The death of Pink Floyd’s founding keyboard player, Rick Wright, last week, sent me back to listen to some of those early Floyd recordings – Atom Heart Mother and, earlier, Saucerful of Secrets and Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The trope about the end of the early Floyd is the story of ‘Genius Abandoned’: creative free spirit Syd Barrett is shepherded out when his (drug-affected) behaviour becomes too erratic; he retreats to a Cambridge basement as the band goes commercial; or to put the trope another way, the Millionaires and the Reclusive Acid Casualty.
Not quite so fast. It’s five years between Barrett’s departure from Pink Floyd, and The Dark Side of the Moon, the clear sign that the band had been captured by Roger Waters, with his easy melodies and faux-radical lyrics (Money, is a crime, We don’t need no education – well, there ain’t no need to go on.) In the meantime, on records such as Umma Gumma and Atom Heart Mother, they produced some genuinely inventive and experimental music, influenced by jazz and the avant-garde, in part because members like Wright (on the right of the 1968 photo, above) had joined the band in the same curious spirit as Barrett.
True, by Atom Heart Mother, in 1970, the Waters effect was beginning to show, in the trite and platitudinous ‘If’, and there was more of the same on Meddle, a year later. Wright had had enough by the time they hit The Wall, in 1979, and quit the band. I liked the story in his obituary that he was the only member of the original band to make any money from the Wall tour because he played the tour as a session musician – while the rest lost their shirts because of the expensive staging.