Yesterday, on Friday the 11th of June 2011, the Reverend of the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit was waiting on a bench at the central bus station when a man addressed him in French, but he soon switched over to Dutch.
"I see you are reading a nice book about Pink Floyd. I used to be a Pink Floyd fan myself. Syd Barrett, the madcap loves."
At least it sounded like 'the madcap loves' in my ears and not 'the madcap laughs', but perhaps the man had just a small problem with English pronunciation. Never have made that link myself, I can only smilingly agree that the madcap loves is one of the better Floydian slips ever.
The madcap loves, I love it.
But perhaps I just misheard the thing, my ears aren't any more what they used to be, after having been mistreated by Iron Maiden on my iPod for the last lustrum.
Mad cat's something you can't explain
A trademark rhyme in Barrett's Octopus song is the line that named the album:
The madcap laughed at the man on the border
Heigh-ho, Huff the Talbot.
But Rob Chapman, in an interesting YouTube interview about his biography A Very Irregular Head, is of the opinion that Barrett did not sing mad-cap but mad cat. In that case the title of Barrett's first solo album is based upon a misunderstanding from producer David Gilmour.
The mad cat laughed at the man on the border
Heigh-ho, Huff the Talbot.
Since Paul Belbin's excellent cyber-essay 'Untangling the Octopus' (2005), hosted at the Church with the author's permission, we know that the Octopus song (also titled Clowns and Jugglers in an earlier stage) is packed with obscure literary references, disclaiming the rumour that Barrett wrote his songs in a drug influenced frenzy. One of the characters ripped by Syd Barrett comes from an anonymous nursery rhyme called 'Huff the Talbot and our cat Tib':
Huff the talbot and our cat Tib
They took up sword and shield,
Tib for the red rose, Huff for the white,
To fight upon Bosworth field.
For the adherers of the mad cat theory it is perhaps of importance here that the dog's adversary in the battle of Bosworth just above is not a mad-cap but a cat called Tib.
There was an old man on the Border,
Who lived in the utmost disorder;
He danced with the cat,
And made tea in his hat,
Which vexed all the folks on the Border.
You don't need to be a genius to reconstruct how the dancing cat from Lear's man on the border and Tib, the warrior cat at Bosworth field, amalgamated into the mad cat character in Octopus.
But, as with all things Syd, things aren't always that simple. The madcap believers have a point as well as a madcap galloping chase does appear in an early incarnation of Clowns and Jugglers:
Sit up, touching hips
to a madcap galloping chase
"Cheat" he cried shouting “Kangaroo!”
The wind one morning sprang up from sleep,
Saying, “Now for a frolic! now for a leap!
Now for a madcap, galloping chase!
I’ll make a commotion in every place!”
In that case David Gilmour mistook one line for the other and the album's title may have been taken from a quote that didn't make it on the album.
Salvation Came Lately
But the above has got absolutely nothing to do with today's article and the Reverend duly apologises for the confusion.
Sitting on a bench at the bus station he was addressed by a man who had found a common point of interest: Pink Floyd. To prove that the traveller wasn't talking bollocks, the sharp-dressed man suddenly sang the following lines from Jugband Blues.
I don't care if the sun don't shine
and I don't care if nothing is mine
and I don't care if I'm nervous with you
I'll do my loving in the winter...
Asked to sing a favourite line from a Floyd tune (luckily that never happens) I would never quote an early song, so the choice of this man was quite interesting, to say the least. Unfortunately, the strophe was followed by the announcement that he didn't listen to the Floyd any more, only to religious music.
To my shame I have to admit that the Reverend didn't see it coming that another Reverend was trying to lure him into the tentacles of another Church... Coincidentally we had to take the same bus and we talked like close friends until it was time for the ambassador of god to leave the ambassador of Iggy.
The 'book' I was reading wasn't a book but a special 82 pages issue from the French rock magazine Vibrations, entirely dedicated to Pink Floyd (7,90 €). Printed on luxurious glossy paper it assembles articles (translated in French) from well known Q, Mojo and NME journalists, such as Martin Aston, the Church's partner in crime Mark Blake, Pat Gilbert, Chris Salewicz and the French Aymeric Leroy, who apparently has written an acclaimed biography on the band: 'Pink Floyd: Plongée dans l'oeuvre d'un groupe paradoxal'.
The times are long gone when I bought everything that was from far or nearby Pink Floyd related, I even resisted buying Pink Floyd coffee mugs a couple of week ago, something that would have been impossible for me in the past millennium, so here is a biography I wasn't aware of. Not that I am planning to buy it. There isn't one single French Pink Floyd or Syd Barrett biography that doesn't clash with my personal beliefs of what a good biography should be.
