The Cracked Ballad of Syd Barrett
New Musical Express – April 13, 1974, Nick Kent
The summer of ’67 went up like a psychedelic mushroom-cloud, and some of the fall-out’s still coming down. Brian Jones was casually snuffed out, Jimi Hendrix blew up in his own face… but one extraordinary tragi-comedy struggles on and on: The Cracked Ballad of Syd Barrett…
There is a story that exists pertaining to an incident which occurred during one of Syd Barrett’s later gigs with 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 possessor.
Barrett is still alive and basically functioning, by the way.
Every so often he appears at Lupus Music, his publishing company situated on Berkeley 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 all ready to swoop the lad into the studio, producer in tow, at any given moment.
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 time is spent sprawled out in front of the large colour TV in his two room apartment situated at 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 trousers, claimed that all of them fitted him perfectly, and then disappeared again, without buying any.
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 song-writer whose genius was somehow amputated; leaving him hamstrung in a lonely limbo accompanied only by a stunted creativity and a kind of helpless illogical schizophrenia.
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 no one I spoke to quite knew which had come first. It doesn’t really matter though. The band was a five-piece, as it happens, consisting of three 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 school days 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 “Hipgnosis” (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.”
Before 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 contemplation 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 deeply.
“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 general 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 it.”
At any rate, Barrett lost all interest in spiritualism after that and soon enough he would also give up his painting. Already he’s 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 name came from Syd 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 interspersed 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 Miles High.”
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, the odd one here and there, 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 “Ulysses” called “Golden Hair”, but nothing beyond that.
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 there.”
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 and singularly creepy.
The single was banned by Radio London who found its general connotations a little too bizarre for even pirate radio standards.
The Floyd were by now big stuff in Swinging London. Looking back on it all, the band came on just 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 Barrett’s 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 the two ideal forms of English psychedelia, musical rococo freak-outs underpinning Barrett’s sudden ascendancy into the artistic realms of ye olde English whimsical loone wherein dwelt the likes of Edward Lear and Kenneth Grahame. Pervy old Lewis Carroll, 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 on 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 to check out each other’s product. McCartney stepped out to bestow 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, unstabilising influences.
First came the ego-problems and slight prima donna fits, but gradually the Floyd, Jenner et al realized 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 had 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 Pete 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 gentle guy, which is what he was, basically.”
Something was definitely awry. In fact there are numerous fairly 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 dwelt on.
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 boy 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 metabolism 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 brain damage, but I fear one has to stride manfully blind-folded into a rather more Freudian landscape, leading us to the opinion of many people I talked to who claimed that Syd’s dilemma stretched back to certain childhood traumas.
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 mother who may or may not have imposed a strange distinction between the dictates of fantasy and reality – each contention forms a patch work quilt like set up of insinuations and potential cause and effect mechanisms.
“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, Autumn 1971.
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 have pressurized 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 onstage. 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 Went in San Francisco 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 canceled 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 the decision. On the one hand, Barrett was the songwriter and central figure, one the other his madness was much too much to handle. He just couldn’t be communicated with.
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 album.
“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 (incidently these, contrary to belief, are the *only* unreleased numbers Barrett has ever recorded) are both unfinished creations, one a masterful splurge of blood curdling pre-Beefheartian lunacy – “Scream Your Last Scream”…
“Scream Your Last Scream/Old Woman with 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 the Floyd socialized with The Nice (guitarist David O’List played with the band when Barrett was incapable) But surely the two uncrowned kings of acid rock, Hendrix and Barrett, must have socialized in some capacity?
“Not really,” states Jenner. “Hendrix had his own limousine. Syd didn’t 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 the band.”
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 takeoffs 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 of echo boxes.”
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’ phase by then. He was travelling 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 is 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 though), 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, thoroughly 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 ‘Jugband Blues’.”
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 stool.”
“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 really 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 most vivid.
Like “Wolfpack”, or “Rats”, which hurtles along like classic “Trout Mask Replica” Beefheart shambling thunder, with crazed double-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 archety, pal Floyd minor-chord refrain straight out of “More”.
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, our 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, or something.”
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 should be.”
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 just a total chaotic mess. He also wouldn’t show anyone his lyrics, I fear actually because he hadn’t written any.”
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 band.
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 centered in Britain, which puts out magazines, 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 really 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 collaboration, Kevin Ayers has wanted to form a band with the Madcap for ages.
David Bowe is a zealous admirer (his version of “See Emily Play” on “Pinups” will certainly keep Syd financially in adequate stead for a few months).
“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. Period.
“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 roof 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 plane of logic, and some people will claim, ‘Well yeah man 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 incurrable. 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 going alright for a couple of years, which postpones the day of judgement.
“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 he 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’.”