When Syd Barrett and David Gilmour got arrested for busking in Saint-Tropez

In 1967, Pink Floyd had firmly established itself as a leading force in London’s psychedelic rock scene, sharing the limelight with renowned acts like Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. This pivotal period marked Pink Floyd’s association with Syd Barrett as the band’s creative force.

However, delving into the band’s roots reveals a genesis dating back to 1963 when bassist Roger Waters crossed paths with drummer Nick Mason at the London Polytechnic on Regent Street, where they were both studying architecture.

United by a shared love for rhythm and blues, Waters and Mason, along with fellow students Keith Noble, Clive Metcalfe, and Sheilagh Noble, formed a band named Sigma 6 in 1963. Adding another layer to their musical tapestry, keyboard virtuoso Richard Wright joined later that year. Rehearsing in the basement tearoom of Regent Street Polytechnic, the group, now a six-piece ensemble, showcased their talents during small gigs, covering songs by The Searchers and performing material composed by their manager, fellow student Ken Chapman.

Amid lineup changes and a rebranding as the Tea Set, Waters welcomed childhood friend Syd Barrett into the fold. Nick Mason, reminiscing about those early days, recalled Barrett’s distinctive outgoing nature, setting him apart in an era of adolescent self-consciousness. Barrett’s charisma had already endeared him to numerous fellow students in his hometown of Cambridge.

Crucially, Barrett’s friendship with Waters and future bandmate David Gilmour began during their shared time at Perse School. Although Waters left for college first, he maintained a musical connection with his friends from home. Gilmour, recounting his initial encounter with Barrett, praised the latter’s charisma, wit, and sharp intellect, describing him as someone who was up to date on everything.

The duo continued their friendship at Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology after their O-Levels. Gilmour reminisced about their lunchtime sessions at the art school, playing blues tunes by Bo Diddley and The Rolling Stones. Meanwhile, Gilmour had joined the local blues rock band Jokers Wild in 1962, while Barrett explored visual art and later studied painting at Camberwell College of Arts in 1964.

In 1965, the year Barrett joined Pink Floyd, he and Gilmour embarked on a memorable trip to France, indulging their musical passions and running afoul of local authorities while busking in St. Tropez. The escapade continued in Paris, where they purchased banned literature and reveled in the freedom of the moment.

As Barrett rose to prominence in the London psyche-rock scene, the release of “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” in 1967 solidified his status as a legend. However, by April 1968, Barrett’s mental decline and drug-related issues led to his ousting from the band, with Gilmour stepping in as the new lead guitarist.

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