Update 2011 06 20: Unfortunately the Internet isn't the safe place any more where you can insult someone without being noticed. Aymeric Leroy got hold of this post and wanted to set a few things straight.
Thanks for mentioning my book on your blog. I'd just like to point out that it isn't a "biography", more like a critical assessment of the band's entire discography, which does include background info of a biographical nature, but primarily an analysis of the music and lyrics.
The stuff I wrote for the special issue of "Vibrations" is expanded from the more biographical passages of the book, but the book isn't an "expanded" version of those. There are other people who did a great job telling the band's history, and I relied on their work, but my reason for adding yet another book to the impressive PF bibliography was to try and do something different - write about the actual music for at least 75% of the book.
Duly noted, Aymeric, and perhaps the Church will have a go at your book then, one of these days...
Uncut and uncombed
It promises to be a hot Pink Floyd year, this year, and the makers of Uncut magazine have issued a 146 pages Pink Floyd special in their The Ultimate Music Guide series. It isn't such a classy edition as the French Vibrations, but of course the good news is that it contains at least twice as much information. With at least one article or interview per Pink Floyd record this obviously is the 'better buy' of the two, although the initial set-up is more or less the same. The Uncut special assembles old articles and a few new ones and promises to be an enjoyable read.
That an enjoyable read isn't always the same as an accurate read proves Allan Jones' The Madcap Laughs & Barrett article on pages 32 till 35. He starts with mentioning that Syd Barrett entered Studio 3 on the 6th of May 1968, for the first of six sessions that would follow. I don't know what it is with this 6-sessions-myth but Rob Chapman claims exactly the same in his biography. As I always seem to have recalled 9 sessions instead of 6 (but according to the Holy Pope of Rome my brain has been irrecoverably damaged by years of masturbation) it is time for yet another anoraky investigation.
So not for the first time in my career as Reverend of the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit I have counted the 1968 Madcap recording dates, as noted down in David Parker's excellent sessionagraphy Random Precision. It all starts in the beginning of May.
1968 05 06 – In the morning EMI engineers had been transferring two Pink Floyd tracks 'In the Beechwood' (aka 'Down in the Beechwoods') and 'Vegetable Man' for Syd Barrett to work on, but when Barrett finally arrived he decided to record two new songs instead: 'Silace Lang' (aka 'Silas Lang') and 'Late Night'. Session One.
According to the Allan Jones article Barrett recorded the rambling 'Rhamadan' the day after. Wrong. The next day would have been the seventh of May, but Barrett only re-entered the studio one week later.
1968 05 13 – 'Silas Lang' (take 1) and 'Late Night' (take 6), were worked on / transferred by Peter Jenner. It is not clear if Syd Barrett was present in the studio or if this was merely a technical session. Of course this could have been one of those 'chaotic' sessions where Barrett simply didn't show up, with Peter Jenner trying to salvage the furniture by using the spare time for some producer’s work. Session Two.
1968 05 14 – 'Rhamadan', 'Lanky' (Pt. 1&2), 'Golden Hair'. Obviously Barrett and three session musicians were in the studio, although nobody seems to remember who the backing band members really were. Session Three.
1968 05 21 – 'Late Night', 'Silace Lang'. This was the day when Syd Barrett forgot to bring his guitar to the studio and Peter Jenner had to rent one for £10.50. Always a kind of a joker, our Syd. Session Four.
1968 05 28 – 'Golden Hair', 'Swan Lee' (aka 'Silace Lang'), 'Rhamadan'. This session also included (the same?) three session musicians. Session Five.
1968 06 08 – Superimposition of titles recorded on 6th, 14th,
21st & 29th [wrong date, FA] of May, 1968, so read the red
form notes. Peter Jenner made a provisional tracklist for what could
have been Barrett's first album:
Late Nights (sic)
Beechwoods (originally recorded with Pink Floyd)
Vegetable man (originally recorded with Pink Floyd)
Scream Your Last Scream (sic, originally recorded with Pink Floyd)
Lanky Pt 1
Lanky Pt 2
Looking like a Barrett's fan wet dream the above track listing debunks the story - still popular at certain disturbed Barrett circles - that the band Pink Floyd and its members deliberately boycotted their former colleague.
Barrett was apparently present at this session as some guitar overdubs were recorded for 'Swan Lee' (the right title of that track still wasn't decided). Session Six.
