Gravy Train to Cambridge
Some changes here at Felix Atagong's Unfinished Projects. Our sister venture the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit has been vegetating for the last couple of months, due to the fact that the main subject of its existence, Iggy or better said Evelyn, has been found and is alive and kicking at the British seaside.
As the main quest of that blog was exactly that, finding out if Ig was still around, The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit is now confronted with the fact that its primary goal has been reached.
A crisis meeting was organised and it has been decided that all Syd Barrett related news, that was usually published at Unfinished Projects will now be handled by the Church.
A first post, using this policy, has now been published, so if you are looking for a review of the most recent Syd Barrett compilation called: An Introduction To… we gladly invite you over there: Gravy Train to Cambridge.
Over the next couple of months some Barrett related articles from this site will be transferred to the other, until utterly confusion will be reached and nobody will find anymore what they are looking for.
The Relic Samples
There was a time when I would put in the latest Orb CD and murmur blimey! Blimey because The Orb pleasantly surprised you or blimey because Alex 'LX' Paterson and band utterly frustrated you. They had that effect on me for years from their very first album Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld (1991) until the quite underrated Cydonia (2001) and often the wow! and shit! effect could be witnessed on the same disk, most notably on Orbus Terrarum that probably contains the freakiest ambient track ever (the heavenly Oxbow Lakes) but also some of the worst.
The Millennium Orb
After 2001 Paterson continued to make albums under the Orb banner but the wow! effect had largely disappeared and his most prolific output lay on quite a few (from good to excellent) compilation and/or remix albums: Dr. Alex Paterson's Voyage Into Paradise, Auntie Aubrey's Excursions Beyond The Call Of Duty (containing an Orb remix of Rick Wright's Runaway), Bless You (the best of the Badorb label), Orbsessions I and II (outtakes), Back To Mine, The Art Of Chill and last but not least The BBC Sessions.
For ages The Orb has been called the Pink Floyd of ambient dance but the only fusion between both bands was the use of some Pink Floyd samples on early Orb anthems (the four note Shine On You Crazy Diamond signature tune on A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld) and the presence of Pink Floyd bass player ad interim Guy Pratt on a couple of Orb albums. Contrary to a stubborn belief the so-called ambient (and illegal) Pink Floyd remix albums from the Nineties were not the work from The Orb, nor from Alex Paterson. Neither will we ever know Pink Floyd's retaliation: when the band worked on their 1994 The Divison Bell album they ended up with so many left-over material that - in the words of Nick Mason - "we considered releasing it as a second album, including a set we dubbed The Big Spliff, the kind of ambient mood music that we were bemused to find being adopted by bands like The Orb".
Exactly one year ago Alex Paterson, who has always been a bit of a bigmouth, revealed: ‘I’ve just started work on an album with David Gilmore (sic) from Pink Floyd which I think every Orb and Pink Floyd fan will want to hear' but that news was hurriedly demoted by David Gilmour.
On the 17th of August of this year, however, the David Gilmour blog had the following to reveal:
David is not working with The Orb on a new album, contrary to some reports, but you may remember that he had been in the studio jamming with Martin “Youth” Glover in recent months. (…) Alex Paterson was not involved in the sole jamming session and the only plan initially was for David to play guitar on that one track.
However, as it turns out and as you can see, the result of that jam session has now been spread across the next Orb album, Metallic Spheres, which will be released as ‘The Orb featuring David Gilmour’. So there you have it. He was working on an album with The Orb. Sort of.
If I may read a bit between the lines I feel some friction here between Sir David and this Orb thingy. But the next day, David Gilmour's official website had the next comment:
David's 2009 jam session with ambient collective The Orb has grown into an album, Metallic Spheres, to be released via Columbia/Sony Records in October. David's contribution to the charity song Chicago, in aid of Gary McKinnon, sparked the interest of producer Youth (Martin Glover), who remixed the track and invited David to his studio for a recording session.
With additional contributions from Orb co-founder Alex Paterson, the album took shape from 2009 into 2010, eventually becoming Metallic Spheres, to be released by The Orb featuring David Gilmour. (underlined by FA.)
Calling LX Paterson an Orb co-founder is technically not untrue, but it feels a little weird when you have just been presenting Martin Glover. It is comparable to describing Syd Barrett as a Pink Floyd co-founder while discussing Bob Klose. Agreed, Youth (from Killing Joke fame) was probably around when The Orb saw the light of day but it is generally acknowledged that the band was formed in 1988 by Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty. Cauty's primary project however, the Kopyright Liberation Front (with Bill Drummond) pretty soon outgrew The Orb and when - at a certain point in time - some Orb remixes were released in Germany as KLF remixes this provoked a rupture in the co-operation between the duo as Alex and Jimmy started fighting over… copyrights.
After the split between KLF and The Orb Martin Glover helped LX out with two tracks (on two separate albums): Little Fluffy Clouds and Majestic, but he did not become a member of the band. Only in 2007 Youth will join The Orb for a one album project: The Dream.
Together with the announcement on David Gilmour's website, and then we're back on the 18th of August of this year, a promotional video for the Metallic Spheres album is uploaded to YouTube. Depicting only Youth and David Gilmour several Orb fans wonder where LX Paterson, and thus The Orb, fits in this all. The first, original movie disappears after a couple of days for so-called 'copyright' reasons but is rapidly replaced with a second version, containing some hastily inserted images of LX Paterson strolling through the grasslands and recording some outdoor musique concrète. It feels, once again, as if the Floyd-Orb connection didn't go down well at the Gilmour camp and Paterson's image was only included on the promo video after some pressure had taken place. But the above is of course all pure speculation and not based upon any fact, so tells you Felix Atagong who has been closely following the band for over two decades.
Bit by bit we hear how the album came into place. It all started with David Gilmour's charity project for Gary McKinnon, an X-Files adhering half-wit who hacked into American military and NASA computers in order to find out about extra-terrestrial conspiracy theories. Because of this he faces extradition from England to the USA were apparently they take these kind of idiots very seriously, see also the 43rd president who governed the country from 2001 to 2009.
It is note quite clear if Gilmour asked Youth (David Glover) to make a remix of the Chicago charity tune or if Youth got hold of the project and proposed to help (I've come across both explanations). The two may know each other through Guy Pratt who played in Glover's band Brilliant in 1986 (LX Paterson was their roadie for a while). In 1990 Youth founded Blue Pearl with Durga McBroom who had toured with Pink Floyd for the previous three years. Amongst the session musicians on their Naked album are Guy Pratt, David Gilmour and Rick Wright.
This isn't Glover's only connection with the Floyd however. In 1995 he teamed up with Killing Joke colleague Jaz Coleman to arrange and produce a symphonic tribute album: Us and Them: Symphonic Pink Floyd, but only The Old Tree With Winding Roots Behind The Lake Of Dreams remix from Time combines a modern beat with romantic classical music.
To spice up the Chicago remix Youth invited David Gilmour in his home studio and out of it came a twenty minutes guitar jam. Glover soon found out that he could expand the session into an ambient suite and asked old chum LX Paterson for his opinion and to flavour the pieces with typical Orbian drones and samples; rather than to turn this into a sheepish Fireman-clone.
The Orb featuring David Gilmour can only be a win/win situation. Orb fans have dreamed about this collaboration for the past two decades and that will add to the sales figures for sure. And although artist royalties go to the support of Gary McKinnon there will always be a spillover effect for the artists involved, good news for The Orb whose last album Baghdad Batteries sunk faster than the Kursk in the Barents Sea.
Rest us to say that an Orb album is an Orb album when it has got the name Orb on it, whether you like it or not (and in the case of Okie Dokie, not a bit).
Metallic Spheres starts with Gilmour's pedal steel guitar over some keyboard drones that makes me think of those good old days when the KLF shattered the world with their ambient masterpiece Chill Out (LX Paterson - as a matter of fact - contributed to that album, although uncredited). But soon after that Gilmour's guitar wanders off in his familiar guitar style with axiomatic nods to The Wall and The Division Bell albums. A welcome intermezzo is Black Graham with acoustic guitar, not from Gilmour but by ragtime busker Marcia Mello. The 'metallic side' flows nicely throughout its 29 minutes and has fulfilled its promise of being 'the ambient event of the year' quite accurately.
The CD is divided into two suites: a 'metallic side' and a 'spheres side' (and each 'side' is subdivided in five - not always discernable - parts). The second suite however, is more of the same, clearly lacks inspiration and ends out of breath at the 20 minutes mark.
So no wow! effect here (but no shit! either)... Youth has done what was expected from him and produced an all-in-all agreeable but quite mainstream product leaving ardent anoraky Orb fans with their hunger, but perhaps winning a few uninitiated souls.
As far as I am concerned this is about the best Orb CD I heard for the past couple of years, but it is still far from Orblivion, U.F.Orb or Ultraworld. But as this is 2010 already you won't hear me complaining.
Previous Metallic Spheres posts
About, let me count, thirty-four to thirty-five years ago I was seriously investigating the so-called UFO phenomenon. Or whatever serious means for a sixteen years old adolescent who urgently wants to get laid but has found out that the chance to witness an encounter of the third kind is statistically more probable than to have an close encounter with the opposite sex.
