Pete Townshend is not one normally known for holding back criticism in regard to other artists and, with some regularity, he has spoken about his disdain for musicians as revered as Led Zeppelin and The Beatles on numerous occasions. However, what did The Who guitarist think about Pink Floyd when he first saw them?
Townshend first witnessed the Floyd perform live way back in 1967, back during the Syd Barrett era when they were lighting up the London psychedelic scene that was quickly becoming the envy of the world. During this prolific period of rock music, The Who were flying high and had not only built up a reputation in the UK but had started to become a major name in the United States too. That said, despite the commercial success the band were enjoying at the time, Townshend’s personal struggles with drug abuse saw him lose focus on work.
Like a lot of London in 1967, it was LSD that became Townshend’s narcotic of choice. After taking a dosage of the hallucinogenic with a little too much regularity, it had meant that the 300-mile journey to play with The Who that evening was out of the question. Townshend needed to entertain himself, and where better to be than watching Pink Floyd live at London venue The UFO?
“On January 6, 1967, I missed one of the only Who shows of my career through drug abuse,” Townshend writes in 2012 autobiography Who I Am: “Syd Barrett was wonderful,” he recalls of Pink Floyd, adding: “And so were the rest of them. I fell in love with the band and the club itself.”
Townshend’s admiration for Pink Floyd grew to such an extent that he returned to The UFO the very next day along with Eric Clapton, who he’d dragged along to see Floyd with him, and both were blown in equal measure. “Syd, who walked on stage (off his head on acid), played a single chord and made it last about an hour using an electronic echo machine called a Binson,” he explained. “When he did start to play again he was truly inspiring.”
“Roger Waters had the most incredible presence, he was strikingly handsome,” he notes, “And clearly fancied [my partner] Karen. I found him a little scary. It was evident he was going to be the principal driving force behind Pink Floyd.”
Despite being a huge fan of Pink Floyd, he had no expectations that they would go on to be the major stadium-filling outfit that they would become, noting: “What no one could have known as the band hadn’t yet made any recordings, was how much of their music would become once Syd’s experimental influence waned.”