Behind the scenes, Pink Floyd faced many challenges and conflicts, especially regarding the departure of two of its founding members: Syd Barrett and Roger Waters.
Table of Contents
Decline in Syd Barrett’s Mental Health
Syd Barrett was the original leader, guitarist, and main songwriter of Pink Floyd. He was responsible for most of the songs on their debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967), which established the band as a prominent force in the underground music scene. Barrett was also a pioneer of using guitar effects such as distortion, feedback, and echo to create innovative sounds.
However, Barrett’s mental health deteriorated rapidly due to his excessive use of LSD and other drugs, as well as his underlying schizophrenia. He became increasingly erratic, unpredictable, and withdrawn, making it difficult for him to perform and compose. In one infamous incident, he shaved his head and eyebrows before a live appearance on Top of the Pops in 1967.
Barrett’s Departure from the Band
The band tried to help him by involving his family and seeking professional help, but Barrett refused to cooperate. They also hired David Gilmour, a childhood friend of Barrett’s, as a second guitarist to cover for him when he was unable to play. Eventually, Barrett was officially dismissed from the band in 1968, after he failed to show up for a US tour.
The band was deeply affected by Barrett’s departure, as they felt guilty, sad, and lost without their creative leader. They also faced an existential threat, as they had to find a new musical direction and identity without their main songwriter.
How Pink Floyd Continued after Barrett’s Departure
The band decided to continue as a quartet, with Gilmour taking over the lead guitar duties and sharing the vocals with bassist Roger Waters. They also started to collaborate more as a group, rather than relying on one individual’s vision. They experimented with different styles and genres, such as blues rock, folk rock, hard rock, and electronic music. They also explored more complex and ambitious concepts and themes in their albums, such as Ummagumma (1969), Atom Heart Mother (1970), Meddle (1971), and The Dark Side of the Moon (1973).
The band never forgot about Barrett, however. They dedicated several songs and albums to him, such as “Wish You Were Here” (1975), “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (1975), and The Wall (1979). They also visited him occasionally at his home in Cambridge, where he lived in seclusion until his death in 2006.
Roger Waters’ Important Role in Pink Floyd
Waters was also a very outspoken and controversial figure, who expressed his political and social views in his music. He was critical of war, capitalism, consumerism, authoritarianism, and religion. He also had a strained relationship with his bandmates, especially Gilmour, whom he often clashed with over creative differences and control issues.
Waters reached his peak of influence with The Wall (1979), a double album that he conceived and wrote almost entirely by himself. The album was a semi-autobiographical rock opera that dealt with themes such as isolation, trauma, fascism, and self-destruction. It was also accompanied by a lavish stage show that featured a giant wall being built between the band and the audience.
Roger Waters’ departure from Pink Floyd
However, Waters’ dominance also alienated his bandmates and fans. He fired keyboardist Richard Wright during the recording of The Wall due to his lack of contribution and personal problems. He also insisted on having complete artistic control over the band’s next album The Final Cut (1983), which he described as “a requiem for the post-war dream”. The album was largely ignored by critics and fans alike.
Waters became disillusioned with Pink Floyd and decided to leave the band in 1985. He announced his departure in a press statement that read: “I have left Pink Floyd because I have become disenchanted with what we have become.”
He also assumed that Pink Floyd would cease to exist without him. He invoked a leaving member clause in his contract that would dissolve the Pink Floyd partnership if any member left. However, Gilmour and Mason opposed this and wanted to continue as Pink Floyd. This led to a bitter legal dispute over the use of the band’s name and material.
Resolution of the Legal Battle between Roger Waters and Bandmates
The legal battle lasted for two years and cost millions of pounds. It was finally settled out of court in 1987, with Waters retaining the rights to The Wall and The Final Cut, while Gilmour and Mason were allowed to use the Pink Floyd name and perform the band’s songs. Waters also agreed to receive royalties for the use of any images created during his tenure with the band, such as the flying pig and the prism.
Waters later admitted that he regretted suing his former bandmates and that he had acted out of anger and pride. He told the BBC in 2013: “I was wrong. Of course I was. Who cares? It was a commercial decision and in fact it’s one of the few times that the legal profession has taught me something.”
He also reconciled with his former bandmates over the years. He performed with them at Live 8 in 2005, which was their first appearance together since 1981. He also joined them on stage for a performance of “Comfortably Numb” at one of Gilmour’s solo shows in 2006. He also invited Gilmour and Mason to perform with him at one of his shows of The Wall Live tour in 2011.
Pink Floyd’s Activities following Roger Waters’ Departure
Pink Floyd continued as a trio after Waters’ departure, with Gilmour taking over as the leader, vocalist, and main songwriter. They released two more albums, A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) and The Division Bell (1994), which were commercially successful but received mixed reviews from critics and fans. They also embarked on two massive world tours, which broke several records for attendance and revenue.
The band went on an indefinite hiatus after The Division Bell tour in 1994. Wright rejoined the band as a full member in 1994, after being hired as a session musician for the previous album and tour. He died of cancer in 2008, effectively ending any possibility of a reunion.
Lasting Influence of Pink Floyd despite Conflicts
Pink Floyd is widely regarded as one of the greatest rock bands of all time, with a legacyand influences countless artists across various genres. Despite their internal conflicts and personal tragedies, they managed to cope with the departure of their founding members and create some of the most iconic and influential music in history.