Innovative psychedelic album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, released 50 years ago today in the UK by The Pink Floyd. Photograph by Vic Singh.
“The band was psychedelic and their music was surreal and alien compared to other popular music of the time, so it needed a far-out image. Having to work with a small production budget, I decided to use a prism lens which George Harrison had given me because he could not find a use for it and I had not used it up till then, so it seemed like the perfect solution. All I had to do was screw it on my Hasselblad camera lens and the creative special effect would go straight on to the film … I also asked the band to bring colorful psychedelic clothes which would stand out and provide us with more contrast as the prism lens tended to soften and loose contrast as it split the image. I don’t know how long it took the band to get the clothes together, but they arrived at the studio in the morning, put the coffee pot on, and sat around the studio chatting. Finally, we decided to get on with the photos and the boys went to the changing room and started trying on the clothes. I first started with some test Polaroid shots, positioning them on the white background, which was a bit tricky as the prism lens multiplied each figure – they all overlapped each other! – so I had to get the figures positioned right or the whole thing looked like a mess. Syd got especially interested at this point and was quite intense, changing outfits and the positions of the band on the background and shooting tests on the Polaroid film with me …
They loved the photos and Syd got inspired to create the back of the album cover. It had been a beautiful day – as had the day before the shoot and the day after – I attribute it to Flower Power!” - Vic Singh
“Remember when you were young? You shone like the sun.”
Has any band mined one of its members’ personal troubles as extensively as Pink Floyd did with Syd Barrett? And at which point did head songwriter Roger Waters’ own demons splinter away from his observations on Barrett’s mental collapse? Surely sometime before The Wall’s abundantly obvious example …
“Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.”
Whatever the timing, 1975’s Wish You Were Here (an album I’ve shamefully often taken for granted) undoubtedly constitutes the apogee, and perhaps final obsessive attempt, to come to grips with Barrett’s absence (body and mind) and just plain move on,
“Come on you target for faraway laughter; Come on you stranger, you legend, you martyr, and shine!”
“You reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon.”
In between, the protean industrial gears of “Welcome to the Machine” clearly illustrate its theme, but it’s Wright’s all too human, if futuristic synthesizers that win the day; then it’s time for the robotic funk of “Have a Cigar” (co-written by Waters and Roy Harper) and the ubiquitous title track’s interstellar blues.
“Well you wore out your welcome with random precision; Rode on the steel breeze.”
Ultimately, you have to assume Floyd were purposefully getting Barrett out of their system in order to escape his shadow, once and for all – crazy as that sounds in light of the absolute genius all over Wish You Were Here.
“Come on you raver, you seer of visions; Come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine!”
On this day in music history: June 29, 1968 - “A Saucerful Of Secrets”, the second studio album by Pink Floyd is released. Produced by Norman Smith, it is recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London from August, October 1967 and January - April 1968. The bands follow up to their debut “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” is recorded sporadically over a period of eight months, largely because of Syd Barrett’s increasing mental instability due to his excessive consumption of psychedelic drugs. Guitarist David Gilmour is brought in to take Barrett’s place, becoming a permanent member of the band in March 1968. The album features songs such as “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” and the title track, both of which become staples of their live performances. The enigmatic cover art for the album is designed by Hipgnosis, making Pink Floyd the first EMI act (besides The Beatles) to have their album covers designed by someone other than EMI’s art department). It is the beginning of a four decade long association with the graphic design company. Reissued on CD numerous times since its first digital release in 1987, it is most recently reissued in 2011. The album is remastered and reissued as a 180 gram vinyl LP in 2016, with the album sleeve using a printed version of the original UK “flip back” jacket design, and pressed with the original 60’s era UK Columbia labels. “A Saucerful Of Secrets” peaks at number nine on the UK album chart, and does not chart on the Billboard Top 200.
