Over their five-decade run, Pink Floyd flourished and stuttered through a series of chapters, both stylistically and personally. The first profound change for the group was with the parting of founding bandleader Syd Barrett and the concurrent recruitment of David Gilmour as a replacement guitarist.
Under Barrett’s leadership, the band became one of London’s most prominent psychedelic rock bands. However, a promising spell of success over the spring and summer of 1967 took a turn for the worse when Barrett’s psychedelic drug abuse began to impact performances and rehearsals.
In December 1967, the band welcomed Gilmour into their ranks to take the pressure off Barrett, but it soon became evident that he would be a full-time replacement. Barrett remained active in the band for a further five months before leaving on mutual terms as his LSD-induced schizophrenia spiralled.
In a 2001 interview with John Edginton, Gilmour reflected on his initial struggle to catch up and replicate Barrett’s unique style. “In the beginning, I had to quickly adapt to them,” he remembered. “Play stuff that I had no clue what I was doing; it was probably dreadful. It was also excruciatingly embarrassing to the extent that I used to mostly play with back to the audience.”
“I was very embarrassed and nervous about what I was doing. Also, I didn’t feel so sure of myself; I didn’t know what to play,” Gilmour continued. “I had to try and play on these songs. [But also these] sort of templates that the band and Syd had been playing on for some time. I was conscious that I needed at some point try and make it more my own.”
Following 1968’s transitory album, A Saucerful of Secrets, Pink Floyd kicked off to find their footing in a sound somewhat removed from Barrett’s blueprints. The sonic experiments that appeared in 1969’s Ummagumma and Atom Heart Mother a year thereafter saw the band join the contemporary prog-rock steam but also marked a notable nadir for Pink Floyd.
Gilmour joins many fans in choosing Ummagumma as Pink Floyd’s least inspiring collection of tracks. “We were fairly brave and would put anything on a record that amused us one way or another,” Gilmour said, discussing Ummagumma with Rolling Stone in 2011. “But in some of those moments, we were floundering about. [We] didn’t have our forward momentum very clear, and inspiration might have been a bit thin on the ground at times.”
Although Gilmour described Ummagumma as “floundering,” he saved his harshest words for Atom Heart Mother. “We didn’t know where we were going in terms of recording. But we were pretty good live. We were very good at jamming, but we couldn’t translate that onto the record. Gradually, a direction revealed itself to us. A line that began with the ‘Saucerful of Secrets’ track all the way to ‘Echoes’, via the long piece, Atom Heart Mother.”
“That was a good idea, but it was dreadful,” Gilmour continued. “I listened to that album recently. God, it’s shit, possibly our lowest point artistically. Atom Heart Mother sounds like we didn’t have any idea between us, but we became much more prolific after it.”
Indeed, the best was very much still to come for the band. In 1971, Meddle dropped jaws with its epic side two track ‘Echoes,’ a track that foreshadowed the runaway success of 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon.
Listen to ‘Echoes’ below.