David Gilmour makes his vocal debut with Pink Floyd on Baton Rouge, 1968
Syd Barrett may have been one of the intrinsic factors of Pink Floyd’s early notoriety and, in fact, he was largely the reason the band had any notoriety at all. But by late 1967 his drug-taking, especially his penchant for acid, had begun to spiral out of control and the band was being put in jeopardy. With the writing on the wall, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Richard Wright decided to draft in David Gilmour to help supplement Barrett’s erratic guitar playing.
As the singer’s voice and, most importantly, his connection with the band and their reality began to drift further and further out of reach the group began preparing for band life without Syd. It was a huge step to make, as well as being the voice and face of the band, he was largely the lyrical drive too. Pink Floyd without Syd Barrett seemed almost impossible to pull off.
By the following February in 1968, the band began to appear without the singer as he became more and more lost in his own world, the group preferring to leave him there, hoping they could employ something akin to The Beach Boys had with Brian Wilson—he would stay at home and write the music for the performing band. Unfortunately, Barrett left to his own devices, would just worsen his situation. It had become clear he was never coming back.
Gilmour had been on guitar duties for a while when he was asked to step up to the mic and use his dulcet tones to replace Barrett. The first performance without the enigmatic lead singer saw David Gilmour take over the vocals for the first time and sing one of Syd’s tracks on the French TV programme Bouton Rouge.
The show was a live music programme that ran for an alarmingly short time between 1967 and 1968. During that period, the studio welcomed a host of incredible bands of the moments. British acts The Yardbirds, The Small Faces, landed with aplomb on the effortlessly chic show and provided a taste of swinging London for the French audience.
The footage below sees Floyd take to the studio stage for the first time without their lead singer and look decisively unnerved by life without him—the clip shows how the Pink Floyd we would come to know and love came to be. The first moments of the performance are a vision of that future, as Roger Waters takes the mic on brooding swirl of ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’ and ‘Let there Be [More] Light’, from their upcoming second album A Saucerful of Secrets.
Bouton Rouge still needed to please their viewers though and soon some numbers from their powerful debut, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, would also need to be played meaning someone had to cover Syd. The band’s ‘Astronomy Domine’ would be sung by Richard Wright, just as the keyboardist had done on the album. But the real notable moment came when David Gilmour stepped up to take over the mic for Syd Barrett’s own song, ‘Flaming’.
The performance may be a little rigid and Gilmour may look a touch wooden but as he’s singing the somewhat disturbing song—but it provides an accurate vision of the crossroads the band were at. Barrett’s departure from the band may have been officially announced in April 1968 but this was the moment Pink Floyd began their new journey.
Watch David Gilmour take the mic for the first time as Pink Floyd’s vocalist, below.