When David Gilmour Joined Pink Floyd, It Was Supposed To Be Temporary

Music | February 18, 2020

Pink Floyd, (L-R; Rick Wright, Dave Gilmour, Nick Mason and Roger Waters) pose for a publicity still circa 1973. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

First, he replaced Syd Barrett, then Roger Waters -- David Gilmour, once the new guy in Pink Floyd, came to be its leader in its later incarnation. In 1967, Pink Floyd was a group on the rise. They'd found commercial success with their psychedelic first singles, "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play,” and their unforgettable debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn but lead singer and songwriter Syd Barrett was growing more erratic by the day and his behavior was threatening to bring the band down before they ever really took off. To offset Barrett’s behavior the band brought in David Gilmour, a friend of the band, to take over on guitar in an attempt to right the group. By 1968 Gilmour was a full fledged member of the band and Barrett was on his way out. 

It was Nick Mason’s idea to bring in Gilmour

source: pinterest

Following the release of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Syd Barrett retreated into himself. He became part Brian Wilson, part Loki. At live shows he started songs in the wrong key, he sang the wrong words on purpose and changed the arrangements without telling anyone. Regardless of the fact that this is was evidence of a mental breakdown the band needed a change. Drummer Nick Mason invited David Gilmour to jam with the group in December 1967.

The original plan was for Gilmour to hang around the background and provide rhythm guitar while Barrett continued singing, but as Barrett's erratic behavior increased Gilmour’s role in the group changed as well. They felt they could continue with Barrett as a stay-at-home songwriter with Gilmour taking over vocal duties. Gilmour explained:

There was discussion that he would eventually sort of stay home, being a Brian Wilson sort of writing character, and we’d continue using his material. I would be the frontman, on stage. But it wasn’t really workable. The notion passed by very quickly. In fact, I think there were only five gigs, as I remember it, where there was the five of us played together. Then we ceased to go pick him up.

No one else wanted the job

source: youtube

Everyone playing in Pink Floyd at the time of Barrett’s slide into his new freaked out hermit lifestyle was a legitimate virtuoso. They put the prog in pop and the pop in prog, so it’s not like they couldn’t handle Barrett’s parts - they just didn’t want to deal with it. By bringing Gilmour in, the rest of the band could focus on their own work and let the new guy handle the old songs. While speaking with Guitar World in 1993, Gilmour talked about his bad luck: 

They wanted me to play [Barrett's] parts and sing his songs. Nobody else wanted to sing them, and I got elected. That was my job – as far as live shows were concerned, anyway. Me and Syd played together only five gigs in Pink Floyd. Or maybe four. Maybe the Southampton was supposed to be the fifth one; I don’t remember. While all this was happening, we were also trying to make the new album, A Saucerful of Secrets. But live, we didn’t play the tracks from that, but virtually all Syd’s stuff. Because there wasn’t anything else to do. It was either that or back to Bo Diddley covers.

Gilmour became a full time member when he was 21

source: reddit

It was clear to everyone in the band that Gilmour was a much better fit than Barrett, and that if they wanted to continue in any capacity that they needed him to stick around, so at the young age of 21 the guitarist was brought on board as a full time member. Taking over Barrett’s spot wasn’t an easy decision. The two guitarists had known each other since they were children, so the move was something of a betrayal. Gilmour says that he got over the bad feelings thanks to his ambition:

I was 21, and one is fairly ambitious. You want to get on with stuff. That sort of offer is a very hard one to turn down. And, logically speaking, it wasn’t working. Syd was not performing at all on stage. It was kind of tragic. I don’t suppose I saw any option, but to just do the best that I could. I’m sure we were all full of some sort of guilt, and remained that way for a long time.

Gilmour came into his own while recording A Saucerful of Secrets

source: BBC

It’s not remembered as fondly as The Dark Side of the Moon or The Wall but the group’s sophomore album A Saucerful of Secrets is one of their most important albums. At the time former songwriter Syd Barrett was in his final days in the band and David Gilmour was flexing his songwriting muscles. Songs like “Remember the Day” and Barrett’s final song “Jugband Blues” were closer to the band’s old psychedelic work, but it’s Gilmour’s multi-layered, super textured tracks that hint at where the band was heading in the ‘70s. "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" is a particularly mind blowing song that’s built from the ground up by the band’s new guitarist.

Gilmour helped push the band to the Dark Side of the Moon

source: pinterest

A Saucerful of Secrets sounds like a few different bands playing on the same album, and Gilmour admits that the in the studio Pink Floyd didn’t really know what they wanted to do. He says that he used confusion in the group to allow himself to experiment with instruments and arrangements that weren’t considered to be “rock” at the time. He said:

I don’t think the band really knew quite where they wanted to go after Syd’s departure. 'A Saucerful of Secrets' was a very important track; it gave us our direction forward. If you take 'A Saucerful of Secrets,' 'Atom Heart Mother' [from 1970's Atom Heart Mother] and 'Echoes' [from 1971's Meddle] – all lead logically to Dark Side of the Moon.

Late Pink Floyd Was Gilmour's Group

As Pink Floyd progressed through the '70s and into the '80s, Roger Waters came to dominate the group in every way. For The Wall, Waters was the sole songwriter and lead vocalist, and a group that was once notably egalitarian had become a frontman with supporting players. The Final Cut (1983) is essentially a Roger Waters solo album. After its release, Waters said publicly that Pink Floyd was "a spent force creatively," but Gilmour and Mason begged to differ. A Waters-less Pink Floyd released A Momentary Lapse of Reason in 1987, with all songs and lead vocals performed by Gilmour. While some fans questioned whether this was the "real" Pink Floyd, the debate didn't hurt sales: Momentary Lapse, follow-up The Division Bell (1994), and the live albums The Delicate Sound of Thunder (1988) and Pulse (1995) were all commercially successful. In 2005, Roger Waters rejoined Pink Floyd for a one-time performance at Live 8.

Tags: 1970s Rock History | David Gilmour | Pink Floyd | Roger Waters | Syd Barrett | What Did He Do?...

Like it? Share with your friends!

Share On Facebook

Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.