I was a member of the Belgian Sobeps association, long before the Belgian UFO wave hit the skies and as the Internet was still a science-fiction thing we had to rely on their magazine Inforespace and the books, case files and real UFO pictures they sold by mail-order to their members. They also had an electronic UFO detector in their catalogue what made me wonder, already then, if they just weren't a bunch of petty crooks. I must still have a Betty and Barney Hill picture somewhere that I bought through their shop and who were then (and maybe still now) regarded as the proverbial Saul-stroke-Paul of the Holy Church of Ufology.
After a while opportunity knocked, even for me, and I didn't see the purpose anymore to devote my life to the flying saucer - abducting people for out-of-orbit enemas - enigma. But I am still mildly amused by the phenomenon, especially from a historical perspective. Not that long ago (at least not on the cosmic timescale) I partially read The Coming Race (1871) from Edward Bulwer-Lytton, a (rather tedious) adventure book that apparently inspired Nazi-Germany to start building flying saucers. An internet search lead me to through several dubious websites, some that might even be legally forbidden to consult in my country as they vehemently propagate what I will mildly describe as Aryan beliefs, and only strengthening me in my opinion that for crackpots from all over the world the internet is Ultima Thule indeed.
If I have understood it well American secret services grabbed nazi occult mysteries by the truckload although it is not clear if they could ever restore the phone lines to the Aldebaran star system that became an après-guerre nudist resort for the mystical and mythical Vril Society pin-up girls (see image above and try not to drool). Thanks to these secret nazi inventions the Americans not only landed on the moon (although paradoxically enough conspiracy theory buffs deny this ever happened) but they also tested anti-gravity engines in earth-designed flying saucers and solved the so-called zero-point energy problem.
How do I know all this? Because Gary McKinnon told us so.
Beam me up Scotty
Gary McKinnon is a Glasgow hacker who thought for a while he was a Lone Gunman on a mission against the American government. Wanting to prove the things mentioned above he hacked into 97 United States military and NASA computers over a 13-month period between February 2001 and March 2002, using the name 'Solo'.
Hacking is not really the term one should use here, more trial and error. Consulting a 1985 copy of Hugo Cornwall's The Hacker's Handbook McKinnon copied a Perl script that looked for Windows computers without a password and to his amazement there were still lots of unprotected computers residing in the NASA and military networks 15 years after the book appeared. One can duly wonder what these CIA, FBI and military secret service IT security guys had been doing in the meantime. Playing Pong, probably.
"A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.", wrote Douglas Adams in the twelfth chapter of Mostly Harmless (1992). That quote may not be entirely his. Nobel price winner and inventor of the H-bomb Edward Teller noted down a couple of years before: "There's no system foolproof enough to defeat a sufficiently great fool." Anyway, in 2002 Gary McKinnon was the fool who undermined the American's pigheaded assumption of safety. Military security thought they had devised this big unsinkable Titanic and all it took was a entrepreneurial nerd with a screwdriver and a sack of sugar to pour inside the gas tank.
Rather than admitting they had done an enormous security cock-up the American powers-that-be turned Gary McKinnon into a terrorist super-hacker whose sole intention it was to metamorphose American secrets to putty and hand them over to Al-Queda, who - as we all know - have been praying a long time for this UFO technology. In consequence Gary could face a 60-years prison sentence if condemned before an American judge. Unfortunately the UK voted the 2003 extradition act making it possible to extradite UK citizens for offences committed against US law, even though the alleged offence may have been committed in the UK by a person living and working in the UK. A review of the extradition act was voted down by British parliament although there is a growing consensus amongst British members of parliament that Gary McKinnon will not stand a fair trial in the US.
Several charities have been raised to help Gary McKinnon in his struggle against the extradition and in August 2009 David Gilmour, Chrissie Hynde, Bob Geldof and Gary McKinnon recorded the Chicago (Change The World) single. The only awareness it ever raised was that extraditing Bob Geldof to Guantanamo Bay would be a benefit for mankind to say the least. Perhaps the US authorities could consider that for a while.
As a Pink Floyd collector for over thirty years now, with over a dozen legit versions of Dark Side Of The Moon, I was obviously offended. Probably I am just being jealous here but I still can't grasp the concept that a lawbreaking idiot with a UFO fixation got a chance to make a record with one of the ten best guitarists of this world while moi who has in his possession the ridiculously shaped Love On The Air (1984) picture disk and Gilmour's lamentable Smile (2006) single will never get the change to meet his idol from less than a 100 meters distance. Phew, nice I have finally got that off my chest.
I’ve just started work on an album with David Gilmour from Pink Floyd which I think every Orb and Pink Floyd fan will want to hear.
The news was almost immediately downsized by David Gilmour who acknowledged he had jammed a bit in a studio with Martin 'Youth' Glover but that nothing had been confirmed 'with regards to any structure for the recordings or firm details re: any release plans'.
But this week David Gilmour's blog had the following news:
David's 2009 jam session with ambient collective The Orb has grown into an album, Metallic Spheres, to be released via Columbia/Sony Records in October. David's contribution to the charity song Chicago, in aid of Gary McKinnon, sparked the interest of producer Youth (Martin Glover), who remixed the track and invited David to his studio for a recording session. With additional contributions from Orb co-founder Alex Paterson, the album took shape from 2009 into 2010, eventually becoming Metallic Spheres, to be released by The Orb featuring David Gilmour.
The album will be divided into two 25 minutes parts with five movements each, a 'Metallic Side' and a 'Spheres Side'. The Orb will consist of founder Alex Paterson (sound manipulation, keyboards and turntables) with part-time member Youth adding bass, keyboards and handling the production. It is not certain if Thomas Fehlmann (full member of The Orb since 1995, absent on The Dream (2007), but back on Bagdhad Batteries (2009)) and long time Orb and Pink Floyd collaborator Guy Pratt will be present or not. For the moment it looks like a three men line-up with David Gilmour contributing guitar, lap steel guitar and some of his Chicago vocals.
Simon Ghahary created the artwork (see image above) and all artist royalties will go to helping Gary McKinnon fight his extradition.
When Gary McKinnon logged in on the military computers he allegedly found proof of extra-terrestrial involvement in the NASA space program, but unfortunately his telephone line did not allow him to download the pictures and documents. The only tangible result of his actions will be a Floydian cooperation that Orb (and some Pink Floyd) fans have been dreaming about for the last two decades.
Long live Gary McKinnon, long live the greys! U.F.FlOrb is finally on its way! And don't worry, I'm sure those pretty Aldebarans will rescue Gary if he ever gets imprisoned in the land of the free.
Pink Dreams (first announcement of the Gilmour Paterson cooperation)
The Orb section: Orb Weavers
The Pink Floyd section: The Pink Thing
Julian Palacios' Syd Barrett biography
Julian Palacios, contributor and friend of the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit let us know that the revised version of his Syd Barrett biography (first edition, 1998 already) will be out any day now. So, for the first time in the history of Felix Atagong's Unfinished Projects, let us celebrate a commercial break.
Update: The final title is 'Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe', and it is out 29 September in Europe and America (Source: Julian Palacios).
Here is a loud announcement. Silence in the studio!
Syd Barrett, who died in 2006, was a teenage art-school student when he founded Pink Floyd. Famous before his twentieth birthday, Barrett led the charge of psychedelia onstage at London s famed UFO Club, and his acid-inspired lyrics became a hallmark of London s 1967 Summer of Love. Improvisatory and whimsical, Zen-like and hard-living, Barrett pushed the boundaries of music into new realms of artistic expression while fighting what would prove to be a losing battle against his inner demons.
Julian Palacios' probing and comprehensive biography, ten years in the writing, features a wealth of interviews with Syd s family, friends, and members of the band, providing an unvarnished look at Barrett s life and work. Author Julian Palacios traces Syd s evolution from precocious youth to psychedelic rock star; from leading light to drug burnout; from lost exile to celebrated icon, examining both his wide-ranging inspirations and his enduring influence on generations of musicians. A never-to-be-forgotten casualty of the excesses, innovations and idealism of the 1960s, Syd Barrett is one of the most heavily mythologized men in rock, and this book offers a rare portrayal of a unique spirit in flight and freefall.
Buy Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe on Amazon.
The official (still not updated) page:
Julian Palacios. Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe. Plexus Books.
320 pages / 60 photos / 230 x 155mm
ISBN10 85965 431 1
ISBN13 978 0 85965 431 9
(Felix Atagong's Unfinished Projects is not affiliated with or endorsed by this company.)
The Big Barrett Conspiracy Theory and other FAQs
Amazing Amazon ⇑
Amazon is a company that continues to amaze me but as the so called quality book- and cd-shops in Louvain refuse to order the books and records I would like to read and listen to I am obliged to use this mogul of mediocre taste.
Plus they have the uncanny habit of actually delivering books to the reader weeks before these arrive in the shops. So when a new Syd Barrett biography was announced somewhere in the beginning of this year I pre-ordered the volume at Amazon France. Any language that has less than 120 million native speakers is considered as nonexistent for Amazon and merits no website of its own but as a Belgian I am lucky because I can choose from three different Amazon webshops in the direct vicinity of my country: UK, France or Germany. Strangely enough the rates are different on these three web shops, so I usually go for the cheapest.
