Picture: © Chris Lanaway, 2010.
In 2018 the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit celebrated its tenth anniversary.
Picture: © Chris Lanaway, 2010.

June 2010

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2010-06-10

Meic meets Syd

Solva Blues, Meic Stevens
Solva Blues, Meic Stevens.

In a previous post it was told how Margaretta Barclay and Rusty Burnhill took Syd Barrett to acid-folk singer Meic Stevens in Wales, trying to raise Syd's appetite to play some music again. None of the Barrett biographies, including the most recent one from Rob Chapman, have mentioned this, although it was not exactly a secret as Stevens recalls the visits in his autobiography that appeared in... 2003.

The Church is much obliged to Prydwyn who guided us towards Meic Stevens's autobiography and who was so friendly to translate the texts from Welsh to English. This article has mainly been written by him.

Meic meets Syd (© Prydwyn)

Meic Stevens is as huge and influential a name in the Welsh-language folk, rock, and pop scene as Bob Dylan is (was) in the English-speaking world. Meic has been recording since 1965 (mostly in Welsh, although for those not willing to take him on in the language of Heaven, his outstanding 1970 psychedelic masterpiece Outlander has recently been reissued on CD).

For the most part he has performed under his own name, although in the late 60s he was a member of Gary Farr’s backing group in London (playing with Farr at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969, the festival Syd went to with Margaretta Barclay [note from FA]). Meanwhile in Wales (and in Welsh) he, Heather Jones, and Geraint Jarman performed as ‘Y Bara Menyn’ as well (late 60s).

Meic Stevens:

I got a contract in 1965 for a record I’d written myself called Did I Dream. Decca were going to try to market me as another Donovan or Bob Dylan. But it all got too much for me, I had a nervous breakdown and ended up back at Solva.

Meic returned to his home village of Solva, Pembrokeshire, to recover, a time he details in his first autobiography, Solva Blues, and he soon became a feature of the Welsh-language folk and blues scene. In 1969 he was signed by Warner Brothers but after his first album Outlander, the contract was abandoned by mutual consent. (Taken from: Wales Online, interview by Robin Turner.)

The following extracts are from Meic Stevens's first biography, Hunangofiant y Brawd Houdini (2nd edition 2009, originally from 2003), with translations following. An English version of this autobiography has also been issued, although I haven’t read it and so am not 100% sure it contains the same information. Update: There is one significant difference between the English and Welsh version, see: Syd meets... a lot of people.

Meic Stevens
Meic Stevens.

Syd Barrett and Meic Stevens in a lost BBC documentary

The first piece refers to 1969. It must have been spring or summer, as the next section in Stevens's autobiography is about the Isle of Wight Festival. Meic Stevens, his partner and children were living in a farmhouse (called Caerforiog) near Solva in rural southwest Wales.

Ro’n i’n dal i wneud peth gwaith i’r BBC yng Nghaerdydd pan gwrddes i â chyfarwyddwr ifanc, Gareth Wyn Jones, oedd am ffilmio rhaglen ddogfen amdana i a ’mywyd. Cymeradwyodd y pennaeth rhaglenni y syniad o gael y cywaith ’ma yn rhan o bump o raglenni dogfen am Gymry cyfoes. Roedd un ohonyn nhw am waith gwneuthurwr drymie o Gasnewydd.

Daeth criw ffilmio i lawr am wthnos a ffilmio yng Nghaerforiog, Solfach, a Thyddewi. Wedyn wthnos arall lan yng Nghaerdydd a Llunden. Y cwbwl wnaeth Gareth oedd ffilmio ein bywyd arferol ni o ddydd i ddydd...

Ymhlith y rhai eraill a ymddangosodd yn y ffilm roedd Heather a Geraint, Gary Farr a Mighty Baby yn Llunden, a Syd Barrett o Pink Floyd fydde’n dod i’n gweld ni yng Nghaerforiog.

Yn nes ymlaen, ffraeodd Gareth ’da’r BBC a mynd i weithio yn Singapore, gan adael y ffilm heb ei golygu. Beth amser wedyn, rhoddodd y BBC ganiatâd i gyfarwyddwr arall olygu portread pum munud ohona i mas o gesys ffilm Gareth, a chafodd beth oedd yn weddill ei daflu mas. Wyth rîl o ffilm un milimedr ar bymtheg oedd yn gyfnod o’n bywyde ni yn 1969! Bachan drwg, Rhydderch Jones!

