness and departure from Pink Floyd. This post focuses on the brief time that he was still in the band with David Gilmour. The Five Man Pink Floyd couldn't continue because Syd was so ill and we were not worthy.
Coming back from a disastrous American tour, Pink Floyd embarked on an almost equally disastrous package tour with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It was the last straw for poor Syd. There is a photo of him sitting dejected right behind the amps while Jimi Hendrix makes music history on the stage.
Syd's last gig, as the leader of Pink Floyd, was at an event called Christmas on Earth. It was an attempt to re-create the vibe of the 14 Hour Technicolour Dream earlier that spring.
Five Man Pink Floyd
Here is an account of that from June Bolan:
"The last gig Syd played was at the Christmas on Earth gig. We found Syd in the dressing room and he was so....gone. Roger waters and I got him to his feet and onto the stage. He had a white Stratocaster and we put it around his neck and he walked onstage. The band started to play and Syd just stood there. He had his guitar around his neck and his arms just hanging down and I was in the wings wondering what to do. Suddenly he put his hands on the guitar and we thought, 'Great, he's actually going to do it!' But he just stood there, he just stood there tripping out of his mind.”
Andrew King says about the same night:
"There was little communication between Syd and the rest of the band. It’s hard to manage a band in that state. Could you have a conversation with him? Yeah, he seemed withdrawn but a lot of the time he was fine. The band – everyone – felt, how can we go on like this? I’m sure Syd did too. Unreliability was an element but there was more to it. They were totally directionless. I don’t think they’ve ever played worse. The rest of the band just gritted their teeth, stood there for an hour and sort of played their instruments."
Five Man Pink Floyd
"The organisers just got the event wrong. There was no reason why it shouldn’t have sold out. It was too much of an imitation of the 14-Hour Technicolour Dream and events like that. There had been too many of them. Every time you opened Melody Maker, there were adverts for this Happening and that Freakout. It got like that with raves and dance music in the last few years. Some of them did well and some went down the tubes.”
It was at this gig that Nick Mason approached David Gilmour and asked him if he would be interested in joining the band. Nick said things were getting "pretty desperate".
Shortly after that, the phone rang,
“I would be the front-man, on stage, “ Gilmour says in a DVD. “But it wasn’t really workable. The notion passed by very quickly. In fact, I think there were only five gigs, as I remember it, where there was the five of us played together. Then we ceased to go pick him up.”
Check out an interview with Gilmour about that here:
“I was 21, and one is fairly ambitious,” Gilmour says in an unedited bonus interview on the Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story DVD.
“You want to get on with stuff. That sort of offer is a very hard one to turn down. And, logically speaking, it wasn’t working. Syd was not performing at all on stage. It was kind of tragic.
"I don’t suppose I saw any option, but to just do the best that I could. I’m sure we were all full of some sort of guilt, and remained that way for a long time.”
Gilmour was incorporated into the band during three days of rehearsals in a West London school hall in January 1968. This was where Syd attempted to teach the band a new song called Have You Got It Yet? Each time the song reached the chorus, Syd would change the song, so the band could never get it. As a piece of performance art or comedy, it was rather clever.
"It was an open page," Gilmour says. "My initial ambition was just to get the band into some sort of shape. It seems ridiculous now, but I thought the band was awfully bad at the time when I joined. The gigs I'd seen with Syd were incredibly undisciplined. The leader figure was falling apart, and so was the band."
The band’s first performance as a five-piece was Aston University, on January 12th. It appears that Syd knew what was up and didn't like it. Barrett went and stood onstage right in front of Gilmour, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they were in the middle of playing a show. Syd then began walking around Gilmour, his childhood friend, like a panther, “as if checking that Dave was a three dimensional object” in the words of Floyd roadie Iain “Emo” Moore, checking “that he was real. It was as if Syd was thinking: Am I dreaming this?”
"There were jolly moments," Gilmour said in the Barrett biography. "Two or three of us in a row including Syd, doing a jig in a dressing room before going on stage."
