The Strange Return of Syd Barrett

Syd Barrett at Abbey Road Studios in 1975

One of the more notable events during the recording of Wish You Were Here occurred on 5 June, 1975. Gilmour married his first wife, Ginger, and it was also the eve of Pink Floyd’s second US tour that year. The band were in the process of completing the final mix of “Shine On”, when an overweight man with shaven head and eyebrows, and holding a plastic bag, entered the room. Waters, who was working in the studio, initially did not recognise him. Wright was also mystified by the identity of the visitor. He presumed that the man was a friend of Waters’ and asked him, but soon realised that it was Syd Barrett. Gilmour presumed he was an EMI staff member, and Mason also failed to recognise him; he was “horrified” when Gilmour told him. In Inside Out, Mason recalled Barrett’s conversation as “desultory and not entirely sensible”. Storm Thorgerson later reflected on Barrett’s presence: “Two or three people cried. He sat round and talked for a bit but he wasn’t really there.”

Waters was reportedly reduced to tears by the sight of his former bandmate, who was asked by fellow visitor Andrew King how he had managed to gain so much weight. Barrett said he had a large refrigerator in his kitchen, and that he had been eating lots of pork chops. He also mentioned that he was ready to avail the band of his services, but while listening to the mix of “Shine On”, showed no signs of understanding its relevance to his plight. He joined the guests at Gilmour’s wedding reception in the EMI canteen, but left without saying goodbye. None of the band members saw him from that day on to his death in 2006. Although the lyrics had already been created, Barrett’s presence on that day may have influenced the final part of the song—a subtle refrain performed by Wright from “See Emily Play” is audible toward the end of the album.

I’m very sad about Syd. Of course he was important and the band would never have fucking started without him because he was writing all the material. It couldn’t have happened without him but on the other hand it couldn’t have gone on with him. “Shine On” is not really about Syd—he’s just a symbol for all the extremes of absence some people have to indulge in because it’s the only way they can cope with how fucking sad it is, modern life, to withdraw completely. I found that terribly sad.
—Roger Waters,