I pre-ordered Rob Chapman's A Very Irregular Head and was - very friendly and professionally - reminded that I didn't need to pay any shipping cost if I ordered a second book but only if I allowed them to send both works in one package.
Amazon was also so friendly and professional to suggest me some other Pink Floyd related books and, more by wimp than by conviction, I clicked on the Pink Floyd FAQ by Stuart Shea.
(A day after I had ordered Amazon let me know that they were going to ship the books separately anyway, without shipping costs, so this had just been the oldest trick in the trade.)
Pink Floyd FAQ - Stuart Shea ⇑
In my very early days of Internet I wanted to know everything of my favourite band: Pink Floyd. Webpages were still something very exotic, and a webpage that changed its appearance once a month even more so, but luckily there was Bear's Echoes mailing list that I still read every day for over a decade and half now.
Subscribing to Echoes would automatically give you a copy of the latest Echoes Pink Floyd FAQ, maintained by that monument of Floyd oddities Gerhard den Hollander. Divided in 10 sections it learned me more about the brothers Floyd than anything else, I kept it close to me just like that other, lavishly illustrated, monument of knowledge and wisdom, Pink Floyd, The Visual Documentary (1980) by (Barry) Miles.
The Echoes FAQ is not updated anymore since 1999, although a feeble attempt to resuscitate it was once made a couple of years ago, but there are zillions of websites and blogs dealing with those matters nowadays and in case of doubt, there will always be Wikipedia. Mailing Group FAQs are now as hip as a telex machine was when the fax came out. So it goes.
Thus when Amazon nicely proposed to send me Pink Floyd FAQ from Stuart Shea I followed their advice, mainly because my memories of the original Pink Floyd FAQ were still short and sweet. The moment I clicked I felt remorse because this book could easily be a rehash of the original FAQ that I already had, updated with news that I already knew and the four reviews I found ranged from "this is a great book" to "the book is one of the most useless publications about that band in years". Nice.
Let me start with the obvious. The book is not half as bad as I feared it would be but neither is it as good as a book could be that pretends to contain a FAQ, a whole FAQ and nothing but a FAQ. The subtitle Everything Left to Know… and More! (exclamation point included) is a bit overzealous if you ask me.
The book does not give a chronological overview of Pink Floyd but ranges its subjects by the subject, as shows the table of contents that you can consult here. Unfortunately the book has got no index, what duly pisses me off, so if you want to know something about, let's say: You Gotta Be Crazy, there is no other way to find it than to start reading the bloody thing all over again. So called biographies and reference books (as a FAQ, by definition should be) without an index (or an alphabetical or chronological filing system) are immediately put aside by me and won't be touched again. Ever. Probably the author won't care, the book was sold anyway.
Got A Moment?
Some of the chapters look like they have been inspired by these non informational page filling articles in pop magazines that keep on appearing whether you like it or not.
What are ten great Syd Barrett moments?
What are ten great David Gilmour moments?
What are ten great Roger Waters moments?
What are ten great Rick Wright moments?
and last but not least the quite ridiculous…
What are ten great Nick Mason moments?
Probably you see it coming, but there is something basically irrational in the previous list. You can most likely find ten memorable Syd Barrett songs in the short period he was with the band (although Stuart Shea can't and cheats by adding Barrett solo stuff), obviously you can find ten memorable Rick Wright collaborations in Pink Floyd, although the song Wearing The Inside Out, that is, in retrospect, his musical testament has been unexplainably overlooked. And so is, Syd almighty, The Great Gig In The Sky. That song, I'm sure, is treated in another chapter, but as the book has got no index, I haven't got a clue where to find that information.
To note down ten notable Nick Mason moments you have to scrape the barrel a bit. Don't get me wrong, I think that Nick Mason probably was the best drummer Pink Floyd ever had and he was a crucial part in creating the classic Pink Floyd sound (on recent albums he insisted to record his drum licks analog instead of digital to name just one useless, but nevertheless interesting, point that is overlooked in the FAQ), but he didn't get a lot of official credits for it.
But let's be honest, only ten great David Gilmour or Roger Waters moments? Roger Waters thinks he has ten great Roger Waters moments between getting out of bed and his morning pee! All fun aside, making a 'ten great moments' list is considered more appropriate for internet fora (with all discussions and no-no-s involved) than for a book.
Bob Dylan Shoes
Although a FAQ can't answer all possible questions, it is - by definition - a list of the most frequent questions, it helps the reader if he finds as much information as possible. If, at chapter 12: what acts influenced Pink Floyd?, Bob Dylan is mentioned it would, perhaps, be interesting to know that Syd Barrett once recorded a tune called Bob Dylan Blues or that Roger Waters covered Knocking On Heaven's Door, but it doesn't. According to Stuart Shea one of the ten most influential bands or artists for Pink Floyd was the legendary disco outfit Chic because Another Brick In The Wall (Pt. 2) carries a hundred-beats-per-minutes beat. I would have preferred to see a reference to AMM or The Soft Machine instead.
And when there is talk of a FAQ, I would also like to have some accurate information as well. Page 132 has a picture from the Floyd with the caption 'The Floyd on an oddly small stage during the early 1970s. By this time, they had graduated to playing large halls'. The fact why the Floyd stands on an oddly small stage is because the picture comes from the movie Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972). Their rendition of Careful With That Axe, Eugene however was not recorded in Pompeii but in a studio in France and in order to get them all four on screen they had to be standing close to each other. Simple as that. No need to create an extra Floydian fable when there is no need to do that.
Despite the fact that you can answer a lot of Pink Floyd questions (the original FAQ had 10 sections, each with dozens of questions and answers) several chapters do overlap each other, and this happens more than once. How did the US discover Pink Floyd goes one about their early (American) tours, so does the chapter What were Pink Floyd concerts Like in…, so does The 1972 and 1973 Tours, so does A Pink Floyd live top ten…
What I do like is that some articles have been written by guests that ring distant church bells with Pink Floyd fans: Mark Campbell, Steven Leventhal, Ron Geesin, John Leckie, Toni Tennile, Ginger Gilmour… overall the book is fun to read (and written in an agreeable way) but the bottom line is: this is not a Pink Floyd FAQ and certainly not THE Pink Floyd FAQ. Easily read, but also easily forgotten.
People who don't know nothing about the Floyd are, in my opinion, better off with The Rough Guide To Pink Floyd (Tobby Manning) that combines the band's history, has a discography (with reviews for every album) and a thematic approach like 'Floyd's finest 50' and 'Floyd on Film'. This is an excellent book for starters (and as a Pink Floyd fan for over 35 years I enjoyed it as well).
If you would like an in-depth Pink Floyd biography I can recommend Mark Blake's Pigs Might Fly or, if you have a lot of money, the memoirs of Mr. Nick Mason himself (Inside Out). And for anoraks who want to look up the nitty-gritty there is always The Pink Floyd Encyclopaedia by Vernon Fitch (alphabetically) and Echoes by Glenn Povey (chronologically).
I am not entirely sure what kind of public Stuart Shea wanted to reach with his book but what I am sure of is that, throughout the book, the author likes to ventilate his own opinion rather than to stick to the facts. Here is what he has to say about The Cult of Syd Barrett (p.313):
Some Syd Barrett fans are as sick as the man himself was at his worst. Despite the voluminous evidence of his excessive drug use, physical assaults on girlfriends and business associates, disastrous attempts at recording and gigging, and largely incoherent interviews from his post-Floyd period in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there are those who wish to romanticize his illness as a wilful subversion of pop stardom.
Now guess what our next book review is about…
Syd Barrett: A very irregular head - Rob Chapman ⇑
There are now more Syd Barrett biographies around (in the English language alone) than Syd Barrett records and several Pink Floyd biographies consecrate the same amount of pages for the first three years of the Floyd than for the next 30. So obviously there must be something mysterious going on with this Syd character.
The last in line to open Pandora's box is Rob Chapman. He was actually one of the few people (around 30 to 50) who saw Syd's mythical band Stars at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge (24 February 1972) and is still relatively sane enough to recall it. Young chap Robert Chapman even wrote a review for Terrapin magazine, that would disappear a few years later for 'lack of Syd' but also because no three Syd Barrett fans can come together without having a tremendous fight. Try running an internet joint for that lot nowadays and you'll see what I mean.
Writing a biography is a difficult job and I once remarked in a (quite pompous) review that biographers are situated on a scale, ranging from those who meticulously verify, double verify and triple verify tiny facts to those that will not hesitate to add a good, albeit probably untrue, anecdote just because it goes down so well.
Rob Chapman is, and often quite rightly so, annoyed with the many legends around Barrett and wants to set the record straight. I kind of like this way of working. But he doesn't indulge us either in an ongoing shopping list of facts and figures. The art of writing biographies is not in adding details, that is the easy bit, but in weeding out the superfluous so that a readable book (rather than a shopping list) remains.
