An article by Mark Paytress on Syd
Record Collector Magazine, Mark Paytress
Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett: Mark Paytress examines the Floyd’s early career, and the subsequent solo work of their erratic songwriter, vocalist and guitarist
In common with Brian Wilson, Captain Beefheart and Phil Spector, Syd Barrett is a musician whose work is often overshadowed by the myths that surround his personal life. Though this has elevated Barrett’s status as one of rock’s most enigmatic figures, it means that the erratic genius of his music often takes second place to a seemingly never-ending string of tales documenting his eccentric behaviour. But though interest in Barrett has always been keen, 1988 has been earmarked by fans as the year which will at last deliver some of his long-lost recordings. This promise has already been partially fulfilled with the released of Syd’s 1970 ‘Top Gear’ radio session of Strange Fruit Records; the much promised EMI album of unissued studio material is still in the pipeline.
While we documented the full Pink Floyd story a couple of years back (issue 83), no appreciation of Syd Barrett would be complete without an assessment of his pioneering recordings with the Floyd. However, to avoid too much duplication, the emphasis this time will focus away from the official U.K. releases and instead highlight the unofficial recordings and foreign editions.
Since he left Pink Floyd in spring 1968, Syd has spent much of his time in seclusion. A flurry of activity during 1969 and 1970 resulted in the release of two solo albums and a handful of live appearances, but since then, he has faded from the music scene completely. Jimmy Page, Brian Eno and his old friend from the UFO days Kevin Ayers have all tried unsuccessfully to coax him back, and despite occasional rumours – in 1984, a story went out that he had played live with Carla Bley in Germany – it is highly unlikely that Syd Barrett will make a return to either stage or recording studio.
While at Cambridge School for Boys, the adolescent Roger ‘Syd’ Barrett kicked off his musical career on a second-hand banjo, though he quickly switched to acoustic guitar. Around 1962, he teamed up with local combo Geoff Mott and the Mottos, who specialised in Shadows’ instrumentals interspersed with the occasional U.S. cover. After the group split, Syd discovered Bo Diddley, embraced the blues and switched to bass for a while. It is a common belief among Floyd fans that Dave Gilmour taught Syd some guitar licks during this period. The pair certainly hitched together to the South of France one summer.
It was while studying Fine Art at Camberwell Art School that Syd first came into contact with the Abdabs, an R&B group made up of architectural students from Regent Street Polytechnic. One Abdab, Roger Waters, knew Barrett from Cambridge and before long Syd had joined on guitar, the band had narrowed down to a quartet and started to go by the name Pink Floyd. They were quick to develop their own sound and became instrumental in spearheading the U.K. psychedelic movement. Their stage shows began to incorporate slides and lights, while 12-bar standards gradually gave way to lengthy improvised pieces.
By the time Pink Floyd entered the Sound Techniques studio on January and February 1967 with producer Joe Boyd, Syd had begun to write his own material. Two of his earliest compositions, “Arnold Layne” and “Candy And A Currant Bun”, were coupled for the band’s debut single although, to be fair, the flip was heavily derivative of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”. The sessions in Chelsea also produced an early recording of “Interstellar Overdrive”, one of the band’s most popular numbers where Barrett’s riff (allegedly based on Love’s version of Burt Bacharach’s “My Little Red Book”) gave way to a lengthy improvisational passage which defined the medium of the ‘psychedelic jam’ for years to come. This version later turned up on the soundtrack LP, “Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London” (Instant INLP 002), albeit in a frustratingly truncated form. Although nine minutes of the track was spread throughout the movie, it was restricted to just three on the album.
Yet these sessions were not Pink Floyd’s first forays into a recording studio. They had previously had an unsuccessful day at the studio of Thompson Recording Ltd., in Hemel Hempstead on 31st October 1966. It appears that “Candy And A Currant Bun” and “Stoned Again” (some say “Stoned Alone”) were recorded. A poor quality recording of the former is in circulation, though it is more likely to hail from a rehearsal session.
