Syd Barrett Story from ROIO-LP Subject Barrett, the continuing story (part II) To echoes@f
Syd Barrett Story from ROIO-LP
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Piet de Bondt)
Subject: Barrett, the continuing story (part II)
To: email@example.com (Pink Floyd Submissions)
Date: Sun, 15 Mar 92 15:48:17 MET
As said before I have - besides the 'Opel' story I posted to echoes
recently - a few other Pink Floyd (related) stories [Gerhard: I did
not get the 'Opel' story from you, but it is in fact the inside of
the CD booklet :-)].
Here's the next one: again a story about Syd Barrett. It was included
with my LP-RoIO red-vinyl Interstellar Overdrive (from "Tonite Let's
All Make Love In London"). A few other stories and interviews will
follow when I have some spare time again.
Enjoy it (although it's a tragedy to read what has happened with such
a genius: "Barrett is still alive and basically functioning").
BTW: Any (group of) words within *'s is in italics on my copy, but
elm and vi don't quite understand what italics is. Why can't we
have ElmTeX or so ? :-)
= ===== cut here ===== cut here ===== cut here ===== cut here ===== =
THERE IS a story that exists pertaining to an incident which occurred
during one of Syd Barrett's last gigs with the Pink Floyd. After a
lengthy interval, the band decided to take the stage (there is a certain
amount of dispute as to which venue this all took place at) - all except
for Syd Barrett, who was left in the dressing room, manically trying to
organise his anarchically-inclined hairstyle of the time.
As his comrades were tuning up, Barrett - more out of desperation than
anything - emptied the contents of a jar of Mandrax, broke the pills
into tiny pieces and mixed the crumbs in with a full jar of Brylcreem.
He then poured the whole coagulated mass onto his head, picked up his
Telecaster, and walked on stage.
As he was playing his customary incoherent, sporadic, almost catatonic
guitar-phrases, the Mandrax-Brylcreem combination started to run amok
under the intense heat of the stage-lighting and dribbled down from his
scalp so that it looked like his face was melting into a distorted wax
effigy of flesh.
THIS STORY is probably more or less true. It exists amidst an infinity
of strange tales - many of them fact, just as many wistful fiction -
that surround and largely comprise the whole legend-in-his-own-time
schtick of which Syd Barrett is very much the dubiously honoured
Barrett is still alive and basically functioning, by the way.
Every so often he appears at Lupus Music, his publishing company
situated on Berkely Square which handles his royalties situation and has
kept him in modest financial stead these last few dormant years. On one
of his last visits (which constitute possibly Barrett's only real
contact with the outside world), Brian Morrison, Lupus' manager, started
getting insistent that Barrett write some songs. After all, demand for
more Syd Barrett material is remarkably high at the moment and E.M.I.
are already to swoop the lad into the studio, producer in tow, at any
Barrett claimed that no, he hadn't written anything, but dutifully
agreed to get down and produce *some* sort of something.
His next appearance at the office occurred last week. Asked if he'd
written any new tunes, he replied in his usual hazy condition, hair
grown out somewhat from its former scalp-shaved condition, "No.". He
then promptly disappeared again.
This routine has been going on for years now. Otherwise Barrett tends to
appear at Lupus only when the rent is due or when he wants to buy a
guitar (a luxury that at one point became an obsession and consequently
had to be curtailed).
The rest of Barrett's tune is spent either sprawled out in front of the
large colour TV in his two-room apartment situated in the hinterland of
Chelsea, or else just walking at random around London. A recent
port-of-call was a clothes store down the King's Road where Syd tried on
three vastly different sizes of the same style of trousers, claimed that
all of them fitted him perfectly and then disappeared again, without
And that's basically what the whole Syd Barrett story is all about - a
huge tragedy shot through with so many ludicrously comic aspects that
you could easily be tempted to fill out a whole article by simply
relating all the crazy anecdotes and half-chewed tales of twilight
dementia, and leave it at that. The conclusion, however, is always
inescapable and goes far beyond the utterly bogus image compounded of
the artist as some fated victim spread out on an altar of acid and
sacrificed to the glorious spirit of '67.