But sometimes I have the feeling that he weeded a bit too much. The trouvaille of the name Pink Floyd (p. 53) is literally dealt with in a single line. Of course ardent Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett fans alike already know the story about Philips BBL-7512 and its liner notes by heart, but the occasional reader might as well benefit from an extra wee bit of information. And quite frankly it is about time that David (Dave) Moore gets the credits for the mail he sent to Bryan Sinclair on the 14th of March 2005 entitled: “RE: [pre-war-blues] Pink Anderson / Floyd Council.”
Chapman, the fearless vampire killer
You might say, that piece of information is too anoraky and Rob Chapman was right not to include it, but why then, when he can lash out at previous Syd Barrett biographers, doesn't he apply his own rules anymore? Every new biography should have its new findings, otherwise there would be no necessity to write it, and I do understand that you can point out a flagrant mistake that has been made in a previous biography, but Chapman acts repeatedly as a vindictive (and verbally abusive) Von Helsing, wooden stake in his hand, ready to stick it through the heart of a vampire on the loose. Only, in my book, a fellow biographer should not be treated as a vampire but rather as a colleague, perhaps an erring colleague, but still a colleague... Writing that some biographies should have a government health warning on their cover is not nice and is better left to amateur blog authors like yours truly and journalists of The Sun.
We have established by now that Rob Chapman does not like false and superfluous information, but on top of that he also has some theories of his own. David Gilmour recalls how he was invited at the See Emily Play recording session (officially the 21st of May 1967, but, according to David Parker, a first session could have taken place on the 18th) and how he found that 'the golden boy had lost the light in his eyes'. Somewhere around that date Syd turned 'crazy' so we have been lead to believe for the past 40 years…
Chapman is of the opinion that Barrett didn't turn mad, but rather that he was alternatively wired and that, what other people have described as mad behaviour, was really Syd playing cosmic jokes on the rest of the world or setting up dadaist and misinterpreted avant-garde performances.
Just like the proverbial fish in a fisherman's story gets bigger and bigger so have Syd legends accumulated weight over the years. Rob Chapman doesn't like these apocryphal stories and wants to debunk these once and for all. He does a good job at that, but - once again - weeds to much. It is not because you can correct a couple of false rumours that - by definition - all memories from all witnesses have to be categorised untrue. And that is what Chapman implies. Even more, in order to prove his theory, he deliberately skips several events that have happened but that he can't immediately minimise or contradict.
It is good to counterbalance the Syd Barrett articles and biographies that have thriven upon sensationalism (Le premier Pink Floyd from Emmanuel Le Bret comes to mind, luckily that 2008 biography was written in French and completely ignored by the Anglo-Saxon world) but that is not a reason to indulge into a fairytale world of Barrett the mystic, but misinterpreted, genius. That is unethical and close to historical revisionism and it turns the middle part of the biography (covering the Piper and Madcap years) into a somewhat misplaced hagiography.
You will probably not believe me when I tell I didn't do it on purpose, but when Chapman quotes Nick Mason's autobiography Inside Out on page 198, saying that Nick writes that 'Syd went mad' during the American tour of 1967, I grabbed my copy (actually, I carefully took and opened it, as it is quite heavy) and read pages 87 till 97 over again. Three times. I can't find it. I will not conclude that Nick may never have written (or said during an interview) that 'Syd went mad' but it isn't there where Chapman claims it is.
Nick however does write that on two different occasions on the American tour Syd detuned his guitar, one time even 'until the strings fell off'. This apparently made Roger Waters so angry that he 'gashed his hand in a furious attack on his bass guitar', smashing the (lend) instrument to pieces at the end of the show.
Rob Chapman doesn't see where the problem is and remarks joyfully that Syd had been deliberately detuning his guitar in the past (during the Floyd's early free-form jams) and that it was tolerated and even encouraged then. He seems not to realise that there might have been a time and place to detune a guitar and a time and place NOT to detune a guitar. When I visit my doctor, who is looking gorgeous by the way, and unbutton my trousers in front of her she will not be offended, but if I catch her at the local supermarket, choosing a deepfreeze pizza (the living proof that deepfreeze pizzas are healthy, by the way) and dangle my ding-dong in front of her, I will be in hell of a trouble. Not that I have done that, those rumours are incredibly exaggerated and I am again allowed to enter the supermarket anyway.
The Big Barrett Conspiracy
Chapman more or less suggests that, over the years, there has been a Big Barrett Conspiracy going on, claiming that Syd went mad while he was just being artistically misunderstood. It is obvious that Waters, Mason and Wright, and to a lesser extent Gilmour, were behind the conspiracy. They quit their studies and promising architectural career to follow the narrow path of psychedelic pop music and when money was finally starting to come in a whimsical Barrett wanted to turn the clock back (probably through a washing machine) and concentrate on experiment again (proto-Floyd members Bob Klose and Chris Dennis had left the band in the past just because their profession stood in the way). Chapman doesn't even try to hide his disgust for post-Syd Floyd, but more about that later.
What is less understandable is that Peter Jenner and Andrew King are part of the conspiracy as well, because when Syd and Pink Floyd went separate ways, they choose to manage Syd instead of following the goose with the golden eggs. Jenner assisted Barrett during his first batch of sessions for The Madcap Laughs (1968) but commented later that these were 'chaos'. The sessions had been going on from May till July and Jenner reported that they weren't getting anywhere.
Chapman disagrees, he states that during the 6 studio sessions in 1968 Barrett recorded half a dozen of rough tracks dispelling the myth of a 'muse run dry'. I count 9 sessions, by the way, making Barrett's tracks per sessions ratio one third less performing as Chapman wants us to believe, but that is not the issue here. The main problem is not that Barrett was out of songs. Six of them still doesn't make an album, unless you would add the 18 minutes of the avant-garde (read: tedious) Rhamadan. The main problem with Barrett was that the songs never outgrew the rehearsal or demo stadium. Simply said: Barrett wasted a lot of studio time. And these were still the days that a record company expected an artist to cut an entire album in three or four sessions, the only exception perhaps being The Beatles.
I see in Rob Chapman a man with a passion and he is at his best when he
analyses Syd's songs. It takes him 7 pages to scrutinise Clowns &
Jugglers (re-titled later as Octopus),
making it clear to the outside world that Syd wasn't just a young
innocent bloke whose lyrics came to him in a psychedelic, LSD-induced,
dream. Chapman traces back references (and quotes) from:
Huff the Talbot and our Cat Tib (Mother Goose rhyme),
Thomas Nashe's Summer's Last Will and Testament (an Elizabethan masque play),
Shakespeare's King Henry VI Pt. 1,
Kenneth Grahame's The Wind In The Willows
and poems from
Anonymous (Mr Nobody),
John Clare (Fairy Things),
Sir Henry Newbolt (Rilloby-Rill) and
William Howitt (The Wind in a Frolic).
Unfortunately I have in my small collection of Barrett related works a 12-page essay, written in 2005 by Paul Belbin, published at the Madcapslaughing and Vegetable Friends mailing groups, titled: Untangling the Octopus. It describes in detail, almost verse per verse, where Syd Barrett sampled the lines from Octopus from. Although Chapman nearly literally copies the information for 7 pages long, he neglects to mention the source of his findings.
In 2009 a revised and updated version of Untangling The Octopus was published by Julian Palacios, a Syd Barrett biographer who doesn't even appear in Chapman's bibliography, but as Chapman spifflicates the biographies he does mention that probably is a compliment.
Chapman can get downright cynical when he wants to take the myth out of Barrett and this is where the biography as a biography goes astray. Although a biographer may be unconditionally in love with his subject he (she) must at the same time keep a certain distance, be unprejudiced and should approach the subject with at least a glimpse of unbiased neutrality.
Debunking the brylcreem and mandrax anecdote is not bad, but it is not directly original either. Chapman isn't the first one to have done this as shows this forum post by Julian Palacios and also Mark Blake has put some question marks concerning the event.
Apart from some anecdotes that happened at family parties or random encounters on the street with old friends and (past) lovers, we don't know a lot about Syd Barrett's life in Cambridge. So if a witness does turns up it would perhaps be a chance to check him (or her) out. But in a Q&A that was published on the official Syd Barrett website Chapman tells why he didn't contact the Barrett neighbour who has not always been positive about the rockstar next door:
My thoughts, clearly and unambiguously are that I didn’t want to give this individual a scintilla of publicity. (…) I did check him out, quite extensively as it happens, and my enquiries lead, among other places, to a website where he gives his enlightened views on capital punishment and who should receive it – most of us, by the look of it.
It is not because someone has a dubious opinion about capital punishment that his memories about Barrett are - by definition - untrue or unreliable. However Chapman is not that reluctant when a witness turns up who has got some positive things to say about Barrett.
On pages 365 and following, Chapman recites the charming anecdote of a young child who ran into Barrett's garden to ask him a pertinent question about a make-believe horse. Not only did Barrett patiently listen to her dilemma, he also took the time to explain her that in fairy tales everything is possible, even flying horses.
It is in anecdotes such as this that Chapman shows his unconditional love for Barrett, and I confess that it made my grumpy heart mellow as well. Here is the man, who invariably smashed the door to any fan approaching his house, earnestly discussing fairy tales figures with a neighbourhood's kid.
Wish You Where... where exactly?
