Let’s take a journey back to 1968, to a time when Eric Clapton was yet to become the problematic figure he is cited as today. Instead of writing protest songs against the Covid-19 vaccine – despite somewhat hypocritically being double-vaxxed himself – remarkably, there was a more straightforward period when he was at the beating heart of London’s swelling scene.
The English capital was the most exciting place for music lovers, with new bands emerging out of every seam of the city. In a matter of years, it’d been where The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Yardbirds, The Who, among others, achieved their dreams, and in 1968, word started to spread about a new otherworldly group who were unlike anybody else on the circuit.
If hype was a currency, a different band would be made millionaires each month in London back in the late ’60s. However, not every group lived up to the billing and flourished quite so proficiently as Pink Floyd. Their live shows at the UFO Club quickly became the talk of the town, and word of mouth was how Clapton discovered their presence.
At the time, The Who’s Pete Townshend was suffering from substance abuse issues and uncharacteristically missed one of his band’s shows. Instead of sitting at home, twiddling his thumbs, he headed to the UFO and was blown away by experiencing Pink Floyd. In fact, the night was so memorable that he lived it all over again the next evening and took Clapton with him for the ride.
Ever since that moment, Clapton has been a long time fan of Pink Floyd. In a 1968 interview with Rolling Stone, he almost introduces the magazine to the band, revealing that they are one of his favourite groups of the moment. When asked to name the best live band in Britain, Clapton said: “Yes, recording music has become so far out that you can’t relate it to live music at all. I don’t think you have to. If you’re curious about performers, the Pink Floyd is one I like very much among live groups.”
When asked for more information, he adds: “Very strange group. The nearest thing you would have to them here –— well, I can’t even think of a group you can relate them to. Very freaky. They’re not really psychedelic.
“They do things like play an hour set that’s just one number. They are into a lot of electronic things. They’re also very funny. They’re nice, they really are a very nice group. They’re unambitious, and they give you a nice feeling watching them. They’re not trying to put anything over.”
Judging from the comments from those who were there, seeing Pink Floyd at The UFO is akin to a religious experience, on a par of watching The Beatles blow the roof off The Cavern or catching Bob Dylan in Greenwich Village.
It was their breeding ground and where they honed their sound. Every show was different to the last, thanks to the band not having a single song recorded when Clapton saw them, that didn’t stop the Floyd from improvising a spectacle orchestrated by Syd Barrett.