Syd Barrett was simply a brilliant innovative young songwriter whose
genius was somehow amputated, leaving him hamstrung in a lonely limbo
accompanied only by a stunted creativity and a kind of helpless
THE WHOLE saga starts, I suppose at least for convenience's sake, with a
band called The Abdabs. They were also called the 'T'-Set and noone I
spoke to quite knew which had come first. It doesn't really matter
The band was a five-piece, as it happens, consisting of three young
aspiring architects, Richard Wright, Nick mason and Roger Waters, a jazz
guitarist called Bob Close and - the youngest member - an art student
called Roger Keith Barrett (Barrett, like most other kids, had been
landed with a nickname - "Syd" - which somehow remained long after his
schooldays had been completed).
The band, it was generally considered, were pretty dire - but, as they
all emanated from the hip elitist circles of their home-town Cambridge
they were respected after a fashion at least in their own area. This hip
elite was, according to fellow-townsman Storm of "Hypgnosis" (the
well-respected record-sleeve design company who of course have kept a
close and solid relationship all along with the Floyd), built on several
levels of acquaintances, mostly tied by age.
"It was the usual thing, really, 1962 we were all into Jimmy Smith. Then
1963 brought dope and rock. Syd was one of the first to get into The
BEatles and the Stones.
"He started playing guitar around then - used to take it to parties or
play down at this club called The Mill. He and Dave (Gilmour) went to
the South of France one summer and busked around."
Storm remembers Barrett as a "bright, extrovert kid. Smoked dope, pulled
chicks - the usual thing. He had no problems on the surface. He was no
introvert as far as I could see then."
Bfore the advent of the Pink Floyd, Barrett had three brooding interests
- music, painting, and religion. A number of Barrett's seniors in
Cambridge were starting to get involved in an obscure form of Eastern
mysticism known as "Sant Saji" which involved heavy bouts of meditation
and much comtemplation on purity and the inner light.
Syd attempted to involve himself in the faith, but he was turned down
for being "too young" (he was nineteen at the time). This, according to
a number of those who knew him, was supposed to have affected him quite
"Syd has always had this big phobia about his age." states Pete Barnes,
who became involved in the labyrinthine complexities of Barrett's
affairs and genaral psyche after the Floyd split.
"I mean, when we would try to get him back into the studio to record he
would get very defensive and say 'I'm only 24, I'm still young. I've got
time.' That thing with religion could have been partly responsible for
At any rate, Barrett lost all interest in spiritualism after that and
soon enough he would also give up his painting. Already he'd won a
scholarship to Camberwell Art School in Peckham which was big potatoes
for just another hopeful from out in the sticks.
Both Dave Gilmour and Storm claim that Barrett's painting showed
exceptional potential: "Syd was a great artist. I loved his work, but he
just stopped. First it was the religion, then the painting. He was
starting to shut himself off slowly then."
Music, of course, remained. The Ab-Dabs . . . well let's forget about
them and examine the "Pink Floyd Sound", which was really just the old
band but minus Bob Close who "never quite fitted in." The Pink Floyd
Sound named after a blues record he owned which featured two bluesmen
from georgia - Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. The two names meshed
nicely so ...
Anyway, the band was still none too inspiring - no original material,
but versions of "Louie Louie" and "Road Runner" into which would be
interpersed liberal dosages of staccato freak-out. Kinda like the Blues
Magoos, I guess.
"Freak-out" was happening in the States at the time - the time being
1966, the year of The Yardbirds, The Mothers of Invention and the first
primal croaks from the West Coast. Not to mention "Revolver" and "Eight
The fat was obviously in the pan for the big 1967 Summer of Love
psychedelic bust-out. However, The Pink Floyd Sound weren't exactly
looking to the future at this juncture.
Peter Jenner, a lecturer at the L.S.E. and John "Hoppy" Hopkins were in
the audience for one of their gigs and were impressed enough to offer
them some sort of management deal.
Admits Jenner: "It was one of the first rock events I'd seen - - I
didn't know anything about rock really." (Jenner and Hopkins had in
fact made one offer prior to the Floyd - to a band they'd heard on
advance tape from New York called The Velvet Underground).
"Actually the Floyd then were barely semi pro standard, now I think
about it, but I was so impressed by the electric guitar sound. The band
was just at the point of breaking up then, y'know. It was weird - they
just thought "Oh, well, might as well pack it all in." But as came along
and so they changed their minds."
THE FIRST trick was the light show and the U.F.O. concerts. The next was
activating a policy of playing only original compositions.