One of the greatest legends about Syd Barrett is how he showed up at the Wish You Were Here recording settings on the fifth of June 1975. A Very Irregular Head merely repeats the story as it has been told in other biographies, articles and documentaries, including Rick Wright's testimony that Barrett kept brushing his teeth with a brush that was hidden in a plastic bag. Roger Waters however claims that Barrett only took sweets out of the bag. As usual different witnesses tell different stories.
The toothbrush myth is one Chapman doesn't know how to demystify but recently Mark Blake may have found a plausible explanation.
The 'toothbrush' and 'bag of candies' may have come out of the story I heard from somebody else that was at Abbey Road that day. They claimed Syd Barrett had a bag filled with packets of Amplex. For those that don't know or remember, Amplex was a breath-freshener sweet that was popular in the 70s. This eyewitness claims that Syd Barrett was nervously stuffing Amplex sweets into his mouth... another story to add to the pile... but you can see how the story of 'breath-freshener sweets' could turn into a 'toothbrush' and/or 'a bag of candies'. (Taken from May 5, 2010 Roger Waters TV interview at Late Night.)
The Madcap Laughs
Another mystery Chapman can't solve is the exact time frame of the shooting of The Madcap Laughs album cover. He still situates this between August and November 1969 although there is a slightly obscure website on this world that maintains that the pictures date from the beginning of that year.
Chapman does a good, what do I say, a great job by describing Syd's later years. He still can't say a lot about Syd's lost weekend between the mid-Seventies and the early Eighties, although there must be people around who knew or even visited him. Perhaps that insane Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit should try to locate some of them.
In 1982, in the midst of Wall-mania, Barrett left his Syd-character behind by walking the distance between London and Cambridge. For the remainder of his life he would prefer to be known as Rog or Roger.
Chapman managed to talk to Rosemary Breen, Syd's sister, and it is through her that we know a great deal of Barrett's later life. It is a sad story, but one with many laughs, as Rosemary remembers mainly her brother's latter-day sense of humour. That and the story of Syd's life as an adolescent, thanks to the many letters that Libby Gausden has kept for all these years, are the strongholds of this, his, biography.
Just when you thought this review was finally going to end it is time to get personal.
I started reading this biography and was genuinely intrigued by the author's style, his wit, his knowledge, but also his unhealthy habit of demeaning anyone who doesn't share his ideas. But I could live with it, despite the odd tsk-tsk that would leave my mouth once in a while.
The passage that made me loose my marbles can be found halfway the book on page 213. It describes how Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd legally split up. Peter Jenner and Andrew King stayed with Barrett, the rest of the band had to choose a new agency, a new manager and a new recording contract. The rest of the band's history, so writes Rob Chapman, is accountancy.
The Early 70 Tours with the Embryo suite: accountancy?
Meddle (with Echoes): accountancy?
Dark Side Of The Moon: accountancy?
Wish You Where Here: accountancy?
The Wall: accountancy?
On page 317 Chapman infuriates me a little bit more by writing that Waters, Mason, Wright and Gilmour sound like a firm of chartered surveyors. I find this remark as insulting as deliberately mistaking Rob Chapman for Mark David Chapman.
His opinion that, on Wish You Were here, Pink Floyd uses sixth-form imagery to describe their former bandsman (and friend) didn't hurt me anymore. By then Rob Chapman had already become something I usually pick out of my nose.
In Chapman's opinion an entire generation of musicians (in the Seventies) began to make music 'more appropriate to the rocking chair than to the rocket ship'. The man has a way with words, that I have to admit.
I had heard of these Pink Floyd haters before, people who really think that the band died when Barrett left the gang. The problem is that most of these people are aware of Syd Barrett thanks to the fame and glory of the dinosaur called Pink Floyd.
Without Syd Barrett no Pink Floyd, I agree (although it was Roger Waters who invited Barrett to join the band, not the other way round). But without Pink Floyd most of us, myself included, would never have heard of Syd Barrett either.
Thanks to the success of the classic Pink Floyd records EMI kept on keeping the Barrett records in their catalogue. The 1974 vinyl compilation Syd Barrett was a direct result of the interest for early Floyd, after A Nice Pair (1973) had proven successful. Barrett earned 'two and a half million quid' in one year thanks to the Echoes compilation alone.
The backside is that due to Dark Side, Wish You Were Here and The Wall fans from all over the globe started to look for Barrett, hoping he would explain them the meaning of life. Probably Syd would have preferred to be left alone even if it meant not to have all those millions on the bank. But if there is one thing we can't do, it is to change past history, although Chapman tries, more than once, to do so.
Until finally Julian Palacios comes up with a revised edition of Lost in the Woods, Rob Chapman deserves my sincere felicitations for writing one of the most readable Barrett biographies ever. But for constantly exposing himself as an infallible Barrett-prophet, pooh-poohing all those who don't think like him and deliberately ignoring facts that don't fit in his gospel, he deserves nothing more than a good kick on the nose.
Sources: (other than internet links mentioned above)
Blake, Mark: Pigs Might Fly, Aurum Press, London, 2007, p. 95, p. 231.
Mason, Nick: Inside Out: A personal history of Pink Floyd, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2004, p. 94-95.
Parker, David: Random Precision, Cherry Red Books, London, 2001, p. 136, p. 138.
A quite nice (promotional) interview with Rob Chapman can be found at Youtube.
Other Pink Floyd related books that were trashed by me can be found here:
Pigs Might Fly by Mark Blake: Si les cochons pourraient voler…
Pink Floyd by Jean-Marie Leduc: Si les cochons pourraient voler…
Syd Barrett, le premier Pink Floyd by Emmanuel Le Bret: Barrett: first in space!
Syd Barrett, le rock et autres trucs by Jean-Michel Espitallier: Cheap Tricks
The Rough Guide To Pink Floyd by Toby Manning: The Rough Guide To Pink Floyd
Some exciting news arrived last weekend through a Pink Floyd portal. Alex Paterson, head spinner of the band The Orb, said in an interview that he and David Gilmour had entered a studio ‘to work on an album’.
The news was vague and titillating enough to make all kind of assumptions. Did this mean that LX & DG were attempting a Fireman trick à la Youth and Mc Cartney? Perhaps Alex had finally lured Dave in his spider web with a little help from Guy Pratt who can be found as bass player and co-composer on several Orb, Pink Floyd and David Gilmour records from the past? (Pratt and Paterson also teamed up in a band called The Transit Kings.)
The Orb's record output is prolific and even then a lot of tunes and mixes stay hidden in the closet until LX decides to put them on a compilation album somewhere. They just celebrated a third release in the Orbsessions series from record company Malicious Damage and according to some online reviews I read it is either brilliant or utterly irritating, which makes it typically Orb, I guess. I haven't bought Baghdad Batteries yet, my days that I ran to the shop to get me their latest release are over as The Orb has left my attention span somewhat thanks to the record Okie Dokie that wasn't okie dokie at all but a mediocre Thomas Fehlmann album with the brand name glued over it to sell a few extra copies more.
It took me over a year to listen to The Dream that followed Okie Dokie and although it has Youth written all over it the result is pretty average. Not pretty average as in pretty average but pretty average as in pretty but nevertheless a bit average. Probably I’ll get to Baghdad Batteries one of these days but I wouldn’t hold my breath, if I were you…
Although one fan found that the announcement came about two decades and a half too late the GilmOrb collaboration was making both Floyd and Orb communities very excited but excitement is something David Gilmour does not favour anymore in his line of work. This week the following comment could be found on his official website…
David & Orb Rumours True – Up To A Point
Recent comments by ambient exponents The Orb's Alex Paterson that they have been collaborating with David Gilmour are true – up to a point. David has done some recording with The Orb and producer Youth, inspired initially by the plight of Gary McKinnon. However, nothing is finalised, and nothing has been confirmed with regards to any structure for the recordings or firm details re: any release plans.
In other words: forget it…
If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Andy Hughes (1965 - 2009): gone to Orblivion
Barrett: first in space!
It is a good thing that for the last few weeks I have been busy with several walkthroughs for the adventurous nookie monster ArianeB and that my review for the most recent French Syd Barrett biography, Syd Barrett, le premier Pink Floyd by Emmanuel Le Bret vegetated in that small Bermuda triangle called My Documents.
Right after I had read the book my opinion about French authors was as follows; I give you an unpublished exclusive excerpt from my first draft:
As long as French biographers keep on insisting that les Pink Floyd is part of their national treasury just because David Gilmour had a fling with BB once they will need to be hunted down by a mob of critics armed with boiling tar and blood stained feathers.
According to the credits on the back cover Emmanuel Le Bret is not only a Sixties collector and connoisseur but also a well known lecturer, although in French this is described as a conférencier what is not exactly the same. Anyway and this is a cheap blow under the belt, I apologize beforehand, a search on the world wide web doesn’t reveal any of his performing qualities to me but perhaps he only reads on private parties.
Syd Barrett, le premier Pink Floyd, is not Emmanuel Le Bret's first book so tells me Google . He debuted with an esoteric study about Uranus, a subject he knows more about than you dare to imagine. I could add in a joke or two here, but I won't. Uranus is not something one makes jokes about, unless you're from Klingon territory.