Between February and July, Pink Floyd worked on their first album, “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn”. Now reissued on EMI’s budget Fame label, it is without a doubt one of the most original debut rock albums of all time. Barrett’s contribution is enormous, whether it’s his aggressive guitar style cutting its way through the speakers (neatly summarised by Fred Frith as “A revolutionary source of electronic racket”) or his highly recognisable rhythms of innocence captured on songs like “Scarecrow” and “Bike”. Syd’s songs recapture the enchantment of hearing fairytales for the first time – and just as in stories, anything was possible in his music. It is largely due to Syd’s departure that the avenues explored on “Piper”, in particular his pop sensibility, were jettisoned in favour of a more pro-faced approach.
Scholars of the Barrett approach to rock guitar would do well to seek out the mono mix of “Piper”, which differs markedly in places from the more common stereo copies. But such pleasures don’t come cheaply: be prepared to pay up to L18 for a Mint copy.
Information in EMI’s files indicate that at one stage “Interstellar Overdrive” was cross-faded with “Bike”, but this was abandoned in favour of blending it with “The Gnome”.
U.S. copies on Tower substituted “Flaming” and “Astronomy Domine” with the band’s first two singles, “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”, although some copies came out with only the latter. Originals are now worth L25. It has long been assumed that the version of “The Gnome” coupled with “Flaming” on a U.S. single is an alternate mix, but this has been thrown into doubt in recent years. Confirmation one way or the other would be most welcome.
In no doubt, however, is the collectability of the band’s first three U.K. 45s complete with promo-only picture sleeves. “Arnold Layne” would fetch L175, while “Emily”, in a Syd-penned cover, a mere L125. Picture sleeves were more common on the continent and bedecked many official releases at this time. However, some of these too are pricelessly rare, particularly a French EP containing “Arnold Layne”, “Candy And A Currant Bun” and an edited version of “Interstellar Overdrive”. In its sleeve, this is worth L150. German picture sleeve copies of “Arnold Layne” sell for L50, “Emily” for L35. Very popular with collectors is the French picture sleeve “Emily” with its black-and-white steam engine cartoon cover which also sells for L35 as does a four-track Japanese “Emily” EP. The train illustration (also allegedly fromn the hand of Barrett) appears again on the Dutch release, while perhaps most popular is the Italian sleeve which features the band in a psychedelic light show. But not all releases need boast a picture sleeve to command high prices: the Swiss “Emily”, issued by Columbia in a ‘Special Edition’, is valued at L25.
By the time of the release of “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” in July 1967, “See Emily Play” had already established Pink Floyd as a highly promising singles band, just missing out on a Top 5 placing. However, the group – who still performed regularly on the underground circuit – seemed ill-at-ease with their new-found pop success. This is reflected in their search for a follow-up single.
At the end of July, it was announced that either “Old Woman In A Casket” or “She Was A Millionaire” (both Barrett compositions) was to be the next 45. The latter had been recorded in May, during the “Piper” sessions and to this day remains unheard. “Old Woman In A Casket” turned out to be a line from “Scream Thy Last Scream” which, together with “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun”, were the band’s first recordings after the completion of the album.
The plans were shelved and, in the autumn, the group returned to an outside studio (i.e. non-EMI) and recorded “Jugband Blues” and “Remember A Day” as a possible 7″ coupling. But when the third single finally appeared in November, it turned out to be Barrett’s “Apples And Oranges”, coupled with another new song, “Paintbox”, written by Rick Wright. The record flopped but remains a lasting testament to Syd’s unprecedented guitar style; his distorted wah-wah phrases pepper the song, and inevitably distract the listener from the melody. At the end of the track – the last recording with the band on which he made a significant contribution – Syd bows out with the howling feedback he’d just managed to retrain for the previous three minutes.
