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Reissue CDs Weekly: Pink Floyd | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Pink Floyd

Reissue CDs Weekly: Pink Floyd

To mark the anniversary of his death, we take a look at Syd Barrett's historically important first recordings

The label for Pink Floyd's 'Lucy Leave': based around a sloppy Howlin’ Wolf-style riff

Pictured above is the label of an exceptionally important Pink Floyd record issued last November. Only a thousand people bought a copy. That was the amount that hit shops. Pink Floyd 1965: Their First Recordings was a double seven-inch set with a historic importance inversely proportionate to its availability.

It was the first ever outing for the earliest recordings by the band and, as such, the earliest compositions for them by its prime songwriter Syd Barrett. He died on 7 July 2006 at age 60, and a look at this hard-to-find yet significant release is a tribute to his memory.

The band is the familiar pre-1968 Pink Floyd of Syd Barrett, Nick Mason, Roger Waters and Richard Wright but with a line-up bolstered by Bob Klose (credited as Rado Klose) on guitar along with Barrett. The five-piece was shorn of Klose in summer 1965 when he left to concentrate on his college studies. The previous year, Barrett had joined to replace Chris Dennis around the start of the 1964 autumn/winter college term. The chronology is laid out in Mason’s indispensable Pink Floyd book Inside Out. Other sources have Barrett joining the band in 1965, but Mason seems the best-placed commentator.

Pink Floyd 1965 Their First RecordingsPink Floyd 1965 features six tracks: “Butterfly”, “Double O Bo”, “Lucy Leave” and “Remember me” (all written by Barrett); “Walk With me Sydney” (by Waters) and a cover of Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee”, then popular after it had been recorded by The Rolling Stones. Barrett sings lead, except on “Remember me” where Klose takes the mic. Juliette Gale, Wright’s then wife, contributes additional vocals on “Walk With me Sydney”.

The reason for its release was not to feed the curiosity of fans or to create a collector’s item but to assert copyright. Some territories have no copyright protection on unissued recordings from 50 or more years ago: the same motive was behind the release of the Bob Dylan set The Cutting Edge 1965-1966. Whatever the reasons, copies of Pink Floyd 1965 now fetch at least £225 (it sold for £25.99). Presumably, at some point, the tracks will be included on a generally available archive collection.

With one exception, what’s heard conforms with white British R&B templates of the period. “I’m a King Bee” is functional and could be by any talented outfit. “Double O Bo” is a straight Bo Diddley rip-off and is, musically, a weaker second cousin to The Rolling Stones’ “Not Fade Away”. The title punningly references a double-O spy (i.e. James Bond 007) and the lyrics proclaim “Bo Diddley was a private eye”. It’s charming evidence of the band’s humour.

The same applies to the “Walking the Dog”-derived “Walk With me Sydney” with its lyrics of “flat feet, fallen arches, baggy knees and a broken frame, meningitis, peritonitis, DTs and a washed-out brain.” On “Remember me”, Klose is no great shakes as a knock-off of The Pretty Things’ Phil May, but the rough-edged performance of this shaker is fantastic. The song’s basis is Bo Diddley’s “Who do You Love”. “Lucy Leave” is driving, the best of the strictly R&B bunch and based around a sloppy Howlin’ Wolf-style riff, sporting a mid-point breakdown that demonstrates a familiarity with The Yardbirds. No one hearing these five performances in a local dance hall would have predicted a special future for this band.

Pink Floyd 1965 Their First Recordings fan art“Butterfly” is the exception. Despite opening as another R&B shuffler, its eccentric portmanteau structure, slurring, amelodic vocal lines and swelling instrumental passages presage the Pink Floyd of “Apple and Oranges”. At this early stage, something was brewing.

While the fascinating Pink Floyd 1965 is a treat, aspects confuse or are plain misleading. Differing production styles suggest the six tracks were recorded at two sessions. The performances were not taped in 1965. In his book, Mason says the band recorded four of the tracks around Christmas 1964. The band who taped these tracks was not called Pink Floyd. They became that in late 1965, and even then it was The Pink Floyd Sound. At the time of these recording they were most probably The Tea Set and certainly not Pink Floyd. And as for the misleading psychedelic light-show cover art, the uncredited, fan-generated alternate artwork illustrated above is a much better complement to the flavour of the music.

Despite its peculiarities, Pink Floyd 1965: Their First Recordings is absolutely essential. Finally, there is aural proof of what Pink Floyd were before they began soundtracking London’s underground scene. Without knowing it, their journey from R&B to psychedelia was analagous to that of California’s Grateful Dead. It is also proof that Barrett was already an unusual talent soon after arriving in the band, and was quickly steering them towards standing out from the crowd. Anyone with a passing interest in Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd needs to hear these six tracks. Let’s hope they become easily obtainable.

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