Gravy Train To Cambridge
A couple of months ago a new Syd Barrett compilation was announced and EMI (Harvest) was proud to proclaim that Syd Barrett had joined the league of Jimi Hendrix or Marc Bolan, meaning that the man has got more compilation albums written on his name than genuine albums.
Let's make a quick sum, shall we? Barrett, who was the founder of the mythical band Pink Floyd, was overtly present on their first album The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. On the second album A Saucerful Of Secrets he had already taken a sabbatical, and although present on 3 tracks (out of 7) he only takes the vocal lead (and writing credits) on the testamentary coda Jugband Blues.
There are at least 7 Pink Floyd compilations that have Barrett's (sometimes unreleased) work on it and the last one Echoes (2001) turned Syd Barrett into an overnight millionaire. The fortieth anniversary edition of Piper (2007) has (in the deluxe edition) an extra CD containing some alternative versions and the Pink Floyd's early singles as well.
Barrett's solo output in the early seventies is limited to two albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, and that is all there is, give or take 5 or 6 compilations. The count depends whether one catalogues the Opel (1988) record as a compilation of alternative takes and unreleased material or as a real 'third' solo album.
The most recent compilation 'An Introduction To Syd Barrett' boasts that this is the first time in history that Barrett's Pink Floyd and solo tracks have been compiled on one disk. This is true, but… so what?
On the other hand a quick glance at the list of unreleased material shows that there are about a dozen Pink Floyd studio tracks from their Syd Barrett era, but alas this compilation still doesn't contain any of them.
So what could possibly be the added value of this album, one might ask?
Not its cover, that doesn't show Syd Barrett at all but that has been created, as usual, by Storm Thorgerson. Thorgerson, and more particularly his Hipgnosis studio, made some landmark record sleeves in the Seventies and Eighties, but he seems not able nowadays to sell his creations to influential bands, unless you call the freaky weirdoes of The Mars Volta influential of course. Thorgerson's contemporaneous work flirts a bit too much with cheap kitsch and luckily there is still Pink Floyd Ltd that keeps him away from the unemployment office. I'm quite fond of Thorgerson's work and I do like the cover although most Syd Barrett fans I frequent compare it with visual diarrhoea so I leave it to you to make up your own mind.
As a Barrett anorak I am not interested in the regular songs on this compilation - as a matter of fact I didn't even listen to those - but I jumped immediately on top of the so-called enhanced tunes. The compilation boasts that 4 tracks have been remixed and one track has been 'upgraded' with additional bass from David Gilmour who also supervised the mixes. (The following review has been largely influenced by Blade's comments on the NPF forum and MOB's comments on the A Fleeting Glimpse forum.)
Dominoes: the new mix has been so subtly done that there is hardly any difference. The vocals are more emphasized and the backwards guitar sounds a trifle clearer. Some corrections may have been done, because on the original versions several (drum) parts were out of 'synch'. These errors have miraculously disappeared on the 2010 mix.
Octopus: this track is 7 seconds longer, due to the fact that a 'false' start has been added at the beginning. The "isn't it good to be lost in the woods" vocals have been clarified and brought to the fore and it could even be that its first part has been taken from an alternative take (also a few drumbeats have been added that weren't there on the 1970 version). Overall the muddled sound of vocals and guitars have been cleaned.
She Took a Long Cool Look: this track has always been called She Took A Long Cold Look in the past, but the title has now been changed. This is one of so called 'live' bits from Barrett's first album. These included false starts, bad guitar playing, unstable singing and Barrett generally loosing it… David Gilmour said he included these demos in 1970 to reveal Barrett in all his fragility, but later regretted his choice…
The 2010 version snips some of the unnecessary background sounds (Barrett turning some papers) and the guitar breakdown in the middle of the song is replaced by some strumming from another take. And - as with all of these remixes - Barrett's voice sounds more crisp than before and with less disturbing echo.
Matilda Mother (Pink Floyd): the 40 years anniversary edition of Piper already had this alternative take but in a much shorter version. This one takes 50 seconds longer and has benefited from a real mix. Probably the 2010 version is a sound-collage of several outtakes.
Here I Go: this little dance hall tune has always been my favourite Barrett track. For over 40 years I have wondered how this song really ended and now the ditty lasts 5 seconds longer. Gilmour has done a fine job by adding extra bass and after my second listen I already felt that this was the way it should always have been. (There is also a tiny rhythm correction - compared with the original version - at 01:46.)