“Apples And Oranges” in the rarest of the band’s early singles, although the promo-only picture sleeve copies can be picked up for L150 – slightly less than “Arnold Layne”. A German picture sleeve release featured a picture of the band, surrounded by a green border, and sells for as much as L60.
In October, the band attempted a U.S. tour, but this “nightmare” (in the words of Rick Wright) was called to a halt after just eight days and they returned home. Syd’s unpredictable behaviour seemed to be the main problem; something that was confirmed when Pink Floyd joined the Jimi Hendrix U.K. package tour. His habit of going AWOL meant that the Nice’s Davy O’List had to step in on several occasions. At the ‘Christmas On Earth’ show at London’s Olympia in December 1967, it was reported that Barrett failed to even touch his guitar and, two months later, Dave Gilmour was drafted in as a second guitarist to enable the band to function again. Pink Floyd made a couple of appearances as a five-piece, but it was painfully clear to all concerned that Syd was now a non-contributing accessory. Therefore it was no great surprise when, in April, came the official announcement that he had left the band.
When the second Pink Floyd album, “A Saucerful of Secrets”, was released in June 1968, “Jugband Blues” was included as the closing track. Had it been released as the single, it undoubtedly would have baffled audiences, particularly the passage featuring the six-piece Salvation Army band whom Syd had instructed to play exactly what they wanted! On mono copies (again, worth in excess of L15), the vocals were mixed out halfway through the song, while the guitar featured more prominently. A Canadian mix differed yet again, with a fade at the end of the middle section.
There is confusion about Syd’s other contributions on the album. It is likely that the eerie slide guitar on “Remember A Day” was his, though rumours that he appeared on “Corporal Clegg” and “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun” are probably unfounded. The case for the latter may be stronger – it formed part of the band’s live repertoire as early as August 1967 – but Syd’s presence is nowhere to be heard.
Unfortunately there are few good quality live or studio recordings hailing from Syd Barrett’s days with Pink Floyd. Even the master tapes of their early BBC radio sessions have disappeared. Nevertheless, two superb outtakes, the aforementioned “Scream Thy Last Scream” and “Vegetable Man”, are easily available as unofficial recordings. The latter, covered more recently by the Jesus and Mary Chain, is reminiscent of early Gong and it comes as no surprise that Daevid Allen (whose ‘glissando’ guitar technique owes much to Syd) used to perform with a picture of Barrett on his amp for inspiration. It is likely that “Vegetable Man” was recorded in at De Lane Lea Studios at the same time as “Jugband Blues” and “Remember A Day” in October 1967.
The group also recorded both “Scream” and “Vegetable Man” for their second BBC radio session on December 19th, 1967, along with “Jugband Blues” and “Pow R Toc H”. Both tracks appear on the “Unforgotten Hero” bootleg, alongside radio sessions and the edited soundtrack version of “Interstellar Overdrive”. The original pressing of this album came with a glossy photo of the band performing on “Top Of The Pops”.
As far as live recordings from this period go, a performance at the Star Club, Copenhagen from September 1967 is the most common, although tapes of a Rotterdam concert two months later aren’t too hard to trace. One of the more interesting recordings is a pirate radio broadcast dating from July 1967. This consists of live recordings of “Reaction In G” and “Set The Controls” taken from a concert in Carlisle.
On of the earliest recordings of the band comes from a Canadian radio broadcast at the end of 1966, which features a rare interview with the group interspersed with yet another lengthy version of “Interstellar Overdrive”.If permission was forthcoming and the footage readily available, there is certainly enough filmed material to compile a fascinating visual documentary of the band at their peak. For in addition to promotional films for songs like “Arnold Layne” and “Jugband Blues” and ‘Top Of The Pops’ appearances to promote “Emily”, the band performed live on TV on several occasions. A clip of the band (probably performing “Interstellar Overdrive”) at the UFO Club in January 1967 was broadcast in February, while they are known to have played “Astronomy Domine” on the late-night arts programme ‘Look Of The Week’. Joe Boyd also has plenty of footage dating from the UFO days, but there is no indication that any of this will ever see the light of day.