This is where Syd Barrett came into his own. Barrett hadn't really
composed tunes before this - a nonsense song called "Effervescing
Elephant" when he was, maybe, 16 - and he'd put music to a poem to be
found in James Joyce's "Ulyses" called "Golden Hair", but nothing beyond
Jenner: "Syd was really amazing though. I mean, his inventiveness was
quite astounding. All those songs from that whole Pink Floyd phase were
written in no more than six months. He just started and took it from
The first manifestation of Barrett's songwriting talents was a bizarre
little classic called "Arnold Layne". A sinister piece of vaguely
commercial fare, it dealt with the twilight wanderings of a
transvestite/pervert figure and is both whimsical an singularly creepy.
The single was banned by Radio London who found its general connotations
a little too biarre for even pirate radio standards.
The Floyd were by now big stuff in Swinging London. Looking back on it
all, the band came just on like naive art-students in Byrds-styled
granny glasses (the first publicity shots are particularly laughable),
but the music somehow had an edge. Certainly enough for prestigious folk
like Brian Epstein to mouth off rhapsodies of praise on French radio,
and all the 'chic' mags to throw in the token mention.
There were even TV shows - good late night avant garde programmes for
Hampstead trendies like "Look of the Week" on which the Floyd played
"Pow R. Toc H."
But let's hear more about Syd's inventiveness. Jenner again: "Well, his
influences were very much the Stones, The Beatles, Byrds and Love. The
Stones were the prominent ones - he wore out his copy of "Between the
Buttons" very quickly. Love's album too. In fact, I was once trying to
tell him about this Arthur Lee song I couldn't remember the title of, so
I just hummed the main riff. Syd picked up his guitar and followed what
I was humming chord-wise. The chord pattern he worked out he went on to
use as the main riff for 'Interstellar Overdrive'."
And the Barrett guitar style ? "Well, he had this technique that I found
very pleasing. I mean, he was no guitar hero - never remotely in the
class of Page or Clapton, say."
The Floyd Cult was growing as Barrett's creativity was beginning to hit
its stride. This creativity set the stage in Barrett's song-writing for
what can only be described as the quintessential marriage of thetwo
ideal forms of English psychedelia - musical rococo freak-outs
underpinning Barret's sudden ascendency into the artistic realms of ye
olde English whimsical loone, wherein dwelt the likes of Edward Lear and
Kenneth Grahame. Pervy old Lewis Carrolll of course, presided at the
very head of the tea-party.
And so Arnold Layne and washing lines gave way to the whole Games-for-
May ceremony and "See Emily Play."
"I was sleeping in the woods one night after a gig we'd played
somewhere, when I saw this girl appear before me. That girl is Emily."
Thus quoth the mighty Syd himself back in '67, obviously caught up in
it all like some kite lost in spring.
And it *was* glorious for a time. "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" was being
recorded at the same time as "Sergeant Pepper" and the two bands would
occasionally meet up to check out each other's product.
McCartney stepped out to betow his papal blessing on "Piper", an album
which still stands as my fondest musical memory of 1967 - even more so
than "Pepper" or "Younger than Yesterday." (All except for "Bike" which
reeks of crazy basements and Barrett eccentricities beginning to lose
control - psychedelic whimsy taken a little too close to the edge.)
You see, strange things were starting to happen with the Floyd and
particularly with Barrett.
"See Emily Play" was Top Five which enabled Barrett to more than
adequately live out his pop star infatuation number to the hilt - the
Hendrix curls, kaftans from "Granny's", snakeskin boots and Fender
Telecasters were all his for the asking - but there were the, uh,
First came the ego-problems and slight prima donna fits, but gradually
the Floyd, Jenner et al realised that something deeper was going on.
Take the Floyd's three Top Of The Pops appearances for "Emily."
Jenner: "The first time Syd dressed up like a pop star. The second time
he came on in his straightforward, fairly scruffy clothes, looking
rather unshaven. The third time he came to the studio in his pop star
clothes and then changed into complete rags for the actual TV spot."
It was all something to do with the fact that John Lennon has stated
publicly he wouldn't appear on Top of the Pops. Syd seemed to envisage
Lennon as some sort of yardstick by which to measure his own situation
as a pop star. "Syd was always complaining that John Lennon owned a
house while he only had a flat." states Peter Barnes.
But there were far darker manifestations of a definite impending
imbalance in the Barrett psyche.
HE WAS at that point involved in a relationship with a girl named Lynsey
- an affair which took an uncomfortably bizarre turn when the lady
involved appeared on Peter Jenner's doorstep fairly savagely beaten up.
