I consider myself fortunate—twice a year I get to return to the town of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Walking the streets in Cambridge is always a treat and there is nothing better than grabbing a cappuccino at Nero’s Coffee right across the street from King’s College and just pondering all the historical figures that have passed this very store front. Charles Darwin, Robert Oppenheimer, Stephen Hawking, John Cleese, Robert Frost, Salmon Rushdie, Oliver Cromwell, Isaac Newton, Francis Crick—and these names only scratch the surface. What about Syd Barrett, Roger Waters and David Gilmour?
Pink Floyd were really a band of two cities – one city being this ancient, medieval university city of Cambridge, and the UK’s capital of London. Band members Syd Barrett, Roger Waters and David Gilmour were raised in Cambridge, and many of their Cambridge friends, including girlfriends, roadies and album cover designers Storm Thorgerson and ‘Po’ Powell, became part of the Pink Floyd extended creative family. In London they met up with Nick Mason and Rick Wright. But while students, here in Cambridge—they forged the unique Pink Floyd sound against the backdrop of the late ‘60’s counter-culture and succeeding decades.
The Pink Floyd Sound in Cambridge
The band’s name was originally The Pink Floyd Sound—later simply Pink Floyd. The name is derived from the given names of two blues musicians whose Piedmont blues records Syd Barrett had in his collection, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council
In Cambridge one can find the early homes of Gilmour, Waters and Barrett, their schools and colleges, early gig sites and important reference points like ‘Granchester Meadows’ and Syd’s last home. Members of the group played gigs all over Cambridgeshire including schools and village halls.
Pink Floyd began from Cambridge roots. At the age of 16 Syd Barrett joined his first band, Geoff Mott and the Mottoes, where he played guitar. Geoff Mott and the Mottoes like most bands at that time only performed for fun and had no plans to turn professional. The band mainly performed Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran hits. After getting a good reception throughout Cambridge their luck wasn’t to last and they soon split.
David Gilmour was playing with the group The Newcomers while Syd Barrett played with Geoff Mott and the Mottoes.
Within a year Glimour left The Newcomers and joined Jokers Wild—a blues style rock band.
David Glimour left Jokers Wild and joined Bullet—After his time with Bullet David Gilmour then joined a new group already up and running. The members included former Geoff Mott and the Mottoes member Syd Barrett on guitar, Nick Mason on drums, Richard Wright on keyboard and Roger Walters on bass. The group was Pink Floyd and as they say the rest is history.
Sites in Cambridge that reek of Pink Floyd:
A stroll through Cambridge reveals several sites where the members of Pink Floyd used to live, play, and collaborate.
Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology (now the Anglia Ruskin University) where Syd began a two-year arts program (’62) . One of his mates there was John Gordon, a member of Joker’s Wild along with David Gilmour.
In ’63, David Gilmour joined Syd at the school to take modern language A-levels, and they practiced Stones licks on lunch breaks. The Pink Floyd Sound played there in ’65.
King’s College Chapel, which has a lawn in back where Roger Waters said inspired “the lunatic is on the grass“, (from the song Brain Damage) and Pink Floyd played a May Ball gig—Which “... went down quite well. Everyone was pissed,” Waters said.
King’s College Cellar, where in ’72, Syd played as a guest with musicians who later became his band-mates in Stars.
Market Square, where Joker’s Wild played Wednesdays at the Victoria Ballroom from ’64 to ’66.
Earl Street, the home of Storm Thorgerson, schoolfriend of Syd’s, in the early ‘60s and design of multiple Pink Floyd album covers.
Mill Street Lane – location of The Mill, a pub that hosted some acoustic Syd and Dave sessions in 1963.
Miller’s Music: Where Syd, Roger, and Dave bought their first musical instruments. Miller’s is one of the city’s finest music shops and where all the members of the Cambridge Pink Floyd set bought their first instruments. The store originally opened in 1856, the shop was situated on Sidney Street at that time. Today it continues to serve the public in Sussex Street.
Mill Pond, home of the Anchor Coffee Bar, a hangout for Syd, Roger, Storm, and later Gilmour.
The Anchor was also the location for the Riverside Jazz Club, and in ’62 Roger Keith Barrett was nicknamed after a regular bass player at the club, Sid “The Beat” Barrett, by patrons who learned “… that the schoolboy who quietly watched jazz jams from a corner was also called Barrett. They nicknamed him Sid, then gradually the spelling altered to avoid confusion.”
