Nick Mason (b. 27 January 1944) and Roger Waters (b. 6 September 1943) met at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London, where both were studying architecture. They spoke for the first time with each other in 1963 when Waters asked to borrow Mason’s car. Mason played drums in a band called The Hotrods in his teenage years, and Waters played guitar. Both were avid fans of Radio Luxembourg and their shared tastes led to a friendship based on a mutual appreciation of music.
The pair first played together in a band formed by Keith Noble and Clive Metcalfe, along with Noble’s sister Sheilagh, an occasional singer in the band. They were joined later by fellow student Richard Wright (b. 28 July 1943). With the addition of Wright the band became a sextet, and took the name Sigma 6. Wright’s girlfriend Juliette Gale was often a guest artist, and Waters initially played rhythm guitar, before moving to bass. Early gigs were for private functions, and the band rehearsed in a tearoom in the basement of Regent Street Polytechnic. Sigma 6 played songs by The Searchers as well as material written by fellow student Ken Chapman, who became their manager and songwriter. Wright taught himself to play guitar aged 12, and also played trumpet and piano, but uncertain about his future he had enrolled at Regent Street Polytechnic in 1962. His first meeting with Waters had been when the latter asked to borrow a cigarette (a request Wright declined). He took private lessons in musical theory and composition at the Eric Gilder School of Music, and although Mason and Waters were competent students, Wright found architecture of little interest and he left the polytechnic after a year of study, moving to the London College of Music.
In September 1963 Mason and Waters moved into the lower flat of Stanhope Gardens, a house owned by a part-time tutor at the Regent Street Polytechnic, Mike Leonard. Leonard was a designer of light machines (perforated discs spun by electric motors to cast patterns of lights on the walls; these would be demonstrated in an early edition of Tomorrow’s World), and for a time performed alongside the band, as a keyboardist. They used the front room of the flat for rehearsals, where all the equipment was permanently set up. Mason later moved out of the flat, and accomplished guitar player Bob Klose moved in. Their name changed several times, from the Megadeaths, to the Architectural Abdabs, and the Tea Set. Metcalfe and Noble left the band shortly thereafter.
Syd Barrett, then aged 17, arrived in London in the autumn of 1963, to study at Camberwell College of Art. Encouraged by his father, who died when Barrett was 14 years old, he learned to play the piano, the banjo, and the guitar. Keen to help her son get over the loss of his father, Barrett’s mother encouraged his band, The Mottoes, to perform in their front room. Waters and Barrett were childhood friends, and Waters often visited such gigs. He joined the Tea Set in 1964, and moved into Stanhope Gardens alongside Klose and Waters. Mason found him “delightful”, and recalled their first meeting:
In a period when everyone was being cool in a very adolescent, self-concious way, Syd was unfashionably outgoing; my enduring memory of our first encounter is the fact that he bothered to come up and introduce himself to me.—Nick Mason,
As “The Pink Floyd Sound”
With the Tea Set lacking the vocals of Noble and Metcalfe, Klose introduced them to Chris Dennis, a technician with the Royal Air Force. During Dennis’ tenure, the Tea Set acquired an alternative name—the Pink Floyd Sound. The name was derived from the given names of two blues musicians that Barrett had in his record collection—Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. On the spur of the moment, Barrett created it upon the discovery that another band also named Tea Set were to perform at one of their gigs.
Dennis was posted to Bahrain, thrusting Barrett into the spotlight as frontman. Minus Wright—who had taken a break from studying—they acquired studio time between 1964–1965. They recorded a cover version of “I’m A King Bee”, and songs written by Barrett, using the recordings as promotional material. Meanwhile, Wright had recorded and published a song called “You’re The Reason Why”, for which he was paid an advance fee of £75. They later became the resident band at the Countdown Club near Kensington High Street in London, and played three sets of 90 minutes from late at night, until early the following morning. According to Mason, this period “… was the beginning of a realisation that songs could be extended with lengthy solos.” They auditioned for the ITV programme Ready Steady Go! (whose producers expressed enough interest to invite them back into the studio audience the following week), another club, and two rock contests. Bob Klose left in 1965, at the behest of his father and college tutors, and Barrett took over on lead guitar.
