Gretta Speaks

Margaretta (Gretta) Barclay
Margaretta (Gretta) Barclay.

In the interview that Iggy - or should we say Evelyn - gave after nearly 40 years of silence in The Croydon Guardian she remembers how she helped Syd to paint the floorboards that would give an extra psychedelic feel to The Madcap Laughs cover picture.

When Mick turned up to take the photos I helped paint the floor boards for the shoot, I was covered in paint, I still remember the smell of it.

But Iggy, as we will keep on calling her, isn’t the only one remembering. Also present were Rusty and Margaretta, better known as Gretta:

I remember that Iggy was involved with the floor painting project and that she had paint all over her during the floor painting time but I was not involved with the painting of the floor.

Several biographies, including Julian Palacios’s Lost In The Woods (p.241), Tim Willis’s Madcap (p.106) and Mark Blake’s Pigs Might Fly (p. 141) describe Greta (sic) and her companion Rusty as homeless ‘speed freaks’. This description almost certainly comes from painter Duggie Fields who shared the flat with Syd and who wasn’t very amused with the many people Syd invited to say the least.

Julian Palacios remembers Duggie Fields from an interview he did in 1996:

He was so cool. Reserved and wary at first, then about halfway through he became super raconteur.
(email to FA, 10 February 2010).

This lead to the following paragraph in the Lost In The Woods biography:

Duggie Fields recalls a steady stream of visitors, ‘some visitors were parasites and some were confused in their drug use, not even abusing drugs’. (...)
‘Rusty and Greta were homeless when they came to stay here,’ explains Fields. ‘Greta became good friends with Jenny Spires, and came into Syd’s life from that connection. They were in my life to a degree but I didn’t want them around. (…) They probably brought stimulants for Syd and he took them.’

Now, for the first time in over 40 years Margaretta Barclay has decided to share her memories with the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit as well. But lets starts by setting the record straight:

Your blog relating to Syd Barrett mentions that Rusty and I were drug addicted. This is most certainly not true and an old friend of ours - Jenny Spires has made that fact known to you.
My sister Catriona (Trina) and I met Jenny Spires during the mid 1960’s at a London grooming school. Jenny introduced my sister and I to Syd at 101 Cromwell Rd and at Edgerton Court. Rusty was not with us at that time.

In her interviews with the Church, early 2009, JenS vehemently denied the ‘speed freaks’ rumours: "Rusty and Gretta were not drug-addicted. They never were.” (cfr. When Syd met Iggy... (Pt. 3)  and Addenda and Errata with Gala and Gretta 

Gretta further explains:

Rusty and I were not in the ‘steady stream of visitors’. In 1970 we were in Suffolk at the beginning of that year and Devon for the remainder of it. Not in London. We were not homeless either. Rusty and I left London for various reasons but primarily because I was expecting my first child.
Syd was a very dear friend of ours and we did a considerable amount together in the 60's. Contrary to what I have read, we did not provide Syd with drugs.

It was of course 40 years ago when Barrett recorded The Madcap Laughs and memories may have played tricks on people. A famous example is the Mick Rock statement that Syd Barrett's car was bright pink while the pictures taken by him on that day show that the car was actually dark blue. On the DVD The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett Story Duggie Fields remembers how Syd painted the floor boards of his flat.

MP3 link: Duggie Fields (mp3)

Although the story is rather funny we now know that the actual truth may have been somewhat different. Similar Syd Barrett myths or legends have been created (and repeated in books and magazines) that way throughout the years without veryfying. Margaretta continues:

Without wishing to be vindictive where Duggie Fields and his interviews are concerned, surely, in order to obtain a balanced view of Syd’s chosen circle of friends, it would be sensible to back up assumptions with fact.
Syd was a highly sensitive, almost delicate person, who was well aware of his constitution where drugs were concerned and perfectly capable of not being cajoled in to anything he did not want to do. To my knowledge, he did not take vast quantities of drugs.
He enjoyed our company and invited us to stay at Wetherby Mansions where we shared good times together. Iggy was around at that time too and I remember her helping to paint the room in question. Dominique A., a French friend of ours, was also close to Syd at this time. Jenny, Catriona and I lived with her in Chelsea for a time.