Pink Floyd recording their song ‘Scarecrow’ at Abbey Road Studios, London on March 22nd 1967. It is believed this is the only photograph taken of the group recording at the studio. The song was put onto their debut album 'The Piper At The Gates of Dawn’ four months later.
The exhibition is wonderful, tremendous, and really does do the band justice. You enter the exhibition through a giant reconstruction of the Bedford van and are suddenly greeted by swirling psychedelic lights, the guitar riff of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ thumping in your ears.
Pink Floyd’s discography (1967-2014), along with each member’s solo studio albums, in chronological order.
(The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, A Saucerful of Secrets, More, Ummagumma, The Madcap Laughs, Atom Heart Mother, Barrett, Meddle, Obscured by Clouds, Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, Animals, David Gilmour, Wet Dream, The Wall, Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports, The Final Cut, About Face, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, Radio K.A.O.S, A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Amused to Death, The Division Bell, Broken China, On an Island, The Endless River)
The song “Bike” from Pink Floyd’s first, Barrett-led studio album “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”, is actually a love song written by Syd to his girlfriend at the time, Jenny Spires. She is also mentioned by Barrett in a line from “Lucifer Sam”: “Jennifer Gentle, you’re a witch”. How nice of him…
The Piper of the Gates of Dawn was the
debut album by Pink Floyd, made after signing with EMI in early 1967. This
album is a cornerstone of British psychedelic rock, but it was created in an environment
of uncertainty. The contract with EMI provided low fees and low royalties, with
practically no free studio time. Despite the label’s attempts to separate Pink
Floyd from the underground background they started in, and the controversy of “Arnold
Layne” hitting the mainstream media, the band were allowed free will over
the creation of the album that the label would develop - even though they were
unsure of what this would be.
product is an album of two types of song - it is mainly comprised of short
pieces composed and lead by Syd Barrett, but features a couple of
partly-improvised pieces composed by the rest of the band, including the song
“Take Up Thy Stethoscope And Walk” as the first song solely credited
to Roger Waters, featuring the more clinical and morbid style of the band’s
bassist. Although Syd’s writing was more whimsical by nature, the song
“Scarecrow” talks about feelings of isolation, personifying a
scarecrow, as well as showing off some of the peculiar Englishness of the band.
A shorter version of “Interstellar Overdrive” features on the album,
and is also joined by another piece, featuring jazzy melodies and distant
“wordless” vocals - “Pow
R. Toc. H”. The majority of the songs on the album are short songs written
by Syd, and the majority of these are very vindictive of Syd’s writing - almost
child-like nostalgia against a backdrop of wild guitar experimentation, which
somehow works. These themes are found particularly in “Matilda
Mother”, “Flaming” (linked) and “Bike”. Syd’s capacity for
referentially obscure can be found in both the album’s title, which is the same
as the seventh chapter of The Wind in the
Willows, and the song “Chapter 24”, taking lines directly from
Chapter 24 of a Chinese tome The Book of
Changes. Syd’s storytelling continues on from the band’s early singles in
their spacey song “Astronomy Domine”, “Lucifer Sam” (which
is partly, maybe, about his cat), and “The Gnome”.
This was the only album that was made under the
leadership of Syd Barrett. Wright and Waters worked on some of the vocals, and
the entire album is not just a Barrett album, but the album is a demonstration
of the way Syd Barrett created music. Supposedly, the album was recorded quite
quickly under the leadership of a rather stubborn Syd. One might wonder how Syd
came up with all of his strange childish explorations of music, but it was
around this time that his intake of LSD escalated. The band embodied and
elevated the genre of psychedelic music with this album, particularly through
their leader Syd Barrett, who arguably embodied the culture of British
psychedelic rock a bit too much.
The debut album by Pink Floyd, and the only album under the direction of Syd Barrett, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was released in the UK on 5 August 1967 (the US version was not released until October, with different track listing).
The title was taken from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, and the jacket was designed by Vic Singh, who photographed the band through a prism George Harrison had provided.