They began to receive paid bookings including at the Marquee Club in March 1966 where they were watched by Peter Jenner. The band played mostly rhythm and blues songs, but Jenner was impressed with the strange acoustic effects that Barrett and Wright created during their performance. Jenner traced Waters and Mason to their flat, and with his business partner and friend Andrew King was subsequently invited to become their manager. Although the pair had little experience of the music industry, they shared an appreciation of music, as well as a childhood history. Using inherited money they set up Blackhill Enterprises and purchased new instruments for the band, as well as equipment which included a Selmer PA system. Under their guidance, they began performing on London’s underground music scene, notably at a venue booked by the London Free School in Notting Hill. At the All Saints Hall they were confronted by an audience whose members were often under the influence of drugs, and who arrived with few or no expectations. Question and answer sessions would often be held following each performance. The Pink Floyd Sound felt encouraged to work on the instrumental excursions they had experimented with at the Countdown Club, and rudimentary light shows projected by coloured slides and domestic lights were used to powerful effect. To celebrate the launch of the Free School’s magazine International Times, they performed at the opening of The Roundhouse, attended by 2000-strong crowd which included such celebrities as Alexander Trocchi, Paul McCartney, and Marianne Faithfull. Jenner and King’s diverse array of social connections were meritorious, gaining the band important coverage in The Financial Times and The Sunday Times.
At the launching of the new magazine IT the other night a pop group called the Pink Floyd played throbbing music while a series of bizarre coloured shapes flashed on a huge screen behind them. Someone had made a mountain of jelly which people ate at midnight and another person had parked his motorbike in the middle of the room. All apparently very psychedelic.—The Sunday Times,
By October 1966 the band were playing more of Barrett’s songs, which would later feature on Pink Floyd’s first album. Their relationship with Blackhill Enterprises was strengthened when they became full partners, each with an unprecedented one-sixth share. More gigs followed, including at the Commonwealth Institute, and one at a Catholic youth club whose owner refused to pay. At a magistrates’ court a judge agreed with the owner, who claimed that the band’s performance “wasn’t music”. This was not the only occasion on which they encountered such entrenched opinions, but they were better received at the UFO Club in London. They enjoyed playing there, and used the in-house lighting to good effect. Barrett’s performances were exuberant, “… leaping around and the madness, and the kind of improvisation he was doing … he was inspired. He would constantly manage to get past his limitations and into areas that were very, very interesting. Which none of the others could do.” The audience was receptive to the music they played, but unlike some of their spectators they remained drug-free —”We were out of it, not on acid, but out of the loop, stuck in the dressing room at UFO.”
Although in 1967 Mason admitted that the psychedelic movement had “taken place around us—not within us”, the Pink Floyd Sound were present at the head of a wave of interest in this new style of music. There was substantial interest from record companies, and steered by Joe Boyd in January 1967 they recorded several songs at Sound Techniques in West Hampstead, including “Arnold Layne”, and a version of “Interstellar Overdrive”. They also travelled to Sussex and recorded a short music film for “Arnold Layne”. Despite early interest from Polydor, the band signed with EMI with a £5,000 advance, and Boyd was unfortunately left out of the deal.
Signing with EMI
The demands of live performances, academic study, and regular paid work, were incompatible, which prompted Waters to leave his job as an architect; Wright had long-since devoted his time purely to music; Barrett stopped attending the Camberwell College of Art; and Mason took a sabbatical from college. The concerns of EMI over their psychedelic connections saw the band give several interviews to the press, to distance themselves from such associations. “Arnold Layne” was their first single, released on 11 March 1967. It was banned by several radio stations for its vague references to sexual perversions, but due to some creative manipulation at the shops which supplied sales figures to the music industry, it peaked at #20 in the UK charts.
