2013-05-25

Spanishgrass, one year later

Acid in Oseira
Oseira Monastery
Oseira Monastery.

When the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit got hold of an Iberian Floydian legend, thanks to a Mexican Syd Barrett fan, the Reverend's alter ego, Alex Fagotin, spend a couple of days searching the Internet for clues and started to translate half a dozen of Spanish, Galician and Italian webpages about the subject. According to these articles Syd Barrett had stayed in a Spanish monastery where he had recorded a third solo album called Spanishgrass. If you missed it, you can still consult the original article here: Spanishgrass or Syd Barrett's lost Spanish record.

In May 2012 the Holy Church published excerpts from these articles 'as such' under the satirical 'The Anchor' banner. Authenticity warnings were put at the beginning and end of the article and it was made clear throughout the text that the story was an urban legend that had thrived in Spain around the Eighties and was still discussed on Internet fora today.

Only a fool would believe this was a true story, but unfortunately the Internet is a fool's oasis.

La Naval
La Naval.

Investigative Journalism

Some airheads immediately accused the Church of deliberately spreading around false information, even going as far as claiming it had a hidden agenda. As if blogging about 'Paul is Dead' would automatically mean that you believe in it. Several Spanish speaking friends, however, were glad about the article and informed the Reverend that the Spanish press had indeed written about Syd Barrett overwintering in a monastery in Oseira.

Once again we repeat for those pigheaded readers that The Anchor, the Church's satirical division, didn't start this hoax. The Anchor merely reported about it, with a twenty five years delay. Unfortunately nobody could lead us to the origin of the hoax and our research lead to nothing.

This is when Barrett investigator Antonio Jesus, of Solo En Las Nubes, came into the picture. He decided to get to the bottom of this using his (Spanish) network of Barrett and Pink Floyd fans. After some exhaustive research he not only found the article that may have started the Spanishgrass legend but even contacted the journalist who wrote it. This first follow-up article is largely based upon his findings.

A warning for our fast food readers, what follows is rather long, even for people who are used to The Anchor's long-windedness.

Solo en les Nubes
Solo en las Nubes.
La Naval
La Naval.

Un canto a Galicia

In 1978 (ratified in 1981) Spanish region Galicia acquired a partial self-governance with its own president, parliament and court. This created a change in cultural and political awareness, fed by local television, press and organisations who wanted to cut the umbilical cord with Madrid. This was later baptised the Atlantic movement.

Journalist and musician of the influential Galician post-punk band Radio Océano, Xosé Manuel Pereiro, better known as Johnny Rotring, witnessed the birth of it: “Everyday new things were happening and you had the feeling that everything could pass.” A crucial turning point seems to have been a concert of The Ramones in November 1981 that showed that there was a growing contemporaneous underground scene outside traditional Spanish folklore. Leading Spanish newspaper El País wrote that it was a cultural awakening that buried 40 years of ostracism and dictatorship.

Franco's Legacy

In 2013 it seem weird that a concert of The Ramones would mark a turning point in the cultural history of a European country. To better understand this we have to start with a brief history lesson.

After the second world war fascism was abolished in Europe with one exception, Spain, where dictator Francisco Franco would rule until his death in 1975. Although Richard Nixon called General Franco 'a loyal friend and ally of the United States' it can't be denied that the dictator ruled harshly over his country, helped by the influential Catholic Church, the army and the police. European and American politicians however opportunistically regarded Franco as an enlightened leader and closed their eyes for the less friendly aspects of the regime.

This included the systematic suppression of dissident views through censorship and coercion, the imprisonment of ideological enemies in concentration camps, the implementation of forced labour in prisons, and the use of the death penalty and heavy prison sentences as deterrents for the opponents of the regime. (Taken from Wikipedia.)

After Franco's death democracy slowly settled in, including freedom of speech, freedom of press and the freedom to listen to subversive music. Before that, having long hair had been reason enough to be arrested by the Guardia Civil and be beaten in their cells (with wet towels, to leave no marks) just for the fun of it, like it was told to the Reverend by a young dissident who had fled Spain for Belgium in the seventies.