The biographical planet orbits between two opposing points. At the sinister side all attention goes to meticulously verified, double verified and triple verified facts. This does not always lead to readable books, I'm afraid. Spiralling at the other side are those who will not hesitate to add a good, albeit probably untrue, anecdote because it goes down so well. They probably think they're writing telenovelas instead.
Emmanuel Le Bret certainly admires the second biographical viewpoint. Several times he warns us, the innocent reader, not to give too many attention to the many legends around Syd Barrett and continues then by giving us a page and a half of the wildest rumours circling around about the madcap. Some of these were even unknown to me but this could be due to the French and their legendary lust for the baroque and the bizarre. It took them until the mid nineties to finally understand that Pink Floyd wasn't a bird so one juicy Syd rumour more or less can't hurt Emmanuel must have thought. Le Bret is as passionate about the rock star as he is passionate about Uranus and this shows in the many sentences that end with an exclamation mark! Like this! And that! And then just another one when you least expect it! French love this kind of stuff as you can see in their many movie comedies filled with screaming people who keep on smashing doors.
If you want to know what the general tone of the book is, I invite you to read the following post that I found at The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit. The author of that blog is a complete nutter, ready for the strap jacket, but I can follow the Reverend in what he has to say about Syd Barrett, le premier Pink Floyd: Tattoo You.
I am now also pretty sure that the French lack the proper DNA string that give other nationalities the magic force to copy and paste English words. For fuck's sake how moronic do you need to be to keep on insisting throughout the entire book that Syd's one time girlfriend is named Libby Gausdeen or that David Gilmour's early band is called Jocker's Wild?
There must be a zillion Internet joints, from Albania to Zambia, where they do manage to spell these names right, except in France. I made a list of the dozens of spelling mistakes in the book, and boys and the one single Nordic girl reading this blog, you are lucky that it has disappeared mysteriously from my harddisk, and I am too fed up to look for them again. Spoken about a narrow escape!
One could say that Emmanuel Le Bret writes English like officer Crabtree (from Allo Allo fame) speaks French (I know that this blog is not spotless either but we Belgians are semi-French anyway).
One time I really had to laugh out loud and that was when le brat re-baptises the hippy couple Jock and Sue, you know those hipsters that according to popular believe and certainly to our brave Uranus spotter spiked the drinking water and the cat food with LSD, as Mad Max and Mad Sue.
In real life Mad Jock was Alistair Findlay and Mad Sue was Susan Kingsford, and they both deny that they have ever mixed LSD in Barrett’s tea. Alistair Findlay even stated in Tim Willis’ Madcap biography that ‘spiking was a heinous crime’. Although these testimonies date from 2002 (and were repeated in Mark Blake’s biography from 2007) Emmanuel Le Bret still describes this as a proven fact and categorizes the couple as:
…un couple infernal (le mot n’est pas trop fort) [qui] biberonne le genie, rêvant sans doute de l’accompagner dans son voyage, à défaut de partager son talent…
…a devilish couple (that depiction is not too harsh) boozing the genius, without doubt dreaming to accompany him in his voyage and to share his talent… (translated by FA, original found on p. 138)
Pure bollocks, if you ask me, and further proof that the French are at least 7 years behind compared to the rest of the world.
What is there more to say? Le premier Pink Floyd has no pictures, although some French photo material does exist, and no index, what is a pity, especially for a biography. Basically the book reads like a train but flies like a brick...
To end this misery, a positive note. Here is a proposal to all French would-be authors who want to write the next Floydian biography, if one more is still needed: send me a copy before it goes to the publisher and I will check it for copy and paste errors. It will cost you nothing except a free copy once it does gets out, promised!
Le Bret, Emmanuel : Syd Barrett. Le premier Pink Floyd., Editions du Moment, Paris, 2008
Notes (other than the above internet links)
Willis, Tim, Madcap, Short Books, London, 2002, p. 75, repeated in:
Blake, Mark: Pigs Might Fly, Aurum Press, London, 2007, p.83.
Illustration (top left) by synofsound - thanks syn!
Seedfloyd has some articles and an audiolink concerning this book at the
Radio Canada interview.
Other Pink Floyd related books that were trashed by me can be found here:
Si les cochons pourraient voler…
The Rough Guide To Pink Floyd
The best Pink Floyd book I've read in years is of course Mark Blake's Pigs Might Fly. Don't tell this to his friends and relatives but I know from a reliable source that he prays at the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit from time to time.
The funniest book about the Floyd are the memoirs, not of Nick gentleman drummer boy Mason, although they are good for a chuckle or two, crusty apple pie indeed, but those of Guy Pratt. About a third of My Bass and Other Animals colours pink as Guy joined the diet Floyd, although diet was not exactly the right word to describe the intake of Mr. Gilmour at that time, on their A Momentary Lapse of Reason world tour. Pratt has a very weird kind of humour and one of his pranks was an attempt to crash the Pink Floyd tour plane by frantically running up and down the corridor, in mid-flight! Normal bands have a tour bus; Pink Floyd has a tour plane and the drummer was flying it. If you don’t want to read the book, you can watch an interview where Guy tells about his Floydian encounters.
The best, best as in anoraky, Syd Barrett biography is Julian Palacios' Lost in the Woods, he is a silly bugger if you ask me as he invited the Church on the SBRS forum. Around this time a second (more condensed, I’m afraid) version of his book should finally appear. So far for this commercial break-up.
Speaking about Barretthings, the amount of Syd related books is slowly overhauling the man’s solo output and recently two new ones (in French) have made it onto my desk. Written by Jean-Michel Espitallier, Syd Barrett, le rock et autres trucs, looked the most promising. It doesn't claim to be a biography but a personal rendition, part essay, of a French Barrett connoisseur.
In my opinion France and rock go together like Germany and humour, Italy and efficiency, Belgium and world soccer finales but this one, I hoped, could be an exception as Mr. Jean-Michel Espitallier is not only is a devoted Barrett fan, but also the translator of the French edition of Tim Willis' Madcap biography, a renowned minor poet (dixit Francis Xavier Enderby) and drummer of the French rock band Prexley? (although that last is not exactly a reference, see above).
The title is a nice pun, un jeu de mots, as it can be interpreted as rock and other stuff but also as rock and other tricks. That is why I preferred to start with this tome instead of the other French Barrett book lying on my desk, called The First Pink Floyd, already deserving the price for lamest title of the year.
Stuff & tricks
It is 30 November 2004 and Jean-Michel Espitallier is nervously strolling around St. Margaret’s Square hoping to get a glimpse of the man who was once known as Syd but now prefers to be called Roger. When Syd-Roger drives by (in his sister's car) and the vehicle has to stop at the crossroads - I deliberately use this term here - where Jean-Michel is sitting on a bench, both men meet in the eye and both pretend, for a couple of minutes, not to see the other one. This anecdote sets the tone of the book, marvellously described by the drummer who can't hide his poetic roots. Strong stuff. Nice trick.
I once remarked at the, now defunct, Astral Piper forum that I couldn’t understand the romantic feelings some female Barrett fans had for Syd. I mean, this guy was a slightly disturbed diabetic elderly and if I should have asked them to have a fling with my grandfather they would’ve been insulted… Espitallier is aware of this dichotomy and compares Syd Barrett to Peter Pan. Syd was a Cambridge youngster who refused to grow up and died in the early Seventies when he, like Icarus, reached for the sky too soon. After all these years, fans were still hoping to find a glimpse of Syd, although only Roger had survived.
From old aged Roger it goes to old aged rock. Espitallier makes the point that we have forgotten about the My Lai massacre but only remember its soundtrack. Good Morning Vietnam has turned into an infomercialised cd-compilation (I have a Tour Of Duty TV-Shop-six-pack myself). Television documentaries use The Mamas and The Papas to comment napalm warfare. We look at a vintage take of an American soldier who has just placed a bullet through a women’s head but all we discuss is Suzy Q by the Creedence Clearwater Revival. Although the above is not really new, innovative or original, it is good to see it in print from time to time.
Jean-Michel Espitallier is not always well informed. I can forgive him that he mistakes the Dutch designer duo Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger for a couple of Germans but when it comes to Syd some facts should better have been checked before putting it into print. That Mick Rock did not shoot the cover of The Madcap Laughs is perhaps stuff for anoraks (Mick Rock himself has always hinted he was behind it anyway, a fact that Storm Thorgerson denies) but the story that, shortly before his death, Syd Barrett found a guitar from his brother-in-law and started strumming it can be found in the Mike Watkinson & Pete Anderson Crazy Diamond biography, that appeared 15 years before Syd Barrett passed away. And that particular anecdote probably dated already from a few years before it went into print. There are so many myths about Syd Barrett that one doesn’t need to create new ones.
It is perhaps understandable, the man is a poet and not a biographer. His book is about the Barrett phenomenon and not about the historical Barrett.
