Syd Barrett was the definition of a tortured genius, one who sadly succumbed to a drug addiction that made him increasingly more erratic during the late 1960s. The result, of course, left his bandmates with no choice but to remove him from Pink Floyd in 1968.
His last ever show with the band would be in Hastings on January, 20th, 1968, one which they didn’t know at the time would be his final performance but the situation soon worsened just as the bandmates had foreseen. The year prior to this moment the band had already drafted in old school friend Dave Gilmour to provide a helping hand on guitar, a necessity as Barrett’s mental health worsened and he could no longer fulfil the basic demands of playing live.
After this performance in Hastings, the band thought that Barrett had become more of a hindrance than anything else and, at that point, they all knew that they couldn’t carry on in this state any longer or Floyd would be no more. On their way to play Southampton University less than a week after the Hastings gig, the other four members simply decided it would be for the best to leave Syd at home in London rather than take him along for the ride.
According to Gilmour in a 1995 interview with Guitar World, “One person in the car said, ‘Shall we pick Syd up?’ and another person said, ‘Let’s not bother.’” In that one moment, Syd’s time in the band had drawn to a close without him even being aware that his bandmates were playing in Southampton and the second chapter of Floyd had begun.
The late Richard Wright was living with Barrett at the time and the situation put him in an awkward position, one that he’d rather have avoided. “Initially it got really embarrassing,” said Wright in the Barrett bio A Very Irregular Head. “I had to say things like, ‘Syd, I’m going out to get a packet of cigarettes’ and then go off and play a gig. Of course, eventually, he worked out what was going on.”
Although the bandmates tried to look after Syd in the immediate following his departure, he soon became a recluse and went off-grid. There remains a strong sense of regret from all members of Pink Floyd that they could, on reflection, have done more to help his situation. However, the awareness around mental health was completely different back then to what it is now.
“We were so blinkered,” said drummer Nick Mason to Uncut. “I maintain that we looked after Syd very badly – but we didn’t know any better. There’s still the belief that it was LSD damage, but it could have been perfectly straightforward, that he wanted to be an artist and not a pop star. And actually, that could break you, and certainly not do you any good at all to be forced down a road you didn’t want to go.”
The late Syd Barrett remains one of the great travesties of rock music and it is tragic that one of the purest talents who was the mastermind behind the formation of the band never got to have the fruitful career he deserved. Thankfully, that first Pink Floyd album will always be there as a reminder of his innate genius and one of a kind talent.