1968 06 14 – cancelled session
1968 06 20 – tape transfers and overdubs on 'Late Night' (noted down as 'Light Nights'), 'Golden Hair', 'Swanlee' (again another way of naming this track). Syd Barrett probably did some vocal overdubs. Session Seven.
1968 06 27 – 'Swanlee', 'Late Night', 'Golden Hair'. Tape transfers and possible (vocal) overdubs. This is a bit of a mystery session as the archives of EMI aren't clear what really happened. Session Eight.
1968 08 20 – 'Swan Lee', 'Late Nights', 'Golden Hair', 'Clowns & Jugglers'. First appearance of the track that would later be named Octopus. Session Nine.
Session nine is where Peter Jenner decided to pull the plug, and unless you believe in the conspiracy theory that Jenner was a spy for the Pink Floyd camp, there must have been a valid reason for it.
So there we have it, the nine chaotic Madcap sessions of the year 1968. Of course it is clear where the six sessions explanation comes from, if one omits the second session where Barrett probably never cared to show up and some tape transfer and overdub sessions you have successfully diminished nine sessions into six.
It all is a matter of interpretation: at one side you have those who argue that Barrett recorded a nice collection of great dance songs in only six sessions, at the other side you have those (including producer, manager and personal friend Peter Jenner) who claim that nine sessions weren't enough to produce three decent demos. As always the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
So the six session myth, as noted down by Allan Jones in the Uncut Pink Floyd 'Ultimate Music Guide' might not be so far off the truth.
Another misty myth hangs around the cover shoot of the album. Allan Jones bluntly states, more out of ignorance, I presume, than of knowledge, that Mick Rock was responsible for the cover. The official version goes that the pictures, used for the cover, were taken by Storm Thorgerson, who happened to be at the same place at the same time (as the picture at the left side proves). The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit has already spilled lots of bits and bytes about The Madcap Laughs photo sessions (in plural), so we won't go further into that.
Iggy 'Eskimo' Rose revealed to Mark Blake that other shots were taken as well:
I don't think Storm and Mick were very impressed by them. If you've ever seen the cover of the Rod Stewart album, Blondes Have More Fun, they were a bit like that... Of me and Syd. There were others of me and Syd, as well, which remind me of the picture of John and Yoko [on Two Virgins] which came out later. I'd love to see those pictures now. (Taken from: The Strange Tale Of Iggy The Eskimo Pt. 2)
Nowadays it is not that certain any more if these shots were taken by Storm Thorgerson or by Mick Rock. There might even have been a third photographer at play. It seems that the flat of Syd Barrett was crowded with people that day and that they all brought a camera. Unfortunately the naughty Syd & Iggy pictures seem to have disappeared...
Maybe it was because there was too much frontal. Poor Syd, I remember getting carried away, pulling and pushing him about, getting astride him. He was in fits of laughter....which of course is not what they [the photographers] where after. (Iggy Rose, 30 May 2011.)
Riding the Octopus
Allan Jones is of course not a Barrett anorak like yours truly (and most of the readers of this blog) and thus he has to confide upon other anoraky people. So he probably doesn't see any harm in the following quote:
Rob Chapman's close reading of the remarkable 'Octopus', for example, revealed the craft of which Syd was still capable. The song's cleverly accumulated lyrics drew on diverse literary sources, folklore, nursery rhymes, and the hallucinatory vernacular of dream states to create a wholly realised, enraptured universe, halcyon and unique. (p. 35)
This is all true and very beautifully written, but only – and this brings us back to the starting point of this article – it was Paul Belbin's essay (compiled with the help of a dozen of contributors) that revealed the Octopus' hidden lyrics to begin with and that roughly five years before Chapman's Irregular Head biography. No wonder that Julian Palacios, a Syd Barrett biographer in his own right, calls it the Rosetta stone for decoding the writing inspirations for one of Syd Barrett's most beloved songs.
But all in all Uncut's 'The Ultimate Music Guide' to Pink Floyd seems to be an essential (and rather cheap, only £5.99) overview of the band and its records and I like all the articles that I've read so far. I think it's a gem and a keeper.
The Church wishes to thank: Paul Belbin, Mark Blake, Julian Palacios and
the wandering anonymous Pink Floyd lover from the Embassy of God.
Top picture: variation on a theme from The
♥ Iggy ♥ Libby ♥
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.
Belbin, Paul & Palacios, Julian: Untangling the Octopus v3, 2009, hosted at the Syd Barrett Research Society (forum no longer active).
Update April 2015: same article hosted at Late Night.
Parker, David: Random Precision, Cherry Red Books, London, 2001, p. 126-138.