In their earliest incarnation, Pink Floyd was fronted by Syd Barrett, a singer, guitarist and painter with a penchant for psychedelics that ultimately contributed to his ouster from the band. He was asked to leave partway through the sessions to 1968's sophomore album A Saucerful of Secrets, after which he was replaced by a schoolmate, David Gilmour. After a brief solo career, Barrett withdrew from the public almost entirely, and Pink Floyd ascended to incredible heights as performers - but they always carried the memory of their bandmate, in and out of the studio.
It is ironic, then, that the last time the bandmates spent any time with their former frontman was a chance encounter while they were recording one of their best-known tributes to him.
One of their best-known pieces, the multi-part suite "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" bookended the band's ninth album, 1975's Wish You Were Here. It was musically and lyrically about Barrett, the mental illness he struggled with and the love his bandmates felt for him even as they made the difficult decision to ask him to leave. On July 7, the band convened at Abbey Road Studios to finish the final mix of the track; Gilmour would marry his then-girlfriend, Ginger, at the studio that night, and the band would embark on a tour in a few days.
As the session went on, the band suddenly realized the presence of a withdrawn man in the corner, his head and eyebrows shaven, carrying a plastic bag with him. Was he someone from their label? A friend of a friend? It eventually became clear that it was Barrett, who'd had hair and was significantly thinner when they last met. Roger Waters was reportedly moved to tears upon recognizing his bandmate, while Richard Wright later recalled it was "weird...and a bit disturbing...I mean, particularly when you see a guy, that you don't, you couldn't recognize him. And then, for him to pick the very day we want to start putting vocals on, which is a song about him."
Barrett seemingly felt no attachment to the song, nor did he recognize it to be about him - calling it "a bit old" when asked his opinion. The former singer left the studio at some point during Gilmour and Ginger's wedding, and outside of a chance encounter with Waters at a department store some years later, he never saw his bandmates again. Barrett died in 2006, and his bandmates (including Waters, who'd departed Pink Floyd in 1984) all made appearances at a tribute concert later that year.