When Syd Barrett left the Pink Floyd, the band’s management team of Pete Jennet and Andrew King went with him. The group’s booking fees had begun to slump and, at that time, none of the other band members had really established themselves as songwriters. No surprise, then, that the duo felt that Barrett was the better proposition. Between May and July 1968, Jenner produced Syd in the studio, which yielded no more than half-a-dozen tracks. Of these, only the skeleton of “Late Night” would surface on a later release. Judging by Malcolm Jones’ comments in his excellent publication, ‘Syd Barrett – The Making Of “The Madcap Laughs”‘, little of the material was worthy of release, although it did include an early version of “Golden Hair”. Among material shelved was “Silas Lang” (alias “Swan Lee”), an 18-minute percussion piece called “Rhamadan” and another instrumental “Lanky Parts One and Two”. Syd left these recordings unfinished and retreated to his sparsely furnished London flat.
Nothing much was heard from Syd until March 1969 when he contacted EMI expressing a wish to record once more. Because Floyd producer Norman Smith felt there would be a conflict of interests, he declined the offer to produce Syd; and so Malcolm Jones, who was in the process of setting up the Harvest label, took on the role. His booklet fully documents the sessions, and confirms the existence of several unreleased recordings worthy of release.
It appears that half of “The Madcap Laughs”, Syd’s debut solo offering, was recorded in April and May 1969 with Jones at the controls; the rest was completed on 12th and 13th June and 26th July with the Floyd’s Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour handling production duties. Although it has been stated that EMI called a halt to the Jones sessions, and that Syd asked Gilmour and Waters to talk the company into paying for more studio time, Malcolm Jones refutes this. He wrote that EMI had already agreed to extend the project to an album and that Dave, free from recording commitments for the “Ummagumma” album, approached Syd with a view to producing the album.
In fact, the finished album, released in January 1970, reflects the somewhat stilted recording process. Some cuts – like “No Good Trying” and “Love You” – were fleshed out by Mike Ratledge, Robert Wyatt and Hugh Hopper from the Soft Machine and featured a full band sound. “No Man’s Land” and “Here I Go” found Syd accompanied by the sparser rhythm section of Jerry Shirley and John ‘Willie’ Watson; on the opening cut “Terrapin”, Barrett provided his own accompaniment by making use of the multi-track facilities. A run of three songs on Side Two, “She Took A Long Cool <sic> Look”, “Feel” and “If It’s In You”, came from the last recording session.
Many felt “The Madcap Laughs” charted the decline of a once-gifted writer of near-perfect pop songs into the realms of the insane mutterings of an acid casualty. Others like Roger Waters proclaimed Barrett a genius. It was clear that Syd’s talent as a songwriter had not diminished, it was the context of these songs which had altered. The elaborate arrangements which had elevated songs like “Matilda Mother” and the Pink Floyd singles were nowhere to be found; neither was the improvisation on which the band had first built their reputation.
The album was characterised by a sparse, essentially acoustic sound, often with scant regard for established musical rules. If Syd wished to come in a bar early, he would. More offbeat than before, many of the songs like “Octopus”, “No Good Trying”, “No Man’s Land” and “Terrapin” retained that Barrett magic and “The Madcap Laughs” remains a fine testament to Barrett’s imaginative songwriting.
For contractual reasons, none of the musicians was credited on the sleeve which, incidently, was designed by Storm Thorgorson (an old friend of Syd’s from Cambridge) and Aubrey Powell of Hipgnosis. The photos used were taken in Barrett’s flat – Syd taking the trouble to paint his floorboards orange and purple for the occasion – and unlike the first two Floyd albums, the LP boasted a gatefold sleeve. Japanese copies are rumoured to feature an extended version of “Terrapin” (though no more than five seconds!), while a Mexican issue plumped for one of the photos which included both Syd and his female friend for the front cover.
