Through the pages of history runs a river of interesting and often tragic narratives concerning rock’s forbearers and transportation mishaps. Duane Allman, Buddy Holly, and Otis Redding, among others, met their ends in transit.
Another band could have been on the list of notables. But it wasn’t. But it almost was. But it wasn’t.
This is their story.
In 1963, Roger Waters met Nick Mason at the London Polytechnic. They started a band, kinda. The next year they were joined by Waters’ childhood friend, Syd Barrett, who became front man in 1965.
They played rhythm and blues, inspired by Bo Diddley and preceded by the Rolling Stones. This band, at the time called the Tea Set, performed a lot of covers of American blues artists. At a show in ’65, another band called the Tea Set was in attendance. Barrett renamed the band as the Pink Floyd Sound, after blues artists Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.
Now, you might be wondering why all of this exposition is being thrown down when Pink Floyd didn’t even release Dark Side of the Moon until 1973. You see, Pink Floyd almost didn’t make it to 1973. But we’ll get there in a moment.
Syd Barrett had some troubles starting in 1967. Heavy LSD usage had reduced him to a psychological warzone. The band signed with EMI in the early part of that year, but Barrett was unable to complete live shows or guest appearances on TV, notoriously refusing to move his lips during Pat Boone’s show. At one show, he simply stood with a guitar strapped around his neck and his arms unmoving. Barrett, as the main songwriter, also introduced psychedelic themes to the band’s work.
The band stumbles through 1967, signing with EMI and bringing in David Gilmour to fill in for guitar. In early 1968, Barrett agrees to leave the band entirely.
Thus, the stage is set. These are the members that will ride the psychedelic money train to stardom.
Yet, as previously mentioned, Dark Side of the Moon was not released until 1973. The Wall, Wish You Were Here, and Animals were on the distant horizon. Hell, Ummagumma, Pink Floyd’s first real experimental album, wasn’t even released until 1969. So what were they doing in 1968 after Barrett left?
They had just released an album called A Saucerful of Secrets and were touring, playing long sets with a vigor and volume that could only be paralleled by the Grateful Dead. However, the UK wasn’t into acid rock quite yet and one critic encouraged listeners to relegate the album to party background music. Pink Floyd’s manager was skeptical of the album and did not book too many large venues, instead booking hole-in-the-wall venues, some in Scotland, a rare occasion for most English acts.
One show in a town called Nairn was apparently so unsuccessful that the venue owner thereafter changed his business and stopped booking live music acts, instead bringing in strippers and adult entertainment shows, which were much more profitable and popular with the townspeople.
Pink Floyd was scheduled for a show on September 27, 1968, in Dunoon, Scotland. However, the night before, an intense and dangerous storm blew through the region, causing all professional ferry services to cancel their routes. Determined to get to their show, the band loaded all their gear into a rented boat and boated themselves to Dunoon, almost getting washed overboard and capsizing multiple times. Yet, despite all odds, they made it across the water to their destination, where they played a gig for only 400 fans. Worth?
What if Pink Floyd had died that night in 1968 just like Paul McCartney actually died in 1966? We’d have never had Dark Side, profits from which were invested into Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so we probably wouldn’t have had that either. Radiohead would just have been five weirdos on a stage playing some troubling music. “Creep” would never have been written. The social fabric of the Nineties would have been ripped apart at the seams.
Tell your family you love them; the world could be a very different and very scary place.
Go listen to some Floyd here.