Thanks to my friend Doug for telling me about this now being officially online I had to go see it for myself and of course, write about Syd.
Just online now is the new official Syd Barrett site (http://www.sydbarrett.com) dedicated exclusively to Syd including rare family photos to his days in the Pink Floyd and his solo career albeit short lived afterwards. (Also, honourable mention goes to the site http://www.sydbarrett.net) Some people believe that Pink Floyd was no longer after Syd’s departure and others hail it as the beginning Phase Two of the band but for now, let’s talk Syd. So much in so little time, the Barrett era of the Floyd definitely helped forge and shape the future of the band’s sound and lengthy excursions in to the unknown of what was still a sugar coated listening spectrum of songs at a standard length of 2:35. Sure the band wrote and performed such songs but it was their desire to go farther than the norm, break down walls so-to-speak and test the waters with a voracious appetite to experiment and explore what can be done with a song that is over before it’s even started. The site is still being developed but we get a wonderful insight to the mad genius that was Syd Barrett and the aura that which surrounded and followed him.
Ask anyone who is a casual Pink Floyd fan and they might know one or two Syd era songs but to the hardcore fan and completest fan(yours truly) one knows all about Syd’s music both with and without the Floyd. Could it be said that Syd Barrett’s music was genius or ramblings or a bit of both? Sadly he falls apart on record in spots on his debut solo Lp offering, The Madcap Laughs, starts and stops and strained mental state carries the album to its bittersweet end. Overall you’re not sure whether to play it again or shed a tear for its music offerings and perhaps drug induced structure that completes the album here. I personally enjoyed it for what it was, an album that said really nothing to what his former band was or became, it was an album that stood out all on its own and has stood the test of time and is still played today. Many of the future guitarists and bands have said in interviews that they paid homage to Syd Barrett for his free spirited approach to music with childlike resonating lyrics and pulls form books like the I’ching and others like it. His second Lp Barrett was more crafted yet still difficult to record and put together but a collection of just songs with no main theme which was again a pleasure to just hear Syd play and create despite his continuing decline in to the drug culture and its damaging effects on him mentally. This album seemed to be more strained then the first but without being there it’s hard to say what it was really like and is it even worth going back in to those memories? Perhaps best left to just play the record and enjoy it for what it’s worth and play it periodically to remind yourself that Syd was real in what he meant and what he did was real to him.
Perhaps his best line ever written was his musical swansong/epitaph at the end of Jugband Blues, “What exactly is a dream and what exactly is a joke?” from A Saucerful of Secrets in 1968. This could very well have been both of these things for him because he saw everyday life in such a different light it seems. From the the sweet refrain in his voice to his obscured guitar patch-like work to his lyrics and song arrangements that would quite often change at the drop of a dime or roach depending how that session went that day. Troubled genius, madman, musical prophet, troubadour, song writer extraordinaire, all of which have been dropped on him as a name check but also, a painter and poet less we forget. His artistic ability was left so undiscovered in many ways due to the timing in that period of time that we unfortunately never got to see his talents soar farther past what he attained in the Floyd.
By the mid seventies he had all but faded away form public eye and of course the infamous story of him walking in to the studios when the Floyd were recording Wish You Were Here and how the albums two main halves, Shine On… became the basis for Syd’s existence as well as the title track being a lost journey of his soul being tossed to the wind and forgotten by the masses.
It wasn’t really until his death in 2006 that brought about a new refreshed look at his musical life and the release of albums that were the best of and compilations etc. Also the release of the newly restored 1965 recordings of the band with Rado Klose in the band on second guitar and a guest vocal by Juliette Gale on one song. Thank you Andy Jackson and Ray Staff for your amazing work on this.
But what is it about Syd really? Had the band dissolved in 1968 and not brought on David Gilmour the band would have disappeared in to obscurity and probably only known for their few hits, Arnold Layne and See Emily Play and wound up on the Time Life Collections of the British Invasion collections. Even their first tour of the United States with the Soft Machine and The Jimi Hendrix Experience wasn’t that big of an impact on US audiences with only a 15 minute slot on the tour and an appearance on Dick Clark’s American bandstand didn’t fare them any better with Syd being almost non-existent on screen and often sitting in the tour bus stoned out of his gourd. But back home in the UK and around Europe they were far better at their game before their first American outing happened. Syd was top of form and blistering out guitar sounds that exceeded the nearest black hole. It was new and exciting and the band rode the waves of non-commercial success in the underground scene but I believe that the emergence of the pop culture scene in Britain and the stress of touring, writing, recording and living just took its toll on Syd like it did to so many other bands who never made the grade. As well musicians like Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys who suffered a nervous breakdown from the relentless life of being a star in the limelight of pop culture and rock music. It’s unforgiving and like Waters said in Sheep form 1977’s Animals Lp, Get out of the road of you want to grow old.
Syd gave us the freedom to explore the guitar like no one before him, gave us the right to pick it up and make it do what you want it to and create sounds that were never before heard on any record. Ask yourself this, if you were a kid in 1967 and bought your first copy of Piper at the Gates of Dawn and heard Interstellar Overdrive for the first time you would think they were from some other planet or universe. Even when you actually first heard it as a kid or adult whenever you played that album for the very first time, did you ever expect to hear that? No way, and you probably played it again to make sure your copy wasn’t skipping or screwing up just to double check and you let it blow your mind all over again. Many have tried to imitate him, emulate him, copy him in every way possible but one thing is for certain……
There was and will only ever be one Roger Keith “Syd” Barrett like that.