A look at the life of Pink Floyd’s most forgotten member, Syd Barrett

One of the most important bands in music history, that is still affecting the world up until today, Pink Floyd, got founded in 1965 by students Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason.

But what is not known to many people, is that the band had another co-founder, Syd Barrett, who influenced the music produced by the band in so many ways.

Syd Barrett.
Syd Barrett.

Pink Floyd’s debut album, The Piper At The Gates of Dawn, was recorded under Syd Barrett’s leadership, turning into a success and reached number 20 on the British single charts.
The sound of the album is totally different from the rest of the band’s albums, which clarifies that Barrett had his own style, and he also contributed in the production of A Saucerful of Secrets, the band’s second album, with the writing and composing a single song called “Jugband Blues”, aka his last collaboration ever with the band.

"The Piper at The Gates of Dawn" cover album.
“The Piper at The Gates of Dawn” cover album.

But the question here is, what has actually led Syd Barrett to be so forgotten? What has led him to leave the band, and how did he influence their music even without his presence?

Before the recording of the band’s second album, Barrett’s behavior started being unpredictable and dangerous. His personality changed dramatically, he started suffering of schizophrenia and experienced hallucinations, periods of catatonia, empty look and disorganized speech. The cause of such is the deep use of LSD and psychedelic drugs, which were extremely popular among the youth in the mid-late 60s. His introduction to LSD and psychedelic drugs was due to him joining a religious sect of Sikhism that made use of these substances, known as Sant Mat (meaning “Path of the Saints”).

Another effect resulting from his use of drugs is strumming a single guitar string during a performance, or not playing at all, or wandering around the stage, and many other irregular deeds. He even experienced seizures on stage.

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One of the rare pictures featuring all the band members. In a clockwise way: Nick Mason, Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Richard Wright and David Gilmour

As the band was growing tired of his behavior, they decided to let David Gilmour become a replacement of Barrett’s position in the band.

It wasn’t Barrett’s decision to leave the band. Indeed, in early 1968, when Waters was driving on the way to a show at Southampton University, the band elected not to pick Barrett up.

After the departure from the band, he recorded two other solo albums between 1969 and 1972, “The Madcap Laughs” and “Barrett”.

During the recording of one of Pink Floyd’s most famous albums, Wish You Were Here, in 1975, he came to visit them at Abbey Road studios, where he was totally affected by his mental illness. He gained a lot of weight, shaved his eyebrows and head, and his behavior was even more irregular than it already was, that the band didn’t recognize him for some time. A song in the album, Shine On You Crazy Diamond, was dedicated especially to him, turning into one of the band’s biggest hits, and that’s how Barrett influenced the band’s music even after his departure.

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Right: Syd Barrett in 1975, at Abbey Road studios during the recording of “Wish You Were Here”.

Syd Barrett left the music industry officially in 1978 after his money ran out, and got back into his hometown, Cambridge, to live with his mother. He kept receiving royalties (financial support) by Pink Floyd from each released compilation.

Up until this day, he has compilations with Pink Floyd that haven’t got released yet and are kept by David Gilmour and Roger Waters. It has been claimed that they think these recordings are “indecent” and showed his ruined mental state.

Barrett died of pancreatic cancer in 2006, after suffering of diabetes for so many years.

 

There you have it, the story of a man who influenced the history of music in so many ways… Rest in peace, crazy diamond.

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