On the 6th June of 1970 Syd Barrett gave his short Olympia concert together with David Gilmour and Jerry Shirley. We won't get further into the discussion about the set's brevity and about the fact that a certain faction of Barrett fans and musicians, including Mohammed Abdullah John 'Twink' Alder, think that the tape of that gig is in fact a Stars performance of February 1972, but we will use this date as a calibration point for Syd's... length of hair.
The friendly discussion about the exact colour of Syd's floor boards created an existential crisis in Barrett-land (see: The Case of the Painted Floorboards (v 2.012)), with people who refuse to talk to each other ever since, and the hair-length discussion promises to be as lively. As a matter of fact Syd's Hair Chronology is not a new topic, we could find a Late Night forum thread from 2007, but like all things Syd this discussion comes up about every 6 months or so.
Barrett, the second solo album, was released on 14 November 1970 and his management found it advisable to have some photo shoots and interviews to promote the album.
Barrie Wentzell had the following to say about this:
Chris Welch and I went along to do a quick interview with Syd at his managers office. We were a bit apprehensive, as stories of Syd's behavior of late seemed bizarre. When we got there, we were met by a very upset guy who said Syd had locked himself into a room and he wouldn't come out. Oh dear! It seemed the stories were true. Chris and I spoke to him through the door and tried to convince him that we were his friends and that everything was ok. He slowly opened the door and ushered us in quickly shutting and locking the door behind us. He stood there looking very frightened, muttering, Those people out there are aliens, and are after me! We tried to tell him that they were his management and friends and they cared about him, as do we. He seemed unconvinced, and I took this dark side of Syd pictures and managed to persuade him to let Chris and I out and that we'd send help. He took the key from his pocket, unlocked the door. We escaped and Syd locked himself back inside. Taken from: Snapgalleries.
The pictures of Syd Barrett, taken that day by Barrie Wentzell, have been nicknamed the 'stoned tramp' session and show an unshaven Syd Barrett with mid-long hair and a pair of eyes that not always seem to be focusing on something (see: second picture). One of them appeared in Melody Maker of the 31st of January 1971, next to the Chris Welch article that was titled: Confusion and Mr Barrett. (To add further discombobulation Barrie Wentzell dates the picture as 1971 on his own website, but it is – probably – from November 1970.)
Let's Call the Whole Thing Off (aka I like tomato)
In Autumn 1970, Barrett was living semi-permanently in his mother's house in Cambridge, far away from the frantic London beatnik drug scene he had been a member, propagator and victim of. He had deliberately left everything and everybody behind to find some peace of mind. Perhaps he had decided to follow Gala Pinion, who had found a job at Joshua Taylor, a Cambridge department store and who had left London a few months earlier. One of Syd's many dreams was to settle down and start a family. Gala and Syd officially announced their engagement in October after they had found a ring at Antiquarius on King's Road.
To celebrate this event a joint family engagement dinner was organised but that day Syd was not in a very good shape. While Donald, Alan, Ruth, Roe and Gala's father where staring at each other in silence he threw some tomato soup over his fiancé and disappeared for the bathroom when the roast pork arrived... Julian Palacios:
He cut off his long hair to an inch from his skull and returned downstairs. As though the sixties had never happened, he severed links with his past with a pair of scissors. He rejoined the family fold, taking his place at the table in silence. Gala said, ‘No one batted an eyelid. They carried on with the meal as if nothing had happened, didn’t say a word. I thought, “Are they mad or is it me?’”
It is not sure when this dinner took place, but it might have been after the Barrett promo interview(s), so December 1970 seems like a valid candidate. The dinner fiasco was an omen for things to come, Syd would spy on Gala at her work and accused her to have an affair with a sales assistant and with his former drummer, Jerry Shirley. One day Barrett wrote a formal letter to break off the engagement and she returned the ring, but he would still harass her for weeks to come. During a final row, incidentally at Jerry Shirley's place, Barrett finally understood that he had lost. Even Syd must have grasped at one point that showing up at night and scaring the shit out of her was not the proper way to win her back.
A few months later, that same Barrie Wetzell photographed Barrett to accompany the famous Michael Watts article that appeared in Melody Maker on the 27th of March 1971 (see third picture above).
Barrett has very short hair and looks rather agile:
Syd Barrett came up to London last week and talked in the office of his music publisher, his first press interview for about a year. His hair is cut very short now, almost like a skinhead. Symbolic? Of what, then? He is very aware of what is going on around him, but his conversation is often obscure; it doesn't always progress in linear fashion. Taken from: Syd Barrett interview, Melody Maker, Mar 27 1971, Michael Watts.
The above quote points out that the 'skinhead' pictures date from mid March 1971, although on Wetzell's website they are mislabelled as 1970. Steve Turner of Beat Instrumental met Syd on the 19th of April 1971:
He now has his hair cropped to Love Me Do length but compromises with a purple satin jacket and stack heeled boots. During the interview he relights each cigarette from the remnants of the previous one and pivots his eyeballs at an incredible speed as he speaks. "I've just left a train and had to pay an awful taxi ride" he says slowly tipping his ash into an empty coffee cup. "I've come to look for a guitar. I've got a neck in the other room. Quite an exciting morning for me." Something about him makes you think that this may well be right. Taken from: Syd Barrett, A Psychedelic Veteran (free subscription to read).
And in May Barrett had a visit from Mick Rock and his wife Sheila (and not Iggy Rose as has been hinted here and there). Syds' hair already has grown a bit (see fourth picture above).
In early 1972, with the Stars gigs, he will have very long hair and a beard (see fifth picture).
We will never be sure about what Barrett's motivation was for his actions, but we can be sure about one thing, his hair grew at a staggering speed.
Sources (other than the above internet links):
Chapman, Rob: A Very Irregular Head, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 281.
Palacios, Julian: Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe, Plexus, London, 2010, p. 383, 389.
Willis, Tim, Madcap, Short Books, London, 2002, p. 121-123.
1: 1970 06: Syd at Olympia, photographer unknown, Rex Features.
2: 1970 11: 'Barrett' 'stoned tramp' promo shot by Barrie Wentzell.
3: 1971 03: 'Barrett' 'skinhead' promo shot by Barrie Wentzell.
4: 1971 05: Syd in his mother's garden, Cambridge, by Mick Rock.
5: 1972 02: Syd performing with Stars by Jenny Spires.
Many thanks to: Psych, Stanislav & the gang at Late Night & Birdie Hop.
♥ Iggy ♥ Libby ♥