English translation (© Prydwyn):

I was still doing a bit of work for the BBC in Cardiff when I met a young director, Gareth Wyn Jones, who wanted to film a documentary about me and my life. The chief programming approved the idea of getting this joint effort as a part of five documentary programs about contemporary Wales. One of the other ones was about a drum-maker from Casnewydd.

The film crew came down for a week and filmed in Caerforiog, Solva, and St. Davids. Then another week in Cardiff and London. All Gareth did was to film our normal day-to-day life…

Among the others who appeared in the film were Heather [Jones] and Geraint [Jarman], Gary Farr and Mighty Baby in London, and Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd, who came to see us in Caerforiog.

Later on, Gareth quarrelled with the BBC and went to work in Singapore, leaving the film unedited. Some time later, the BBC gave permission to another director to edit a five-minutes portrait of me out of the cases of Gareth’s film, and what was left over got thrown out. Eight reels of 16mm film that were a record of our lives in 1969! Shame on you, Rhydderch Jones!

Rhydderch Jones was a producer/director for the BBC’s Welsh-language service at the time. This excerpt doesn’t make it fully clear if Syd appeared in the London or Wales parts of the shooting, although it is hinted that it was made while Syd visited Meic in Wales (note from FA). Neither do we know if any of Syd's footage survived at all in the five-minute segment that was eventually broadcast. But it does confirm the year (1969) and the place (Caerforiog near Solva) where Syd visited Meic.

Meic Stevens and Syd Barrett
Meic Stevens & Syd Barrett.

Update 2011 07 08: The Church found this picture on the Laughing Madcaps Facebook Group depicting Meic Stevens and his shortlived band (Y) Bara Menyn. This folk trio also included Geraint Jarman and Heather Jones who made an album in March 1969. The Dylanesque man at the back is Meic Stevens, the man with the hat and the guitar at the front appears to be Syd Barrett. Standing behind Syd could be his friend Rusty Burnhill, sitting behind Syd could be Gretta Barclay. Unfortunately nobody (not even Barrett photo archivist Mark Jones) seems to know where this picture comes from, nor if it is authentic or not.

A message from the Church: We leave it up to other Syd scholars to contact the Welsh branch of the BBC in order to locate the missing reels of the original documentary. Some of the people mentioned above are still around and can be contacted through the BBC or are present on social network websites. And if you do find something, please let us know! (Note: written in 2010 and 6 years later not a single soul has attempted this.)

Ghost Town, Meic Stevens
Ghost Town, Meic Stevens.

Outlander sessions

The next bit is part of the description of the recording sessions for Meic’s 1970 (mostly) English LP, Outlander. As the album was recorded in 1969 it fixes the date of this anecdote also in that year.

Y dyddie hynny, fe fydden ni’n recordio gefen nos fel arfer. Bydde rhai o’r sesiyne’n para tan orie mân y bore – neu drwy’r nos ambell waith – ac wedyn bydden ni’n cael brecwast mewn caffi yn Soho tua saith neu wyth o’r gloch... Allwn i ddim ymdopi ag Olympic, oedd yn hen sgubor fawr o le ’da pentyrre Marshall ar hyd y lle ym mhobman, gwifre spaghetti, a blyche llwch gorlawn.

Daeth Syd Barrett lawr yno un noson pan o’n i ar fy mhen fy hun yno ’da gitâr acwstig, ac ro’n i’n falch pan gyrhaeddodd Syd y tresmaswr ’da’i gariad, mynd â’r gitâr, iste ar lawr, a dechre chware iddo fe’i hun. Ro’n i wedi recordio trac y noson honno, o’r enw ‘One Night Wonder’, ac mae e ar Ghost Town, Tenth Planet Records. Ar lawr y bydde Syd wastad yn iste; doedd dim celfi yn ei stafell, dim ond estyll pren moel neu rai wedi’u peintio’n oren neu’n las, ffôn gwyn, a Fender Telecaster.

