The Melodrama of Pink Floyd: Fame, Fails, and Feuds

The band that formed in the 1960s and made some joyful and lightly psychedelic pop-rock morphed into one of the most transcendent, introspective bands of all time. Pink Floyd made progressive rock listenable, and their masterpieces – The Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and The Wall – stayed on the charts for years. But there’s so much more to the band than their actual music. The history of the band is shrouded in mystery, sadness, and old school feuds.

Pink Floyd / Pink Floyd / Pink Floyd / Roger Waters.
Source: Getty Images

From losing their original founding member to mental illness to a decades-long fight to a legal battle that ended badly, Pink Floyd can create an entire album just based on all the bad sh*t that went down between the band members. Too bad they’re never going to reunite again…

Waters and Gilmour: A Dysfunctional Relationship

Roger Waters and David Gilmour have always been in a somewhat dysfunctional relationship. Waters was never really gung-ho about the idea of a collaboration, and acted in a way that seems like he would much rather just be the captain of his own ship. Gilmour, who joined Pink Floyd in 1968, found himself in a power struggle with Waters as the years progressed.

A portrait from Pink Floyd members.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Eventually, the never-ending battles took their toll and Waters left the band in 1985. Waters was also angry with keyboardist Richard Wright, who he felt didn’t write enough material for The Wall. So, he fired the guy. Waters took things to the next level by going legal on the band members.

Pink Floyd Is Mine!

The legal battle that went on for years began with the announcement of his departure. Waters issued a statement to EMI and CBS, which invoked the “Leaving Member” clause in his contract. As the main creative force in Pink Floyd, he simply didn’t believe the band could continue without him.

A portrait of Roger Waters.
Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images

And so, in October 1986, Waters started a string of High Court proceedings to officially dissolve Pink Floyd, labeling the band a “spent force creatively.” The other members weren’t happy campers, to say the least. Gilmour and Nick Mason opposed Waters’s claims, declaring that Pink Floyd would not crumble. They said that Waters couldn’t possibly declare the band dead if they were still trying to make new music.

Roger Waters Lost the Battle

Waters and his former bandmates eventually came to an agreement in 1987, resulting in Waters resigning. In other words, he lost the battle. He noted: “If I hadn’t, the financial repercussions would have wiped me out completely.” He told the BBC in 2013: “I was wrong! Of course, I was… Who cares? It’s one of the few times that the legal profession has taught me something.”

Richard Wright, Nick Mason, and David Gilmour in a band portrait.
Photo by Ross Marino/Getty Images

The guys managed to let bygones be bygones for a little while and reunited in 2005 for a performance at the Live 8 charity concert. The show was a major triumph, and Pink Floyd was offered a whopping $150 million payout for a U.S. tour.

Roger Waters’s (Whiny) Twitter Video Post

But it turns out that no amount of money could get Waters and Gilmour on the road together again. All these years later, and Waters still finds things that irritate him about Gilmour. In a five-minute video from his Twitter page in 2020, Waters did some whining…

Roger Water sits in his home.
Source: Twitter /@rogerwaters

He complained about not being given access to the Pink Floyd social media channels, while Gilmour’s wife Polly Samson uses the platforms to promote her novels. “I am banned by David Gilmour from the website,” he stated in his video. “David thinks he owns it… because I left the band in 1985, that he owns Pink Floyd, that he is Pink Floyd, and I’m irrelevant, and I should just keep my mouth shut.”

A Pair of Bickering Elderly Gentlemen

According to Mason, who spoke to Rolling Stone in 2018, Waters “doesn’t really respect” Gilmour. He added: “I actually get along with both of them, and I think it’s really disappointing that these rather elderly gentlemen are still at loggerheads.”

A portrait of Roger Waters / A picture of David Gilmour.
Photo by Matteo Chinellato, NurPhoto, Getty Images / Ernesto Ruscio, Getty Images

Gilmour hasn’t responded to Waters’s social media jabs, but he did have something to say to Rolling Stone in 2014: “Why on Earth anyone thinks what we do now would have anything to do with him is a mystery to me. Roger was tired of being in a pop group. He is very used to being the sole power behind his career.”

