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Obituary: Richard Wright

Obituary by Jack Foley

RICHARD Wright, one of the founding members of rock super-group Pink Floyd, has died from cancer at the age of 65.

News of the musician’s death was announced on Monday (September 15, 2008), and immediately prompted tributes from former band members and music industry luminaries.

Wright served as both keyboardist and songwriter for the group and helped to create the pioneering psychedelic sound that made Pink Floyd one of the seminal bands of their era.

He was known for his atmospheric, jazzy organs and synthesisers, which were as important in defining the Pink Floyd sound as the guitars of the likes of Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters.

The origins of Pink Floyd began when Wright met follow students Nick Mason and Roger Waters while studying architecture at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London.

They subsequently formed the Architechtural Abdabs in 1965, before another art student – Syd Barrett – joined and the group and they became Pink Floyd, after which they gradually built a name for themselves on London’s underground scene.

Wright often claimed to have been influenced by the musical style of jazz greats such as Miles Davis, but was happy to take a back seat while Barrett emerged as the leading creative force during the band’s early days.

However, after Barrett got involved in drugs and eventually left the band, new guitarist Dave Gilmour joined and Pink Floyd started to redefine themselves during the late 1960s and early ’70s, when they began to play prog rock.

Wright also came to the fore, writing some of their songs, as well as providing keyboards and backing vocals. His songs included the instrumental 13-minute Sysyphus [taken from 1969’s Ummagumma] and Summer ’68 [from No.1 album Atom Heart Mother].

In 1973, they delivered what many consider to be Pink Floyd’s crowning achievement, Dark Side of The Moon, which Wright co-wrote extensively – including the hits Breathe, Time and Us & Them, as well as the piano-led The Great Gig in the Sky.

Dark Side of The Moon remains one of the best-selling albums of all time and stayed in the US top 200 for 15 years.

Following its release, Pink Floyd continued to underline their position as one of the biggest groups in the world – although rumours of internal struggle began to emerge as Wright branched out to pursue a solo career.

He was effectively sacked by Waters in 1979, following the release of The Wall.

With Wright absent, relations among the remaining members of the band continued to deteriorate and Gilmour and Mason started work on a new Pink Floyd album in 1986 without the presence of Waters, when Weight rejoined.

They then continued to record and tour as Pink Floyd following after a lengthy legal battle with Waters, releasing two further LPs and completing the Division Bell tour in 1994, which was then the most lucrative tour in rock history.

Pink Floyd then disappeared from the scene after that tour, prompting Wright to release another solo album of work and retire to his yacht on the Virgin Islands. He described sailing as “therapy” and revealed that it helped to release him from some of the pressues of the music industry.

Pink Floyd reunited for one last time [without Barrett] in 2005, for the Live 8 concert in London’s Hyde Park – a performance that prompted widespread rumours of a further tour.

Sadly, with Wright’s passing that is now looking less and less likely, as the music world has lost one of its richest talents.

Tribute

Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour was among the first to lead tributes to the memory of Wright, describing him as a true legend.

Writing on his personal website, Gilmour said that he had “never played with anyone quite like” him, adding: “In my view, all the greatest Pink Floyd moments are the ones where he is in full flow.”

He continued: “In the welter of arguments about who or what was Pink Floyd, Rick’s enormous input was frequently forgotten. He was gentle, unassuming and private but his soulful voice and playing were vital, magical components of our most recognised Pink Floyd sound.”

Gilmour also noted that “no one can replace Richard Wright – he was my musical partner and my friend”.