Pink Floyd is known for its incredible concept albums, like Wish You Were Here, Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. However, these came after Syd Barrett, the band’s founding lead singer and guitarist had said goodbye to the band. He was eventually replaced with bandmate David Gilmour, but what happened to Syd?
Pink Floyd started out as a four-piece in 1965 with its members Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Roger Waters and Richard Wright.
Syd was the lead singer and guitarist, while Nick was the band’s drummer, Roger played the bass and provided backing vocals and Richard was the keyboardist.
Though Pink Floyd started with this grouping, previously the band officially started out with guitarist Bob Klose working alongside Syd in the early years.
Bob quit the band in mid-1965 before the band had truly found its sound, so while he is credited with being in the band, he is not considered a founder.
Only two years later and after their debut album, David Gilmour joined the group to support Syd in live performances as a guitarist.
Syd struggled with mental health issues throughout the band’s early years and fame, and it was believed this is part of the reason David was brought in to support him, until eventually he left the band in 1968.
But why did he leave the band?
Previous to his departure, Syd was the main songwriter for the band and did a great deal of work in writing lyrics and songs.
Their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was critically acclaimed on its release in 1967, with eight of the songs being written entirely by Syd, though he co-wrote two of the other tracks.
The album was made by former producer for The Beatles Norman Smith, and it set the band on the road to stardom.
Sadly, from the end of 1967, as written in Julian Palacios’ book Lost in the Woods: Syd Barrett and the Pink Floyd, Syd became erratic, which some believed was due to his heavy use of LSD.
In an interview in The Observer. David Gilmour said of Syd during their heyday: “Syd didn’t need encouraging. If drugs were going, he’d take them by the shovelful.”
Julian’s book also spoke of how Syd suffered from major bouts of depression, mood swings, hallucinations and other issues which made it increasingly difficult to work with.
Later in 1967, when the band were touring with Jimi Hendrix, they substituted Syd for performer David O’List, after which they enlisted David Gilmour’s help as a supporting guitarist and singer.
Eventually, it was clear Syd’s mental state would not allow him to be a member of the band any longer, and David began performing in his stead.
Syd contributed some songs to the band’s second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, but his mental health struggles meant the band could go on with him barely noticing he was not being included.
In one story from Julian Palacio’s Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd: Dark Globe, Richard went to a gig while telling Syd, who was living with him, how he was buying cigarettes.
On his return, Syd had reportedly not changed position at all, only snapping out of his catatonia long enough to enquire about the cigarettes.
This image has been used in Pink Floyd’s subsequent material, such as in The Wall.
On April 6, 1968, the band announced Syd would no longer be in the band, after he turned up at some practices and gigs unexpectedly, and after a year out of the public eye, Syd released solo material, called The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, both in 1970.
In 1972, Syd separated legally from Pink Floyd, and from that period did some sporadic recordings, though he was rarely seen in public.
According to The Observer, Syd was never sectioned and did attempt to obtain various therapies, though never medication.
His life was fairly reclusive from the mid-1970s, at which point he would go between various living situations and seeing his mother in Cambridge.
Syd died at home in Cambridge on July 7, 2006, from pancreatic cancer, reportedly leaving £1.7million to his siblings.
David Gilmour said of his death: “We are very sad to say that Roger Keith Barrett – Syd – has passed away.
“Do find time to play some of Syd’s songs and to remember him as the madcap genius who made us all smile with his wonderfully eccentric songs about bikes, gnomes and scarecrows.
“His career was painfully short, yet he touched more people than he could ever know.”
Syd was also paid tribute to on various Pink Floyd albums, and was the subject of some songs, including the main character in The Wall, who is partially based on Syd.