Gilmour says, "It was tragic, really. There were five gigs we did together. We've got a bit of film of Syd in a dressing room somewhere at one of those gigs, and he dances this little jig, a little dance, and he's all smiling and laughing. But you look at him and go: 'Oh God, no, tragic.' Poor chap. I can't remember much about it. I was brand new and I think they knew I'd be taking over."
Following that, they played
Weston Super Mare 13 Jan
Lewes Sussex 19 Jan
Hastings Sussex 20 Jan
Five Man Pink Floyd
The Lewes' gig has some documentation about it. The concert was staged as a fund-raiser for Lewes Football Club with the profits going towards buying the first-ever floodlights at The Dripping Pan. Music enthusiast Norman Ashdown, who was on the club’s management committee, thought bringing big name bands to Lewes would make money. As well as thinking up the idea, he did all the legwork, from booking the groups and the Town Hall to organizing the publicity and bar. Pink Floyd were not actually Norman’s first choice. He first tried for Jimi Hendrix but found the £700 asking price too high. Instead he got Floyd for £500.
Norman’s son Mark was seventeen in 1968. “Because my dad was the Promoter, I remember being allowed backstage in the dressing rooms. I got to sit next to Rick Wright on his keyboards but all I could manage to play was chopsticks. They were a really nice bunch of guys”.
To around five hundred people, the band played two forty-five minute sets including tracks from "Piper at the Gates of Dawn”. The set included “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”, “Flaming” and “Interstellar Overdrive”. And when the band started “Careful with that axe Eugene” (probably Pow Toc H) everyone was asked to sit down on the floor and watch the light show. “It was amazing.” remembers Mark “Almost like meditation.”
Five Man Pink Floyd
After the Hastings show, the next show, at Southampton University on January 26th, was the one Syd was not picked up for. According to Gilmour in a 1995 interview with Guitar World, "One person in the car said, 'Shall we pick Syd up?' and another person said, 'Let’s not bother.'” However, they neglected to tell Syd his services were no longer needed in the band he created. The gig went so well, they didn’t call for him the next night either.
There was one gig on that UK tour however when Barrett did turn up, according to roadie Emo. He was already there when the band set up the gear onstage. Barrett sat at the side, waiting for the show to begin. It wasn’t until Floyd took the stage without him that it sunk in that there was someone else playing his part.
Five Man Pink Floyd
The 1968 album A Saucerful of Secrets was the last collaborative effort between all five members and the recording only featured one wholly self-composed track by Barrett. According to an interview with Gilmour on the 2006 documentary Which One's Pink?, the studio version of the song contained minor guitar work both from Gilmour and Barrett, making "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" the only Pink Floyd song that features all five band members, though some listeners may not fully discern the guitar tracks as Gilmour's guitar is played through an amplifier that makes it blend in with Richard Wright's keyboards and organs, and Barrett's guitar effects first sound like groaning, then seagulls.
Much later, asked about leaving Pink Floyd, Syd said,
"It wasn't really a war. I suppose it was really just a matter of being a little offhand about things. We didn't feel there was one thing which was gonna make the decision at the minute. I mean, we did split up, and there was a lot of trouble. I don't think The Pink Floyd had any trouble, but I had an awful scene, probably self-inflicted, having a mini and going all over England and things. Still..."
June Bolan said later,
"I think it's indicative of 'fame'-it could be just one record, something like 'See Emily Play,' and your first 'Top of the Pops'-and then things change," she says. "Before, they were four people who'd grown up together, or gone to college together. It became separate camps of people: your smokers and dopers, and your drinkers."
And affirms, "Once Syd lost his grip, they were really wicked to him. With Syd behaving like a complete cretin, they would send him up on long car journeys where you're all stuck in one vehicle, and there's nowhere to go because you've got to end up at the gig. Perhaps had they been kinder, in those early days of his breakdown or cracking up or whatever you want to call it, he may not have been hit so hard by it all. But that is speculation. It may have happened anyway, in exactly the same way, or it may not have happened so badly-but I do feel that they were horrider to him than they need to have been."