Un Unsuccessful Peace Offering

Waters reportedly tried to make a peace offering in the last few years at an airport hotel in London, but it only cemented the fact that there would never be a truce between these two “elderly gentlemen.” In a 2020 video posted by Waters, he spoke about that airport meeting.

A still from the video.
Source: YouTube

“I convened a sort of Camp David for the surviving members of Pink Floyd,” he said. There, he proposed “all kinds of measures” to get through the predicament they found themselves in. Unfortunately, it bore no fruit. They’re simply no longer the men they once were. It’s been about four decades that they’ve been locked in this vicious feud, and it looks like they may take it to their graves.

“The Wall” Made Them, Only to Break Them

In 1979, Pink Floyd released its 11th studio album, The Wall. The concept album became the No. 2 bestselling double album in history. It was phenomenal, but it was also the end of an era. In fact, it was the last album the band’s core members – Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Richard Wright –recorded together.

Roger Waters’ performance on stage.
Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty Images

Album no. 11 came after years of touring and financial stress, but it was clashing egos (mostly Waters’s) during the recording of The Wall that brought them to a boiling point. How cliché, right?

It’s Not Easy Making a Masterpiece

It’s pretty cliché to hear of a band breaking up after a tense album (think the Beatles, the Eagles), but it is what it is. The truth is, a disaster was a long time in the making. By the time Pink Floyd entered the recording studio in January 1979, tensions had already been rising.

The album cover of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

It was their 1973 album, The Dark Side of the Moon, which catapulted Pink Floyd to superstardom, but they were struggling to build off that success and make another hit album. After all, it’s not easy making a masterpiece.

Captain Waters Steering the Ship

The fights began while recording their follow-up albums, 1975’s Wish You Were Here and 1977’s Animals. When it came to Wish You Were Here, Waters took it upon himself to be the captain. He chose which tracks would make it and what themes they would go with.

Roger Waters performs on stage.
Photo by Ian Dickson/Redferns/Getty Images

He wanted to make music with the theme of alienation, taking a jab at the music industry and paying tribute to their friend and former bandmate, Syd Barrett, who left the band in 1968 due to mental health problems. Waters also cut two songs (Raving and Drooling and Gotta Be Crazy), despite Gilmour’s protests.

The Incident That Inspired Roger Waters

It was all very suffocating for the others, which is why Wright and Gilmour dipped their feet into solo albums in 1978 (Wright released Wet Dream, and Gilmour put out the self-titled David Gilmour). Pink Floyd was still intact at the time, though, and next up was The Wall.

Pink Floyd performs on stage.
Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, Waters took the reins again. Something that really inspired Waters was the notorious incident that occurred during the In the Flesh tour (promoting their album Animals). Waters was annoyed with all the firecracker sounds, and it didn’t help that the crowd wasn’t really listening to their music.

Yup, He Spat on the Audience

So, what did he do? Well, he did what any self-respecting musician would do in such a situation (sarcasm): he spat on the audience. It’s basically what sparked the idea of building “a wall” to stand between him and his fans. And thus, the seed was planted.

Pink Floyd performs The Wall on stage.
Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty Images

By July 1978, he showed his bandmembers a 90-minute demo, proposing two concepts: “Bricks in the Wall” and “The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking.” The band only agreed to make an album focused on the wall idea – an album whose central character would be Pink Floyd. But just who is Pink Floyd?

Who Is Pink Floyd?

The band first referred to themselves as the Pink Floyd Sound back in 1965. Syd Barrett came up with the name on the spur of the moment when he heard that another band (called the Tea Set) was going to perform at one of their gigs.

Blues musician Pink Anderson / Blues musician Floyd Council.
Photo by GAB Archive, Redferns, Getty Images / Pinterest

The name Pink Floyd is derived from the names of two blues musicians whose records Barrett had in his collection: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. This fictional, yet semi-autobiographical, character Pink then became the subject of The Wall. Musicologist Allan F. Moore notes how “Waters’s growing megalomania” during the making of the album “became harder to handle.”