Update: the Church managed to contact Dominique A. but she refused to talk about the past.

According to Margaretta the legends surrounding Syd Barrett contain many errors and “if they relate to my sister Catriona, Rusty and me, it is my duty to ensure that they are not perpetuated”.

It is convenient to point a finger at others in order to explain Syd’s behavioural patterns. Syd behaved in his inimitable way long before he met us.
Duggie did not socialise with us as a group – and his conclusion that I indulged in such a way - and on my own, is erroneous.
From our point of view Syd was a vulnerable person, we cared for him and our aim was to encourage him to be creative, to write and play his guitar. After all, Rusty only wanted to write and play music with Syd - to give him drugs was not on our agenda; Syd - was ‘far out’ enough without them.

The Reverend was of course anxious to know what kind of music Rusty and Syd played together:

Rusty and Syd played Syd’s songs and variations on them ’Oh baby my hairs on end about you’, ‘Octopus’ etc…, as well as songs they created together and basic blues.
Syd Barrett with Gretta Barclay.
Syd Barrett with Gretta Barclay.
In 1969 we went to Isle of Wight Festival together and at one point, in an effort to encourage Syd to play his guitar, we took him to stay with a musician friend of ours in Wales. Gala may remember the journey.

There have indeed been rumours of Syd Barrett visiting the Isle of Wight festival before and a (much discussed) picture of this event does exist. Margaretta is formal that the photograph is genuine:

The Isle of Wight picture is definitely of Syd with me beside him. (She is the woman at his left side, FA.)

Back to Rusty and Gretta. Hoping that the visit would inspire and encourage Syd to return to the musical ‘land of the living’ they took him to a ‘brilliant musician’ who lived in Solva, Haverfordwest, Dyfed: Meic Stevens.

(Update: The next paragraph is totally wrong as the Welsh musician in question iwas Meic Stevens, not Mike Stevens (although Meic has also been credited as Mike, early in his career). But as this Mike Stevens's family was so kind to contact the Church and as his music is really groovy, the Reverend has decided not to delete it. See: Gretta Speaks (Pt. 2))

It is believed that this musician was Mike Stevens from the Welsh band The Shevells (aka The Welsh Conquerors). In the mid sixties the band recorded several records featuring Stevens on guitar and vocals. Around 1966, as Mike Stevens & The Shevells, they recorded a cover version of Cathy's Clown and the Go-Go Train and as The Shevelles, Come On Home. Stevens was an on/off member of the band as he was apparently also involved in The Squires, originally Tom Jones’s back up band and the composers of the hit It's Not Unusual. (Information taken from Answers.com, the Church is currently trying to contact M. Stevens.)

In a soon to be published, revised and updated, 2010 edition of Julian Palacios’s biography Lost In The Woods the roles of Gretta and Rusty in Syd Barrett’s life have already been changed for the better. Palacios writes:

Life at home edged further toward the chaotic when Rusty and Greta, casual friends of Barrett’s, moved in. (…) Only recently arrived in London, not on the ‘underground scene’, they later left for Devon, where they married and settled. Greta may have done speed, but the pair were not the terrible people they have been painted as.
When Rusty B. split with Greta, he came and stayed with Jack Monck and Jenny (Spires). In late 1972, Jack and Rusty started a new band, Rocks Off.
(Above quotes from 'Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd' by Julian Palacios - Plexus Books, May September 2010 edition.)

Gretta Barclay remarried, is a proud mother and an even prouder grandmother, and according to her family ‘she is a wonderful amazing beautiful lady who has 3 children who love her very much’.

The Reverend can only agree with that. Even for the Church there are more important things in life than chasing the shadow of a girl who lived for a while in a house were someone, apparently famous, lived as well…

The second part of the interview will be published in the weeks to come.

The Church wishes to thank: Margaretta Barclay for her invaluable testimony about what really happened in those early days of 1969. Julian Palacios for additional information.

Sources: (other than internet links mentioned above):
Blake, Mark: Pigs Might Fly, Aurum Press, London, 2007, p.141.
Fields, Duggie interview in: The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett Story, DVD UK Ltd 2005.
Palacios, Julian: Lost In The Woods, Boxtree, London, 1998, p. 241.
Willis, Tim, Madcap, Short Books, London, 2002, p. 106.