50 Years Of Pink Floyd: Welcome To The Machine

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Pink Floyd signed to EMI in 1967. In one of his final interviews, in-house producer Norman Smith, who died in 2008, recalled working with the fledgling group and their “difficult” lead singer.

When I became a producer at EMI I sent out letters to all the band managers and agents, telling them I was looking for new talent. I got a letter back from Bryan Morrison, who was Pink Floyd’s agent, inviting me to go and see them. I’d never heard of Pink Floyd.

Bryan took me to the UFO club. Of course, when I saw them the music did absolutely nothing for me, but the light show impressed me and I could see that they had one hell of a following. On the strength of what I could see, I figured we could sell some records.

They came into EMI and it was all a bit difficult. We were all pretty apprehensive. We got along, but Syd Barrett said hardly anything at all. I said I was interested in signing them to EMI. And then [Floyd managers] Peter Jenner and Andrew King came up with the idea of having some front money. I told them EMI don’t usually pay an advance. It was difficult to get it through to the management but eventually I did.

Not long after, we started work on their first album, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, at Abbey Road.

Pink Floyd were very laid-back in the studio, but the one that was saying very little, practically nothing, was Syd Barrett, and he was the most important member of the group. It was like talking to a brick wall. He would go in and do a take, come back into the control room and have a listen. I’d make some suggestions to try this or try that, and he would just nod, not really saying anything. He’d go back into the studio and do another take and it would be exactly the same as the one before.

I quickly realised I was wasting my time here. It was not the easiest of associations, but I was helped by Roger Waters, who was interested in the studio and the development of sound.

Syd was not that happy about recording singles particularly, and I was looking for a single. When they came in to do See Emily Play, I thought: “At last, this is the one.” But it didn’t do a thing for Syd.

I got them on Top Of The Pops and went along with them to the BBC’s studio. In the dressing room I told them: you won’t be playing live, you’ll be miming, and staff will do your hair and make-up. So they went in to have their hair washed and their make-up, and Syd looked terrific. But he went straight over to the mirror, messed up all his hair and grabbed a load of tissues to wipe off his make-up. So that demonstrated the kind of character I had to deal with.

On their second appearance on Top Of The Pops he just stood in the front and let his guitar dangle in front of him. I had a go at him and told him he was going to destroy our recording career if he carried on like this. But it just went in one ear and out the other.

I wasn’t aware of the drugs, but I had my suspicions because of Syd’s attitude. I’d seen it before, and I realised that this wasn’t his usual character. The next couple of Pink Floyd singles were a real struggle. I chose Apples And Oranges as it was the best of a bad lot.

I wasn’t surprised when I heard Syd was out of the band. One day they had to go on a BBC radio programme called Saturday Club. I warned them there’d be a lot of sitting around, waiting. When eventually they called us to go on, nobody could find Syd. The doorman told me they’d seen him go out the front door. Roger and I went out looking for him and, sure enough, we could see him just about to turn the first corner. That was that.

Once Dave Gilmour got on the scene it was a different story altogether. He was so much easier. By now, they were very interested in developing their own tapes at home, and I encouraged them to do this, as I always thought they should produce themselves. I wasn’t that knowledgeable about the music they were playing, but I like to think I was able to get them to think more melodically.

The last thing I did with them was Atom Heart Mother [in 1970]. I told them this was the time to do more of the production themselves. I was down as Executive Producer, so I told them: “If you get stuck, call me and I’ll help you out.” I only received one phone call for that album, so it was clear they could look after themselves by then.