Parents, Teachers, Wives – Leave Him Alone!

The entire album was semi-autobiographical, based on Waters and Syd Barrett, with these walls as defense mechanisms Waters put up. He was guarding himself against all the people who could hurt him – parents, teachers, wives, lovers. Pink, the subject of The Wall, dealt with problems that began when his father died in a war.

A band portrait with Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Syd Barret, and Richard Wright.
Photo by Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Getty Images

This was similar to Waters’s childhood. His dad died in World War II. These were the first “bricks” in the wall Pink built around himself. But other traumas ensued, including abusive teachers, which we’ve all heard about through Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2). Waters explained: “The education I went through in boys’ grammar school in the ’50s was very controlling and demanded rebellion.”

It Was the End of an Era

If Gilmour had any ideas on how to contribute to Waters’s vision, they weren’t really incorporated. In the end, Gilmour received just three co-writing credits (Run Like Hell, Young Lust, and Comfortably Numb). As for Mason and Wright, they got diddly squat. As problematic as the album was to make, it’s considered to be one of the best albums in rock music history.

A psychedelic light show while Pink Floyd performs on stage.
Photo by Adam Ritchie/Redferns/Getty Images

Still, it was the end of an era. Richard Wright left, only to come back in 1980 and ’81 as a paid sideman during Pink Floyd’s tours. But nothing matched the critical or commercial success of The Wall. So, if any album could break the band, let it be The Wall.

What Ever Happened to Syd Barrett?

Syd Barrett was the original Pink Floyd mastermind – the one who sang and played guitar and wrote most of the songs on their 1967 debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. The thing about Barrett was that his life was tainted with tragedy from an early age.

A band portrait.
Photo by Andrew Whittuck/Redferns/Getty Images

His father died when he was just a little boy, leaving his widowed mother to raise five kids all on her own. Barrett escaped reality by diving into art and playing the piano, but by his teen years, rock music was all he cared about.

His On-Stage Behavior Was Unpredictable

He had a mutual relationship with rock music; he was interested in all the strange, new places that he could take it and where it could take him. By 1968, the band hired singer and guitarist David Gilmour as a backup for Barrett, whose on-stage behavior was growing more and more unpredictable.

A picture of Syd Barrett.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

His mental health was declining, which was partly due to his use of LSD. Within a few months, he was out of the band. Dealing with the pressure of fame and creating music was simply too much, especially since he was also trying to manage his alleged diagnosis of schizophrenia.

Roger Waters Really Wished Barrett Was There

In the summer of 1975, Pink Floyd was in album-making mode, creating their ninth studio album, Wish You Were Here. Just as it sounds, the album was basically dedicated to Barrett. Waters missed him more than anyone else in the band.

A portrait of Roger Waters.
Photo by Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty Images

Two tracks – Wish You Were Here and Shine On You Crazy Diamond – were both tributes to Barrett. After leaving Pink Floyd, Barrett spent a year on hiatus, out of the public eye. In 1969, EMI and Harvest Records pushed him to start a solo career, which he did, but it was brief. Barrett released two solo albums in 1970: The Madcap Laughs and Barrett.

“I’m Disappearing, Avoiding Most Things”

In the early ‘70s, he performed periodically, sometimes with Gilmour. Gilmour actually backed Barrett during a live show on June 6, 1970, at the Olympia Exhibition Hall. The performance didn’t go well, and by the fourth song, Barrett unexpectedly yet politely put down his guitar and walked off the stage.

A portrait of Syd Barrett.
Photo by Andrew Whittuck/Redferns/Getty Images

In 1971, Barrett told Rolling Stone, “I’m disappearing, avoiding most things.” A year later, he stopped performing music for a while. He did, however, tell Rolling Stone how he was hoping to tour with Jimi Hendrix. Barrett also expressed his frustration over not finding anyone “good” to play with.

The Day Syd Barrett Showed Up out of Nowhere

Then, one day in 1975, when Pink Floyd was deep in a recording session for Wish You Were Here, an interesting character showed up. The guys didn’t recognize this quiet, seemingly confused, heavyset man with a shaved head and no eyebrows.

A picture of Syd Barrett at the time.
Source: Wikipedia

It was Gilmour who figured it out first: the man was Syd Barrett. It was almost surreal since the band was working on an album that centered on this very character standing in front of them. And he suddenly appeared, as if by magic. And not long after, he slipped out without telling anyone.

Syd Barret Slowly Faded Into Obscurity

It was the last time the core members of Pink Floyd would ever be in the same room together. But Waters spotted Barrett a few years later. “I bumped into him in Harrods, where he used to go to buy sweets, but we didn’t speak,” Waters recalled. “He sort of scuttled away.”

Syd Barrett walks the street.
Source: Pinterest

By the end of 1973, Barrett moved back to London, staying at various hotels and had little contact with others. He would regularly collect his royalties and get the occasional visit from his sister, Rosemary. In 1974, he made an attempt at another album in Abbey Road Studios, but it wasn’t working for him.

He Moved Back In With His Mother

He left the music industry, this time for good. In 1978, Barrett’s money ran out, so he moved back in with his mother. According to the book Madcap, Barrett went back to using his original name Roger, returned to painting, and became an avid gardener.

The home of Syd Barret.
Source: Wikipedia

On top of his mental illness, he was also suffering from stomach ulcers and type 2 diabetes. Since Barrett was out of the public eye since the ‘70s, reporters would go to see him, despite public appeals from his family. Barrett didn’t enjoy the interviews.

His First Appearance Since the ‘70s

He didn’t like being reminded about his musical career and how the members of Pink Floyd had no direct contact with him. In 1996, when Barrett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Pink Floyd member, he didn’t show up to the ceremony.

A studio portrait of Syd Barrett.
by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Neither did Waters, by the way. The first time Barrett publicly spoke about his music career since the ‘70s was in 2002 when he autographed 320 copies of the book Psychedelic Renegades (by photographer Mick Rock), which contained photos of Barrett. He autographed the book simply as “Barrett.”

How Did Syd Barrett Die?

Even though reports were made that Barrett’s health was improving in the early 2000s, he passed away in July 2006 at the age of 60. At first, reports stated that he died of complications from diabetes, but in reality, it was pancreatic cancer that got the best of him.

A picture of Syd Barrett.
Photo by Barrie Wentzell

His home in St. Margaret’s Square, Cambridge, was put up for sale and attracted a lot of interest from fans. In the end, it was sold to a French couple who apparently knew nothing about the musician.

In Memory of the Madcap Genius

In the wake of his death, Gilmour made a statement: “We are very sad to say that Roger Keith Barrett – Syd – has passed away. Do find time to play some of Syd’s songs and to remember him as the madcap genius who made us all smile with his wonderfully eccentric songs about bikes, gnomes and scarecrows.”

David Gilmour attends an event.
Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images

Until his death, Barrett received royalties from his Pink Floyd contributions. “I made sure the money got to him,” Gilmour stated. The truth is, Gilmour would never have even joined Pink Floyd if it weren’t for Barrett.

Chris Dennis: The Original Singer Who Left the Band

It’s always remarkable (and tragic) to hear of those musicians who leave a band before the group goes on to enjoy incredible fame and fortune (like Tony Chapman of the Rolling Stones or Dave Mustaine of Metallica). These singers, guitarists, or drummers helped form the band, find its sound, only to leave and remain relatively unknown… Ouch.

Chris Dennis sings on Pink Floyd’s first gig.
Source: Cavendish Press

In 1963 in London, a Royal Air Force technician named Chris Dennis met Roger Waters, who was looking for a singer for his new and unnamed band. Dennis later said he was there when Barrett came up with the name Pink Floyd. He also sang during for band’s first official gigs, which were mainly blues and cover songs.

He Didn’t Think Pink Floyd Had a Future

But after a year or so after joining, Dennis left Pink Floyd. He said in 2012 that the reason he left was that he didn’t think the band had a future – that and the fact that he was offered an RAF post in Bahrain. When he came back to the U.K., he noticed Pink Floyd’s debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, in a record store.

A current picture of Chris Dennis holding a guitar.
Source: Cavendish Press

So, what happened to Dennis? Well, he got married, had kids, and settled in Wales. “I’ve no regrets. I helped start the biggest rock band in the world…” he said proudly. “That’s enough for me.” Is it really though Chris?

Bob Klose: The Early Guitarist Who Preferred to Study Instead

Bob Klose, aka Rado Klose, was another discreet early band member. He played guitar in a very early version of Pink Floyd. By 1965, he was gone. “He was really a far better musician than any of the rest of us,” Waters declared. At the time, Klose was a student, and he “had some exam problems,” as Waters recalled.

Bob Klose sits playing the guitar.
Source: YouTube

Apparently, he wanted to apply himself to work, “whereas the rest of us were not that conscientious.” Klose ditched Pink Floyd before the band got big, of course, but went on to become a successful photographer. The kid rose from a less than ideal childhood, where his father worked on a farm and couldn’t afford housing, so the family had to live in a tent pitched on the property where he worked.

Richard Wright’s Very Own (Depressing) Concept Album

There aren’t too many bands whose core members all release solo albums, either as a side project or after leaving the group. Keyboardist Richard Wright released three albums of his own: Wet Dream (1978), Identity (1984), and Broken China (1996).

A portrait of Richard Wright.
Photo by Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty Images

Broken China is a concept album, and the central theme was the clinical depression his wife, Millie. “It was, of course, a very frightening and very emotional time to witness this happening,” he told The Boston Globe.

Roger Waters Fired Richard Wright

Psychology Today noted how “surprisingly frank” Wright was in his depiction of his wife’s battle, which included therapy and hospitalization. Wright contributed priceless value to Pink Floyd. On every one of their albums (minus The Final Cut), Wright was the one responsible for all the haunting keyboard sounds that essentially became Pink Floyd’s signature sound.

Pink Floyd in pink.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Wright also sang backup on many tracks and occasionally wrote one or two; he co-wrote The Great Gig in the Sky on The Dark Side of the Moon album. But it all came to a silent end in 1981, after The Wall came out and Waters fired him.

How Did Richard Wright Die?

It was only in 1983, with The Final Cut, that fans realized he was no longer in the group. In the mid-‘90s, Wright hadn’t spoken with Waters for 14 years, except for that one-off performance at the Live 8 London charity concert in 2005.

Richard Wright performs on stage.
Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images

Three years later, Wright died of cancer at the age of 65. He had been working on a new solo album at the time of his death, which was supposed to comprise a series of instrumental pieces. Mason later said that Wright’s contributions were underrated. He compared his “quiet one” status to George Harrison of the Beatles.

Richard Wright’s Love Life Was as Crazy as His Music

As it turns out, Wright’s love life was just as dramatic as his keyboard work. In 1964, he married Juliette Gale, a singer from the very early Pink Floyd days. They had two kids together before he left her in 1982 for Franka Wright, who was married at the time.

Juliette Gale poses next to Roger Waters and Nick Mason.
Photo by David M. Benett/Getty Images

Franka exposed some dirt on Wright when she told The Daily Mail that her husband cheated on her often with groupies and backup singers. She ended up confronting him by surprise one day in 1992.

A Bitter Discovery, a Bitter Divorce

Franka showed up on his boat in Athens, where Wright was with one of his young mistresses, who was pregnant, by the way. It was especially difficult for Franka to see, considering she had already suffered four miscarriages. “Rick never visited me in the hospital,” she noted, referring to the unsuccessful pregnancies.

Richard Wright embraces Franka.
Source: Pinterest

After a bitter divorce, Wright went on to marry his third wife, Millie Hobbs – the one he wrote Broken China about. They married in 1995 and divorced in 2007, a year before Wright died. The musician left his $30 million estate for his children. As for his three ex-wives, they got nothing. Nada. Zilch.

The Case of David Gilmour’s Stolen Guitars

Gilmour is, at the end of the day, one of the world’s most famous guitarists, so he obviously treasures his signature instrument greatly. That’s why it really struck a chord with him (pun intended) when a bunch of his guitars were stolen from him.

David Gilmour’s guitars.
Photo by Joby Sessions/Guitarist Magazine/Future/Getty Images

Gilmour explained on The David Gilmour Podcast in 2019 that he was living at the time “out in the countryside somewhere,” and he had this little studio. His brother had a band and was recording music in the studio. The guitars were in that room.

A Twist of Musical Fate

Then, one night, it got broken into, and the guitars were taken. It turns out that the thief was one of the musicians in his brother’s band. One of the stolen guitars eventually wound up in a studio owned by one of Gilmour’s associates, who spotted the guitar and returned it to its rightful owner.

The David Gilmour guitar collection exhibition in New York.
Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

“We got most of them back,” Gilmour said. “A couple I never got back.” This wasn’t even the first time he experienced a case of grand theft music. In 1970, Pink Floyd had to cancel its American tour after thieves took off with the group’s equipment.

The Hidden Message in “Empty Spaces”

Nick Mason spoke with Sonic Reality about the hidden message in the song Empty Spaces. He explained how the band got the idea from the occasional bursts of hysteria that came from artists who were supposedly hiding subliminal messages in their music.

A current portrait of Nick Mason.
Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

But Pink Floyd didn’t take things too seriously when they slipped in a secret message of their own. Empty Spaces happened to be a bit of comic relief in a very intense album. When played in reverse, the track says, “Congratulations. You have just discovered the secret message.” Is there a deeper meaning? No, “It’s complete nonsense,” Mason stated.

Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets

Nick Mason has a new band called Saucerful of Secrets, and they only play the music of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s era of Pink Floyd. It’s a bit strange for Mason, he said, considering he was never really close to Barrett, who was a major player in those years.

Saucerful of Secrets performs on stage.
Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto/Getty Images

When Pink Floyd officially disbanded in 2014, after the release of The Endless River, Mason was 70 and figured his playing days were done. After all, he was busy with his hobby of race car driving. Still, he missed banging on the drums.

Like Being Back in 1967

His first Saucerful of Secrets show was in May 2018, including Guy Pratt (Pink Floyd’s touring bassist in the ‘80s and ‘90s), Gary Kemp, and two others. “The first night we played the club gigs, it was just like being back in 1967,” Mason recalled.

Nick Mason performs on stage with his new band.
Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Mason always had a very distinctive way of playing the drums with long, lazy rolls around the kit. “I was never a technical drummer or a student of drumming,” he said. “I’m a worrier,” he explained; he always had a “low opinion” of his drumming skills.

He Was Like the Ship’s Cook

When he was in Pink Floyd, Mason often considered his position as the drummer as similar to being the ship’s cook. But now he’s more of the captain of his own ship, and he’s loving every minute of it. This is not to say that he didn’t love his time with Floyd. He looks back fondly on those years.

Nick Mason and Roger Waters during a press conference.
Photo by Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

When reminded about the constant melodrama of Pink Floyd, Mason laughs it off. He’s not one to point fingers and isn’t about to break his calm and cool composure. He acknowledged the troubles but added: “We went through quite a long period of time enjoying each other’s company and enjoying the work.”

Will There Be a Pink Floyd Reunion?

No. Sorry folks, but according to David Gilmour, they are “done.” He said the band has simply “run its course.” Gilmour wished Rogers well, saying he’s all for him “doing whatever he wants to do and enjoying himself.”

David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, and Rick Wright wave their hands to the public.
Photo by MJ Kim/Getty Images

As for Waters, he was a little more opinionated about it. A reunion, in his eyes, would be “f***ing awful.” He understands the fans want it, but to “trade my liberty for those chains? No f***ing way.” I think that pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?