"I couldn't believe it at the time. I had this firm picture of Syd as
this really hentle guy, which is what he was, basically."
Something was definitely awry. In fact there are numerous faily
unpleasant tales about this particular affair (including one that claims
Barrett to have locked the girl in a room for a solid week, pushing
water-biscuits under the door so she wouldn't starve) which are best not
But to make matters worse, Syd's eyes were often seen to cement
themselves into a foreboding, nay quite terrifying, stare which *really*
started to put the frighteners on present company. The head would tilt
back slightly, the eyes would get misty and bloated. Then they would
stare right at you and right through you at the same time.
One thing was painfully obvious: the booy genius was fast becoming
mentally totally unhinged.
Perhaps it was the drugs. Barrett's intake at the time was suitably
fearsome, while many considered his metabalism for such chemicals to be
a trifle fragile. Certainly they only tended towards a further tipping
of the psyche-scales, but it would be far too easy to write Barrett off
as some hapless acid amputee - even though certain folks now claim that
a two-month sojourn in Richmond with a couple suitably named "Mad Sue"
and "Mad Jock" had him drinking a cup of tea each morning which was
unknown to Syd, spiked with a heavy dosage of acid.
Such activity can, of course, lead to a certain degree of breain-damage,
but I fear one has to stride manfully blindfolded into a rather more
Freudian landscape, leading us to the opinion of many of the people I
talked to who claimed that Syd's dilemma stretched back to certain
The youngest of a family of eight, heavily affected by the sudden death
of his father when Syd was twelve years old, spoilt by a strong-willed
omther who may or may not have imposed a strange distinction between the
dictates of fantasy and reality - each connection forms a patch-work
quilt like set-up of insinuations and potential cause-and-effect
"Everyone is supposed to have fun when they're young - I don't know why,
but I never did" - Barrett talking in an interview to *Rolling Stone*,
PETER JENNER: "I think we tended to underrate the extent of his problem.
I mean, I thought that I could act as a mediator - y'know having been a
sociology teacher at the L.S.E. and all that guff...
"I think, though... one thing I regret now was that I made demands on
Syd. He'd written "See Emily Play" and suddenly everything had to be
seen in commercial terms. I think we may have pressurised him into a
state of paranoia about having to come up with another 'hit single'.
"Also we may have been the darlings of London,but out in the suburbs it
was fairly terrible. Before 'Emily' we'd have things thrown at us
After 'Emily' it was screaming girls wanting to hear our hit song."
So the Floyd hit the ballroom circuit and Syd was starting to play up.
An American tour was then set up in November - three dates at the
Fillmore West in San Fransisco and an engagement at L.A.'s Cheetah Club.
Barrett's dishevelled psyche started truly manifesting itself though
when the Floyd were forced onto some TV shows.
"Dick Clark's Bandstand" was disastrous because it needed a miming job
on the band's part and "Syd wasn't into moving his lips that day."
"The Pat Boone Show" was quite surreal: Boone actually tried to
interview Barrett on the screen, asking him particularly inane questions
and getting a truly classic catatonic piercing mute stare for an answer.
"Eventually we cancelled out on 'Beach Party'," says Jenner's partner
and tour-manager Andrew King.
So there was the return to England and the rest of the Floyd had made
On the one hand, Barrett was the songwriter and central figure - on the
other his madness was much too much to handle. He just couldn't be
Patience had not been rewarded and the break-away was on the cards.
But not before a final studio session at De Lane Lea took place - a mad
anarchic affair which spawned three of Barrett's truly vital twilight
rantings. Unfortunately only one has been released.
"Jug Band Blues", the only Barrett track off "Saucerful of Secrets", is
as good an explanation as any for Syd not appearing on the rest of the
"Y'see, even at that point, Syd actually knew what was happening to
him," claims Jenner, "I mean 'Jug Band Blues' is the ultimate
self-diagnosis on a state of schizophrenia -".
*"It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here.
And I'm most obliged to you for making it clear that I'm not here.
And I'm wondering who could be writing this song."*
Barrett even had a Salvation Army Band troop in during the middle of the
number. The two unreleased numbers (incidentaly these, contrary to
belief, are the *only* unreleased numbers Barrett has ever recorded) are
both unfinished creations - one a masterful splurge of blood-curdling
pro-Beefheartian lunacy - "Scream Your Last Scream"...
