Syd Barrett, the creative light of the early Pink Floyd, passed away in his home city of Cambridge, on July 7th, 2006. Syd was 60, and died from complications caused by diabetes.
Hugely influential to generations of music fans, musicians and songwriters, David Bowie was a big fan of Syd's, and credited him with being "The first guy I'd heard to sing pop or rock with a British accent - his impact on my thinking was enormous."
This Paul Rance article, on Pink Floyd's madcap marvel, originally appeared in Eastern Rainbow No. 10 in 2002/03.
- Paul Rance/booksmusicfilmstv.com.
Syd Barrett was the musical driving force behind the early Pink Floyd, writing pretty much the whole of their first album, 'The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn', released, by EMI, in 1967, and recorded in the studio next door to where The Beatles were recording 'Sergeant Pepper'. Paul McCartney gave 'Piper' the thumbs up, which followed on from psychedelic masterpieces of sound and lyric, such as the singles 'See Emily Play' and 'Arnold Layne'.
Influenced by English literature and fairy-tales, Syd's take on rock music was always going to be more quixotic than most. Allying his vulnerable, almost childlike, vocals to a guitar sound both hauntingly melodic and jarringly abrasive - replete with weird effects - he was, in the words of long-time friend, and replacement in the group, Dave Gilmour, "a frightening talent when it came to words, and lyrics. They just used to pour out." Floyd light show operator, John Marsh, recalls: "Syd had a way of looking at things that was really genuinely revolutionary and different." First Floyd manager Peter Jenner said of Barrett, also a gifted painter: "He was the most creative person I'd ever known."
The Pink Floyd had been named through a blues record Barrett owned, which featured two Georgian bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Coming out of Cambridge, three would-be architects, Roger Waters (bass), Rick Wright (keyboards), Nick Mason (drums) and art student Barrett were not exactly adored to begin with, covering old rock and blues standards. Then came the light show, and a decision to write all their own songs. Syd came into his own.
The rest of the group recognised his talents. Roger Waters said: "There was a wonderful human tenderness to all his unique musical flights".
That things were not right with Syd had become apparent even during the session for 'See Emily Play'. Gilmour, who, ironically, remained the closest musician to him, even during Syd's post-Floyd days, recalled: "Syd was functioning, but he definitely wasn't the person I knew. He was strange even then. That stare, you know?" Gilmour later said, "Syd was one of the great rock and roll tragedies. He could have become one of the three or four greats. He could write songs and could have beaten Ray Davies at his own game." Dave Gilmour pooh-poohed the theory that lashings of LSD and even more dangerous and exotic drugs had addled Barrett's mind. "Syd's father's death (when Syd was 12) affected him very heavily and his mother always pampered him - made him out to be a genius of sorts."
Syd deteriorated pretty fast late in '67. Girlfriend of the time, Lindsay Korner, said: "Syd had started to act a little bonkers, schizophrenia had set in." The lovable young man was turning into a bit of a monster. Though some rumours seem a little wild, like locking Lindsay in a room for a week and passing biscuits under the door, and, Syd's being locked in a linen cupboard after a bad trip. But, distressingly, Barrett physically assaulting Lindsay, and his giving cats, including two of his own, Pink and Floyd, LSD, seem to carry more credence.
The group were tiring of Syd's behaviour. Early Floyd associate, June Bolan, recalls Syd's last Pink Floyd gig, "...arms just hanging down...tripping out of his mind." Roger Waters remembers: "We had to do a radio show and he didn't turn up. Then he came the next day and he was a different person." Waters also recalls: "We got to the point where anyone of us was likely to tear his throat out at any minute because he was so impossible..." The group's tour of the U.S., late in '67, had also been fraught, with a memorable, for all the wrong reasons, TV interview by Pat Boone with a silent Syd.
Barrett's last song to make a Pink Floyd album was 'Jugband Blues', which featured on the 1968 album, 'A Saucerful Of Secrets'. Peter Jenner states: "Syd knew exactly what was happening to him. 'Jugband Blues' is a portrait of a nervous breakdown."
After Syd's departure, by mutual agreement, or not, whoever you want to believe, the group went on to be as big as it gets, with seminal albums such as 'The Dark Side Of The Moon', 'Wish You Were Here', and 'The Wall'. Though, Roger Waters was later to become the new Syd to some extent.
Barrett made two apparently patchy 1970 solo albums, 'The Madcap Laughs' and 'Barrett', which were produced by, among others, Gilmour and Waters. Then the music just stopped. He shocked the band by making an appearance at the 'Wish You Were Here' sessions in 1975. Nobody recognised him, and he turned up the day Dave Gilmour had got married, and when the now legendary song about Syd, 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond', was being recorded. Roger Waters: "To see this great, fat, bald, mad person, the first day he came I was in tears..." Rick Wright: "I saw this big bald guy sitting on the couch. About 16 stone. I said to Roger, 'Who is he?' and Roger said 'I don't know.' Anyway, it took me a long time, and then suddenly I realized it was Syd, after maybe 45 minutes. He came in as we were doing the vocals for 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond', which was basically about Syd. It was a huge shock, because I hadn't seen him for about six years. He kept standing up and brushing his teeth, putting his toothbrush away and sitting down. Then at one point he stood up and said, 'Right, when do I put my guitar on?' And of course he didn't have a guitar with him. And we said, 'Sorry Syd, the guitar's all done'."
Currently living in Cambridge, a best of collection of Syd's solo work was released, by EMI, in April 2001, entitled, 'Wouldn't You Miss Me?'. Syd Barrett has been admired by successive generations of musicians. The Sex Pistols and The Damned tried, unsuccessfully, to get him to produce their work, and Blur guitarist Graham Coxon says of him: "I don't think he misses the pop circus. I think he overdosed on it and chose a more pastoral existence."
Dave Gilmour hinted, in October 2002, that he may get in contact with Barrett again, "Maybe the time is coming." Nick Mason sort of hits the nail on the head, "People who don't entirely achieve all their potential become even more legendary."
Syd once said that he never had fun when he was young, so hopefully he's found some kind of peace at least. 57 in January 2003, Roger Keith Barrett will probably always remain an enigma to the nth degree. As he once said: "I'm not anything that you think I am anyway".
Syd-related products from Amazon. Yellow links, Amazon.co.uk; green links, Amazon.com
The Pink Floyd And Syd Barrett Story Amazon.co.uk DVD
Pink Floyd Portal
Pink Floyd Live 8 Review
Pink Floyd - The Dark Side Of The Moon
Pink Floyd - The Wall
Syd Barrett - MenCelebs.com
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Pink Floyd & Co. - Stunningly designed, and something for every Floyd fan
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