On June 5th 1975, Pink Floyd would see their old bandmate and former ringleader Syd Barett for the final time. The pioneering musician dropped in on one of the band’s recording sessions for the acclaimed Wish You Were Here out of the blue, and, in truth, he looked a shadow of his former self. Afterwards, Barrett would leave the studio and drift helplessly into obscurity.
Legend has it that Barrett arrived into the studio at the very same time that the band were working on the track ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, which was a song penned about their fallen founder. For the most part, Barrett had left the music industry for good by this point, choosing instead to live out of a London hotel. Having cut out contact with his former bandmates, his arrival at the recording studio left them rippled with shock.
Roger Waters, who penned the track about his old friend, was one of the members of the band who were forced to relinquish Barrett of his duties in 1968. As his drug use continued to spiral out of control, along with his frailing mental health, Barrett’s use of psychedelics had significantly impaired his creative vision and left him without a view of how to proceed in the pop music world.
It was an extremely tough situation for everyone involved. The remaining Floyd members carried immense guilt over his departure and, in a bid to deal with it, helped him create his two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett.
The late Richard Wright, reflecting on the struggle he faced helping on those sessions for Barrett’s solo material, once said: “Doing Syd’s record was interesting, but extremely difficult. Dave [Gilmour] and Roger did the first one (The Madcap Laughs) and Dave and myself did the second one. But by then it was just trying to help Syd any way we could, rather than worrying about getting the best guitar sound. You could forget about that! It was just going into the studio and trying to get him to sing.”
The Barrett who arrived at Floyd’s studio on that balmy June evening was a completely different entity from the one they had last seen a few years ago. The musician had become bloated and, even though he was physically there in the studio, mentally, he wasn’t.
Pink Floyd were initially bewildered by his arrival, assuming he must be a member of the crew and it took a while before Gilmour eventually identified him as their former bandmate. Waters, it is said, immediately broke down in tears after seeing what Barrett had become. That June day also happened to be Gilmour’s wedding day, so Barrett wandered into the guitarist’s reception at EMI but then left without telling anyone, disappearing in a similarly strange fashion as he’d arrived.
“I’m very sad about Syd, [though] I wasn’t for years,” Waters said in 1975. “For years, I suppose he was a threat because of all that bollocks written about him and us. Of course, he was very important and the band would never have fucking started without him, because he was writing all the material. It couldn’t have happened without him, but on the other hand, it couldn’t have gone on with him.
“He may or may not be important in rock ‘n’ roll anthology terms, but he’s certainly not nearly as important as people say in terms of Pink Floyd. So, I think I was threatened by him.”
Waters would have one final chance encounter with his final bandmate, a devastatingly sad occurrence: “The last time I saw him was a couple of years after he turned up at the Wish You Were Here sessions,” he told the Mirror in 2008. “I bumped into him in [British department store] Harrods where he used to go to buy sweets, but we didn’t speak — he sort of scuttled away.”
During Barrett’s time in the band they concocted some magic which he was the reason for but like Waters admitted in 1975, they wouldn’t be where they were without him or indeed with him if he had continued to be a member beyond 1968.
Listen to ‘See Emily Play’ below and be reminded of what an incredible songwriter the late Syd Barrett was.