Pink Floyd (the definite article was dropped at some point in 1967) replaced their ageing Bedford van with a Ford Transit, and used it to travel to over two hundred gigs in 1967 (a ten-fold increase on the previous year). They were joined by road manager Peter Wynne Willson, with whom Barrett had previously shared a flat. Willson updated the band’s lighting rig, with innovative ideas such as the use of polarisers, mirrors, and stretched condoms. On one occasion the group’s van was stopped by police, who were surprised to see one of the roadies cutting a pile of condoms with scissors. Some venues were hostile to rock bands, insisting on raised auditorium lighting—a problem the band often solved with the use of an air-rifle. The rigours of touring were not without their own rewards; finances were tight, so much so that on one ferry crossing one of the roadies bet Waters £20 that he would crawl from one end of the boat to the other, barking like a dog—a bet he subsequently won.
“See Emily Play” was Pink Floyd’s second release, recorded at Sound Techniques in London. It was initially called “Games for May”, and premièred at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London over a month before its release on 16 June 1967. They premièred a device built for them by an Abbey Road engineer, known as an Azimuth co-ordinator (an early quadraphonic system). Their use of a bubble machine and the scattering of flowers resulted in a ban from the hall. They performed on the BBC’s Look of the Week, in which they faced rigorous questioning from Hans Keller. Along with Waters, Barrett appeared erudite and engaging. The single fared slightly better than “Arnold Layne”, and after two weeks was at #17 in the charts. The band mimed the single on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops, and returned for another performance when the single climbed to #5. A scheduled third appearance was cancelled when Barrett refused to perform. At about this time the other band members began to notice changes in Barrett’s behaviour. By early 1967 he was regularly using lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), a psychedelic drug, and although initially it seemed to lead to further inspiration and creativity, at an earlier show in Holland, Mason observed Barrett to be “completely distanced from everything going on, whether simply tripping or suffering from a more organic neural disturbance I still have no idea.”
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Contractual obligations meant that the band’s first album was recorded at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London. Bryan Morrison, their agent, had been instrumental in arranging the band’s contract with EMI, through producer Norman Smith. Although in his 2005 autobiography Mason recalled the sessions as relatively trouble-free, Smith disagreed, and claimed that Barrett was unresponsive to his suggestions and constructive criticism to sing new takes in exactly the same way as previous versions. They experimented with musique concrète, and were at one point invited to watch The Beatles record “Lovely Rita”. Jeff Jarrett was a tape operator at the time, and enthused about their live performances. Both Jarrett and Waters have since surmised that the band’s psychedelic take on music may not have been entirely compatible with the more conventional arrangements preferred by Smith.
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was released in August 1967. Pink Floyd continued to perform at the UFO Club, and drew huge crowds, but Barrett’s erratic behaviour caused them serious concern. The band initially hoped that his deterioration was a phase that he would soon pass through, but other people, including Jenner, and June Child, were more realistic:
… I found him in the dressing room and he was so … gone. Roger Waters and I got him on his feet, we got him out to the stage … and of course the audience went spare because they loved him. The band started to play and Syd just stood there. He had his guitar around his neck and his arms just hanging down.—June Child,
To the band’s consternation, they cancelled a performance at the Windsor Jazz Festival, and informed the music press that Barrett was suffering from ‘nervous exhaustion’. Jenner and Waters arranged for Barrett to see a psychiatrist, but he did not attend. He was sent to Formentera, along with Sam Hutt—a doctor well-established in the underground music scene—but later showed no signs of improvement. A few dates in September were followed by their first tour of the United States, and in his capacity as tour manager Andrew King travelled to New York to begin preparations. The tour suffered serious problems. Visas had not arrived, prompting a series of “hasty” phone calls and the cancellation of the first six dates. Elektra Records had turned Pink Floyd down, and so the band were by default handled by EMI’s sister company, Capitol, which assigned them to their subsidiary, Tower Records. Tower released a truncated version of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (which allowed them to release the missing tracks separately) on the same date as the band’s American première at The Fillmore in California, on 26 October 1967. Communication between company and band was almost non-existent, and Pink Floyd’s relationship with Tower and Capitol was therefore poor. Barrett’s mental condition mirrored the problems that King encountered; when the band performed at the Winterland Ballroom, he detuned his guitar during “Interstellar Overdrive” until the strings fell off. His odd behaviour grew worse during further performances, and during a recording for The Pat Boone Show he confounded the director by miming the song perfectly during the rehearsal, and then standing motionless during the take. King quickly curtailed their visit to the US, sending them home on the next flight. At one point, Waters found Barrett asleep in his motel room, a cigarette burning through his fingers (a scene that would later inspire a shot in their 1982 film The Wall). Shortly after their return from the US, beginning 14 November the band supported Jimi Hendrix on a tour of England, but on one occasion when Barrett failed to turn up they were forced to replace him with David O’List. Barrett’s depression worsened the longer the tour continued. Wynne Willson left his role as lighting manager at the end of the Hendrix tour, and allied himself with Barrett, whose position as frontman was now becoming insecure. He was replaced by John Marsh. Pink Floyd released “Apples and Oranges”, but for the rest of the band Barrett’s condition had reached a crisis point, and they responded by adding a new member to their line-up.