*"Scream You Last Scream/Old Woman with a basket/Wave your arms madly,
madly/Flat tops of houses/Houses Mouses/She'll be scrubbing apples on
all fours/Middle-dee-tiddle with Dumpy Mrs. Dee/we'll be watching
telly for all hours."*
The other, "Vegetable Man," is a crazy sing-along.
"Syd", recalls Jenner, "was around at my house just before he had to go
to record and, because a song was needed, he just wrote a description of
what he was wearing at the time and threw in a chorus that went
'Vegetable man - where are you'?"
A nationwide tour of great Britain followed - Jimi Hendrix, The Move,
The Nice and the Floyd on one package - which distanced things out even
further. Syd often wouldn't turn up on time, sometimes didn't play at
all, sat by himself on the tour-coach.
The rest of Floyd socialised with The Nice (guitarist Favid O'List
played with the band when Barrett was incapable). But surely the two
uncrowned kings of acid-rock - Hendrix and Barrett - must have
socialised in some capacity ?
"Not really," states Jenner, "Hendrix had his own limousine. Syd didn't
really talk to anyone. I mean, by now he was going onstage and playing
one chord throughout the set. He was into this thing of total
anarchistic experiment and never really considered the other members of
There was also this thing with Syd that the Floyd were "my band". Enter
Dave Gilmour, not long back from working with various groups in France -
an old mate and fair guitar. The implications were obvious.
Jenner: "At the time Dave was doing very effective take-offs of Hendrix-
style guitar-playing. So the band said 'play like Syd Barrett'."
Yeah, but surely Dave Gilmour had his own style - y'know, the slide and
echo sound ?
"That's *Syd*. Onstage Syd used to play with slide and a bunch on
The Floyd played maybe four gigs with the five-piece and then Barrett
was ousted. It was a courageous move - he reacted and everyone seems to
agree that it was all perfectly warranted. Except, maybe, Syd.
Jenner: "Yeah, Syd does resent the Floyd. I don't know - he may *still*
call them 'my band' for all I know".
FROM HERE ON IN, the whole Barrett saga goes a trifle haywire.
Barrett himself loped off into the back country of Earl's Court to greet
the usual freak show, but not before he'd stayed over at South
Kensington awhile with Storm.
"Syd was well into his 'orbiting' phrase by then. He was traveling very
fast in his own private sphere and I thought I could be a mediator of
some sort. Y'see, I think you're going to have to make the point that
Syd's madness was not caused by any linear progression of events, but
more a circular haze of situations that meshed together on top of
themselves and Syd. Me, I couldn't handle those stares though!"
By that time, the Floyd and Blackhill Enterprises had parted company,
Jenner choosing Barrett as a brighter hope.
What happened to the Floyd si history - they survived and flourished off
on their own more electronic tangent, while Syd didn't.
"The Madcap Laughs", Barrett's first solo album, took a sporadic but
nonetheless laborious year to complete. Production credits constantly
changed hands - Peter Jenner to Malcolm Jones (who gave up half the way
through), ultimately to Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters.
By this time Barrett's creative processes refused to mesh properly and
so the results were often jagged and unapproachable. Basically they were
essays in distance - the Madcap waving whimsically out from the haze. Or
maybe he was drowning ?
*"My head kissed the ground/I was half the way down... Please lift a
Hand/I'm only a person/With Eskimo chain I tattooed my brain all the
way/Would you miss me/Oh, wouldn't you miss me at all?"*
On "Dark Globe" the anguish is all too real.
Many of the tracks though, like "Terrapin", almost just lay there,
scratching themselves in front of you. They exist completely inside
their own zone, like weird insects and exotic fish, the listener looking
inside the tank at the activity.
In many ways, "Madcap" is a work of genius - in just as many other ways,
it's a cranked-up post-acid curio. It's still a vital, throughly unique
album for both those reasons.
Jenner: "I think Syd was in good shape when he made 'Madcap'. He was
still writing good songs, probably in the same state as he was during
Storm: "The thing was that all those guys had to cope with Syd out of
his head on Mandrax half the time. He got so 'mandied' up on those
sessions, his hand would slip through the strings and he'd fall off the
"Barrett", the second album, was recorded in a much shorter space of
time. Dave Gilmour was called in to produce, and brought in Rick Wright
and Jerry Shirley, Humble Pie's drummer, to help.