Atlanticism

From rock'n roll awareness, with alternative radio stations and Galician new wave and post punk bands, the Atlantic movement shifted towards more critical and political viewpoints, often with an ironic wink. This resulted into several alternative publications but the one that became the Atlantic manifesto was La Naval that appeared twice a year in a circulation of 5000 copies.

La Naval
La Naval.

La Naval

La Naval managed to unite most participants of 'Atlanticism', from Miguelanxo Prado over Enrique Ordovás to José Manuel Costa. It only existed for two years, between 1984 and 1986, but each number announced 'una visión crítica e irónica de la cultura y la actualidad ' to quote poet Louis Pereiro, one of its creators.

Its pages offered not only avant-garde Galician samples in art, literature, music or journalism, but it published self-confident, humoristic and hilarious articles about non-existent rock bands asking for parliamentary support, the 'National Cocho Front' forbidding all derogatory meanings of the word 'pig' and... the diary entries of a certain Syd Barret (with one T) who allegedly stayed at a monastery in Oseira.

La Naval, Revista Atlántica, appeared at least four times between 1984 and 1986 (and may not be confused with a few other Spanish magazines that carry the same title). Not only its countenance was alternative, but also its dates of apparition and the numbering. Number 0 came out in November 1984, followed by number 1 in March 1985, a third issue was numbered 00 in September 1985. The final issue had number 500 and was released somewhere in Autumn 1986.

That last issue had an article by José Ángel González, titled: Syd Barret busca en Oseira la armonía celeste and Antonio Jesús from the Spanish Barrett blog Solo En Las Nubes was so friendly to scan it in.

So here is, ladies & gentlemen, for the first time translated into English, the text that probably started the Spanishgrass hoax... (the scans of the original (Spanish) article can be consulted at our Spanishgrass library)


Syd Barret busca en Oseira la armonía celeste
Syd Barret busca en Oseira la armonía celeste.

SYD BARRET LOOKING FOR CELESTIAL HARMONY IN OSEIRA

In Oseira they are getting used to them, both are British, with blue eyes, and they annually visit the monastery. The novelist Graham Greene, who prefers the summer and the dry smell of the ground, scattered with crevices, perhaps mimicking his far-away tropical experiences when he was working for the Foreign Office. His annual visits to Oseira, where he is awaited by the monk Leopoldo Durán, confidant and cicerone of the British master, are reflected in the novel "Monsignor Quixote". In one of its pages Greene defines Oseira as "a deserted island colonized by just a handful of adventurers determined to build a home on the ruins of a bygone civilization."

Perhaps this same idea was playing in the mind of the monastery's other annual guest: Syd Barrett, founder and leader of the group Pink Floyd that coloured the sixties. One of the legends that periodically amused the world of 'pop' referred to the premature retirement of Barrett to a 'Spanish monastery', but hardly anyone decided to check this at the actual place. Barrett, more wintry than Greene, annually visited Oseira in the month of December and that since 1968.

The author of the two 'most genuine psychedelic albums of pop', as quoted by John Peel when describing 'The Madcap Laughs' and 'Barrett', searched each year for celestial harmony in Oseira that neither fame nor LSD could give him.

The village is gloomy, with that special, deep and captivating sadness that is standard for the northern beauty of Spain. However, the exception is the monastery 'El Escorial de Galicia', in the great plains surrounding the sandy slopes of Serra do Faro. For the monks in cyclic retirement the maelstrom of Oseira is a spiritual refuge.

La naval: original artwork
La Naval: original artwork.

There is also a pub, of course. The 'Sabadelle' is a sad café, with its original walls in rough granite that have been cemented by poorly masons. It is a sad place that is in tune with the landscape and its owner, Arcadio Mourin, admits with watery eyes that he 'has lived for thirty years in Galicia but has been homesick for Catalonia for at least twenty'.

From his two Mediterranean decades Mourin keeps a firm disgust for 'Pa amb tomàquet' [traditional dish with bread or toast with tomato rubbed over and seasoned with olive oil and salt, the Anchor] and a no less vehement passion for Football Club Barcelona, evident on the walls of the 'Sabadelle', that is covered by Blaugrana flags and pictures of 'Lobito' Carrasco. The bar's decoration is further completed with calendars from Carballiño and Chantada ironmongers and bazaars that are nailed into the wall next to a tattered rag that announces a big 'fiesta' in Villamarin.