Extremely rare is the single “Octopus” (originally known as “Clowns And Jugglers”) which preceded the album and now commands a price of around L40. Demo copies credit the song to ‘Syd Barratt’ and sell for almost twice as much. Rarer still are the 10″ EMIDISC acetates which have occasionally turned up on thecollector’s market. And most prized of all in the French issue of the single, which had a picture sleeve adorned with a Syd-like illustrations of the deep-sea creature. This is valued at nearer L200.
By the end of February, Syd began work on a follow-up LP, “Barrett”, which was completed and out before the end of 1970. More consistent in style than the first, the record is slightly marred by the arrangements which, more often than not, appear to be gratuitous attempts merely to fill out the sound. Occasionally, on “Rats” and “Baby Lemonade”, this works well, but at times, it simply has the effect of making the songs sound pedestrian and ordinary; in fact, less like Syd and more like Wright (keyboards) and Gilmour (bass, drums, etc.) who jointly produced the album. Jerry Shirley and Willie Wilson again appear, while Vic Saywell played an effective tuba on “Effervescing Elephant”, a song which, in common with “Golden Hair” from the first LP, dated back to Syd’s teenage years.
Recording the album inspired Barrett to return to the stage for a one-off appearance at the ‘Extravaganza ’70 Music and Fashion Festival’ held at the Olympia in June. Accompanied by Shirley (drums) and Gilmour (bass), he raced through four numbers before leaving the stage. It was less a comeback than a letdown.
Far more successful was his return to the BBC studios for a couple of radio sessions. One, now issued by Strange Fruit, included versions of three cuts from the latest LP, “Terrapin” and a previously unissued cut, “Two Of A Kind”, written by Rick Wright.
In the same year, it is widely believed that Syd collaborated with Kevin Ayers on a song called “Religious Experience” and there exists a 10″ EMIDISC acetate which allegedly includes Barrett on guitar and vocals. However, when the song finally appeared officially as a single, retitled “Singing A Song In The Morning”, his contribution was effectively mixed out. The song later appeared on Kevin’s “Odd Ditties”compilation. It is also rumoured that the voice at the start of “Oleh Oleh Bandu Bandung” an Ayers’ “Joy Of A Toy” album is Syd’s, but this is unconfirmed. Kevin Ayers’ “Bananamour” LP included “O Wot A Dream”, a tribute to Syd, and original copies came with a Barrett photo.
After this period of activity, Syd withdrew from the public eye and nothing much was heard from him until early in 1972 when, together with Jack Monck (bass) and ex-Pink Fairy Twink (drums), he fronted the short-lived Cambridge outfit, Stars. An under-rehearsed debut at the Cambridge Corn Exchange supporting the MC5 was met with an audience walk-out. Those who stayed heard songs like “Baby Lemonade” and “Effervescing Elephant” from the solo LPs, plus “Lucifer Sam” and a couple of 12-bar blues. Undeterred, Stars continued to play a few local gigs but folded after Syd saw a review of one of their less flattering performances. It is widely believed that many rehearsals and performances were taped. Twink stated in a recent interview that a relative of the composer Leonard Bernstein recorded some of the concerts.
Syd next entered the recording studios in 1972 but, according to journalist Peter Barnes, “He just kept on overdubbing guitar part on guitar part until it was just a chaotic mess.” Pete Jenner tried to record Barrett two years later but it is likely that these three days spent in the studio produced little more than guitar backing tracks.
As the prospect of new Barrett material seemed increasingly less likely as the years rolled on, EMI packaged the two solo records together in 1974 as a budget-priced double album simply titled “Syd Barrett”. If this had the effect of introducing the Madcap to a younger generation of followers, it also aroused considerable debate concerning Syd’s talent. Even the Floyd’s Rick Wright, drunk on the success of “Dark Side Of The Moon”, said of Barrett’s songs, “I think they’re appalling . . .musically, they’re atrocious.” And to many weaned on the symphonic rock of the early Seventies Floyd, Syd’s compositions barely qualified as music. However, Pink Floyd included “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, their tribute to Syd, on “Wish You Were Here”, released in 1975.
