Original conceptual leader and main songwriter Syd Barrett left Pink Floyd in early 1968, casting doubt over the group’s future. Nevertheless, they had gone on to release one of the all-time best-selling albums, ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’, five years later.
“Reinventing Pink Floyd” explores the creative journey that ensued after Barrett was replaced by David Gilmour. It offers an insightful and captivating account of the crucial years leading up to the writing and recording of the iconic 1973 album, making it a must-read for true Pink Floyd fans.
We spoke to author Bill Kopp to find out more about his research and the story behind this fascinating book. He also shared some little known details about Pink Floyd’s formative years.
Where did the idea for the book come from?
Most people are familiar with ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’, seeing as it’s one of the biggest-selling albums in the history of the recorded medium. A smaller subset of fans knows about Pink Floyd’s debut, ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’. But much fewer know anything about (depending on how you count) the six, seven or eight projects between those albums.
When Syd left the band, there was every reason to think Pink Floyd was done for. But they rallied, and in the space of only five years, progressed to making ‘Dark Side’. My book seeks to answer the question of how they got from losing Syd to creating ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’.
How long did it take to complete the book?
I signed a contract with my publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, in the middle of April 2017, when I was visiting California. I began work on the book in early May, and I turned in the final manuscript in late August. It goes on the printing presses this week (second week of January 2018) and will be published February 15th.
So the whole process went remarkably quickly. Part of that is because there are relevant anniversaries happening this year, it made sense to schedule the book for release to coincide with those. January 2018 marks 50 years since Syd Barrett left the band, and March will be the 45th anniversary of the release of ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’.
What were your sources?
I like to say that my first source was Pink Floyd’s body of work. I spent countless hours – very enjoyable ones, at that – listening to all of the Pink Floyd albums from ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ through ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’, plus all of the material on the 2016 box set ‘The Early Years’, as well as both of Syd Barrett’s solo LPs, the soundtrack from ‘The Body’, and quite a few bootleg recordings from my own collection. I grew up with this music.
Totally coincidentally, a good friend of mine here in Asheville, North Carolina had decided to put together a Pink Floyd tribute concert, and asked me to be involved. Ian Reardon assembled 15 to 20 local musicians – in various combinations, depending on the song – and created a three-hour concert performance. The ensemble played one show in summer 2017, focusing exclusively on Pink Floyd material prior to ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’. They performed a full-band version of the first few movements of the ‘Atom Heart Mother’ suite, some of ‘Obscured by Clouds’, David Gilmour’s ‘The Narrow Way’ from ‘Ummagumma’, songs from ‘More’ and so on. I played keyboards on 18 songs, including the 23-minute ‘Echoes’. Even though I’ve long been very familiar with these pieces, the experience opened my eyes and ears to a greater understanding of (and appreciation for) the music.
But, of course, all that was merely the beginning. There are quite a few excellent books on Pink Floyd that helped me place various events into the proper chronology. I also dug deep into the archives, finding reviews, essays, interviews and features on the band dating all the way back to the mid-60s. And these aren’t things that are readily available on the internet via Google. And then, of course, I also conducted new, first-hand interviews.
Who did you interview?
I was lucky enough to arrange a lively and extensive interview with Ron Geesin, the avant-garde composer who collaborated with the band on ‘Atom Heart Mother’. Ron also made a soundtrack album with Roger Waters. Both Willie Wilson and Jerry Shirley – the latter best known as the drummer in Humble Pie – played on Syd’s solo albums, and are close friends of the band members. They both had a lot to share. Jerry also wrote the book’s foreword, something for which I’m most appreciative.
I interviewed musicians who play Pink Floyd’s music for a living: members of tribute bands the Machine and the Australian Pink Floyd Show. And Yogi Lang of German group RPWL had some special understanding of Pink Floyd’s “The Man and the Journey” project. So those individuals provided some unique insight. I interviewed musicians who shared a bill – and sometimes a stage – with Pink Floyd back in the 60s: Davy O’List of the Nice and Steve Howe of Tomorrow (and later, Yes).
I also interviewed journalists who have covered the band in meaningful ways, as well as people who saw them live onstage in the period before ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’. Robyn Hitchcock is a major fan of Barrett’s work, and he provided some of my very favorite quotes about Pink Floyd.
And toward the end of my research, I had a major breakthrough: I was able to interview Peter Jenner, the original manager of Pink Floyd (and later, of Syd Barrett as a solo artist). He gave me some perspective I couldn’t have got anywhere else. I’m grateful to all of those who took the time to be interviewed.
Can you share an interesting fact you learnt while writing the book?
Well, most everyone who is familiar with the Syd Barrett era of the band knows about Syd’s erratic behavior toward late 1967. What I didn’t know is that on at least three occasions, the band was faced with the possibility of going onstage without him. One time they enlisted the aid of David Gilmour – and this was some time before he joined the band –, but on two other occasions, they made spur-of-the-moment arrangements to have another guitarist take Syd’s place onstage. One time it was Davy O’List, and the other was Steve Howe. They tell their stories on the pages of “Reinventing Pink Floyd”.
The other thing I discovered was just how much the band pursued film and multimedia work. Their involvement with the soundtracks for “More” and “La Vallée” (‘Obscured by Clouds’) are pretty well known, but then there’s “Zabriskie Point”, “Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London”, “The Committee” and “Speak”, not to mention their collaboration with choreographer Roland Petit, “Le ballet Pink Floyd”.
Do you think Pink Floyd would ever have achieved the same level of success they did if Syd Barrett had stayed with them?
That’s a fascinating hypothetical to consider, isn’t it? There are so many what-ifs. Based on Syd Barrett’s eventual loss of interest in music – he immersed himself in painting instead –, I think any success would have been somewhat short-lived. But I do think that the brief five-piece line-up of January 1968 – Waters, Wright, Mason, Barrett and Gilmour – could at least theoretically have made some interesting music. But, ultimately, the divergence between the musical direction Syd followed on his own (for his two solo albums) and the path Pink Floyd would follow are remarkably divergent.
While it’s certainly true that ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ couldn’t have happened without the foundation of the Syd Barrett years, had Syd somehow stayed on, I don’t think ‘Dark Side’ could have ever been created in anything like the form in which we know it.
“Reinventing Pink Floyd” will be published worldwide in February 2018 by Rowman & Littlefield. Visit the book’s official website for more information.