An Hour-Long Collection of Live Footage Documents the Early Days of Pink Floyd (1967–1972)

Look­ing back on the Pink Floyd of the late 60s, the fledg­ling band first led by Syd Bar­rett can seem a bit like Britain’s answer to The Vel­vet Under­ground. Idio­syn­crat­i­cal­ly druidic, mys­te­ri­ous, and play­ful, but also inspired by lit­er­a­ture (though Bar­rett was much more Ken­neth Gra­ham than Del­more Schwartz), drawn to exper­i­men­tal film and hyp­not­ic stage effects, inspired to turn the expe­ri­ence of being on spe­cif­ic drugs into a dis­ori­ent­ing new way of play­ing music.

The com­par­i­son may seem odd, espe­cial­ly giv­en the Vel­vets rep­u­ta­tion as the most famous band no one heard of until after they broke up and Pink Floyd’s rep­u­ta­tion as one of the biggest-sell­ing bands of all time. But before they filled sta­di­ums, they were scrap­py and strange and psy­che­del­ic in the ear­li­est sense of the word.

Sad­ly depart­ed singer Chris Cor­nell remem­bers dis­cov­er­ing their first record, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, in the mid-80s, and meet­ing a very dif­fer­ent Pink Floyd than the one he’d come to know: “It could almost have been a British indie-rock record of the time.” Indeed, Syd Barrett’s work, includ­ing the solo albums he record­ed after leav­ing the band, left a long, last­ing impres­sion on indie rock.

[T]he impor­tant thing about The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was the music’s strange jux­ta­po­si­tion – some­times whim­si­cal and pas­toral, but simul­ta­ne­ous­ly des­per­ate and sad. I don’t think I ever found anoth­er record which that type of dichoto­my worked so well. With Syd Bar­rett, it nev­er felt like an inven­tion.

The BBC’s Chris Jones put it a lit­tle more suc­cinct­ly: “this is Edward Lear for the acid gen­er­a­tion.”

If all of this sounds appeal­ing and if, some­how, like Cor­nell, you missed out of the ear­li­est incar­na­tion of Pink Floyd—with elfin savant Bar­rett first at the helm—you owe it to your­self to watch the hour-long com­pi­la­tion of footage above fea­tur­ing some of the ear­li­est live per­for­mances, first with Bar­rett, then a fresh-faced David Gilmour tak­ing over for their sec­ond album, A Saucer­ful of Secrets.

As Barrett’s spi­dery Tele­cast­er lines give way to Gilmour’s grit­ty Stra­to­cast­er riffs, you can hear a more famil­iar Floyd take shape. They clear­ly always want­ed to reach an audi­ence, but in their first sev­er­al years, Pink Floyd seemed total­ly uncon­cerned with fill­ing are­nas and sell­ing albums in num­bers mea­sured by pre­cious met­als. Songs like “Astron­o­my Domine” and “Set the Con­trols for the Heart of the Sun” are all about heady atmos­phere, not the gut-lev­el hooks and brevi­ty of pop.

Though they start­ed out in 1965 like every oth­er British clas­sic rock band, obses­sive­ly cov­er­ing Amer­i­can blues songs, Pink Floyd took their rock chops to anoth­er galaxy. “If you look back at some of the great psy­che­del­ic albums that came out that year”—writes Alex Gaby in an essay tour of the band’s entire cat­a­logueThe Piper at the Gates of Dawn “doesn’t quite sound like any of those…. It’s as if Pink Floyd were the piper and they are open­ing up the gates to a new dawn of psy­che­delia and music.” Watch the gates open live, on film, above.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Psy­che­del­ic Scenes of Pink Floyd’s Ear­ly Days with Syd Bar­rett, 1967

Pink Floyd Plays With Their Brand New Singer & Gui­tarist David Gilmour on French TV (1968)

Watch David Gilmour Play the Songs of Syd Bar­rett, with the Help of David Bowie & Richard Wright

When Pink Floyd Tried to Make an Album with House­hold Objects: Hear Two Sur­viv­ing Tracks Made with Wine Glass­es & Rub­ber Bands

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (4)
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  • EK says:

    Fan­tas­tic era for PF. Gar­ret­t’s solo work is a fine con­tin­u­a­tion of that sound.

  • EK says:

    Fan­tas­tic era for PF. Bar­ret­t’s solo work is a fine con­tin­u­a­tion­tion of that sound.

  • Roger Jones says:

    When I clicked on this, I was expect­ing some new­ly — dis­cov­ered rare footage. As much as I love it, this is sim­ply mate­r­i­al from the box set. Noth­in­hg new here.

  • Katie says:

    Syd Bar­ret­t’s sto­ry is so sad. It’s hard to just write it off as ‘anoth­er acid casu­al­ty’. Bar­rett had what it takes to be a sen­sa­tion. He was so orig­i­nal with his songs that he wrote along with the unique sounds from his gui­tar. He was Pink Floy­d’s front man and a tal­ent­ed singer. Syd was so very charis­mat­ic (much more so than the oth­er 3) every­one he met instant­ly liked him and felt they were wit­ness­ing ‘great­ness in the mak­ing’… As brite as his light shined, was as fast as it dimmed and then burned out com­plete­ly after tak­ing mas­sive amounts of LSD in a 7 day peri­od of time… Syd was replaced by David Gilmour and the rest is his­to­ry except for Syd, who returned back at his child­hood home with his moth­er and was often seen rid­ing his bike to the store. He lived out the rest of his life as a recluse until his death at the age of 61…

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