In a small shed, with a green semi-transparent corrugated plastic roof, attached to the 'Sabadelle' Arcadio Mourin has installed a youth club for the town youngsters. They meet on Saturday afternoons to play table soccer, seven balls for a peseta. Next to the wall is a stack of soft drink cases and at the other end stands a jukebox, a 'Wurlitzer' made in 1966, adorned with abundant chrome and painted fuchsia and blue, a nod towards the preferred soccer team of the owner.

The musical menu of the 'rockola' is renewed every Blue Monday by an Orense salesman, who also represents a famous brand of biscuits, and his choice is colourful but commonplace. For a peso you can musically acclimatise the place with songs of Georgie Dann, Fuxan os Ventos, Azul y Negro, Golpes Bajos, Xoán Rubia or Duran Duran. The least heard song of the entire repertoire of the machine is identified by the letter B and number 7. Rarely a young man will decide to spoil a coin on it, perhaps because the small piece of paper with the title and performer is illegible. But when Arcadio Mourin permits it, visitors can open the plastic dome of the Wurlitzer and examine the single in question. It is the only one not coming from the travelling salesman from Orense and is a British 1967 edition of 'See Emily Play' and 'Scarecrow', two songs written by Syd Barrett and performed by the group Pink Floyd.

Jose Ángel González


Interviews

To add further credibility to the article several small interviews and quotes were added from people who testify about Barrett's yearly trip to the monastery: Arcadio Mourin (pub owner), Francisco Gasalla (Spanish friend of Syd Barrett), Leopoldo Durán (Oseira monk), Joe Boyd (producer), Kurt Digger (journalist), Jo Cannon (lightshow designer), Robert Wyatt (musician) and Rodney Bennett (movie maker).


Oseira Bar
A bar in Oseira.

Oseira. 1985 by Arcadio Mourin

We thought he could not speak our language or that he was dumb. Coming down here almost daily, at nightfall, he took a few glasses of wine while watching television. (...)

We knew that he lodged at the monastery and that he was an English countryman and novelist... Sometimes he headed towards Povadura to walk in the mountains in silent solitude. I think he came here the first time in '68 or '69 and after that we got used to see him arriving every year, in early December. Today he is liked much more and he relates more to the people, but he still leaves after a short time. He gave me a single for the machine that is there and it will continue to stay there, because the youngsters will not spend a peso on it. (...)

His best friend here is Paco Gasalla, from the Chamber of Agriculture, who was an immigrant in England and speaks the language.

Comments:
A search on Arcadio Mourin or on the Sabadelle pub was without results.


Oseira. 1985 by Francisco Gasalla

I personally met Syd when I paid a visit to Father Durán, a long time family friend. It was in the monastery at Christmas 1975... Barrett and the Father spoke of Graham Greene. (...)

I thought he was a painter because I saw him walk on the mountain, carrying a large book, the kind of book to put sketches in, and a case of coloured pencils. At first he did not speak a Castilian word. With the monks he spoke in English, especially with Father Durán, and with others in French. (...)

I still don't know him very well, I did not even know he was a musician until an English journalist came by. We see him every year with the Christmas holidays. He always brings something from Cambridge and I use the opportunity to practice my English, because I miss that. And he asks me things about the people of the village, things about people's lives. (...)

He is very shy, very artistic.

Comments:
A search on Francisco Gasalla was without results.


Leopoldo Duran with Graham Greene
Leopoldo Durán with Graham Greene.

Oseira. 1985 by Leopoldo Durán, Oseira monk and a personal friend of Syd Barrett and Graham Greene.

Mr. Barrett, whom I have known for many years, has asked me to be discreet and not to have contact with the press. Year ago a British weekly published a sensationalist story full of exaggerations and we would not want something similar to happen.

