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Obituary: Richard Wright

Keyboard player for Pink Floyd
Although markedly less outspoken than some of his former colleagues, Rick Wright was nonetheless a founding member of Pink Floyd and, through his innovative keyboard work, was instrumental in the realisation and development of their distinctive sound.

Born In Pinner, Middlesex, in 1943, Richard William Wright showed an early gift for music, and as a boy played trumpet, trombone, guitar and, of course, piano. Enrolling at the Regent Street Polytechnic to study architecture in 1962, he met and formed a band with future Pink Floyd colleagues, Nick Mason and Roger Waters. Initially known as the Sigma 6, the group played blues standards and progressed through many names (amongst them the Tea Set and several variations on ‘the Abdabs’), until Syd Barrett joined the band in 1965 and re-christened them Pink Floyd.

The following years saw the band progress from simple blues covers to a period of intense experimentation, led by Barrett’s remarkably vivid imagination, unique approach to song-writing and experiences with LSD. Wright, however, was integral in the development of the new sound: his keyboard playing, combined with Barrett’s guitar — both of them drenched in Binson Echorec delay — defined the early Pink Floyd and turned them into the house-band of the British underground of the mid-’60s.

After signing with EMI and releasing two top-20 singles in the first part of 1967, the band went on to record the landmark psychedelic album, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, released in the summer of that year. Although it will always be chiefly remembered for Barrett’s contributions, Wright’s input to the sound was significant indeed — his Farfisa doing as much as Barrett’s guitar to set the distinct sonic character of the album. Wright also provided lead and backing vocals on a number of tracks.

Despite this initial success, Barrett’s declining mental health and increasingly erratic behaviour during 1968 led first to Dave Gilmour joining the band and eventually to Barrett’s dismissal. The loss of their principal songwriter forced Pink Floyd into a renewed period of experimentation, with Wright taking on song-writing and lead-vocal duties alongside Waters and Gilmour. Over the course of the albums Saucerful Of Secrets (1968), Ummagumma (1969) and Atom Heart Mother (1970), their music became, in many ways, even less conventional that it had been with Barrett at the helm. As in the Piper period, Wright’s highly individualistic approach to the keyboard did much to define the sound of the group.

Slowly, the differing styles of the three primary songwriters merged into what is now popularly recognised as the ‘Pink Floyd sound’ — typified in many ways by the song ‘Echoes’ from 1971’s Meddle LP, on which Wright sang lead vocals. The developments of these preceding years were expertly focussed and refined on 1973’s massively successful LP, Dark Side Of The Moon. Wright was credited with co-writing four of the album’s 10 tracks, but perhaps his most notable contribution was side-one closer, ‘The Great Gig In The Sky’, a collaboration with vocalist Clare Torry. 1975 saw continued success for Pink Floyd with the release of the LP Wish You Were Here — a tribute to the departed Barrett. Wright co-wrote the ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ tracks that bookend the album, but these would be the last credited tracks he would write with the group until the 1990s.

Although Pink Floyd continued to enjoy immense success during the latter half of the 1970s, the band’s songwriting and direction was increasingly governed by Waters and began to feature more guitar-led arrangements — often at the expense of the keyboards. Creatively marginalised, Wright parted company with Pink Floyd during the recording of The Wall in 1979, although he would later return as a salaried musician on the album’s subsequent tour. Absent on 1983’s The Final Cut, Wright returned to the group after the departure of Roger Waters in 1985 — at first as a paid musician but later as a full band member. In this post-Waters period, Wright played on the 1987 album A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, and is credited with co-writing a number of tracks on 1994’s The Division Bell and lead vocals on the track ‘Wearing The Inside Out’.

Away from Pink Floyd, Wright recorded two solo albums — Wet Dream (1978) and Broken China (1996) — and collaborated with Dave Harris to release the album Identity under the name Zee.
In 2005 Wright reunited with Waters, Gilmour and Nick Mason to perfom as Pink Floyd at Live 8: the first time the four had appeared on stage together in 24 years.

Wright was married three times and is survived by his wife, Millie, and three children.

Richard William Wright, born July 28th 1943; died September 15th 2008.

David Glasper

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