On 6th April 1968, Pink Floyd officially announced that founding member Syd Barrett had left the band and had been replaced permanently by David Gilmour. As a result, the Blackhill Enterprises record label terminated its contract with the group but retained Barrett as a solo artist, since he was regarded as the creative genius and conceptual leader of Pink Floyd.
Barrett wrote most of the songs and performed vocals and guitar on the band’s debut album ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, released in August 1967 to critical and commercial acclaim. However, by the end of the same year, his behaviour changed and became more and more unpredictable.
Although no one knows for sure what exact condition Barrett was suffering from, the deterioration of his mental health is usually attributed to his extensive use of psychedelic drugs. He took a lot of inspiration for his songwriting from acid trips, and without these experiences he may never have conceived the original concepts behind Pink Floyd. But once he started taking LSD on a nearly daily basis, the forces that had once helped boost his creativity gradually turned against him.
Although a lethal overdose of psychedelics is virtually impossible (an active LSD dose is between 100-500 micrograms, and a deadly dose is estimated around 12,000 micrograms), frequent usage can have permanent adverse psychological consequences. This impact is more significant when someone is predisposed to mental disorders, and many believe that this was the case with Barrett.
Roger Waters has claimed that Barrett suffered from schizophrenia “without a doubt”, and Gilmour has said that “his nervous breakdown would have happened anyway”, adding that he just couldn’t “deal with the vision of success and all the things that went with it”. Richard Wright believes that Barrett’s symptoms became apparent after one occasion when he took an unusually large quantity of acid.
Barrett’s antics became more and more unbearable towards the end of his time with Pink Floyd, while he was suffering from frequent mood swings and experiencing hallucinations. When on stage, he would play one chord during the entire show, detune his guitar or simply refuse to play altogether. He also wouldn’t say a word during interviews and forget which country or city they were touring in. One of the most visible changes about him was the development of what his friends described as a blank stare.
During a UK tour with Jimi Hendrix, the Move, the Nice and the Amen Corner in November-December 1967, David O’List of the Nice stood in for Barrett some nights when he was out of control. In late December, Gilmour, a childhood friend of Barrett’s, was asked to join the group as a second guitarist. After Barrett was just wandering around the stage while Gilmour was playing on several occasions, they planned to have him as a non-performing member. However, he contributed only one song to the band’s next album, ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’, released in 1968.
His final attempt to compose new material for Pink Floyd proved to be a peculiar joke. He claimed to have written a new song titled ‘Have You Got It Yet?’, which he played again and again, but the other band members found it impossible to learn. After a few tries, they realised that Barrett kept constantly changing the song, while singing the chorus: “Have you got it yet?”. This was to become his last practice session with the band.
Many believed that the original frontman’s departure would be the end of Pink Floyd. Nevertheless, they went on to produce their most famous records under Waters’s leadership: ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ (1973), ‘Wish You Were Here’ (1975), ‘Animals’ (1977) and ‘The Wall’ (1979).
Barrett’s released two solo albums in 1970, in an attempt to revive his music career: ‘The Madcap Laughs’, produced by Gilmour and Waters, and ‘Barrett’, produced by Gilmour and Wright. He then disappeared from the public eye for the rest of his life, returning to live in his hometown of Cambridge, where he passed away in 2006, aged 60.
His memory haunted his former bandmates for a long time after his departure. A lot of Waters’s lyrics include references to him; most notably ‘Brain Damage’, ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Nobody Home’.
He unexpectedly showed up at Abbey Road Studios during the recording session of ‘Shine On’. Having gained a lot of weight and shaved his head and eyebrows, no one recognised him at first. He later attended Gilmour’s wedding reception, and this was the last time his former band members ever saw him.