Comments:
Leopoldo Durán, 1917-2008, was a professor in theology, philosophy and literature and a close friend (and biographer) of Graham Greene. There is no proof he ever met Syd Barrett. In over 35 years of Pink Floyd research the Reverend has never encountered an English press article mentioning Syd's annual retreats into a Spanish monastery, neither has it been cited in any of the biographies.


Oseira. 1985 by Francisco Gasalla

Once we went to Carballiño. We especially invited Syd because the annual Film Festival had put a film with Pink Floyd music on the agenda. It was called "The Valley", it was an African adventure film, made by some Germans. Syd had not seen it before and was very quiet, chewing 'Sugus' sweets, a sight I will not forget. Every year he would take several packages back to England. "They're for my hippie friends"; he once said. I asked him if he liked the movie and he said: “only the music”. (...)

I proposed him to come to my house if he wanted to grab a guitar or the Casio that my daughter's grandparents had given her for her name day, but he always said no. He said he had done 'too much music'.

Comments:
La Vallée is a (horrible and pretentious) 1972 French film written and directed by Barbet Schroeder. The most notable point of the movie is its soundtrack by Pink Floyd, resulting in one of their finest albums ever (Obscured By Clouds). A trifle more (satirical) info at: Careful with that stash, Gini.


Joe Boyd
Joe Boyd.

San Francisco (USA). 1983 by Joe Boyd, record producer and film maker in an interview for the magazine Cult

My first job as a record producer was in 1967, in London, a city that went through a musical frenzy. I did several singles with Pink Floyd, a group of Cambridge that had very little to do then with the band they are today. They were crazy, really crazy, continuously taking all kinds of drugs, but they were really creative, especially Syd Barrett, singer, guitarist and principal songwriter. (...)

I lost their track for a while, but Barrett once wrote me to ask for a copy of 'See Emily Play'. I sent it to Cambridge and I knew nothing more of it. The letter said he wanted to give the disk to a good friend.

Comments:
Joe Boyd is of course known by Pink Floyd admirers, he opened the UFO club and produced the Floyd's first single Arnold Layne. In contradiction with the above 'quote' he was not involved with the Floyd's second single, See Emily Play. Several magazines called 'Cult' have existed throughout the years but no interview with Joe Boyd for one of them could be found.


London. 1982 article signed by Kurt Digger in the weekly Sounds magazine, headlined "Barrett: Mad as Always"

The darling son of psychedelia has found peace in the arms of contemplative Catholicism. In the monastery of Oseira (Galicia, geographically the closest Spanish region to the UK), Syd Barrett, founder of Pink Floyd and 'enfant terrible' of the London 'underground' 66-67 years, has retreated for a long stroll through the wastelands. (…)

Surrounded by monks Barrett showed himself proud, arrogant and even rude. (...)

"You are still waiting for me to return, vultures", he yelled semi-hysterical. (...)

No wonder his mother expels him annually from his home in Cambridge, thus the patient lady can enjoy a pleasant Christmas.

Comments:
Sounds magazine did exist in 1982, but a search on the title or the author didn't give any results.


LONDON. 1969 by Jo Cannon, head of the light show of the first concerts of Pink Floyd, in an interview published in the magazine Oz.

Late last year I received a postcard from Syd. It was a tourist view of a Spanish monastery called Ossarium (sic). Written on it were two stanzas of 'See Emily Play': “There is no other day. Let's try it another way. You'll lose your mind and play. Free games for May." Since then I've heard nothing more."

Comments:
Syd Barrett was already interested in light experiments before he hit the charts with Pink Floyd. Anthony Stern has told how he and Syd had been fascinated by Reg Gadney at King's College who made light projections (1964-ish) and later Syd tried to repeat these at home with John Gordon. In the early days of Pink Floyd the band lived in the house of Mike Leonard, who experimented with oil slides, rotating mirrors and lights. When the Floyd went professional in 1966 their first light show came straight from Haight-Ashbury, thanks to a couple of hippies, Joel and Toni Brown. Unfortunately they returned to the USA and Peter Jenner (and his wife Sumi) had to improvise a copycat-light-set.

At one point seventeen years old Joe Gannon was hired who became their first lighting tech, but he had already left when the Floyd started hitting the market.