When Nick Kent wrote his mammoth appraisal of Syd for ‘NME’ back in 1974, it was generally felt even then, that he would not return; and now, some 14 years on, that likelihood is never seriously discussed, even in diehard Barrett circles. But his name and his music have both been kept alive by musicians and fans alike. Since the demise of the “Terrapin” Barrett-zine in the mid-Seventies, the current decade has seen “Clowns And Jugglers”, “Dark Globe” and “Opel” offering a forum for devotees.
Musicians like Julian Cope, the Jesus and Mary Chain, This Heat, Mare Almond, Wire, David Bowie, the Soft Boys, and the T.V. Personalities have paid homage to the man’s work, either in words, spirit or song.
Part of the debt owed to Syd by many of today’s crop of psychedelia merchants was repaid last year with the release of “Beyond The Wildwood: A Tribute To Syd Barrett” (Imaginary Records, ILLUSION 001), where acts such as the Green Telescope, the Shamen, Plasticland and the Soup Dragons covered a variety of Barrett compositions.
In addition to the “Unforgotten Hero” bootleg, several other Barrett items have been produced unofficially. “Tattooed” included BBC sessions, two songs from the Olympia performance and some fakes. “He Whom Laughs First” covered similar territory, while “Mystery Tracks” included material recorded with the Floyd at Copenhagen in September 1967.
The ball is now firmly in EMI’s court as far as the unissued Barrett material is concerned. In recent years, two items have appeared on the illicit market which confirm the existence of worthy material languishing in the vaults. The “Vinyl Sessions” EP boasted an alternate version of “Dark Globe”, which is much slower (and, therefore, longer!) than the issued take, plus “Birdy Hop”, “Milky Way” and “The Word Song”. The latter trio are probably outtakes from the “Barrett” album, or possibly even later; and all three have more recently appeared on another unofficial release, “El Syd”, a boxed set of two 7″ singles issued in a plain white sleeve in a numbered edition of 200. “Birdy Hop” appears here in its entirety, while a fourth cut replaces “Dark Globe”. This is the haunting “Opel”, recorded on Syd’s second day’s work with Malcolm Jones in April 1969, and it remains one of Barrett’s unissued masterpieces.
The news that EMI have now located a true stereo mix of “Apples And Oranges” is bittersweet because the legal problems concerning the release of archive Pink Floyd material could well ensure that this, “Vegetable Man”, “Scream Thy Last Scream” and “In The Beechwoods” remain in the vaults for the foreseeable future. However, much of the solo material recently made available on bootleg, plus alternate versions of “Love You”, “She Took A Long Cold Look” and the original “Clowns And Jugglers” would almost certainly appear.
While collectors continue to pay over the odds for Barrett rarities on the illicit market, it is regrettable that his record company have continued to blow hot and cold over the project, because everyone – including Barrett himself – loses out in the end. After some recent changes in personnel, we are assured that the “Rarities” package is, once again, on its way and should be with us by the end of the year. Whether “Dawn Of The Piper”, the book written by Pete Anderson and Mike Watkinson, will ever see the light of day any sooner is also in the hands of the decision-makers; it appears there are difficulties regarding publishers.
It is painfully evident that the adult world appeared too gruesome, too corrupt, and altogether too unreal for Syd Barrett.
Thankfully he has left behind a fascinating legacy of recordings, almost all of which betray a yearning for the simplicities of childhood, a world inhabited by sequined fans, hopping birds and feathery tongs. Syd once told an interviewer, “I don’t know if pop is an art form. I should think it is as much as sitting down is.” But, Syd, doesn’t it all depend on who’s doing the sitting down ?!