Eva Wijkniet: my Syd (Roger) Barrett project

Eva Wijkniet
Eva Wijkniet.

In 2011 Eva Wijkniet, from The Netherlands, not only managed to visit the Barrett exhibition at (the recently closed down) Idea Generation Gallery, but she also got a foot in the door of Libby Gausden Chisman, a couple of months later. When the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit got hold of the rumour that she was writing her story for publication at the Dutch Pink Floyd Fans Nederland fanpage, we moved heaven and earth to publish her report on the Church pages as well.

It did cost us blood, sweat, an inkjet and blue nail-polish, but here it is, the wondrous story of Eva, friends and family, in merry Barrett land. Many, many thanks to Libby Gausden for her support and Eva for this story.

An Innerview with Eva Wijkniet
Syd Barrett in a leather jacket
Syd Barrett in a leather jacket.

Eva Wijkniet: my Syd (Roger) Barrett project

You have got these years that a lot happens, more than in other years.
2011 was one like this for me.

It actually began in 2010 when I came in contact with the creators of the "Barrett book". Mind you, not that I personally met them, but through the social media like things go today.

I once had seen (already a long time ago) an episode of the documentary series called "the seven ages of rock" with particular focus on the origins of psychedelic rock, and in particular the vague and relatively unknown first front-man of Pink Floyd. I knew Pink Floyd, but was not very interested in their well-known work. But when I saw this documentary I was glued to the tube as bee on a honey pot. Who was this appearance? What was that noise? What was this special story and why didn't I know it?

I had to go to the bottom of this... my research project "Syd (Roger) Barrett" had begun...

First I read some books. "A Very Irregular Head" by Rob Chapman and "Dark Globe" by Julian Palacios were the first, and after a load of others (all in English) these came out the best in my opinion. What was it about this man? Why did this gorgeous and brilliant appearance of a man vanished from the scene before the world lay at the feet of this mega band?

He was a painter...
He was a guitarist...
He was crazy...
He was an acid casualty...
He became a hermit...
Hundreds, thousands vague stories of incidents...
How was it really?

I became heavily fascinated with my object or research, so to speak.
Months of wandering on the internet and many extensions of my Facebook network followed and after a while I stumbled upon a site of Essential Works where authors Russell Beecher and Will Shutes were busy compiling a book about Syd.

This had to be a complete visual overview of Barrett as an "Artist". A book featuring never-before-seen photos and a compendium of his artwork that was still traceable or that had been photographed. This book would also have (love) letters of the very young Syd, full of expectations of life, searching for a purpose, seeking confirmation of his loved ones, unsure of his musical skills in the student band with his mates Roger, Nick, Rick and Bob.

To get this book published, the authors sought support.

For months I frantically twittered and facebooked and in November 2010, the high word came out... the book was going to be published! To thank us for our endless spamming, the first who had subscribed to the book had their name published in the so called "Roll of Honour".

Early 2011, the book appeared!

BARRETT: The definitive visual companion to the life of Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett

Untitled by Syd Barrett
Untitled by Syd Barrett.

I was super-proud when I opened the book and saw my name on the "Roll" among many others.

And... there was going to be an exhibition! Obviously I had to go! I went to London and two super girlfriends reported themselves as travel companions.

March 2, 2011, early in the morning, three uproarious girls (30+ but with the mentality of 15-year old teenagers who went on a tour) got on a plane to London. That same afternoon I stood with my face before a painting of a turtle (a reproduction would later hang on my wall). I stand musing in front of the letters Syd wrote to his first loves (later I would know better one of them) and very early photos of Pink Floyd... There was a mosaic of two warriors, abstract works in red and blue, small landscapes in watercolour, ink sketches of a little boy...

My friends were pretty tired after 10 minutes, but they did not have the connection with and fascination for Syd Barrett as I have... I loved it and two days later I returned to visit the exposition on my own.

Through Facebook I had already met Libby Gausden Chisman, Syd's first love.

She is a terribly nice woman, in her sixties but that doesn't withhold her to master the full potential of Facebook. She took pleasure to get acquainted with the supporters of the "Barrett book".

When she heard that I would spend my summer holidays at the English Coast with my family, she insisted that we would bring her a visit.

After some exchanges of mail addresses and phone-numbers we left (husband, child, parents-in-law all stuffed in two packed cars) towards the UK.

Libby and Neil (her husband) lived on the route but I still hesitated to bust her place with my household and parents, especially as it was around dinner time. I called just to be sure, and she said I had not to act stupid and that she had more than enough food and that we had to pass by.

True Story (by Syd Barrett)
True Story by Syd Barrett.

We arrived at the place in a beautiful area at the English coast. We drove up the driveway and the front door was already open... I didn't want to just walk in, so I rang at the door. Libby arrived and said that she had left the door open on purpose for us. I said it was not wise after the incident in the IG gallery (on the second last day a painting had been stolen, but two days later it was returned by post). Afterwards she found the theft really witty and she corrected us, the painting had not been stolen, but merely borrowed.

We were greeted like old friends, which I still think is particular as I only knew her through Facebook. We got coffee in the garden (and she was glad I am a smoker, she finds all that anti-smoking stuff a hassle) and an arsenal of food that was yet to come.

The long corridor of the house was filled with artwork and some of those I had already seen a few weeks earlier, of course. But at the IG gallery I really thought this would be a one time experience... how wrong could I be...

I could take pictures of what I wanted and the she came with a suitcase full of letters.

All these years she had kept the letters in a black garbage bag, but the people of the gallery didn't found that nice enough and stored the letters for her in a folder and suitcase.

You have to know that in all these years many Syd fans and journalists came over her floor and that quite some documents and photos have been 'lost'. And yet this doesn't withhold her from continuing to welcome people.

Many have been to her house, including writer Rob Chapman, who even worked on his book about Syd in a room in her house. Libby has never read his book.

Also I found it particular that her husband Neil was as warm and affectionate towards us. Lib has often said that we owe it to him that these Syd Barrett relics are still there. He always wanted her to keep the documents even at the moments that she wanted to put hem away.

In the 70s he even agreed with the idea of taking Syd into their home when it really wasn't going well with him. Her mother put a stop on this because she didn't found it suitable for the very young children of the couple. This is just one anecdote of the many she told me, but out of respect I will not put those here. She made it clear that there was more than the excesses of madness and excessive drug use we always read about.

I was sitting cross-legged on the floor and she gave me all those letters to read and then came the moment when she summoned me to go upstairs... From her bedroom's wardrobe she took an old black leather jacket. Would I like to try it on?

Libby, Eva and the jacket
Libby, Eva and the jacket.

Die Jacke

It was Syd's leather jacket from 1962!

On a balcony of an old English house at the coast, with palm trees in the garden and the rustling sea in the background, I wore the Syd Barrett's coat... Pinch me!

I wore the jacket of my idol. The man who meant so much for me. Of course not in the same way when I was 14 and almost fainted as Koen Wauters from the Belgian rock band Clouseau came on TV (yes... everyone has some youthful sins...).

This is different.

Libby has no problem distinguishing the "Sydiots" (terrible word) from the real fans. And precisely the real fan she embraces. "For us it was easy, we knew him and he was part of our lives. You had to take some efforts, by listening to his music and by reading books about him.", she always says.

There is also some small rebellion in her, because she often disagrees with the "Syd Barrett Estate" (that manages the art pieces, letters, etc...). The Estate owns everything, even if it is in her hands. And the Estate doesn't like to share, but she doesn't mind.

Everything comes to an end, we could have stayed for hours, but our trip had to be continued. I have met a new friend in a once in a lifetime experience.

And then...?

The book was published.
I had attended the exhibition.
I visited Libby.
I had seen everything.

Now what...?

Luckily I didn't fall into a black hole!
I got inspiration for other projects, things I need to do. We had an artist in the family, I want to map his work and career. It will become a long-term project. I also have a family and work to do, but somehow I'll manage.

So what did this all lead to?
A lot.
Especially a lot of things I can't describe, but that are there.
Syd Barrett is always floating somewhere in the back of my mind.

Thanks to: Libby and Neil, AJ, Alex, Amy, Andre, Bill, Felix, Iggy, Jenny, Julian and all of you for being my Facebook Barrett friends.

Kirsten and Irma along for going on the ride.

Sven and Bart for everything.

© 2012 Eva Wijkniet. Pictures courtesy of Libby Gausden & Eva Wijkniet. Notes & Introduction : the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit. Translation mistakes, typos and all possible errors are entirely the responsibility of the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit.
♥ Iggy ♥ Libby ♥ Eva ♥

This story has previously been published (in Dutch) at: Pink Floyd Fans Nederland (hosted by Floydian Theo)

Links & reviews (at the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit):
The Seven Ages Of Rock, Part 2 - White Light, White Heat @ Google Video
The Idea Generation exhibition: Iggy at the Exhibition 
"A Very Irregular Head" by Rob Chapman review: The Big Barrett Conspiracy Theory 
"Dark Globe" by Julian Palacios review: Dark Blog 
BARRETT: The definitive visual companion to the life of Pink Floyd's Syd Barrett review: Barrett: come on you painter!