Personally I find it a bad judgment from Gilmour & Co to keep the fade out but the closing chord I had been waiting for can still be heard. And I know it's starting to sound repetitive, but Barrett's vocals have been upgraded as well and sound crispier than ever. You don't need to buy the album to listen to this track as a promo video has been put on the web as well: Here I Go (official video).
The few remixes on this compilation are subtle, have been done with great care and love for the original material so that my initial anoraky opinion of 'don't touch the originals' has now been switched over to 'why didn't they simply enhance all tracks'?
But the real revelation of the album can't be found on plastic. The CD contains a key to download the mythical Rhamadan track from the official Syd Barrett website and this is what the next chapter is all about.
I won't get into the old story, legend or myth, of Rhamadan as it is all old news by now. The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit wrote a bit about it in Anoraks and Pontiacs and Rob Chapman in A Very Irregular Head describes it as a 'conga-heavy jam session lasting eighteen minutes and of little merit', although it is highly doubtful that the biographer could get hold of the piece.
The only person, apart from some EMI alumni, who could listen to the track in its full glory was David Parker, author of Random Precision. In order to get EMI's permission he had to sign a 'scarily draconian declaration', so scarily draconian that he even had to delete a forum post wherein he had simply admitted it had been 'scarily draconian'. The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit sometimes threatens with the Holy Igquisition but apparently that secret service is peanuts compared to the EMI 'unlimited supply, there is no reason why' storm troops.
David was the only author who could write, in detail, how the piece sounded and as it is so damn accurate I see no point of trying to give my own description.
Peter Bown announces Rhamadan take 1 over some bass and organ noises. He pronounces the title Rarmardarn like a 1950's BBC newsreader. The piece itself begins with the conga drums (probably Steve Took from Tyrannosaurus Rex).
The bass comes in and immediately takes the lead role (whoever the bass player is they are extremely proficient) with some very fast Stanley Clarke style runs and slides in places. The vibes then begin to come in, along with some disjointed organ chording (mostly on one chord). This then continues for a couple of minutes with the bass leading over the conga beat, vibes and organ chords. A piano then enters playing a loose boogie rhythm, and someone starts playing some very staccato mellotron notes as well. Things settle into a groove, and a second drummer joins in, mainly on cymbals. After about 5 minutes Syd's guitar starts to appear, playing muted chords to fill out the sound. The bass falls back slightly, and the piano takes the lead, Syd's guitar feeding back momentarily as he begins to play solo notes. (…)
The piece eventually starts to fizzle out with some mad staccato mellotron, the ever present organ chord and a lot of bass improvisation with a sprinkling of piano notes. Syd plays some open chord plucking and everything gets rather free form with Syd letting his guitar build-up feedback and then fades it out. (…)
Syd starts another riff but it begins to fade until the bass player picks up on it, and everyone begins following along. Another crescendo of feedback builds up as Syd picks out what sounds like the Close Encounters three note theme (!). (…)
Things build up yet again, with everyone in random improvisation, then everyone stops except the organ chord. The bassist begins a strident riff, giving the vibes a chance to solo (with staccato mellotron accompaniment). The bass rockets off into a hyper-drive riff, then everything finally falls to bits, ending with our old friend the organ chord drone, the mad mellotronist and a few bass notes.
We don't really know who are the players on Rhamadan, but Steve Peregrin Took is a name that appears in almost all biographies. Biographer Julian Palacios, however, seems to disagree now:
Talking to my friend GH today, he wrote: 'I don't think that Steve Took is the conga player on these sessions. I knew Steve and discussed Syd with him on a few occasions, he said that Syd had jammed with him round at his flat and that he had recorded it, but there was never any mention of going into a recording studio with Syd. My understanding was that Steve didn't get pally with Syd until after his split from Marc (Bolan). Back in 68 Tyrannosaurus Rex where gigging like crazy and still very much a going concern.' (Taken from Late Night Discussion Forum.)
Rhamadan isn't half as bad as everyone, who had never heard it, claimed it to be. Especially when one remembers that the same biographers and journalists tend to praise AMM, The Soft Machine or The Third Ear band for their revolutionary musical approach. Rhamadan is of course a highly freakadelic experiment, almost free-jazz in its approach, a genre Syd Barrett was not unfamiliar with.
