When Syd Barrett wandered into the recording sessions for Wish You Were Here, the members of Pink Floyd didn’t even recognise him. The former Pink Floyd band leader was beyond all recognition; a pasty, bald-headed man twice the weight of his younger self. Under Barrett’s leadership, Pink Floyd had become one of the most revered psych outfits on the London circuit, but at some cost. With Barrett’s dabblings in the world of hallucinogens beginning to affect his already deteriorating mental health, it was decided that David Gilmour would take his place, leaving Barrett to fade into the background – another of the 1960s unfortunate acid casualties.
By the time he came to the studio, he seemed more ghost than man; wordlessly watching on as Pink Floyd went about their session. After a while, he just walked away. That surprise appearance was the last time many of Pink Floyd’s members saw Barret, apart from Roger Waters that is, who came face to face with his former bandmate in London’s famed department store, Harrods, only for Barrett to “scuttle away” – eyes glued to the floor.
Waters and the other members of Pink Floyd didn’t see or even speak about Barrett until his death in 2006, at which point Gilmour opened up about why nobody had attempted to track him down. In that interview, he said that the band had been advised not to speak to Barrett because his sister, Rosemary, had told them that hearing anything relating to the bound would hurt him too much.
To free him of this pain, they ordered Gilmour, Waters, Mason and Wright to cut all ties with their son. When Gilmour was asked about the subject prior to Barrett’s death, he said: “I leave Syd alone. I respect his family’s wishes for him,” during an interview Word magazine. “I’d love to go and see him one of these days and maybe I will – before it’s too late,” he added.
Tragically, Gilmour never got the chance to say goodbye. “I would have liked (To have visited him in the last decades), Gilmour said after Barret’s death. “But the family is convinced that Syd should remain isolated.”
Gilmour was constantly surprised by the Barrett families refusal to let him see their son: “His family had said it would be better if people didn’t. But I wouldn’t have thought that would have applied to me. So I do regret that I hadn’t been more bullish about it. I did know where he lived. I could have invited myself for a cup of tea. Syd and I were friends as teenagers and had a lot of memories that had nothing to do with Floyd. Some of that might have cheered him up.”