The Origin Story of Pink Floyd

The origin story of Pink Floyd starts out much like any other. A few like-minded people meet, find a mutual appreciation for some of the same music, and decide to make their own. It’s the journey in between – the ups, the downs, the musical evolutions and lineup changes – that made the band the icons they are today.

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Scholarly Beginnings

It was 1960s London when guitarist Roger Waters, drummer Nick Mason, and keyboardist Richard Wright met while studying architecture at a polytechnic institution that is now the University of Westminster.

It was an uneventful meeting that would become one of the most significant moments in the formation of Pink Floyd.

“We sort of met because Roger knew that I had a car,” Mason shared on Brian Johnson’s A Life on the Road television series (via “I’m not sure he knew what the car was because actually it was an Austin 7 Chummy with a top speed of 20mph and had no brakes!

“But when he asked if I might lend it to him,” he continued. “I said, ‘No,’ but he also tried to get a cigarette off [Wright] and famously Rick went, ‘No,’ which sort of set the pattern really for the next 50 years. … It was an important moment because if it hadn’t been for that, we might not be sitting here now.”

The three played music together in a group called Sigma 6 with a handful of other budding musicians. The Sigma 6 name changed often as did the lineup, a revolving door that notably welcomed in a childhood friend of Waters,’ guitarist Syd Barrett.

Other early members of the group, at the time going by the name the Tea Set, included Keith Noble, Clive Metcalfe, Bob Klose, and Chris Dennis. However, they had all departed by the time the band officially rebranded, dubbing themselves Pink Floyd with Barrett taking up the role of frontman and lead guitarist, Mason being throned behind the drums, Waters wielding the bass guitar, and Wright tickling the keyboards.

The Rise of Pink Floyd

As detailed in Mason’s book, Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, the group had been a resident band at London’s Countdown Club, performing at various other venues like the Marquee Club, when they were noticed by Peter Jenner and Andrew King. It was under their management that Pink Floyd began to gain traction in London’s underground music scene.

It was during this time that the band began to experiment with lighting and improvisational sounds that began to verge on psychedelia, a departure from their R&B covers and blues standard to original Barrett-penned works.

“These were the summers of love,” the band’s website reads, detailing the music of their early days and the shifting of their sound, “when LSD was less a hallucinogenic interval than a lifestyle choice for some young people, who found their culture in science fiction, the pastoral tradition, and a certain strain of the Victorian imagination. Drawing on such themes, the elfin Barrett wrote and sang on most of the early Floyd’s material, which made use of new techniques, such as tape-loops, feedback and echo delay.”

They began to play more and more gigs and had found a home at the UFO Club in London where they steadily built a fan base that appreciated their inventive sound, but not everyone was as receptive. In one 1967 interview with music critic Hans Keller on BBC’s The Look of the Week, Waters and Barrett were asked plainly why their music was so loud. It was their first big coverage from the media as a band and were left defending a sound that would soon become rock’s most iconic.

See the interview below.

Pink Floyd was signed to EMI by early 1967 and would release their acclaimed debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, soon after. Pink Floyd began to draw crowds, however, Barrett was seeing a decline in his mental health, which only worsened with excessive psychedelic drug use.

As the band began to tour, his condition grew worse, so they recruited a fifth member, guitarist David Gilmour. Barrett was resigned to the position of a nonperforming member, solely relegated to writing new material for the band. He eventually agreed to leave the band altogether in 1968.

“He wasn’t capable or willing to do what was needed,” Gilmour said of Barrett at the end of his time in Pink Floyd, later admitting a feeling of guilt about the way the situation was handled. “When you’re young and ambitious, you’re also pretty callous, and we just got on with it.”

Their 1968 sophomore album, A Saucerful of Secrets, would include Barrett’s final contributions to the group and the creative lead soon fell on Waters.

Pink Floyd Today

For decades, the band endured, but called it quits amid infighting, departures, and personal pursuits. Various reunions and recordings have followed their split, but each surviving member – Waters, Mason, and Gilmour – has steadily pursued their own separate careers.

Pink Floyd exists today in catalog only, one – made up of 15 studio albums and countless hit songs – that has earned them the title of one of the most influential rock bands in history.

Photo by Doug McKenzie/Getty Images

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