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Originally broadcast February 2002
Presented by Bob Harris

Pink Floyd
Listen Again to this show
The Syd Barrett Era
Journey to the Dark Side
Dark Side to WYWH
The Wall and Beyond.

In a major documentary for Radio 2, Bob Harris tells the story of one of music's most popular and influential bands - Pink Floyd. Featuring exclusive interviews with David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters and Richard Wright, as well as the people who knew and worked with them.

Over a career spanning 35 years, Pink Floyd have gone from being cult champions of the 60s underground to one of the most successful bands in the history of music. Dark Side of the Moon has sold in excess of 25 million copies and their music continues to inspire new generations of bands. Their story encompasses mental illness, world conquering success and protracted court battles.

Pink Floyd were formed in 1965 by teenage art student Roger "Syd" Barrett and his school friend Roger Waters. Recruiting Nick Mason on drums and Richard Wright on keyboards, they rapidly became darlings of the underground rock scene, thanks largely to Barrett's unique songs and innovative guitar sound. They were the house band at London's legendary UFO club, where they would perform long, avant garde improvisations, usually built round swathes of organ and howls of guitar feedback and bathed in psychedelic light shows. Signing to EMI, their first single, Arnold Layne (a whimsical ode to a cross dressing underwear freak) hit the UK top 20, building expectation for their debut album. When it arrived, Piper at the Gates of Dawn became, along with Sergeant Pepper, the defining record of the 1967 Summer of Love.

But success had taken its toll on Barrett. Watched helplessly by his bandmates, he slowly slid into mental illness, instigated by both the demands of success and a mammoth diet of LSD. By early 1968 Barrett had been sacked from the band he formed, to be replaced by another childhood friend, David Gilmour. Roger Waters increasingly adopted the role of main writer, and over a string of albums the band began to enjoy even more success, culminating in 1973's Dark Side of the Moon.

Dark Side catapulted the band onto the international stage. The album itself was a distillation of themes that had been developing in Waters' writing for many years - madness, money, time, death. Hardly the stuff of prime time radio, but it struck a chord, and Dark Side of the Moon eventually became one of the best selling albums in history. Helped by the success of the album, Pink Floyd became the epitome of 70s stadium rock. The light shows which had once been rudimentary affairs in the UFO club became ever more elaborate, the crowds ever more huge and the members' wallets ever more fat. But behind it all lurked the shadow of Barrett, whose descent into madness still haunted the band, Waters in particular.

It was this loss that provided the basis for Wish You Were Here, released in 1975. The stirring Shine On You Crazy Diamond was written as a tribute to the fallen idol. By the mid 70s, however, punk was on the horizon and the Floyd were beginning to seem like anachronisms from a bygone age. Animals, released in 1977, with its stripped down production and biting social commentary, was largely seen as a response to slings and arrows of the punk cognoscente. Unfortunately it also marked the beginning of the end for the Waters led line up, with Richard Wright in particular growing frustrated at Waters' increasing control of the group.

Waters' grand concepts reached their apogee in 1979 with the release of The Wall, a monumental double album addressing many of his familiar themes. It gave the band their first British hit single since 1968 when Another Brick in the Wall (Part II) hit the Christmas number one slot. The album was supported by a mammoth stage show, in which a 40 foot high wall was built in front of the band as they played, a visual metaphor for the increasing sense of alienation building between band and audience. All was not well within the band too, with Wright being given his marching orders during the making of the album at the instigation of Waters.

The release of Alan Parker's movie of The Wall in 1982 heralded the last gasp of the Waters era Pink Floyd, which was wrapped up by 1983's aptly named The Final Cut. A solo Roger Waters album in all but name, it was a bitter critique of Thatcher's Britain and an elegy for Waters' father, killed at Anzio in 1944. It proved to be the last straw for Gilmour, who described the making of the album as "a pain in the ass".

In 1985 Waters instigated High Court proceedings to dissolve the band. As far as Waters was concerned, he was Pink Floyd. Gilmour disagreed, eventually winning the rights to the Pink Floyd name and releasing A Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987. Augmented by a cast of session musicians, the Gilmour led Floyd even took Wright back into the fold for a record breaking world tour, which included massive concerts at the palace of Versailles and on an immense floating barge on Venice's Grand Canal.

Waters continued with a sporadically successful solo career, initially threatening Gilmour with continued legal action but eventually conceding the Pink Floyd brand name was larger than the individual members. So it was proven when 1994's The Division Bell album sealed the Gilmour led incarnation's success.

Last year Pink Floyd released Echoes, a newly remixed look back over their finest moments, hand picked by the band themselves, including Waters. In interviews conducted at the time, Gilmour hinted that it would be the swan song for the Floyd, which didn't prevent it selling in its millions. The album tracked the band from their Barrett led days as darlings of the English underground up to their 90s incarnation, but there was an empty place at the feast. Syd Barrett, perhaps British rock's only true cult hero, continues to live in peaceful obscurity in Cambride, but it is his songs which bookend Echoes, tumbling down the years with the optimism, madness and boundless experimentation of the long lost 60s.


The Pink Floyd Archives
Vast resource for all things Floyd from the mighty anorak of Vernon Fitch.

Neptune Pink Floyd
UK based fan site - well worth a visit.
The Wall of Links
One stop shop for Floyd links.

Floydian Slip
Get yourself a screensaver here.
Info on previous programmes

Stuart Maconie
Stuart Maconie

Find out more about Stuart's Saturday show featuring The Critical List.

Keep the sun shining with Sold On Song's Mr Blue Sky. More
Jeff Lynn




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