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What Was It Like To See Pink Floyd In 1966? Joe Boyd Knows

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Pink Floyd in 1967. (L-R: Nick Mason, Rick Wright, Roger Waters and Syd Barrett)
Michael Ochs Archives, Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Pink Floyd in 1967. (L-R: Nick Mason, Rick Wright, Roger Waters and Syd Barrett)

This week a gigantic Pink Floyd box set is released. What's remarkable about Pink Floyd Early Years 1965-1972 is that its 27 discs cover only the band's first seven years! All this week we'll think pink with some of the people who were there. On Friday — the day this collection is released — we'll talk with drummer Nick Mason about those early years. On Tuesday we talk to Roger Waters about his upcoming projects and politics. But I thought we should start with a man who, 50 years ago, witnessed and participated in those very early days. Joe Boyd was an American working for Elektra Records in London in 1966, and the group played early shows, before it had released any recordings, at the UFO Club, where Boyd was an owner. He'd go on to produce Pink Floyd's first single, "Arnold Layne."

Joe Boyd is a critical figure in the British folk music scene and global music scene. If you love Nick Drake then you can thank Joe Boyd. His book White Bicycles paints some great images of making music in the '60s, including stories of Pink Floyd. He also has a podcast that's quite brilliant called Joe Boyd's A-Z where he goes through his remarkable record collection in alphabetical order, making insightful musical connections and telling personal stories. I suggest Pink Floyd fans listen to the episode on the letter I, for "Interstellar Overdrive."

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On David Bowie hearing Syd Barrett sing in 1966:

"For him this was the first time that he heard a singer that he liked that was just singing in a kind of simple English way, not trying to sound black, not trying to sound American, not trying to sound super cool. Just sounding like himself singing the way he talked. And this was kind of revolutionary. And ... Bowie said that's why it changed his life."

On Barrett taking the blues and inventing his own thing:

"He [Syd Barrett] was getting bored with blues. And he was an art school student, and he was really interested in Rauschenberg, and he was interested in pop art from America. And he'd been exposed to avant-garde music, a group called AMM, which used to turn on the radio in the middle of a set and sort of jam along with whatever came over the shortwave signal. And he was taking this template which British groups for years had been making successful which was art school student forms band interprets American blues and R&B in their own way and create something new. And Syd really went way off in a different direction. He played with the blues, kind of, in a very playful and distant way, like just taking these two names [Pink Anderson and Floyd Council]. Like something stuck on a collage. And it was really a statement of independence from America."

On hearing Pink Floyd play "Interstellar Overdrive" at his club in 1966

"They would just jam for a long period of time for 10 minutes 15 minutes and would get very abstract. I think that Syd's melodies — this playfully, almost folk, 19th-century type of almost like schoolkids rhyming songs, very melodic — made those improvisations work. If it'd just been a blues jam a kind of sub-English extension of the Grateful Dead jamming on a blues, it wouldn't have been so interesting or so significant or given the whole scene its confidence. And that song in particular is a classic example of Syd's sort of collage-y approach to making music."

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Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason performs live in Denmark in 1971.
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The program handed out at The Kennedy Center for Pink Floyd, May 3, 1972.
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