It is improbable that Joe Gannon (not Jo Cannon) would have received a Spanish holiday card from Syd Barrett in December 1968. That month Syd, Duggie Fields and Jules moved into Wetherby Mansions and according to Jens she visited Syd there before year's end.


LONDON. 1968 anonymous entry, inserted in the journal 'International Times', part of the British Underground.

The sorcerer's apprentice can't stand 'speed'. Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's first singer, lived for two lost months a monastic life in a small place in north-western Spain. Barrett's mother confirmed a few days ago that her son is 'travelling', but denied that it had to do with any physical or mental problems. “He simply is doing some sightseeing.", said Mrs. Barrett, who owns a pottery shop in Cambridge. (…)

After his final separation with Pink Floyd, Barrett travelled last January through various countries on the continent and finally settled in a monastery in Galicia, in north-western Spain. This was revealed by light expert and close friend of the singer, Jo Cannon.

Comments:
As far as we know Syd's mother didn't have a pottery shop. It is also weird that the same wrongly named person, Jo Cannon, surfaces in two different articles in the English press. A search for Jo Cannon on the extensive IT database didn't give any result, neither did Joe Gannon, by the way.


Robert Wyatt
Robert Wyatt.

MENORCA. 1975 by Robert Wyatt, British musician and inhabitant of the Balearic Islands, in an interview by Claudi Montaña and published in the magazine 'Vibraciones'.

I knew that Syd Barrett was going through a bad time and invited him to spend some time at home, here in Menorca. He wondered where this place was and I answered that it was in Spain, next to Ibiza. "In that country only one place interests me," he replied but I had never heard of it. (...)

A few months ago he sent me a tape with traditional music of that Spanish region. It was similar to Scottish bagpipes but with more emotions. Something really spiritual.

Comments:
The Spanish magazine Vibraciones did have a Robert Wyatt article in its issue of November 1975 called En Menorca, de week-end con Robert Wyatt. Unfortunately the article itself could not be consulted.


LONDON. 1985 by Rodney Bennett, director of the 'Monsignor Quixote' production for Thames Television, filmed partly in Oseira and based on the novel of the same name by Graham Greene. Published in the magazine Film Maker.

I knew that Syd Barret was a regular of the Oseira monastery and I wrote to Cambridge offering him to compose the music of 'Monsignor Quixote'. Graham Greene and the producers knew of the agreement. However, Barret declined the offer in a very nice letter. He wished me luck and success with the series, admitted being a fan of Greene and a "staunch defender of the purity of Oseira".

Comments:
The American magazine Filmmaker only started in 1992, but it is possible that a magazine with the same name existed before, although the Church didn't find any trace of that. Rodney Bennett did make a Monsignor Quixote television movie but nowhere he has mentioned Syd Barrett as a possible collaborator. Neither does any of the Barrett biographies mention him.


CONCLUSION

The La Naval Barrett article could be the source of the Oseira Floydian legend. It needs to be remarked though that in this article there is no word of an unpublished Spanishgrass album. That part of the story seems to have been added in a later stage when the story mushroomed in the pubs around A Coruña by people who failed to see the satire of it all.

Seventeen years later, in 2003, a certain Eric Burdon published a Spanish Internet article called 'Discos perdidos - Spanish Grass- Syd Barrett' that has been quoted ever since... And perhaps more solutions will be revealed by Antonio Jesús when he will publish his investigations at Solo En Las Nubes.


This is a follow-up of the 2012 post: Spanishgrass or Syd Barrett's lost Spanish record 

Scans of the original La Naval article, in Spanish, can be consulted at our Spanishgrass gallery.

Many thanks to Babylemonade Aleph for rolling the ball in the beginning and Antonio Jesús for his incredible research.
♥ Iggy ♥ Libby ♥

Sources (other than the links above):
Blake, Mark: Pigs Might Fly, Aurum Press Limited, London, 2007, p. 32, 40-42, 60, 65.
La 'movida' que rompió con el 'telón de grelos' @ El Mundo
La efervescente esquina atlántica @ El País

The Anchor is the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit's satirical division, intended for people with a good heart, but a rather bad character.
More info:
The Anchor.
Read our legal stuff:
Legal Stuff.