David Gilmour (b. 6 March 1946) was already acquainted with Barrett, having studied modern language in the early 1960s at Cambridge Tech while Barrett studied art. Gilmour had started playing guitar aged thirteen, and the two played together at lunchtimes, with guitars and harmonicas. They later hitch-hiked and busked their way around the south of France. Gilmour had also seen the Tea Set perform while playing in Jokers Wild, at a party in Cambridge in October 1965. At an event near the end of 1967 the band asked Gilmour to become the fifth member of Pink Floyd. By coincidence Barrett had already suggested adding four new members, in the words of Roger Waters, “… two freaks he’d met somewhere. One of them played the banjo, the other the saxophone … [and] a couple of chick singers”. Steve O’Rourke, one of Bryan Morrison’s assistants, gave Gilmour a room at his house, and he was promised a salary of £30 per week. One of Gilmour’s first steps as a member of Pink Floyd was to purchase a custom-made yellow Fender Stratocaster from an oft-frequented music shop in Cambridge; the instrument became one of Gilmour’s favourite guitars throughout his career with Pink Floyd. Blackhill officially announced Gilmour as the fifth member of Pink Floyd in January 1968. To the general public he was now the second guitarist, but privately the rest of the band saw him as Barrett’s replacement, as the latter’s performances continued to ebb. One of Gilmour’s first duties was to pretend to play a guitar on an “Apples and Oranges” promotional film.
The idea was that Dave would be Syd’s dep. and cover for his eccentricities. And when that got to be not workable, Syd was just going to write. Just to try to keep him involved, but in a way where the others could work and function.—Peter Jenner,
In a demonstration of his frustration at being effectively sidelined, Barrett tried to teach the band a new song “Have You Got It Yet?”, but changed the structure on each performance—making it impossible for them to learn. Matters came to a head on the day they were due to perform in Southampton. When somebody in the van asked if they should collect Barrett, the response was “No, fuck it, let’s not bother”.
Waters later admitted “He was our friend, but most of the time we now wanted to strangle him.” For a while Barrett still turned up to the occasional gig, apparently confused as to what was happening in the band. As a result of his de facto removal, Pink Floyd’s partnership with Peter Jenner and Andrew King was dissolved in March 1968. Barrett’s departure was officially announced on 6 April 1968. Jenner and King, who believed that the creative spirit of Pink Floyd derived almost entirely from Barrett, decided to represent him, and ended their relationship with Pink Floyd. Bryan Morrison then agreed that Steve O’Rourke should become Pink Floyd’s manager. Waters was determined not to let Barrett’s removal destroy the band, but although the changeover between Barrett and Gilmour was something of a relief, it was also a difficult time for Gilmour, who was forced to mime to Barrett’s voice on the group’s European television appearances. Although Barrett had been their main songwriter, Waters and Wright created new material, such as “It Would Be So Nice”, and “Careful With That Axe, Eugene”. “It Would Be So Nice” was a commercial failure despite some controversy over the inclusion of the words The Evening Standard in the lyrics. The BBC refused to broadcast the song, and the band had to spend extra money in the studio to change the word ‘evening’ to ‘daily’. They developed their new material while playing on the University circuit, and were joined by road manager Peter Watts before touring across Europe in 1968.
