| | SYD
New Musical Express |
April 13, 1974
by 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
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
Barrett claimed that no, he hadn't written anything; but
dutifully agreed to get down and produce *some* sort of
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
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
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
"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
THE FIRST trick was the light show and the U.F.O. concerts.
The next was activating a policy of playing only original
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
The single was banned by Radio London who found its general
connotations a little too bizarre for even pirate radio
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
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,
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
life 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
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,
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
All the above are stories told to me by various semi-
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-
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
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
"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
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
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
"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'."