Syd Barrett interview (circa 1971)
Terrapin #17, 1975
Britain’s art colleges have turned out a disproportionate number of successful musicians – John Lennon, Jimmy Page and Pete Townshend among them. It was while studying fine art at Camberwell School of Art in south London that he started playing with the Pink Floyd, the rest of whom were all at that time potential architects at the Regent Street Polytechnic.
And the influence of avant-garde art world was apparent in the Floyd’s stage act, the first to make stroboscopes and oil-slide projections standard equipment for an evening’s music. (Remember 1967 and the psychedelic revolution?)
But now Syd has his own solo best selling album ‘The Madcap Laughs’ which had provided a clear answer to that much asked question ‘Whatever happened to Syd Barrett after he left the Floyd?’ At present Syd is living quietly in his sparsely furnished London flat among his stereo equipment, piles of paintings and a heap of battered LPs.
He’s taking things easily, as he has been doing for the last two years, composing, writing and painting as inspiration comes, and making some plans for the future. He will soon be working on another album and he also plans to get a group together, but beyond that he seems to have no particular intentions.
Syd was pleasantly surprised that the LP had sold well, especially as there was no great hype involved. ‘Yes, it’s quite nice,’ he said in his soft spoken manner that sometimes becomes so soft that he’s not talking to anything but his chin. ‘But I’d be very surprised if it did anything if I were to drop dead. I don’t think it would stand to be accepted as my last statement. I want to record my next LP before I go on to anything else, and I’m writing for that at the moment.’
It was while Syd was at school in Cambridge that he started learning the guitar. He played in a number of groups in that area from the age of 16 onwards, doing Bo Diddley and Jimmy Reed numbers especially. ‘Then had to come up to London,’ he said, ‘I didn’t mean to play for ever; it was painting that brought me here to art school. I always enjoyed that much more than school, although it had nothing to do with the music. After three? years in London I started playing with the Pink Floyd. Bo Diddley was definitely my greatest influence. Around that time one came across so many unheard of records that one felt one was really discovering something.’
‘The Floyd’s music arouse out of playing together; we didn’t set out to anything new. We worked up to ‘See Emily Play’ and so on quite naturally from the Rolling Stones numbers we used to play. None of us advocated doing anything more eccentric. We waited until we had got the lights together and then went out.’
The group secured a recording contract with EMI and found chart success with their first two releases ‘Arnold Layne’ and ‘See Emily Play’, both of them written by Syd Barrett. And it was, of course, at London’s first ‘psychedelic dungeon’ UFO that the Floyd found their initial following among the early freaks when flower power was something very real to a lot of people.
However, the Floyd moved away from their starting place to tour Britain in the usual rounds of clubs and ballrooms. After their first album, ‘PatGoD’ and their third single, ‘Apples’, had been released, the group made the now customary trek around the United States. It was on return from that great country that Syd split from the Floyd.
‘I spent a year relaxing,’ he says, ‘and another getting the LP together. It’s been very slow, like looking back over a long time and playing very little. When I went I felt the progress the group could have made. But it made none, none at all, except in the sense that it was continuing. To make my album was a challenge as I didn’t have anything to follow.’
Now Syd is looking to form his own band, which he hoped he will have going within a year. ‘This is the most interesting thing to do now, to see whether it would have been possible to retain the ‘Emily’ sort of things that were there and on maybe two tracks of the first album.’
‘I’ve been writing consistently for two years now and I have lots of undeveloped things lying around. I’m still basically like I’ve always been, sitting round with an acoustic getting it done. I never get worried about my writing.’
And so Syd Barrett, now back in the public eye after two years, carries on in his own way – doing what he wants as he wants to.