Fi oedd un o’r ychydig oedd yn cael mynd yno; dwi’n credu ’i fod e’n hoffi bod ar ei ben ei hun lawer o’r adeg. Ambell waith, fe fydde’n chware’i Telecaster heb ei chwyddo. Dro arall, syllu trwy’r ffenest neu i’r gwagle fydde fe. Doedd Syd ddim fel ’se fe moyn llawer mewn bywyd, dim ond bod ar ei ben ei hun ’da’i feddylie. Roedd e’n foi golygus iawn, wastad ’da merch hardd ar ei fraich pan oedd e mas neu’n gyrru’i Mini Cooper, yn dene fel styllen, ac yn gwisgo dillad ecsotig few siwtie satin croendynn, cryse sidan ffriliog, sgarffie hirlaes, a bŵts croen neidr!

English translation (© Prydwyn):

Those days, we usually recorded in the middle of the night. Some of the sessions would continue until the wee hours of the morning – or right through the night sometimes – and afterwards we’d have breakfast in a café in Soho around seven or eight o’clock… I couldn’t cope with Olympic [Studios], which was an old barn of a place with Marshall stacks everywhere throughout the place, wires like spaghetti, and overflowing ashtrays.

Syd Barrett came down there one night when I was on my own with an acoustic guitar, and I was glad when Syd trespassed his way in with his girlfriend, took the guitar, sat on the floor, and started playing to himself. I had been recording a track that night called One Night Wonder, which is on Ghost Town, Tenth Planet Records. Syd would always sit on the floor; there was no furniture in his room, just bare wooden planks or ones painted orange or blue, a white phone, and a Fender Telecaster.

I was one of the few who got to go there; I believe he liked being on his own most of the time. Sometimes, he would play his Telecaster unamplified. Other times, he would stare through the window or into empty space. Syd didn’t seem to want much in life, just being on his own with his thoughts. He was a very good-looking boy, always with a beautiful girl on his arm when he was out or driving his Mini Cooper. He was as thin as a rail, and wore exotic clothes like skin-tight satin suits, frilly silk shirts, long scarves, and snakeskin boots.
Sackloth, Meic Stevens
Sackloth, Meic Stevens.

Probably NOT Syd

Finally, there is mention of a Syd somewhere in 1964 or 1965, although I don’t think the man in question is Syd Barrett. Still, just in case.

Ro’n i’n iste ar y stâr yn Chalk Farm un noswaith yn trial chware fel Big Bill Broonzy, pan ddaeth Syd, y boi oedd yn byw drws nesaf, mas a sefyll yno’n edrych arna i. Ymhen dipyn, medde fe, “Can you play what you’re thinking?” Wedyn, yn ôl â fe at ei deipiadur a chau’r drws. Do’n i rioed wedi meddwl am chware beth o’n i’n feddwl; ro’n i wastad yn trial copïo cerddoriaeth pobol eraill. Ar chwap fel ’ny, fe wnaeth e i fi feddwl yn wahanol am gerddoriaeth, a dwi’n fwy gofalus byth ers hynny.

English translation (© Prydwyn):

I was sitting on the stair in Chalk Farm one evening trying to play like Big Bill Broonzy, when Syd, the boy who lived next door, came out and stood there looking at me. After a while, he said, “Can you play what you’re thinking?” Then, back he went to his typewriter and closed the door. I’d never thought about playing what I was thinking; I was always trying to copy other people’s music. Just like that, he made me think differently about music, and I’ve been more careful ever since then.

Chalk Farm is an area lying in the London borough of Camden. In 1964 Syd Barrett was living in Mike Leonard's house in Stanhope Gardens, Highgate. The next year he moved to the West End, renting rooms at 12, Tottenham Street. As none of these addresses are next door to Chalk Farm it probably was another 'Syd' Meic Stevens is talking about. Also if Meic had met Syd Barrett (who was still an amateur musician at that point) in 1964 or 1965 he would certainly have stressed this a bit more...

An update on this article has been published at: Syd meets... a lot of people 


Many thanks to Prydwyn for his writing and translating skills.

Sources: (other than internet links mentioned above):
Chapman, Rob: A Very Irregular Head, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 81.
Stevens, Meic: Hunangofiant y Brawd Houdini, Y Lolfa, Talybont, 2009, p. 138, p. 190-191, p. 202 .