Gilmour: "We had basically three alternatives at that point, working
with Syd. one, we could actually work with him in the studio, playing
along as he put down his tracks - which was almost impossible, though we
succeeded on 'Gigolo Aunt'. The second was laying down some kind of
track before and then having him play over it. The third was him putting
his basic ideas down with just guitar and vocals and then we'd try and
make something out of it all.
"It was mostly a case of me saying 'Well what have you got then Syd ?'
and he'd search around and eventually work something out."
The Barrett disintegration process continued through this album giving
it a feel more akin to that of a one-off demo. The songs, though totally
off the wall and often vague creations, are shot through with the
occasional sustained glimpse of Barrett's brain-belled lyricism at its
Like "Wolfpack", or "Rats", which hurtles along like classic "Trout Mask
Replica" Beefheart shambling thurider, with crazed doubled-edged
nonsense lyrics to boot.
*"Rats, Rats/Lay Down Flat/We Don't Need You/We Act Like Cats/If you
think you're unloved/Well we know about that."*
"Dominoes" is probably the album's most arresting track, as well as
being the only real pointer to what the Floyd might have sounded like
had Barrett been more in control of himself. The song is exquisite - a
classic kind of Lewis Carroll scenario which spirals up and almost
defies time and space - "You and I/And Dominoes/A day Goes By." - before
drifting into an archetypal Floyd minor-chord refrain straight out of
Gilmour: "The song just ended after Syd had finished singing and I
wanted a gradual fade so I added that section myself. I played drums on
that, by the way."
GILMOUR BY this time had become perhaps the only person around who could
communicate with Barrett.
"Oh, I don't think *anyone* can communicate with Syd. I did those albums
because I liked the songs, not, as I suppose some might think, because I
felt guilty taking his place in the FLoyd. I was concerned that he
wouldn't fall completely apart. The final re-mix on 'Madcap' was all
mine as well."
In between the two solo albums E.M.I., Harvest or Morrison had decided
to set up a bunch of press-interviews for Barrett, whose style of
conversation was scarcely suited to the tailor-made ends of the Media.
Most couldn't make any sense whatsoever out of his verbal ramblings,
others tumbled to a conclusion and warily pinpointed the Barrett malady
in their pieces. Peter Barnes did one of the interviews.
"It was fairly ludicrous on the surface. I mean, you just had to go
along with it all - y'know Syd would say something completely
incongruous one minute like 'It's getting heavy, innit' and you'd just
have to say, 'Yeah, Syd, it's getting heavy,' and the conversation would
dwell on *that* for five minutes.
"Actually, listening to the tape afterwards you could work out that
there was some kind of logic there - except that Syd would suddenly be
answering a question you'd asked him ten minutes ago while you were off
on a different topic completely!"
Hmmm, maybe a tree fell on him. Anyway another Syd quirk had always been
his obsessive tampering with the fine head of black hair that rested
firmly on the Barrett cranium.
Somewhere along the line, out hero had decided to shave all his
lithesome skull appendages down to a sparse grizzle, known
appropriately, as the "Borstal crop".
Jenner: "I can't really comment too accurately, but I'm rather tempted
to view it as a symbolic gesture. Y'know - goodbye to being a pop-star,
Barrett, by this time, was well slumped into his real twilight period,
living in the cellar of his mother's house in Cambridge. And this is
where the story gets singularly depressing.
An interview with *Rolling Stone* in the Christmas of '71 showed Barrett
to be living out his life with a certain whimsical self-reliance. At one
point in the rap, he stated "I'm really totally together, I even think I
Almost exactly a year later, from the sheer frustration of his own
inertia, Barrett went temporarily completely haywire and smashed his
head through the basement ceiling.
In between these two dates, Syd went into the studios to record.
"It was an abortion", claims Barnes, "He just kept over-dubbing guitar
part on guitar part until it was jst a total chaotic mess. He also
wouldn't show anyone his lyrics - I fear actually because he hadn't
Jenner was also present: "It was horribly frustrating because there were
sporadic glimpses of the old Syd coming through, and then it would all
get horribly distorted again. Nothing remains from the sessions."
And then there was Stars, a band formed by Twink, ex-drummer of
Tomorrow, Pretty Things and Pink Fairies.
