This is an extract from Pink Floyd: The Early Years by Miles, my predecessor as editor at Omnibus Press, published by us in 2006. An activist, author of countless books and writer for numerous musical and counter-culture publications from the mid-sixties onwards, Miles was instrumental in promoting the early Pink Floyd so was in an ideal position to write about the group’s fledgling period when Syd Barrett was regarded as their leading light.
This is Miles’ take on the group’s first US tour, which includes Syd’s confrontation with Pat Boone – now there's a nice pair if ever there was one!
On November 1, 1967 the Pink Floyd left Britain for an eight day mini-tour of America to launch their album.
Roger Waters: “That was an amazing disaster. Syd by this time was completely off his head. We did Winterland, San Francisco. We were third on the bill to Big Brother and the Holding Company and Richie Havens. When Big Brother went on I couldn’t believe it. I was expecting something way out and it was bluesy country rock. I was amazed. I expected them to be much more different. It was kind of chunka, chunka, chunka with Janis Joplin singing the blues. I was expecting something really extraordinary and mind-blowing and tripping. Compared to some of the things that English bands were doing at the time it was boring. For example the Who in a good mood or the Cream.”
The group found that they had been billed as ‘The Light Kings Of England’ but Winterland was enormous and the tiny little lighting rig they had with them couldn’t possibly fill the space so they used the same lighting men as Janis Joplin. Bands did not have their own lights in America; lighting crews were independent outfits contracted to ballrooms and clubs under their own name; the Fillmore used Joshua Lights, who were often advertised on the posters as if they were an added attraction.
Co-manager Andrew King: “I remember the projectionist saying to me, ‘Hey, there are such strange animals in your music!’ I was thinking, ‘You’re fucking right, mate!’” Fortunately Syd managed to play reasonably well in San Francisco, and initially the band was able to enjoy the easy-going Californian hippie scene. At that point any band from England was regarded as visiting aristocracy and the group and their road crew found themselves surrounded by enormously friendly Californian girls and plied with more pot than they had ever seen in their lives while non-smokers Nick and Roger were introduced by Janis Joplin to the sweet-tasting delights of Southern Comfort.
As the tour progressed, however, it began to take on nightmarish aspects as Syd began to disintegrate before their very eyes. Things got off to a bad start when the group arrived in Los Angeles and found that Syd had forgotten his guitar which had to be flown up at great expense and bother from San Francisco. The Floyd’s record company was Tower Records, a wholly owned American subsidiary of EMI and housed, along with EMI’s main American label, Capitol Records, in the famous circular glass building at Sunset and Vine which resembled a stack of 45s on a spindle, waiting to drop onto the turntable. A Tower Records A&R man proudly showed them their HQ building, announcing “Here were are, at the centre of it all: Hollywood and Vine.” Syd showed that he was still functioning with his deflating reply: “It’s great to be in Las Vegas.” *
The group played the newly opened Cheetah Club, housed in the old Aragon Ballroom on Pacific Ocean Park in Venice. Before they left for the States Syd had had one of his £20 perms done at Vidal Sassoon to make him look like Jimi Hendrix but he thought they had done a bad job and decided that he wanted to straighten out his curls. In the dressing room at the Cheetah, just as they were preparing to go onstage, Syd took a jar of hair gel and tipped the whole lot on his head. Next he produced a bottle of Mandrax (or more likely quaaludes, as methaqualone was called in the States) and rubbed them into his hair. * He was sitting in front of the dressing room make-up lights which caused the gel to began to melt and run down his face and neck until, as Roger put it, Syd looked like “like a gutted candle”.
The band took the stage and apparently girls in the front row screamed with horror as Syd’s lips and nostrils bubbled and ran with the gel as rivulets oozed down his cheeks, the mixed-in sleeping pills looking like tiny gobbets of flesh as if he was discomposing before their eyes in the moving lights. He detuned the strings of his guitar and stared out into space, his right hand hanging limply at his side, too out of it to sing any of the lyrics. Roger, who had to deliver the vocals for him, was so angry afterwards that he demanded that Syd be thrown out of the group on the spot. In fact Syd was probably very into the music: he detuned the strings to emulate Keith Rowe, listening to each one, blew on a whistle, and possibly thought he was participating in a free-form concert; he had always been allowed to improvise at will. I saw many AMM concerts and long periods of time often passed before anyone made any noise at all. It is possible that Syd strummed a few times during the concert, which would have seemed like a proper contribution to him in AMM mode.
For many of the crew, and some of the band, this debacle was the final straw and they abandoned themselves to the pleasures of the road, which in Los Angeles were many. They were not sleeping much because of jet lag and were staying at the Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Blvd, home of many rock and roll groups including half of the Mothers of Invention, and very much groupie central in the days before the Hyatt House hotel on Sunset Boulevard became ‘the Riot House.’ It was always interesting to see who accompanied members of the band and crew to breakfast at Duke’s 24-hour coffee shop next door for breakfast. As a consequence, some of the band and crew had to report to James Pringle House’s VD clinic as soon as they returned to London.
On November 5 they were on Pat Boone’s television show to promote their new single, ‘Apples And Oranges’ and though Syd mimed perfectly during rehearsals he refused to move when the cameras went live.
Roger: “We did the Pat Boone show, and we were taping the show, and he would do the run-through and Syd would stand with his Telecaster with silver bits all over it and mime happily. ‘Cut, cut, we are going to do it now’... He knew perfectly well what was going on, he was just being crazy and they did four or five takes like that. Eventually I mimed it.”
Despite this, Pat Boone chose Syd to talk to and asked him an inane question about what kind of things he liked. Syd fixed him with a Night Of The Living Dead-style stare and pondered the question. The rest of the band waited for what seemed like an eternity, buttocks clenched in horror as they saw their American career going down the tubes. Eventually Syd said ‘America’, which made the all-American audience holler and shout their approval. On Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Syd half-heartedly mimed, as if catatonic, through ‘Apples And Oranges’ and ‘See Emily Play’. For Perry Como’s show, it was Rick who had to mime ‘Matilda Mother’. After this, Andrew King finally accepted reality and cancelled a Beach Party TV appearance and a New York engagement at the Cheetah Club and put the group on a plane home. Before leaving Syd managed to fall into the Tropicana pool fully clothed and just abandoned his wet clothes in his room when leaving for LAX.