Lost in translation
Jean-Michel Espitallier writes : Il y a la musique qui nous rentre dans le cerveau musical et il y a la musique qui passe directement dans la poitrine…
Espitallier not only has been hit in the stomach by Syd’s music but received some hits on the head as well, resulting in some serious brain damage. He heard his first Syd song in 1973 and remembers it as Babe Lemonade; actually it is Baby Lemonade. And Jean-Michel’s lethargic song title memories keep on going on. Barrett’s James Joyce adaptation is baptized Golden Air (not Hair) and Syd’s final Pink Floyd statement Jugband Blues is changed to Jugband Blue. A couple of decades ago I started reading a promising French novel but quit after a dozen pages because the author kept on insisting on a Beatles’ song called Eleanor Rugby. Things like that make me grind my teeth. It makes me even wonder if Jean-Miche Espitallier is a real Barrett fan or a mere fraud trying to cash in, like a few others, on the Barrett legacy. For Ig’s sake, it just takes a 10 seconds look on a record sleeve to see if a title has been noted down without mistakes.
The book ends with a list of creative geniuses who stopped being creative at a certain point in their lives. One of these persons is the 19th century poet Arthur Rimbaud, who stopped writing at 21 and proclaimed: Merde à la poésie! I would like to end this review with: Merde au poète! But let’s have a look at the pros and cons of his Syd-hiking first (bad pun, I know)…
Pros: instead of the umpteenth biography this book is a personal journey from the author through music, art and literature, using the Barrett legend as a guide. Interesting viewpoints about music, fandom, culture and politics are intertwined with nice wordplays such as ‘Bob Dylan had a Plan Baez’.
Cons: actually Jean-Michel Espitallier gets more Barrett song titles wrong than he gets them right. At a certain moment I even thought he did it on purpose, the man is a poet after all.
I used to have this philosophy teacher who subtracted points from our exam results if we made spelling mistakes. Although we were angry with the man in those days I can now see he had a point (our points, actually). So out of 10, Syd Barrett, le rock et autres trucs gets an 8 for its content, but I feel obliged to subtract at least 5 points for its many mistakes.
...it is silent in here. Did a poet pass or did someone fart?
Espitallier, Jean-Michel: Syd Barrett, le rock et autres trucs, Editions Philippe Rey, Paris, 2009, 192 pages, 17 €.
Note: This book grew out of an essai radiophonique Jean-Michel Espitallier gave on radiostation France Culture on 4 November 2007. Called Syd Barrett Quand Même it can be found on the (interesting) French Floyd fansite Seedfloyd. Webbrowser version: http://www.seedfloyd.fr/article/syd-barrett-quand-meme. Direct downloads in MP3 or WMA format can be found on the same page.
If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Si les cochons pourraient voler…
Si les cochons pourraient voler…
Have you ever seen President Sarkozy on the telly giving a speech? He always thinks he is doing a bloody Hamlet. His performances, because that is what he thinks they are, remind me more of Louis de Funès (or for the non-Francophiles among us: Benny Hill) than Napoleon Bonaparte, another one of those short short-tempered little men with a short fuse who think they can rule the world.
This post contains a fairly well hidden review of the Pink Floyd biography Pigs Might Fly by Mark Blake. To cut the intro, press here.
Flamingoes might fly
Eloquence is a French way of speech but that was not what I was thinking of when I read the following, decades ago:
Je ne sais qui doit le plus à l’autre! La France ou le Pink Floyd?
Le Pink Floyd peut-être.
(translation) I don’t know who owes the other more! France or Pink Floyd?
Pink Floyd perhaps.
The above is the start of a French rock biography (1977 edition), called Pink Floyd, written by Rock & Folk journalist Jean-Marie Leduc and issued by Albin Michel. Rock & Folk was an excellent French music magazine, that started in 1966, hence its name, and that wanted to inform the French public from the new trends in modern pop music. Jean-Marie Leduc hopped to London and wrote several articles about the London Underground music scene and le pouvoir des fleurs. He discovered this incredible band that would soon be the French progressive student movement’s darling, le Pink Floyd.
Although the most common language at London at that time was the language of love it would’ve helped Jean-Marie Leduc a little bit if he had actually understood some English. Which he didn’t. Probably the acid didn’t help either. That didn’t stop him to write a Pink Floyd biography that was published in October 1973, and that could still be found, a decade later, in every bookstore and self-respecting newspaper and magazine shop in France. Selling figures nearly must have achieved the same height as a regular Pink Floyd album; Leduc’s Pink Floyd was an instant classic and a steady seller.
It was also full of blunders. At page 19 Leduc wrongly mistakes the Pink Flamingo club for the band and throughout the book he will name the lads le Flamant Rose (it would take Rock & Folk until July 1994 to officially denounce the fact that Pink Floyd is a Phoenicopterus Roseus). Another botch is on page 49 where Leduc claims that ‘le 2 novembre (1967) (…) un nouveau simple du groupe “Apologises / Jugband blues” est commercialisé en Angleterre’. This one simple sentence has made French speaking Pink Floyd fans look for this non-existent track of the band for over a decade. At the end of the book the mistake is repeated at the discography, Jean-Marie Leduc keeps on maintaining that the Floyd’s third single was Jugband blues / Apologies (please note the different orthography and running order).
Jean-Marie Leduc’s biography was probably the very first biography on the band, as Charles Beterams wrote in the Echoes, a Dutch fan club magazine, and despite the mistakes it also contains a stunning revelation about the bands first recording, forgotten by most of the biographies that would come next. Leduc interviewed Nick Mason in 1973 and asked if Astronomy Domine was the Floyd’s first composition. Mason answered (translated from French back into English): “Not true. Our first composition was titled Lucy Lee in blue tight or something similar. We recorded it on acetate but it was never commercialised.” Once again Jean-Marie Leduc’s average knowledge of the English language made him note the song as Lucy Lee, and not as Lucy Leave, although Nick Mason’s pronunciation of the song title may not have been too comprehensible as well. It would take ages for another journalist to re-discover the truth about the band’s first recording.
One bloke who does remember Lucy Leave is Mark Blake. In 2007 he wrote a Pink Floyd biography entitled Pigs Might Fly but because I am such a stingy money spender I wanted to wait until the paperback came sailplaning to me. The last couple of years it is raining Pink Floyd related books and accessories as if all kind of shady people want to have their free ride on the gravy train. It is of course a double feeling, here we are Pink Floyd fans wanting to know everything (and we mean everything) on the band but on the other hand we feel as if we are inside an orange squeezer (or to use Gerald Scarfe’s weird world of Floydian symbolism: a meat grinder). The last thing I’ve read on Pink Floyd merchandising is that Converse will bring out a range of shoes based on the cover art of three of their albums. Part of me is yelling yuck!, but another part is jumping up and down, not a pretty sight if you would catch me on my webcam.
About a decade ago, perhaps a bit longer, small record companies
suddenly discovered the tribute album. I jumped on it as a hungry louce
on a passing German shepherd dog. But when my heap of tribute records,
all made to honestly commemorate the band and not to make a quick buck,
started to become bigger than my genuine Pink Floyd collection I simply
gave up. I think that Babies
Go Pink Floyd was the last tribute album I bought, partially because
the concept attracted me. If you also feel tempted to listen to it.
Not only the record is tripe and you wouldn’t want to confront any baby with it without giving him or her a lifelong phobia for Pink Floyd music but also it doesn’t actually motivates grown-ups either to start procreating, normally a quite amusing and satisfactory pastime.
Recently I found this add from Dwell records that goes something like this:
The biggest names in hard rock and avant-garde metal have come together to pay tribute to the madcap genius of Syd Barrett. Featuring some of heavy-metals most influential players, this is a hard-rocking trip through the music world’s most idiosyncratic minds.
Some of the bands present on the record are the following: Dreg, Giant Squid, Jarboe, Kylesa and my favourite Stinking Lizaveta. Except in some distant Norwegian fjordic regions where these bands are probably world famous amongst the local satanic black metal scene these bands don’t really merit the eptitheton ‘biggest name in hard rock’ to begin with. I would have written the add for this album a little bit less triumphant:
Several virtually unknown hard rock and avant-garde metal bands that are constantly struggling to have a record contract have come together to rip off the musical heritage of Syd Barrett. Featuring some of heavy-metals obscurest players, this is a fruitless hard-rocking trip trying to get a fan-base that exceeds the dozen.
Now that is what I call a more realistic description of the project. You can listen to the songs at MySpace and I have to confess they don’t all sound like rubbish to me.
But all the above was merely a long, way too long, way to say that I quit buying Pink Floyd tribute records a while ago as most were, are and will be… full of crap. I had the same compulsive buying disorder when it came to Pink Floyd related music magazines and books. Despite the fact that I can’t play guitar I have dozens of guitar magazines that promise you the tablature of the third guitar solo in Comfortably Numb and a brand new exclusive Pink Floyd interview that was in fact already published in another guitar magazine from three years before that I already had in my scrapbook.
I define myself more than the average Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett fan, but less than an anorak, fanorak suits me fine.. Anoraks have the tendency to start flame wars because someone has told that Syd Barrett was wearing green socks on the 7th of August 1967 while every aficionado knows he was wearing brown socks that day. (To avoid death threats: I’ve just made this whole sock-thing up, but the 7th of August 1967 was of course an important day in Floydian history, about the importance of green socks, just check David Gilmour’s inside sleeve of his About Face album and shiver.)
