The Case of the Painted Floorboards


In The Purloined Letter (1845) from Edgar Allan Poe dozens of intelligence officers search a room to recuperate some blackmailing material but they fail to locate it. Enters C. Auguste Dupin, probably the very first detective in fiction, who simply picks the letter from a card-rack. It had never been concealed but as the policemen had been looking for a hidden object they never cared to check the paper, lying out in the open.


When the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit started its mission it was generally believed that The Madcap Laughs photo shoot had taken place in the autumn of 1969.


Mainly because every Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett related book said so and - for over 30 years of time - nobody had ever cared to check the facts. (Also Rob Chapman's A Very Irregular Head biography, that has just appeared a couple of days ago, situates the floor paint job and thus the photo shoot somewhere between August and November 1969.)

Of course the witnesses saying that the shoot had taken place in the last quarter of 1969 were quite privileged authorities on the life and works of Barrett and thus their testimonies have never been questioned (and as we will reveal later, their comments may be - partly - true).

Malcolm Jones was the Harvest manager who partly produced Barrett's first solo album and who wrote an acclaimed (for Syd fans anyway) book about these sessions.

One day in October or November (1969, FA) I had cause to drop in at Syd's flat on my way home to leave him a tape of the album, and what I saw gave me quite a start. In anticipation of the photographic session for the sleeve, Syd had painted the bare floorboards of his room orange and purple. (…) Syd was well pleased with his days work and I must say it made a fine setting for the session due to take place.

And in his Psychedelic Renegades book Mick Rock writes:

We shot The Madcap Laughs in the autumn of 1969 and I don’t think that Syd and Duggie Fields had been living in the flat that long. (…) Soon after Syd moved in he painted alternating floor boards orange and turquoise.

The above contains a contradiction, although Mick Rock probably isn't (wasn't) aware of that. Syd Barrett, Duggie Fields and a third tenant called Jules moved in the apartment in January 1969 (perhaps December 1968) and certainly not later. A while later Jules was kicked out because he didn't pay the rent.

Duggie Fields recalls in The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett Story that the floorboards were painted 'quite quickly' after they had moved in and said in the Mojo Madcap issue:

When Jules left Iggy came soon after and she wasn't there for long. Jenny Spires (Syd's ex) brought her round. Iggy was just around, she didn't officially live here.

JenS has indeed confirmed to the Church: "I took her (Iggy) to Wetherby Mansions in January 1969." (Did the Reverend ever tell that it was thanks to biographer Julian Palacios that the Church got in contact with her?)

It is hard to remember things after 40 years, and even harder to pinpoint an exact date for certain events, but JenS certainly wasn't in England anymore in April as she had left for America, and by then the floor boards had already been painted. "When Syd and Gretta et al went to The Isle of Wight Trina - Gretta's sister - and I were in America and heading for the Woodstock Rock Festival."

Also Iggy (or Evelyn, in her interview with the Croydon Guardian) and Margaretta Barclay (in her interview with the Church) remember the painted floorboards. But opinions differ whether the floor boards were painted with a photo session in mind or not.

Paint can.
Paint can.


Just like several (tiny) details in the pictures have given away the possible shooting date, the answer may lie in the pictures themselves. What most people, including the Reverend, have neglected to do for the last 40 years was to look for the obvious. Not so for Late Night member and Syd Barrett collector Dark Globe:

After reading Jenny Spires's claim that the floorboards were painted when Syd moved into the flat, long before the Madcap photo session, I had another look at some of the photos. (…)

The 'smoking gun' for me is the can of paint and paintbrush which appears in one of the Madcap session photos: this would imply that the floorboards had only been painted recently.

Of course, it could be that he was only 'topping them up' but it certainly looks like he (and maybe Iggy) had done some painting close to the session.
Paint can, Storm Thorgerson
Paint can, Storm Thorgerson.

The photographic evidence is there. The Mick Rock pictures from Syd Barrett's room not only reveal that parts of the floor had not been painted yet but also show that a can of (blue) paint and a big paintbrush are hiding next to Syd's mattress, together with a coffee mug and an empty wine glass.

At least two Storm Thorgerson pictures from that spring day show the paint can as well. The booklet of the Crazy Diamond Syd Barrett box shows the (partly cut off) can at the left side of the picture and the print of the so-called toy plane picture that was sold on eBay in November last year has it in full. It is a pity that only a very small image of this print exists and that its owner, if (s)he is aware of its existence, still hasn't donated some hi-res scans to the Syd Barrett community.

Iggys Feet
Iggy's Feet, Mick Rock.

Dancing Barefoot

Whilst Mick Rock was at it he also took some 'nude study' pictures from Iggy but this time the Reverend will not get exited over her churrigueresque features but over her dirty feet. Her feet are black (or should that be: blue?) and probably she had been walking barefoot over the wet paint.

