50 Years Ago: Syd Barrett Plays His Last Show With Pink Floyd
The shining star that was Syd Barrett played his last ever gig with Pink Floyd on Jan. 20, 1968. Barrett was the main songwriter, lead singer, guitarist and focal point for the psychedelic pioneers from their formation through the end of 1967, at which time, various issues led to his exit from the band.
Pink Floyd were on constant ascent during 1967. The band had released a pair of classic singles, "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play," as well as their stunning debut LP, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. But Barrett's erratic and unpredictable behavior kept ascending as well making it harder and harder for the band to keep on track.
Friend David Gilmour was brought into the band in late 1967 to augment Barrett on guitar. Gilmour became responsible for most of the live guitar parts since Barret would start songs in the wrong key and at times simply stop playing altogether.
This five-man lineup was short-lived as the band began to grown weary of dealing with Barrett at all. On Jan. 26, 1968, while on the way to a show at Southampton University, the band simply made the call not to pick Barrett up to go to the gig. 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.
"Initially it got really embarrassing" said Rick Wright in the Barrett bio A Very Irregular Head,' "I had to say things like, 'Syd, I'm going out to get a packet of cigarettes' and then go off and play a gig. Of course, eventually he worked out what was going on." Wright was sharing an apartment with Barrett at the time.
At first, it was proposed that Barrett stay home and take on the role that Brian Wilson had done with the Beach Boys, and concentrate on writing songs and recording. But this idea didn't fly far either and it is still unclear just how long, and how awkward, the final severing of ties was. "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."
It wasn't until April 6, 1968, that the Floyd officially announced that Barrett had left the band. Poet and friend Spike Hawkins remembers Barrett telling him about the early Floyd recordings, and how he "wanted to go much deeper, using music and lyrics as a key to opening doors." Hawkins told Barrett he had in fact opened doors for the band, Barrett replied, "Yeah, with cheap keys."