An excellent article on Meic Stevens: Welsh wizard at work (2011).


2010-06-26

Pink Floyd FAQ - Stuart Shea

Pink Floyd FAQ, Stuart Shea
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.

Pink Floyd, Paris not Pompeii.
Pink Floyd, Paris not Pompeii.

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

Special Guests

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 willful subversion of pop stardom.

   


   


The Big Barrett Conspiracy Theory

A Very Irregular Head, Rob Chapman
A Very Irregular Head, Rob Chapman.

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.”

From an LP apparently in the possession of Syd Barrett: Blind Boy Fuller, Country Blues 1935-1940, issued on Phillips BBL-7512, c. 1962. The sleeve notes were by Paul Oliver, and include the following:
"Curley Weaver and Fred McMullen, Georgia-born but more frequently to be found in Kentucky or Tennessee, Pink Anderson or Floyd Council -- these were a few amongst the many blues singers that were to be heard in the rolling hills of the Piedmont, or meandering with the streams through the wooded valleys." (Source: Pink Anderson / Floyd Council @ pre-war-blues Yahoo, membership probably needed)

Update 2015: The complete story of the Blind Boy Fuller album that gave Pink Floyd its name can be found at: Step It Up And Go.

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…

Inside Out

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. I did this 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. It makes Chapman a sloppy researcher, to say the least.

Update October 2010: By accident I stumbled upon the Syd is crazy quote (or one of the Syd is crazy quotes) from Nick Mason in Barry Miles' The Early Years book:
"You can't believe that someone's deliberately trying to screw it up and yet the other half of you is saying 'This man's crazy - he's trying to destroy me!'"

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 deep-freeze pizza (the living proof that deep-freeze pizzas are healthy, by the way) and dangle my ding-a-ling 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.

Update October 2010: after 40 years Rhamadan has been issued as a free download with the An Introduction to Syd Barrett compilation. The track isn't half as bad as everyone - especially those who never heard it - claimed it to be, but it needs some serious weeding to be presentable as a 'real' album track. More info: Gravy Train To Cambridge.

Juggling the Octopus

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.

Update October 2010: Paul Belbin has authorised the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit to host the 2006 version of his essay: Untangling the Octopus v2 (PDF file).

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.

Mandrax and Brylcreem
Mandrax & Brylcreem

Demythologising Syd

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.

Update September 2013: some more information about this girl, Radharani Krishna, can be found at the following article: Making it clear... 
Amplex ad, ca. 1958
Amplex ad, ca. 1958.

Wish You Were... but 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.)

Update August 2011: according to Mark Blake in Mojo 215 the Amplex story comes from journalist Nick Sedgwick, who was writing an (unreleased) Pink Floyd related book at that time and author of the novel Light Blue With Bulges, that describes his beatnik adventures in Cambridge in the early sixties. More info: The Case of the Painted Floorboards (v 2.012).

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.

Pink Fraud

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 Were Here: accountancy?
Animals: accountancy?
The Wall: accountancy?

Update October 2010: When Barrett and Pink Floyd split up there was the small matter of a 17,000 British Pounds debt that the band had. The Abdab accountants didn't burden Syd Barrett, nor Peter Jenner and Andrew King with that.

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 a 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 concepts EMI kept the Barrett solo 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. Poor 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.

Conclusion

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.

Update: some of the anoraky points mentioned in the above article (Octopus lyrics, 1968 sessions) have been further examined in Mad Cat Love (2011).


Sources: (other than internet links mentioned above):
Belbin, Paul: Untangling the Octopus v2, 2006. PDF version, hosted at the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit with Paul Belbin's permission.
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.
Miles, Barry: Pink Floyd The Early Years, Omnibus Press, London, 2006, p.111.
Parker, David: Random Precision, Cherry Red Books, London, 2001, p. 136, p. 138.

Mandrax & Brylcreem drawing taken from thepiperatthegatesofdawn.co.uk (site no longer available).

A quite nice (promotional) interview with Rob Chapman can be found at Youtube.

Previous Pink Floyd related books that were trashed by the Reverend:
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