Pink Floyd, London 1966/1967

James McNair

By James McNair

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

To witness Pink Floyd at the UFO Club in 1966 was to explore a darker side of "swinging London." The time-bomb that was frontman Syd Barrett's daily acid use was already ticking, but the group's edgy, iconoclastic concerts — in-crowd affairs with kaleidoscopic light shows — were must-sees for the likes of Mick Jagger, Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix.

Nick, Rick, Roger and Syd setting the controls for the heart of the sun.

It made sense, then, when filmmaker Peter Whitehead opted to include footage of Floyd in his contemporaneous British Film Institute documentary Tonite Let's All Make Love in London. In so doing, the director trapped the nascent Floyd in amber, providing us with a potent snapshot of the band that pre-dates the release of their debut single “Arnold Layne.”

What we have here is an enhanced CD that draws on the audio/visual material that was nailed for Whitehead's film at London's Sound Techniques Studios in January 1967. The visuals include footage of Floyd playing all 16 minutes and forty-six seconds of “Interstellar Overdrive,” plus pertinent period interviews with the likes of Mick Jagger and the actress Julie Christie. The audio content comprises the same version of “Interstellar Overdrive,” plus the 12-minute improvised jam “Nick's Boogie.”

The "official" version of “Interstellar Overdrive” would surface on Floyd's 1967 debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, but this package's version of the subtly disorientating instrumental is a truer mirror of the group's live show. Barrett's trippy and percussive guitar (it was fed through a wonderfully archaic-sounding device called the Binson Echorec) rides an arrangement that was reportedly influenced by Love's “Little Red Book” and the theme tune of celebrated British TV/radio sitcom, Steptoe and Son.

Like the unimaginatively titled but otherwise engaging “Nick's Boogie,” “…Overdrive” now conjures sci-fi B movies in which the spacecraft's control panels have Bakelite knobs. These are the ominous, slow-evolving sounds of Syd, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright setting the controls for the heart of the sun.

When Whitehead's documentary was eventually screened in December 1967, little of what he filmed with Floyd made the cut, so it's good to have access to all that good stuff here. Soon would come Barrett's complete burnout, and the personnel reshuffle that would eventually lead to Dark Side of the Moon, but that's a whole other story…