Twink was another native of Cambridge, had previously known Barrett
marginally well, and somehow dragged the Madcap into forming a band
including himself and a bass-player called Jack Monck. It is fairly
strongly considered that Barrett was *used* - his legendary reputation
present only to enhance what was in effect a shambling, mediocre rock
The main Stars gig occurred at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge where they
were second-billed to the MC5. It was an exercise in total musical
untogetherness and, after an hour or so, Barrett unplugged his guitar
and sauntered off the stage to return once again to his basement.
SINCE THAT TIME, Syd Barrett may or may not have worked in a factory for
a week or so/worked as a gardener/tried to enroll as an architectural
student/grown mushrooms in his basement/been a tramp/spent two weeks in
New York busking/tried to become a Pink Floyd roadie.
All the above are stories told to me by various semi-authentic sources.
More than likely, most of them are total fabrications. One thing, though
appears to be clear: Syd Barrett is unable to write songs. ("Either that
or he writes songs and won't show them to anyone" - Jenner.)
In the meantime, Barrett has been elevated into the position of becoming
perhaps the leading mysterioso figure in the whole of rock. Arthur Lee
and Brian Wilson are the only other figures who loom large in that
echelon of twilight zone notoriety and myth-weaving.
His cult-appeal has reached remarkable proportions in America, to the
extent that Capitol Records are finally releasing the two Barrett solo
albums in a double package, while in countries as diverse as France and
Japan, Barrett is a source of fanatical interest.
And then there is the Syd Barrett International Appreciation Society
centred in Britain, which puts out a magazine, tee-shirts, and buttons.
It is unfortunately as trivial as it is fanatical.
"I mentioned the Society to Syd once," states Peter Barnes. "He just
said it was O.K., y'know. He's not interested in any of it. It's ironic.
I suppose - he's much bigger now as the silent cult-figure doing nothing
than he was when he was functioning."
And still the offers to take Syd back into the studio come in from all
manner of illustrious folk. Jimmy Page has long wanted to produce
Barrett, Eno has eagerly inquired about such collaborations, Kevin Ayers
has wanted to form a band with the Madcap for ages.
David Bowie is a zealous admirer (his version of "See Emily Play" on
"Pinups" will certainly keep Syd financially in adequate stead for a few
"Syd has always said that when he goes back into the studio again he
will refuse to have a producer. He still talks about making a third
album. I don't know - I think Dave is the only one who could pull it
off. There seems to be a relationship there."
THE LAST words are from Dave Gilmour:
"I don't know what Syd thinks or *how* he thinks. Sure I'd be into going
back into the studio with him, but I'm into projects like that anyway.
"I last saw him around Christmas in Harrod's. We just said 'hi', y'know.
I think actually of all the people you've spoken to, probably only Storm
and I really know the whole story and can see it all in the right focus.
"I mean Syd was a strange guy even back in Cambridge. He was a very
respected figure back there in his own way.
"In my opinion, it's a family situation that's at the root of it all.
His father's death affected him very heavily and his mother always
pampered him - made him out to be a genius of sorts. I remember I really
started to get worried when I went along to the session for 'See Emily
Play'. He was strange even then. That stare, y'know!
"Yeah, it was fairly obvious that I was brought in to take over from
him, at least on stage ... It was impossible to gauge his feelings
about it. I don't think Syd has opinions as such.
He functions on a totally different plain of logic, and some people will
claim, 'Well yeah amn he's on a higher cosmic level' - but basically
there's something drastically wrong.
"It wasn't just the drugs - we'd both done acid before the whole Floyd
thing - it's just a mental foible which grew out of all proportion. I
remember all sorts of strange things happening - at one point he was
wearing lipstick, dressing in high heels, and believing he had
homosexual tendencies. We all felt he should have gone to see a
psychiatrist, though someone in fact played an interview he did to R.D.
Laing, and Laing claimed he was incurable. What can you do, y'know ?
"We did a couple of songs for 'Ummagumma' - the live tracks - we used
'Jugband Blues' for no ulterior motive - it was just a good song. I mean
that 'Nice Pair' collection will see him doing alright for a couple of
years, which postpones the day of judgment.
"I dunno - maybe if he was left to his own devices, he might just get it
together. But it is a tragedy - a great tragedy because the guy was an
innovator. One of the three or four greats along with Dylan.
"I know though that something is wrong because Syd isn't happy, and that
really is the criteria, isn't it ? But then it's all part of being a
'legend in your own lifetime'."
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank