2012-03-26

Formentera Lady

Formentera Magical Mystery Tour
Formentera Magical Mystery Tour.

Despite the fact that the sixties children of the revolution all wanted to express their individualism and refused to be a part of the square 9 to 5 world they all managed to show up at the same places, dress virtually the same and take the same chemical substances.

This also applied for their holidays. Although they had been seeing each other the whole year in old rainy England, in summer they would pack their bags and flee – en masse – to the same cool (but sweaty) locations, following the so-called Hippie Trail.

The Hippie Trail extended to the Himalayas and several Cantabrigian hipsters made it to the Indies, looking for a guru who would teach them things a local vicar couldn't teach them. Paul Charrier, one of the Cantabrigian mods, beats or whatever denomination they liked that week, was one of the first to witness this. When he returned to England and opened his bag of tricks, he managed to convert a few others to the narrow path of Sant Mat, but others, like Storm Thorgerson and Matthew Scurfield, opposed to this 'wave of saccharine mysticism hitting our shores' (see also: We are all made of stars).

India and Pakistan were long and hazardous journeys and for those who only had a few weeks to spend there were always the Balearic islands where they would meet at La Tortuga or La Fonda Pepe.

Some 700 hippies arrived in Formentera in 1968 and by the summer of 1969 there were already 1,300, almost one for every 2.5 islanders. They didn’t stay all year round but were usually university students spending their holidays on the island. In 1970, Franco’s regime threw all 3,000 of them off Ibiza and Formentera. According to the regime, the hippies gave the place a bad name, but the islanders didn’t agree – for them the hippies were simply tourists. (Taken from: Thinkspain.)

Of course the islands of Formentera and Ibiza (Balearic Islands) already had some reputation of their own. The place not only gained popularity by (American) writers and artists after the second world war for its mild climate, but also because it was a central drug smuggling point. The heroes of Beat literature not only liked the bohemian's life, but in their quest for nonconformity they also actively sought contact with 'the perilous margins of society - pimps, whores, drug dealers, petty thieves'.

Quite some Dutch artists visited the place, for one reason or another. The proto-hippie-folk singing duo Nina & Frederik (Dutch-Danish, in fact), who had some hits in the fifties and early sixties, lived there. In his later life Frederik Van Pallandt attempted a career as drug smuggler and his murder in 1994 may have been a direct result. Other artist included poet Simon Vinkenoog, author Jan Cremer and Black & Decker trepanist Bart Huges. The sixties saw visits from the Beatles, the Stones and in their wake some beautiful people from London (for a more detailed list: Ibiza in the beatnik & hippie eras.)

1963

David Gale, his girlfriend Maureen, Dave Henderson, Storm Thorgerson and John Davies went to Ibiza in 1963 for their holidays where they visited Formentera island for a day. Back at home they all decided to have another holiday there.

1965

Mary Wing (and her friend Marc Dessier) found Formentera so beautiful that in 1965 they decided to stay there.

Syd Barrett, Formentera 1967.
Syd Barrett, Formentera 1967.

1967

Nick Mason acknowledges that after the '14 hour technicolour dream' (29 April 1967) the band was very tired and that Syd showed more severe symptoms than the others. Despite all that the continuous, eight days a week, gigging went on with the mythical Games For May concert two weeks later (12 May), the memorable Hans Keller BBC interview (14 May) and the See Emily Play recording session (18 May). There were nearly daily concerts or recording sessions between May and June of that year, but little by little cracks started to appear in their overcrowded agenda.

June, 11: two cancelled concerts in Holland
June, 18: public appearance on a bikini fashion show for Radio London, cancelled
June, 24: two cancelled concerts in Corby and Bedford
June, 25: two cancelled concerts in Manchester

On Thursday, July the 27th 1967, the Pink Floyd mimed (for the third time) on the Top Of the Pops show although Barrett was rather reluctant to do it. The next day they had a recording session for the BBC, but apparently Syd was seen leaving the block when it was their turn. This time the band and its management took Syd's behaviour seriously and decided to cancel all August gigs (with the exception of some studio recording sessions).

Update September 2012: one of these cancelled gigs was the 7th National Jazz, Pop, Ballads and Blues Festival that was visited by Iggy the Eskimo: Iggy - a new look in festivals.

Now what would you do when the lead singer of your band has got mental problems due to his abundant drug intake? You send him to a hippie, drug infested, island under the supervision of a psychedelic doctor who thinks that LSD has been been the best invention since masturbation.

Sam [Hutt, aka Smutty] was the underground's very own house doctor, sympathetic to drug users and musicians: as Boeing Duveen And The Beautiful Soup and later Hank Wangford, Sam was able to introduce a performer’s perspective. (Nick Mason)

In 1969 Smutty would have his medical office at Jenny Fabian's apartment: “I did find it a bit weird though, trying to lie around stoned listening to the sounds of vaginal inspections going on behind the curtain up the other end of the sitting-room."

Hell O Formentera © Stanislav
Hell O' Formentera © Stanislav Grigorev.

After a first attempt in the studio on Scream Thy Last Scream, Pink Floyd finally went on holiday for the second half of August. Syd Barrett, Lindsay Corner, Rick Wright, Juliette Gale (Wright), Dr. Sam Hutt, his wife and baby went to Formentera while Roger Waters and Judy Trim (Waters) headed for Ibiza. They all had a good time, except for Barrett who – during a storm - panicked so hard he literally tried to climb the walls of the villa, an anecdote that is so vehemently trashed by biographer Rob Chapman that it probably did happen.

In retrospect the decision to take a hippie doctor on holiday wasn't that stupid. One of the underlying ideas was that he would be able to communicate with Syd on the same level. The band, conscientiously or not, were also aware that 'there was a fear that sending Syd to a [traditional] doctor for observation might lead to his being sectioned in a mental hospital'.

In those days most care centres in Great Britain were still Victorian lunatic asylums where medical torture was mildly described as therapy. At least these were the horrid stories told by the people who had been so lucky to escape.

He showed me to the room that was to be mine. It was indeed a cell. There was no door knob on the inside, the catch had been jammed so that the door couldn't be shut properly, the window was high up in the wall and had bars over it, and there was only a standard issue bed and locker as furniture. (William Pryor)

Nobody wanted this to happen to Syd, but a less prosaic thought was this would have meant the end of the band, something that had to be carefully avoided. “The idea was to get Syd out of London, away from acid, away from all his friends who treated him like a god.”, Rick Wright explained but in reality Dr. Hutt, and the others, merely observed Syd Barrett, catatonic as ever and still 'munching acid all the time'. Nick Mason, in his usual dry style: “It was not a success.”

Whoever thought that giving Barrett a few weeks of rest was going to evaporate the demons from his brain must have been tripping himself and on the first of September the agenda was resumed as if nothing had happened. The first 6 days were filled with gigs and recording sessions. Three days later a Scandinavian tour with the legendary Gyllene Cirkeln and Starclub gigs, followed by an Irish Tour and later, in October, the disastrous North American Tour...

Although the previous paragraphs may seem harsh they are not meant to criticise the people nor their actions. It is easy to pinpoint what went wrong 45 years ago, but as it is impossible to predict an alternative past we will never know if any other action would have had a different or better effect. The Reverend is convinced that Syd's friends, band members and management tried to do their best to help him, but unfortunately they were running in the same insane treadmill as he was. Syd wasn't the only one to be exhausted and at the same time the atmosphere was imbibed with the 'summer of love' philosophy of respecting someone's personal freedom, even if it lead to self-destruction...

1968

In 1968 Aubrey 'Po' Powell (Floydian roadie and later Hipgnosis member) visited the Formentera island together with some friends.

I first came here forty-one years ago [interview taken in 2009, FA] with David Gilmour, and then the year afterwards with Syd Barrett. The first year I came to Formentera I stayed about four months living like a hippie, and I just fell in love with it. (…) Also it was kind of difficult to get to. You had to get the plane to Ibiza and then the ferry which at that time was the only ferry that went between Ibiza and Formentera and that took about two hours to get across and it only went twice a day. So it was an effort to get there, you know, it was a rather remote place. But a lot of writers, painters and musicians gravitated there. (Taken from: Aubrey Powell: Life, light and Formentera’s influence on Hipgnosis.)
a smile from a veil
A smile from a veil.

1969

Shortly after Syd Barrett watched the first moon-landing (that had been given a Pink Floyd soundtrack on the BBC) he panicked when he found out that his pal Emo (Iain Moore) and a few others (Po, John Davies) had left Albion for sunny Formentera. He literally grabbed a bag of cash and dirty clothes and headed to Heathrow, driven there by Gala Pinion.

The story goes that Syd tried to stop an aeroplane taxiing on the tarmac. In at least one version the plane actually stopped and took him on board, but other say he had to wait for the next departure. Again it is biographer Rob Chapman who categorises this anecdote as 'unsubstantiated nonsense', on the weird assumption that it failed to make the newspapers, but other biographies have also omitted this story for simply being too unbelievable.

Anyway, somewhere in July or early August 1969 Syd arrived in Ibiza and met Emo who was on his way to San Fernando (Formentera). The biographies Crazy Diamond (Mike Watkinson & Pete Anderson), Madcap (Tim Willis) and Dark Globe (Julian Palacios) all add bits and pieces to that particular holiday.

Iain Moore: “He had a carrier bag of clothes that I could smell from where I was standing.”

Emo says Syd's behaviour was pivoting like a see-saw. One moment he could be seen laughing, joking and singing with the gang; the next moment he could snap into an emotional freeze. It was useless to warn him for the blistering sun and in the end his friends 'had to grab him, hold him down, and cover him from head to toe in Nivea'.

At Formentera Syd stayed with Mary Wing, who had left Great Britain in 1965 to live on the island with Marc Dessier. According to them Barrett was a gentle soul but 'like a little brother who needed looking after'. Barrett was in good form and to an audience of European hippies he claimed he was still the leader of Pink Floyd.

Barrett borrowed Dessier's guitar: “Then he sat there, chose a letter of the alphabet and thought of his three favourite words starting with the same letter. He wrote them on three bits of paper, threw them in the air and wrote them again in the order that he picked them up.” This technique was not uncommon for beat poets and Syd may have been inspired by Spike Hawkins who showed Barrett his Instant Poetry Broth book the year before.

One Formantera picture shows Syd with an unknown girl who hides her nudity behind a red veil. The (copyrighted) picture can be found on John Davies MySpace page (image link) and has been published in the Crazy Diamond biography and on A Fleeting Glimpse.

For Pink Floyd buffs the picture shares a resemblance with the red veil picture on the Wish You Were Here liner bag, that actually exists in a few different versions. Storm Thorgerson has used the past from the band and its members for his record covers, backdrop movies and videos on several occasions, like the Barrett vinyl compilation that had a cover with a plum, an orange and a matchbox.

Hipgnosis collaborator 'Po' Powell was with Syd in Formentera in 1969, but what does Storm Thorgerson has to say about it all? He reveals that the idea for the veil came from John Blake, and not from Po:

John Blake suggested using a veil – symbol of absence (departure) in funerals ans also a way of absenting (hiding) the face. This was the last shot (…) which was photographed in Norfolk.

And in Mind Over Matter:

The red muslin veil is an universal item, or symbol, of hiding the face, either culturally as in Araby, or for respect as in funerals. What's behind the veil?
Sarah Sky, Formentera 1969
Sarah Sky, Formentera 1969.

Formentera Lady

According to Nick Mason a female nude can be seen on the Wish You Were Here inside cover but of course this doesn't say anything about the unknown woman on Formentera. Who is she?

Nobody knows. And that secret remained a secret for over 40 years.

Now let's suppose a witness would show up who remembers she has been seen walking near Earl's Court.
And that she was called Sarah Sky although that probably was not her real name.
And that she spoke with a foreign accent and lived in London.
And that Sarah Sky vanished around the late 1970's and has never been heard of since.

Partially solving a problem only makes it bigger. A new quest has begun.

Updates

Iain Moore

Update 2012.05.26: According to Emo (Iain Moore) Sarah Sky may have been one of the girls who went with them to Formentera. The Syd Barrett Archives (Facebook) have the following quote:

Actually, I spoke to Emo last night and he said she was just another person who was staying at the house they rented. It was a nudist beach, lol. At least Syd kept his pants on this time! (…)
Anyway, Emo said they didn't know her and he couldn't remember who she was with. (...)
The girl in this photo is name unknown. She was American and staying in a house in Ibiza. She was visiting Formentera for the day.

Iain has, since then, reconfirmed that the Formentera Girl was an American tourist. He has also posted a new picture of Syd and the girl.

Nigel Gordon

Update August 2012: Author and movie maker Nigel Gordon does not agree with a quote in the above text, taken from Matthew Scurfield:

I just want to respond briefly to your article on Formentera etc where you wrote or quote that Santmat is ‘saccharine mysticism’. I don’t agree with you. Santmat recommends that we meditate for two and a half hours a day. It’s pretty ‘salty’!

Uschi Obermaier

Update February 2015: Some 'sources' on the web pretend the Formentera girl is none other than German photo-model Uschi Obermaier. Obviously this is not true and if you want to know how the Church came to this conclusion you can read everything at Uschi Obermaier: Proletarian Chic.


Many thanks to: Nina, ebronte, Julian Palacios, Jenny Spires.

Sources (other than the above internet links):
Blake, Mark: Pigs Might Fly, Aurum Press Limited, London, 2007, p. 90, 131.
Chapman, Rob: A Very Irregular Head, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 228, 341.
Davis, John: Childhood's End, My Generation Cambridge 1946-1965.
De Groot, Gerard: The Sixties Unplugged, Pan Macmillan, London, 2009, p. 27.
Gordon, Nigel: Santmat, email, 18.08.2012.
Green, Jonathon: Days In The Life, Pimlico, London, 1998, p. 286.
Green, Jonathon: All Dressed Up, Pimlico, London, 1999, p. 255.
Mason, Nick, Inside Out, Orion Books, London, 2011 reissue, p. 95-97.
Palacios, Julian: A mile or more in a foreign clime': Syd and Formentera @ Syd Barrett Research Society, 2009 (forum no longer active).
Palacios, Julian: Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe, Plexus, London, 2010, p. 265, 353.
Pryor, William: The Survival Of The Coolest, Clear Books, 2003, p. 106.
Scurfield, Matthew: I Could Be Anyone, Monticello Malta 2009, p. 176.
Spires, Jenny: The Syd Barrett Archives, Facebook, 2012.
Thorgerson, Storm: Mind Over Matter, Sanctuary Publishing, London, 2003, p. 80.
Thorgerson, Storm: Walk Away René, Paper Tiger, Limpsfield, 1989, p. 150.
Thorgerson, Storm & Powell, Aubrey: For The Love Of Vinyl, Picturebox, Brooklyn, 2008, p. 104 (essay written by Nick Mason).
Watkinson, Mike & Anderson, Pete: Crazy Diamond, Omnibus Press, London, 1993, p. 90-91.
Willis, Tim, Madcap, Short Books, London, 2002, p. 113-114.