60 Glisson Road, Syd’s birthplace in 1946.
109 Granchester Meadows, “well-to-do” street and meadows on the banks of the River Cam where Dave Gilmour was born.”
Hills Road, where Syd moved at age four. It is believed Syd learned guitar here at age fourteen. Roger Waters came around to listen and introduced Syd to tag-along Dave Gilmour, who jammed with Syd.
Roger attended the High School For Boys on Hill’s road, and “Much of his dislike of authority and the education system … comes from his experiences [here] … In the words of his final report, ‘Waters never fulfilled his considerable potential.'” Other students here were Syd, Tim Renwick, and Storm. The Perse, a private school attended by Gilmour, is on Hills Road as well. Many of Roger Waters thoughts for the Wall came from this area of Cambridge.
Rock Road, which was the residence of Waters and his mother, a school-teacher, in the early ‘60s.
A Jump to The Dark Side of the Moon
So I sit sipping this cappuccino staring at Kings College pondering the lunatic on the lawn—which leads me to The Dark Side of the Moon.
Dark Side was originally titled—Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics
Pink Floyd recorded The Dark Side of the Moon between May 1972 and January 1973, with EMI staff engineer Alan Parsons at Abbey Road in London. The title is an allusion to lunacy rather than astronomy. Its themes explore conflict, greed, time, and mental illness, the latter partly inspired by the deteriorating health of Syd Barrett.
One of the most famous album covers in Rock history—the Dark Side album was design by Storm Thorgerson of Cambridge. The cover features a beam of white light, representing unity, passing through a prism, which represents society. The resulting refracted beam of colored light symoolizes unity diffracted, leaving an absence of unity.
So it is that the songs on the album catalog all the conditions that may drive a person to insanity, including the pressures exerted by modernity, time and money. The Dark Side of the Moon produced two singles: “Money” and “Us and Them“.
“Us and Them” addresses the isolation of the depressed with the symbolism of conflict or war and the use of simple dichotomies to describe personal relationships. When you really think about it—the song is all about dichotomies. Ponder—don’t we really live in a world of us and them?
What’s also striking about Waters’ lyrics in the verses is how he says so much with so little.
“Us and them/ And after all we’re only ordinary men”
In the second verse, the lyrics hint that the divisions between people are random and pointless: “Black and blue/ And who knows which is which, and who is who?” The cyclical nature of it all also threatens one’s sanity: “Up and down/ And in the end it’s only round and round.” More damning is the narrator’s final conclusion in the last verse about the reasons for these conflicts or wars: “With, without/ And who’ll deny it’s what the fighting about?”
In the refrains, Waters’ lyrics, as delivered by the anguished harmonies of Gilmour and Wright, start to take direct hits at the higher-ups who make decisions that cost lives without risking their own: “’Forward,’ he cried from the rear and the front flank died/ And the general sat and the lines on the map moved from side to side.”
The song closes out with death as well, but not before an interstitial monologue by an associate of the band about a fistfight, proving that violence is endemic in society even on the micro level.
Waters clearly realizes that the song’s themes still translate well; he labelled his most recent live jaunt the Us & Them tour. And he spoke of the song’s continued relevance in an interview with AZCentral. “The title of the tour is from a song I wrote in 1972,” he said. “And sadly, what I was writing about then, the problems are still with us. Which is not surprising. It’s a nanosecond in cosmic timelines. A tiny amount of time has passed and evolution is a fascinating process but it does take a while.”
Dark Side Of The Moon was the album where it all came together for the Cambridge boys —Pink Floyd, as their musical flights of fancy, David Gilmour’s amazing guitar met Roger Waters’ grounding lyrical concerns and collide right in the sweet spot. “Us And Them” is a highlight among highlights on that stunning record, a song that claims that war isn’t just hell; it’s insane as well.
On an interesting side note—Dark Side earned the band a great deal of money. Some of the profits were invested in the production of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Engineer Alan Parsons received a Grammy Award nomination for Best Engineered Recording, Non-Classical for The Dark Side of the Moon, and he went on to have a successful career as a recording artist with the Alan Parsons Project.
Cappuccino done….back to work.