Story about Syd from the “Opel” album


Roger Keith ‘Syd’ Barrett left Pink Floyd early in 1968. Now, some twenty years later, his brief time with the group froms only a fraction of their history, but its legacy remains incalculable. Barrett wrote, sang and played guitar on almost everything recorded during those first outings – ‘Arnold Layne’, ‘See Emily Play’ and ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ l.p., but the commercial failure of his dazzling ‘Apples and Oranges’, coupled with an increasing unpredictability, undermined his eminant position. Several compromises would quickly flounder – the addition of a fifth member, Dave Gilmour; a suggestion that Syd should not perform, but merely write for and record with the group, and the inevitable parting followed.

Several months later Barrett returned to Abbey Road with his co-manager Peter Jenner, who acted as producer on a handful of new tracks. Somewhat exploratory, they included some which would be re-recorded later (‘Late night’, ‘Golden Hair’) and others which were then abandoned. Both ‘Swan Lee’ and ‘Lanky Pt 1’ date from this first session, the former is a wonderful ‘Hiawatha-esque’ tale which could well have accompanied the Floyd of ‘Corporal Clegg’, while ‘Lanky’ suggests the fragile instrumental improvisation of the previous year. Sadly, the recording charts give no clues to the other musicians involved, sadder still was the fact that the tempting ‘Lanky Pt 2’ consisted of percussive backing tracks.

Little was then heard of Barrett for almost a year, but in March 1969, he contacted EMI again. His request for studio time was passed on to Malcolm Jones, then setting up the Harvest subsidiary. Almost by accident, Jones bacame the producer of the next batch of recordings which formed the basis for Barrett’s solo debut, ‘The Madcap Laughs’.

Six of the final album’s tracks were recorded between April and May, the rest came from three sessions cut in June and July, but with Fave Gilmour and Roger Waters replacing jones. Both provided their share of out-takes, and it’s from these that ‘Clowns and Jugglers’, ‘Opel’ and the various ‘Golden Hair’s’ date. The version of ‘Opel’ included here is one of nine which were attempted, but this determination would not result in an official release; until now. The song is a gem, one of Barrett’s finest, and it’s elongated, closing refrain is positively haunting. ‘Clowns and Jugglers’ meanwhile would resurface on ‘The Madcap Laughs’ under a new title, ‘Octopus’, but this earlier take features Syd’s first vocal and guitar which was later overdubbed by the Soft Machine – mike Ratledge, Hugh Hopper and Robert Wyatt, something they also did on two tracks which did appear on ‘Madcap’, ‘No Good Trying’ and ‘Love You’. Barrett’s irregular timing made the task somewhat difficult, but there’s no denying the exciting edge the combination gave.

Waters and Gilmour tried eleven takes before they formed a satisfactory ‘Golden Hair’. A short poignant piece, even the outtakes boast a distinct beaty at the persistance (the song was tried at every stage in the recording) finally succeeded. ‘Dark Globe’ (aka ‘Wouldn’t You Miss Me’) was one of the ‘new’ songs Barrett brought to the Gilmour/Waters’ sessions. Few attempts were required, but while the issued take features Syd on a high register, the one here is lower, more natural and less strained.

‘The Madcap Laughs’ was released in January 1970, and within a matter of months, work began on a second collection. The resulting album, titled simply ‘Barrett’ was a less experimental offering, it featured a single production unit, Dave Gilmour and Rick Wright, and a more structured backing group. Syd had prepared several demos in readiness for the sessions, some of which would form the basic vocal and guitar tracks for the finished master, with the instrumental muscle merely overdubbed. ‘Rats’ and ‘Dominoes’ were certainly completed in this way, but the former is included here simply because the difference between this and the finished release is so great. ‘Wined and Dined’ however, is a different take to that on ‘Barrett’, but rather than complete this collection with alternative versions – however interesting – we’ve opted instead for unreleased material. ‘Word Song’, ‘Milky Way’ and ‘Birdie Hop’ are each part of the whimsical Barrett of ‘Gigolo Aunt’ or ‘Effervescing Elephant’, rarer of course, without the backing those finished tracks boasted, but equally captivating. Two further songs were also uncovered, both of which have, up to now, escaped acknowledgement. Each is somewhat rudimentary, the sound of Syd turning the page can be easily heard, but ‘Let’s Split’ and ‘Dollyrocker’ remain important finds. The first boasts the complex lines which make accompaniment awkward, while the second claims one of pop’s great lyrics – “she’s as cute as a squirrel’s nut” – and a soaring middle-eight that’s truely exceptional. With time, and sympathetic arrangements, any of these could have graced ‘Barrett’ and time rather than other factors seems to have been the final deciding factor.

‘Barrett’ was released in November 1970, and is, to date, the last album of new Syd material. This is not a lost third album, but a companion to those two exceptional original releases and collects the best of what is left available. Yes there are some flaws, some missed notes and some fumbling, but there’s also an engaging insight into the talent of a most enigmatic figure. There’s still more left ‘in the can’, takes hampered by false starts, or which fall apart quickly, there’s the rambling ‘Rhamadan’, the infamous motorbike noises and somewhere there’s the lost ‘Bob Dylan’s Blues’. Wherever that now resides, it’s not at Abbey Road, and neither is its paperwork. Indeed there’s no record of any further sessions there after July 1970, and if the stories which surfaced in 1975 are true; of an altruistic benefactor bringing Syd into EMI’s studios, of Robin Trower’s support (etc etc), then those responsible removed every shred of evidence; tapes, logs, everything. For several reasons, Syd Barrett’s talent crumbled quickly, but for that all-too-brief time it was startlingly original.