So I quit buying Pink Floyd books as well, more or less… the last I bought was The Rough Guide To Pink Floyd that can now be found at local lo-price bookshops for the third of the price I bought it for. That is a very nice Pink Floyd biography by the way, and if you are in search for one, well don’t hesitate and get it. It’s cheap and cheerful.
But this post was originally intended as a review of Pigs Might Fly, a Pink Floyd biography by Mark Blake and all I did until now is take the piss out of:
a) the very first Pink Floyd biography by Jean-Marie Leduc;
b) the various tribute cds that do exist;
c) the growing pile of Pink Floyd biographies…
So I had given up buying Pink Floyd biographies but when I wrote on the Late Night forum that nobody had ever tried to locate Syd’s girlfriend we know as Iggy Mark Blake promptly replied that he certainly had. I more or less apologised and answered that I would read his biography.
So I did.
Who am I to post a review about a book that Record Collector choose as book of the year, that Q magazine described as a ‘detailed, orderly, first-rate read’, while Mojo praised its ‘heroic research’. It’s excellent, well written, full of anecdotes and it seems to please the casual and the more ardent fan of the band, although it still forgets to mention the colour of socks Syd Barrett was wearing on the 7th of August 1967. Anoraks will always find something to grumble about. I did. I found a mistake from microscopical importance about the Publius affair but only people daft enough to look for the Enigma mystery will probably realise that.
A while ago I started a side-project called the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit. In it I am looking for the whereabouts of the girl who appeared on the cover of the Syd Barrett album The Madcap Laughs. It is rather amazing how many bits and pieces can be found after all these years, but apparently Iggy was quite a character in those flowery powery days. The time was ripe as other people suddenly started to reveal their Iggy memories, amongst them Anthony Stern who made a four-minute movie about her in the Sixties that was premiered this year.
I wrote some things about Iggy that I thought were revolutionary but apparently Mark Blake had unravelled these before in his biography, only he didn’t need as many space to write these things down than I did and if this review goes on like this it might be longer than the book itself.
On page 140 Mark Blake writes about how Iggy performed The Bend (Church article: Bend It!),on the next page he reveals the existence of the Anthony Stern movie (before it became an item on YouTube) and how she used to go dancing at The Orchid in Purley (Church article: Shaken not stirred). And all this a year before the Church was started and something of an Iggy hype was created. Hats off to Mark Blake.
Mark Blake is not only an accurate but also a beautiful writer (I’m not speaking about his physical appearance here), reading the bit about the Live 8 reunion gave me tears in my eyes although I normally only weep when I read sweet little things about dying puppies. That more or less sums it up really; Pigs Might Fly moved me and I thank Mark Blake a lot for that.
(In America the book has been published under the alternative title Comfortably Numb, this was the working title of the book but as the cover has a snapshot from Battersea Power Station, including flying pig balloon, this was changed for the European market.)
A final word about Jean-Marie Leduc
One of the funnier parts of the very first Pink Floyd biography are the translated song texts. The Floyd’s first album is called Le joueur de flûte aux grilles de l’aube, but my favourite still is a song that is called Bonbons et pain aux raisins. And what to think about the following, I let you guess what song this has been taken from:
De tortueux signes voltigent.
Lueur. Lueur. Lueur.
Fla. Pom. Pom.
Escaliers d’épouvante et lois de mort…
And a final word for collectors
If you are looking for a copy of the Pink Floyd book by Jean-Marie Leduc be sure to buy the Albin Michel / Rock & Folk versions (several editions from 1973 till 1983). In 1987 another book by Jean-Marie Leduc, also called Pink Floyd, and in the same mini format, was presented to the public by Le Club Des Stars / Seghers. Although based upon the previous versions this book has been completely rewritten and most of the errors have been edited out.
If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Kopfgeburten
This week, sad week, brought me scattered thoughts, feelings and sensations. Let me empty my cerebral scrapbook first before I continue with the subject of the day. Activate cynical mood warning…
Three weeks ago a Belgian soldier was killed in Lebanon attempting to dismantle an Israeli bomb. He was posthumously decorated and the big shots praised him for his bravery. Strange enough nobody from the Belgian government had the guts to convene the Israeli ambassador and to officially demand for an explanation what the fuck these bombs were doing there and how on Earth they were going to indemnify the Blue Helmets, the family of the deceased soldier and last but not least the hundreds of innocent victims who have been mutilated and killed and will still be mutilated and killed for years after the initial conflict has taken place.
Whenever a believer of the true Zion faith discovers a swastika on a wall a mind-boggling tidal wave of complaints hits the media. One of the silliest moments of an anti-Semite counter reaction took place decades ago when the Belgian-Israeli Weekly accused Albert Uderzo to be racist because he had caricatured a Jew in Asterix and the Black Gold.
Don’t get me wrong. The Jewish people have suffered a lot, especially in the last century, and I’m not here to minimise or contradict the Holocaust or anti-Semitism. But I don’t like the fact that these historical barbarisms are still used today as a scapegoat to defend military actions against civilians. Just make the following headbirth: what do you think the international reaction would be if a Blue Helmet was be killed in Afghanistan by a Taliban cluster bomb? Catch my drift?
I needed to get this off my chest.
Some silly people bombard my mailboxes with funny PowerPoint presentations, funny jokes, funny movies and the odd portion of pornographic material. Depending on the mood I’m in I just delete the crap (with exception of the pornographic material, I confess) and nod very friendly when I meet the senders, mostly at the local pub, when they feel it necessary to loudly analyse what they send me a couple of days before.
This one nearly made me piss my pants: Statue of St George falls and gets beheaded in a church.
But it also made place for another headbirth. Why do I find this Christian blasphemous act rather funny and the bombing of the Afghan Buddhas of Bamyan not?
A second movie that cracked me up involves a hidden camera prank that turns bad. A moron with a bucketful of paint decorates a parked car and is promptly attacked by its owner. When the nose bleeding actor explains that the scene was set up for the general amusement of the tv glotzing community this isn’t appreciated by the victim, quite the contrary. The man doesn't feel invited to laugh in front of the camera and kicks the prankster a bit more. I sincerely hope the authorities gave the mental bloke a medal instead of a fine. But at the same time a little silly bird keeps on fluttering in my head.
Time for a headbirth. What if the beating was a scenario driven thing as well? These days it is so hard to trust television.
My Live In Gdansk cd/dvd/goodies box arrived yesterday and although I pissed on the concept a couple of weeks ago the situation has somewhat changed since then. Rick Wright, the quietest of the brothers Floyd, is no longer among us and thus this 5 double disc is more or less his musical testament. Friday evening I watched Echoes on disc 3 and cried a bit, alone in front of the computer screen. Thank God my webcam is broken or it would’ve been a hidden camera item all over the world. (Now on YouTube: grown man cries in front of a Pink Floyd song.) The close ups of Ricks Wright’s fingers floating forever and ever over the keyboard keys only strengthened me in my belief that the man was a fucking genius. The last track on the DVD is the obligatory Comfy Numb. Rick sings the parts that are normally done by Roger Waters. Justice is done.
This reminds me of the unchecked fact that somebody, EMI probably, waved a bucketful of dollars in front of the Floyd politely informing if they were interested in doing a sequel to Dark Side of The Moon. Apparently they all said no.
Headbirth: although Roger Waters did sing about a surrogate band in the Eighties he apparently doesn’t realise that the Floyd songs he does on his live shows sound more like a tribute band than anything else.
What is it with these sequels and remakes anyway? Those who know me know I am a bit a fan of the original The Wicker Man, a cult horror movie from the early Seventies. The protagonist is a 30 years virgin policeman, not even a wanker, who gets lured to an island where Christopher Lee, dressed like Neil the hippie from The Young Ones, is a pagan high priest. Although the women on the island have the tendency to dance naked in the daylight, dance naked in the moonlight and even dance naked when there is no distinctive source of light present, singing Scottish folksongs, the copper refuses to get involved. When the town’s main hottie, played by Britt Ekland, juggles her bare buttocks in front of him, he still refuses to spill his seed on the ground and thus he is exactly the right spicy man to be sacrificed to their sun god.
Recently I came across the American remake with Nicolas Cage. Frankly, I don’t like the guy and in this movie Cage proves once again that he is not a method actor but merely uses screaming as a method. Somebody should explain him that modern movie sets have hi-tech microphones that can record sweet whispers as well.
HB: Why do people make remakes and sequels if they already know for sure that the result will be worse than the original? Is this some kind of a postmodernism thing?
Part 5 was a mere intermezzo, because the real message is here: Eoin Colfer, his name reveals that he probably has been living on The Wicker Man island for too long, has been commissioned by Penguin books and the Adams family to write the sixth sequel of the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy trilogy. The book will be titled And Another Thing and will resuscitate Arthur Dent, Zaphod Beeblebrox and Ford Prefect. I’m not sure about Marvin, the paranoid android, as he did the decent thing of dying in So Long And Thanks For All The Fish, but we can’t be too sure with all these parallel universes floating around, can we?
Kopfgeburten. Should I be happy or should I be sad with this news? I’m not sure and I don’t really care.
If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Ringmaster