Saucerful of Secrets
In 1968 the band returned to Abbey Road Studios with Smith, to record their second studio album. They already had several songs recorded with Barrett, including “Jugband Blues” (his final contribution to their discography). Waters wrote three songs, “Let There Be More Light”, “Corporal Clegg” (which alludes to Rogers’ obsession with war and the military), and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”. Wright contributed “See-Saw” and “Remember a Day”. The band continued the experimentation seen on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, recording some material at their homes, a process that Smith encouraged. He remained unconvinced by their music, but played drums on “Remember a Day” when Mason struggled with the song.
Norman gave up on the second album … he was forever saying things like, “You can’t do twenty minutes of this ridiculous noise.”—Richard Wright,
Neither Waters or Mason could read music, and both created the album’s title track “A Saucerful of Secrets” by inventing their own system of notation, something which Gilmour later would comment looked “… like an architectural diagram”. A Saucerful of Secrets was released in June 1968, and received mixed reviews. Record Mirror wrote positively, urging listeners to “forget it as background music to a party”, and John Peel claimed that the album was “… like a religious experience …”, however NME was critical of the title track, claiming it to be “… long and boring, and has little to warrant its monotonous direction”. The album cover was designed by Storm Thorgerson and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis. On the same day, the band performed at the first free Hyde Park concert (organised by Blackhill Enterprises), with Roy Harper and Jethro Tull. Bryan Morrison sold his business to NEMS Enterprises, and Steve O’Rourke became Pink Floyd’s personal manager. O’Rourke was considered by the band as a “great deal-maker”, whose business acumen overshadowed his lack of interest in aesthetic matters. Thus the band were able to take complete control of their artistic outlook. The band returned to the US for their first major tour, accompanied by Soft Machine and The Who.
In 1968 the group worked on the score for The Committee, and just before Christmas that year released “Point Me At The Sky”. It was no more successful than the two singles they had released since “See Emily Play”, and it was to become the band’s only single for several more years (“Apples and Oranges” was not released in the US). In 1969 the band composed the soundtrack for More, directed by Barbet Schroeder. The work proved important; not only did it pay well, but along with A Saucerful of Secrets the material they created would become part of their live shows for some time thereafter. A tour of the UK followed through the spring 1969, ending at the Royal Festival Hall in July 1969. It was memorable for the band, but more so for Gilmour who was thrown across the stage by an electric shock caused by poor earthing. The performances, built around two long pieces called The Man and The Journey, were enhanced with performance art created by artist Peter Dockley, and some of the sound effects were later used on 1970’s “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”.
While composing the soundtrack for Zabriskie Point (directed by Michaelangelo Antonioni) the band spent almost a month in a luxury hotel in Rome. Waters has since claimed that the work could have been completed in less than a week, but for Antonioni’s continuous changes to the music. Eventually he used recordings by the Grateful Dead, The Youngbloods, Patti Page, and the Rolling Stones, but three of Pink Floyd’s contributions remained. One of the pieces turned down by Antonioni would eventually become “Us and Them” on Pink Floyd’s 1973 The Dark Side of the Moon. The band also did some work on the soundtrack for a proposed cartoon series called Rollo, but a lack of funds meant that the series was never produced, and away from Pink Floyd, Waters scored the soundtrack to the 1970 film The Body (directed by Ron Geesin).
Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother
Pink Floyd’s next album was something of a departure from their previous work. Ummagumma, a double-LP released on EMI’s Harvest label, contained barely any new compositions. The first two sides of the album were live acts, recorded at Manchester College of Commerce and at Mother’s Club in Birmingham. For the second LP, each member was given one half of each side on which to experiment. The album was released to positive reviews in October 1969.