If you have bought the CD, Rhamadan can be downloaded (legally) from the official Syd Barrett website, but unfortunately only in the MP3 format with a rather cheapish 152kbs bitrate. But its bitrate is not the only amateurish characteristic. While millions of people all over the world have discovered MP3 tags, EMI is of the opinion that this doesn't apply to them. The tags reveal that it is untitled (Track 1), comes from an unknown album, is from an unknown artist and from an unknown year. Not even the Publisher and Copyright data are filled in. My 8-years old godchild can rip MP3 tunes better than EMI does, she at least knows how to attach a (sleeve) picture to the file. (Although I worked this out by myself, Jen D at madcapslaughing beat me by a day by publishing the same findings before me. As I haven't got an irregular head I'll give this bloke the credits.)
While EMI has been nagging us for years that copying is killing music a closer look on the MP3 tags reveals us that the file has been converted with FreeRIP. Here is the biggest music company in the world and it uses a freeware version of a (quite good, I agree) MP3 converter to spread around a track belonging to the founder of their second most commercially successful band, next to The Beatles.
I know of the bad financial situation of the music company but I wasn't aware that EMI was that close to bankrupt that they can't even afford a 29,75 dollar software program.
None really. The best thing is to decide for yourself if the 5 remixes and the 1 download are sufficient to buy the album. As a Barrett anorak myself, I simply had no choice.
Sources: (other than internet links mentioned above)
Chapman, Rob: A Very Irregular Head, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 215.
Parker, David: Random Precision, Cherry Red Books, London, 2001, p. 132-133.
The Introduction album and Rhamadan track are further discussed here:
Introduction at Late Night
Introduction at NPF
Rhamadan at Late Night
Rhamadan at NPF
A review of the 40 years anniversary edition of the Piper at the Gates of Dawn can be found at Fasten Your Anoraks
Sister blog Unfinished Projects has recently published a review of the latest Orb album featuring David Gilmour: Metallic Spheres.
Dr Death and other assorted figures...
When George Melly visited The Cromwellian club in 1965 he found quite a few wrestlers at the bar, what was no coincidence as the club was owned by four of them.
Paul Lincoln, arrived in the mid-fifties from Sydney and single-handedly build a British wrestling emporium and that without the aid of television. As Dr Death he was the most famous masked heavyweight wrestler of the early sixties and numerous (masked but untalented) copycats wrestled under the same name trying to cash in on his success.
Here was a man who could use blindside skulduggery and torment his opponents with punishing nerve holds to bring the fans to a frenzy. (Source: Wrestling Heritage.)
In 1962 Paul Lincoln, as wrestling promoter, arranged a legendary fight 'to the finish' between the villainous Dr Death (in other words: himself) and another masked 'identity unknown' wrestler nicknamed The White Angel. Three thousand fans witnessed how the Doctor beat the Angel and the losing party was obliged to shamefully reveal his identity.
At the end of the contest, a no rounds fight to the finish which had ended by a knock-out, the defeated wrestler shook hands with the victor and dramatically removed his mask. The White Angel was Judo Al Hayes, a successful heavyweight who had recently left the Joint Promotions camp to work for Paul Lincoln and other independent promoters. (Source: Wrestling Heritage, password protected members area.)
But Paul Lincoln not only staged wrestling matches, his name is also linked to the British rock scene. In April of 1956 he and fellow-wrestler Ray Hunter (who apparently had a fling with Sophia Loren) took over premises at 59 Old Compton Street, London and baptised it the 2I's coffee bar.
Wally Whyton of The Vipers:
We went inside for a coffee and asked Paul Lincoln (…) if we could do a bit of busking. (…) We started playing, and suddenly the place had come to life. it seemed to work well and Paul asked us to make it a regular stopover. Within a short time the place was jumping; in a few months they were queuing around the block.
The club is known in rock history as the place where Tommy Steele, Marty Wilde, Cliff Richard and many others were discovered. Even Ritchie Blackmore's (from Deep Purple and Rainbow fame) musical training started at 2I's.
Paul Lincoln's entrepreneurial skills were not limited to the 2'I's coffee bar alone, he also opened an Italian restaurant in Soho and together with Ray Hunter, Bob Anthony (for his looks baptised the wrestling Beatle) and Al 'The White Angel' Hayes he purchased The Cromwellian. A fifth partner - who was sold out by the wrestlers a couple of years later - was Tony Mitchell, rumoured to have underworld connections, and the owner of The Blue Shark club at Bridgend.
The Cromwellian was not only a bar and restaurant but also a casino. Initially the tables had been at ground-floor but in the autumn of 1965 the craps table was badly damaged by a Molotov cocktail thrown through the window, probably by racketeers or by slightly covetous competitors. The owners quickly decided to move the casino to a higher floor and to barricade the building with iron security grades.
