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Music

55 years on from Pink Floyd’s first-ever “underground” show

@TomTaylorFO

Love them or loath them, Pink Floyd are a cornerstone of the 1960s zeitgeist. During Syd Barrett’s time at the helm, they shone like the sun as his former bandmates once sang and basked the world in an effervescent wave of psychedelia. Although they were far from the only band turning tracks towards a trippy path, very few propagated it quite as profusely.

In a few short years, the whitewash of pop culture became flushed with a tie-dye swirl of colour. On October 14, 1966, Pink Floyd earmarked themselves as figurative red socks with an underground show that boldly led the way towards the rabbit hole. A run of shows held in the belly of All Saints Church Hall opened up a new bohemian window for the young rock fans in attendance, and the rest, as they say, is ancient history.

They had previously played the venue in September at a School Fare, but it was the christening show in the basement that marked the start of their residency that truly proved the moment that Floyd found a home. From their they blossomed into the band they were destined to become. With a space in which to experiment night after night and a grapevine gathering fanbase, they quickly trailblazed a new organic craze from the heart of Notting Hill.  

One of the attendees at the first show was Peter Mercier. He was a photographic student at the Ealing School of Photography in 1966. “We were having a lecture about fashion photography,” he recalls. “We were being assisted in this exercise by a young model who at the end of the afternoon invited me along ‘to a gig in a church hall where one of the new psychedelic bands will be playing’.”

“Believe me it was another time and another place, for it turned out to be a very early Pink Floyd gig, featuring Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright,” he adds. Beyond the music, the alternate time and place that the band created was a photographer’s dream. 

During their ensuing residency in the church hall, the band took to mixing coloured oils on a projector slide above a light which heated the whole thing to create fluid movement. As Nick Mason explains in his book, this practice was highly dangerous, but the kaleidoscopic explosion it created on stage proved to be a mesmeric accompaniment to their ground-breaking music. 

That night they played several songs lost to the sands of time in the great annuls of Pink Floyd’s unfurling history. However, by all accounts, the tracks that they did play added a dose of truth to the old cliché ‘like nothing anyone had ever heard before’. That being said, three years down the line, they would soon hear something similar as Hawkwind had their very first gig at the same Church Hall, which for some reason seemingly became a sort of mecca for progressive rock.

Now, the landmark church resides as a place of blue plaque importance. The sign that marks its cultural heritage reads: “A stones throw from here Pink Floyd played All Saints Hall. An early and important event in the Psychedelic movement.” Sadly, whilst that movement might have spun out from the holy centre that ‘The Floyd’ spawned, it proved to be a dangerous maelstrom. 

The life of Syd Barrett and the dark side of the swinging sixties

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In two short years, they had emerged from their underground home, and in the gaudy light of fame, they lost their frontman to various pitfalls. Barrett could no longer function in the band. He would sometimes stand on stage without moving a muscle, just standing stock still while the others tried their best to function as a three-piece. All the how’s? Why’s? And what’s? are simply best ascribed to the only befitting narrative that doesn’t require any impossible detective work – it was the sixties, man.

The flipside, however, is that the band survived and moved on. The psychedelic movement outgrew the underground spaces and it bled into the future of music in myriad ways. That being said, when the sixties finally fell, Barrett was a symbol of the loss of innocence. It had been a whirlwind of beauty, teetering on the line between a tragic overture and ecstatic fun, but it stepped one toke over the line and now some of its unlucky heroes were left on the curb. From humble underground beginnings, the pop culture scene rapidly graduated from subterranean realms, leaving some in high places and others walking the streets. The blissful tales from this first gig, paint it at the zenith of its ecstatic innocence. 

Pink Floyd, All Saint Church Hall, 14/10/1966 Setlist:

  1. Pink Theme
  2. Candy and a Currant Bun(tentatively titled “Let’s Roll Another One”)
  3. Gimme a Break
  4. Piggy Back
  5. Stoned Alone
  6. I Can Tell(Bo Diddley cover)
  7. The Gnome
  8. Interstellar Overdrive
  9. Lucy Leave
  10. Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk
  11. Flapdoodle Dealing
  12. Flaming(tentatively titled “Snowing”)
  13. Matilda Mother
  14. Pow R. Toc H.
  15. Astronomy