Revolutionaries on the move
Jean Noël Coghe (in Rock & Folk, issue of May 1968)

Pictures of Pink Floyd fill you with wonder. The clubs they play at have weird names. The titles of their songs themselves are mind boggling : Lucifer Sam, Astronomy Domine… As a consequence they are believed to be anticommercial, they are filed under " avant garde pop ", indeed sometimes " psychedelic pop " (that music which is aimed at tormented hippies or far out beatnicks, if you see what I mean…). They indulge in sonic experiments and even, mind you, go so far as to improvise ! Psychedelic music being a long way from commercially successful (there is no denying that the Soft Machine, the Grateful Dead or Country Joe and the Fish have never stirred masses), one inevitably comes to the conclusion that this trend a danger for pop music.

Now the Pink Floyd are far from all of that. Nothing to do with easy gimmicks, cheap gap filling or ill-devised experiments. The Pink Floyd’s music is solid stuff. It is sinewy and sturdy. One shouldn’t judge them on the strength of such singles as " See Emily play ". One had better listen carefully to the Piper at the gates of dawn (their album, third best sale in England). I have had this record for 7 months and I just won’t grow tired of it : it offers a wonderfully orchestrated series of sounds, voices, whispers, a real musical fresco.

By now, it seems, they are a five-man band : Syd Barrett (solo guitar and lead vocals), Roger Wright –sic (organ), Nick Mason (drums). The latest news was that newcomer David Gilmour would act as a replacement for Barrett who has a great liking to devote himself entirely to songwriting. The themes they have been playing so far are mainly Barrett’s own compositions, sometimes Waters’s, which they embellish with sundry rumblings, tickling bells, stamping too and weird shrieks, all of which are perfectly integrated to the overall musical context.

Barrett’s style is definitely unique. It goes from absolute smoothness to brutal violence, using virtually every possible means (echo effects, steel objects, iron rulers, electronic paraphernalia) to a good effect. Barrett gets on well with keyboard player Rick Wright whose style is flowing, supporting with simple notes the solo guitar, sometimes merging together with it, siding with it, replacing it. Roger Waters and Nick Mason provide a singularly powerful and adaptable rhythmic basis, that kind of both steady and bouncy tempo which is the jazzman’s trade secret. The light show is also part and parcel of the Floyd’s music. It is the work of another Pink, who is responsible for precisely fixing up the details of the light effects. The light show does have to go together with the music perfectly.

The Pink Floyd were born three years ago but have been known as such since the spring of 1966 only. The group took shape at London’s Polytechnic School of Architecture. Roger, Nick and Rick were together already. It’s the former who brough Syd in later on. The average age is 22. Syd Barrett, the group’s regular songwriter, is from Cambridge. He used to attend London’s Art School. Roger Waters too is from Cambridge. He spent four years studying architecture before devoting himself to music. We owe him a few songs, such as " Take up thy stethoscope and walk ". Rick Wright and Nick Mason are from London, and have also studied architecture.

After taking time to get into the way of things, the band started to break new ground. The Floyd were the first group to take advantage of the addition of light to sound. They adapted a whole set of colours to their weird music. They began to experiment at Hornsea College of Art, where they elaborated an all-out show, also exploring the possibilities of using pre-recorded loops on stage, for a pretty extraordinary result… The problem for the Pink Floyd is indeed to be able to reproduce at a concert hall the many effects they manage to create during their recording sessions. A new device such as the mellotron (which has been used successfully by The Moody Blues to simulate a whole orchestra) should help them finalize sonic shows that will be as perfect as their recordings. Another (English) device is even being spoken of, which would make it possible to simulate a choir with a mere piano keyboard…

Last autumn, the Floyd gave a series of concerts in Portobello Road which were organized by the London Free School. These allowed them to make a name for themselves in England and abroad. At the same time they were chosen as the best representatives of the UFO club.

Of course it takes some perseverance to listen through the 10-minute-long Interstellar Overdrive , the number which depicts the journey of a space vehicle from the traffic jams of earth’s suburbs to the infinite and the unspeakable fullness of emptiness.

There is no use saying that the Pink Floyd are not very popular here in France. Our DJs are on their guards against their music which seems to be that of a group of fanatical Brittons. Still, in their records (and this goes back to the beginning of my article), the Pink Floyd are not 100% psychedelic : they cleverly spice their straightforward pop songs with a slight psychedelic touch. They are not kidding : they know how to sound both pretty and offbeat.

Translated by Jean Gregoire Royer for the Laughing Madcaps, January 2001.