Stating the obvious is difficult when one is too concentrated on a subject. Church member Banjer and Sax found a simple explanation why painting a floor in two different colours will take several days or even weeks:

Maybe it took several days to complete the job, more than two days, and they would not necessarily have to have been consecutive days. So maybe days passed or even months passed between different phases of floor painting. It seems like it could have been difficult to do both colours at the same time.

The logical thing to do is indeed wait for the first colour to dry before starting the second colour. But the mystery of The Madcap Laughs photo shoot only gets bigger and, as usual, archbishop Dark Globe is to blame:

There was more than one photo shoot though. A second photo shoot (not by Mick Rock, but by Storm Thorgerson, FA) shows Syd doing yoga and posing in front of one of his paintings. The floorboards are painted in these photos so they were probably taken sometime after the session with Iggy. Syd's hair is a noticeably longer in these photos too.

These pictures were used by Hipgnosis for the cover of the vinyl compilation Syd Barrett. It is obvious that they were taken on a later date: the floor seems to be completely painted, but also the room has been reorganised. While the far left corner on the daffodil session pictures is empty it suddenly contains some canvas and paint during the yoga session pictures.

The Church already hinted in a previous post:

Perhaps Storm took some photos later in the year and maybe this is how the legend came into place that The Madcap Laughs photo session was made after summer.

This is not as far-fetched as it seems.

Autumn Photo Session

Mick Rock states: "This '69 session was specifically done for Syd's first solo album, The Madcap Laughs" and Storm Thorgerson more or less claims that Hipgnosis had been summoned by record company Harvest to do the cover.

Newspaper, Mick Rock.

But if the daffodil photo shoot really took place, as proposed by the Church between the 14th and 21st of April 1969, Syd Barrett had only been at two, maximum three, recording sessions for the album. (If only we could find out the date of the newspaper lying next to Barrett's bed?)

It is hard to believe that Harvest would approach Hipgnosis after three studio sessions, especially as Syd Barrett was still regarded as a liability. Between May and July of the previous year Barrett had wasted eight recording sessions and basically EMI had given up. Peter Jenner:

It was chaos…. (…) There were always these tantalising glimpses and that was what kept you going. (…) I think we just came to the conclusion that we weren't getting anywhere.

So although the April 10 and 11 sessions of 1969 had been very promising (and the one on the 17th as well) it is unlikely that the managing director of Harvest was already thinking he had chart material. And quite rightly so, because the fourth session was disastrous and has been used in books and articles to emphasize Syd's lunatic behaviour. And it wasn't getting better...

Different people tell different stories but the bottom line is that less than a month after the first (April 1969) recording session Malcolm Jones simply gave up. David Gilmour, who took over the producer seat in June, maintains until today that he was asked to salvage the sessions from the dustbin, although Malcolm Jones has tried to minimise this and claimed that the Madcap project had not really been shelved.

It was already August 1969 when the Cantabrigian Pink Floyd members started (stereo-)mixing the tapes, and as the band had a busy schedule and wanted to have some holidays as well, it would take until October for the master tapes to be ready. Now here is what the Reverend calls an appropriate moment for the record company to commission a sleeve.

Summer 1969. Harvest hotshots ask Hipgnosis to design a sleeve for the album that is in its final mix. Storm Thorgerson goes to Syd's flat to take the so-called yoga-shots, but decides later, for whatever reason, to use the (Mick Rock influenced) daffodil-shots instead. (Probably when Thorgerson presented the sleeve to Harvest, he didn't tell that the pictures came really from a photo shoot earlier in the year. That's how we know Storm.)

A legend is born.

We leave the last word to JenS who was so friendly to contact us again:

It's truly astonishing about the floor! All I can say is the floor had already been painted when I arrived. (January 1969, FA) There were parts of the room unfinished in the bay window and to the right hand corner of the room and fireplace where Syd's bed was originally and where Iggy is poised on the stool. I guess they must have had to paint these remaining bits before the shoot. They may also of course given it a second, more refreshing coat for the shoot. Interesting, bit by bit a more accurate picture is emerging.

To accompany this article a new gallery has been uploaded: Paintbox.

A sequel to this article created a great rift in Syd Barrett-land: The Case of the Painted Floorboards (v 2.012)

Many thanks to: Dark Globe, Banjer and Sax, JenS.

Sources (other than the above internet links):
Chapman, Rob: A Very Irregular Head, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 235.
Drummond, Paul: In My Room, Mojo 196, March 2010, p. 82. Direct link to the scanned pdf document (hosted at the Church).
Fields, Duggie interview in: The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett Story, DVD UK Ltd 2005.
Jones, Malcolm: The Making Of The Madcap Laughs, Brain Damage, 2003, p. 13.
Parker, David: Random Precision, Cherry Red Books, London, 2001, p. 136, p. 138.
Rock, Mick: Psychedelic Renegades, Plexus, London, 2007, p. 18-19, p. 58. The paint can pictures can be found at pages 72, 76, 83 and 84. Iggy's dirty feet on page 69.