Ummagumma was quickly followed by 1970’s Atom Heart Mother. The album apes the work produced at the time by groups such as Deep Purple and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The band’s previous LPs had been recorded using a four-track system, however Atom Heart Mother was their first to use eight tracks of audio. An early version was premièred in France in January 1970, but disagreements over its direction prompted the arrival of Ron Geesin, who worked for about a month to improve the score. Production was troublesome, with little creative input from the band, but with the aid of John Aldiss the album was eventually completed. Gilmour has since dismissed Atom Heart Mother as “a load of rubbish”, and Waters was similarly dismissive, claiming that he wouldn’t mind if it were “thrown into the dustbin and never listened to by anyone ever again.” Norman Smith was given only an executive producer credit, his final contribution to the band’s discography. With Thorgerson’s distinctive image of a cow on the front cover, Atom Heart Mother was nevertheless massively successful in the UK, and was premièred at the Bath Festival on 27 June 1970.
In 1971 they took second place in a poll of readers by Melody Maker (behind Emerson, Lake and Palmer), and for the first time in their history were making a profit. However the theft in New Orleans of equipment worth about $40,000 almost crippled the band’s finances. The local police were unhelpful, but within hours of notifying the FBI the equipment was returned. Both Mason and Wright were now fathers, and both bought homes in London. Gilmour, still unmarried, moved to a 19th-century farm in Essex. At his house in Islington, Waters installed a home recording studio in a converted tool-shed at the bottom of his garden, shared with his wife, a potter.
- The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
- A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
- Soundtrack from the Film More (1969)
- Ummagumma (1969) Live/Studio
- Atom Heart Mother (1970)
- Meddle (1971)
- Obscured by Clouds (1972)
- The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
- Wish You Were Here (1975)
- Animals (1977)
- The Wall (1979)
- The Final Cut (1983)
- A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987)
- Delicate Sound of Thunder (1988) Live
- The Division Bell (1994)
- Pulse (1995) Live
- Is There Anybody Out There? The Wall Live 1980–81 (2000) Live
- London ’66-’67 (1967)
- Live at Pompeii (1972)
- Pink Floyd The Wall (1982)
- Delicate Sound of Thunder (1988)
- La Carrera Panamericana (1991)
- Pulse (1995)
Acclaim and honours
In 1980 The Wall won a Grammy for ‘Best Engineered Non-Classical Album’, and in 1982 the film of the same name won a BAFTA for sound. “Marooned” won a Grammy in 1995 for ‘Rock Instrumental Performance’. On 17 January 1996 Pink Floyd were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Billy Corgan presented the the award to Gilmour and Wright, who remained onstage to perform an unplugged rendition of “Wish You Were Here”. Almost ten years later on 16 November 2005 they were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame, and presented with an award by Pete Townshend. Gilmour and Mason attended in person, explaining that Wright was in hospital following eye surgery, and Waters appeared on a video screen, from Rome. In a BBC radio interview shortly after the ceremony, Mark Radcliffe asked them if they were tempted to perform on the night, to which Gilmour replied that although they’d enjoyed Live 8, a performance for the award show would have been unlikely. In 2008 they were awarded the Polar Music Prize for their contribution to contemporary music. Waters and Mason were present at the ceremony, where they received the prize from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.
The group has sold over 200 million albums worldwide, including 74.5 million certified units in the United States. Its members have benefited substantially from their musical activities. The Sunday Times Rich List 2009 ranks Waters at #657 with an estimated wealth of £85m, Gilmour at #742 with £78m, and Mason at #1077 with £50m. Wright does not appear on the list.
A number of notable musicians and bands from diverse genres have been influenced by Pink Floyd’s music. These include David Bowie, Blur, Tangerine Dream, Nine Inch Nails, Dream Theater, My Chemical Romance, Nazz, Queen, The Mars Volta, Phish, Radiohead, Porcupine Tree, and the Smashing Pumpkins. Italian composer and conductor Martino Traversa listened to the group as a teenager. The Pet Shop Boys paid homage to The Wall during a performance in Boston.
On 8 February 1995 the opening sequence of “Time” was played as a wakeup call for the crew of space mission STS-63.