The overlooked guitarist Pete Townshend called “astonishing”

Pete Townshend

Pete Townshend isn’t afraid to share his thoughts like a football pundit on Twitter. The Who strummer has slammed Led Zeppelin, chastised Woodstock, and even questioned The Beatles. In fact, he claims that classic rock consists of only two bands: his own and The Rolling Stones. But that doesn’t mean he’s musically isolated.

While Pink Floyd and The Who may exist in two different musical worlds, he has always been a fan of the prog-rock pioneers. In fact, when Townshend inducted Pink Floyd into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2005, he spoke glowingly about the first time he saw the band perform live and the profound impact it had on him as a young musician. “I first saw Pink Floyd during the Christmas break in 1966 at the UFO club in London, it was a great club,” he says.

Their near-mystic frontman, the late, great Syd Barrett, heavily influenced ‘The Floyd’s’ mid-1960s era. His enchanting performances, which wowed Townshend, became synonymous with the tragic figure. “Syd Barrett was on guitar at the time,” he remembered, calling him “astonishing.”

“The entire band was wonderful, just wonderful,” he continued. Roger had an imposing presence, and their sound was swirling, cosmic, and enveloping.” However, it was always clear that Barrett’s ethereal ways were the main draw for Townshend.

Even as a child, Townshend recognised the value of music beyond mere melodies. “I was the child of the guy who played saxophone in a post-war dance band,” he told me. “He knew what his music was for: post-war, and for dancing with a woman you might end up marrying.” It was all about romance, dreams, and fantasy.”

With riots raging, presidents being assassinated, and the world seeking direction amid an explosion of pop culture, he set about creating a new type of song. “Music is about much more than that, even today”. It serves a purpose in that it helps us understand what is going on in the world and what is going on in our lives. So the purpose and duty of a musician are very different from what they used to be. […] And I believe I was the first to articulate and explain that,” he told Apple Music.

Barrett’s otherworldliness exemplified this. His guitar playing was sometimes overshadowed by everything else he had to offer. However, he stood out as perhaps the most unique guitarist on the scene for a couple of years. He was a voracious experimenter, as evidenced by his use of his own homemade fuzzbox, as well as a Selmer Treble N Bass 50 amp and a Selmer Stereomaster. This gave the band a truly unique sound, essentially inventing the oeuvre that Pink Floyd spawned.

“We were all the beneficiaries of his talent and his wild mind,” Pete Townshend concludes. His early work with Pink Floyd was exceptional and anarchically daring.”

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