Randy Steed, who was a croupier at The Crom, has written down some of his memories in The Private Gambling Clubs of 1960s London. It is an enjoyable piece to read, filled with funny anecdotes, but in this article we will off course only cite Crom related parts.
The Cromwellian had only five tables, but possessed a faded, hip elegance which attracted the show business and rock star elite of those times; on any given night you’d be dealing across the tables to the likes’ of Brian Epstein; the Beatles first manager, and numerous other luminaries of the exploding sixties, music scene.
Stars such as Tom Jones, Lulu, and Eric Burden of the Animals, and Jonathan King were regulars and could be found hanging out downstairs most nights, in the restaurant-disco where the Long John Baldry Band, featuring Reginald Dwight aka Elton John on keyboards held sway.
NME, in its Cromwellian pic-visit, wrote that 'there was a night that Omar Sharif lost £400 on the tables and the other occasion when Lee Marvin after being down £400 left the club by £2000'. Randy Steed, as a young croupier, also happened to be there:
One memorable night the American film actor, Lee Marvin wandered, more like staggered into the club (…) and started playing Pontoon. (…) Mr. Marvin kept writing checks on his Beverly Hills Bank till he finally wised-up and unsteadily navigated his way to the poker game. (…)
This particular game attracted many of London’s better behaved villains who were quite happy to have this inebriated American actor sit down at their table. As fate would have it Marvin nailed a full house on this first and only hand to out-draw the rest of the table. He gave it a brief moment’s thought and gathered his winning chips into his arms (yes his arms, these were French style 'jettons’ which were rather slippery and unwieldy) and calmly but wobbly made his way to the cashier’s cage. There was dead silence in the room as the faces’ at the poker table stared in amazed disbelief at their easy-money walking away…not a word was said, just stunned silence.
Carmen from Fame
Another memorable night at The Crom was held on the 8th of January 1967 when Carmen Jimenez turned 21. Now who was Carmen Jimenez and why did most of The Beatles and Brian Epstein (dressed as a clown) turned up at her party?
Not a lot can be said about Carmen Jimenez. The only interview she gave (to James Dawn) appeared in NME 1054 of 8 April 1967. Titled: Glamour? I’m the Target for All the Lies and Digs Carmen Jimenez disclosed (reluctantly) what it was like to be Georgie Fame’s fiancée, but unfortunately the interview can't be located on the web.
We do know for sure that her fiancé Georgie Fame threw her a fancy dress birthday party in January 1967. Several pictures were taken on that night and these can be found dispersed all over the net, but a good place to start is the Georgie Fame (unofficial) website and Getty Images. These show Georgie Fame, John Lennon (a priest), Paul McCartney (an American soldier) and Ringo Starr (an Arab).
One image however has taken the immediate interest of the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit. It depicts John Lennon, but standing behind him could be a vaguely familiar figure (see left side image). In the only interview she has ever given Ig (Evelyn) has told that she met The Beatles and the Fame-Jimenez party could have been an excellent opportunity.
Rod the Mod
Another famous person Ig has met was Rod Stewart. Interestingly it was at the same Cromwellian club in February 1967 that Jeff Beck, who had just been kicked out of The Yardbirds, recruited Rod Stewart for his new band the Jeff Beck Group (featuring Ron Wood). Douglas J. Noble asked Jeff Beck in 1993:
DJN: Is it true that you met Rod Stewart when he was watching Peter Green in a pub?
JB: Yeah - no, it was in the Cromwellian club which is now gone, I think, opposite the Exhibition Road. That was our hangout - our watering hole. And this particular day or evening, rather, he was somewhat worse for wear through drink and I just thought there's the guy - the one guy - I would like to play with. Have him sing in my band. And I was pretty down as well - totally out of the Yardbirds, nothing going, no money. I hadn't got anything to lose so I asked him if he would be interested and he said, 'Yup!' Amazing! Next day we met up and the rest is, uhh, on record [laughs].
Sources (other than the above internet links):
Bacon, Tony: London Live, Balafon Books, London, 1999, p. 8.
Platt, John: London’s Rock Routes, Fourth Estate, London, 1985, p.10-12.
Many thanks to the Wrestling Heritage website.
This is part four of our Cromwellian Bend-It series:
1. Bend It!
2. The Style Council
3. Rod Harrod remembers The Crom
4. Dr Death and other assorted figures...