2014-04-25

An innerview with Peter Jenner

In November of last year, Rich Hall (from 'Birdie Hop and Sydiots' fame) got in contact with Peter Jenner and wanted to know if Syd Barrett fans could ask him some questions. Jenner agreed, not fully realising what would hit him.

A message was put on two Facebook groups and in less than a week over one hundred different questions had been proposed by its members.

When Jenner got hold of the questions he was 'struck by the quantity' and kindly asked to slim them down a bit. Peter travels around a lot and preferred to have the interview over the phone. Diaries were put side by side to find some free space in our busy agendas and finally a date and time were agreed on.

And so, on a Friday afternoon a willing volunteer took a deep breath and dialled the number with trembling fingers. But it turned out to be a most amazing meeting, a Birdie's journey through space and time...

An innerview with Peter Jenner
Peter Jenner, 2013 (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Peter Jenner, 2013 (courtesy of Wikipedia).

An Innerview with Peter Jenner

BH: Thank you for according this interview, Mr. Jenner, we at Birdie Hop are mainly a bunch of weirdos...

PJ: Yes, a bunch of eccentrics...

BH: ...and when we heard that we could have an interview with you our members gathered about one hundred and twenty different questions to ask to you...

PJ: Oh my goodness me...

BH: But we toned it down to about 10.

PJ: Otherwise it would go on forever.

BH : Most of the detailed questions were all about the recordings that are apparently lingering somewhere in the vaults of EMI or Pink Floyd...

PJ: I don't know where they have gone. I have to say some did escape from me and got to... what was the name of the guy who did this Barrett group in the Seventies?

BH: Bernard White?

Bernard White started the Syd Barrett Appreciation Society and issued the legendary Terrapin magazine.

PJ: He could have been the one... Anyway I do know that some tapes did escape from my collection, because I just thought they were so good. So I hope that they are still around and that people can get them. But they are around, aren't they? Scream Thy Last Scream and Vegetable Man.

BH: They are still around and it is generally believed Bernard White released them.

PJ: It might be, but anyway there was someone who used to be in touch with me and somehow he managed to find those tapes. I don't know why they never got officially released. I don't know if the family objected but I think it might have been the Floyd. I think it was Roger (Waters) and Dave (Gilmour) who stopped it but I don't know what their position was or why they did it. If it had been the family that would have been fair enough. Perhaps people have been overprotective.

To me these tracks are like the Van Gogh painting with the birds over the wheat field, that's what Syd's brain was at. Try to look at the disturbance of Van Gogh through his paintings. If you want to understand Syd, if you want to know what was going on with him, you have listen to those tracks in the same way...

Van Gogh - Wheat Field with Crows (1890)
Van Gogh - Wheat Field with Crows (1890). Mashup: Felix Atagong.

Together with Jugband Blues they seem to me as a sort of an x-ray into his mind and so I do hope they will come out some day, but if not I do hope you people will keep them moving around, because I think they are important works.

BH: The thing is that Scream and Vegetable Man have been bootlegged so many times now, that there is perhaps no point any more in releasing them officially?

PJ: It is good they are around, but it would probably be better if they were officially available and at some time they will.

BH: Let's hope so, are you aware of any live shows that were taped? Apparently some of the gigs in America were...

PJ: Were they, I have never heard any?

BH: There was a rumour that all concerts in Fillmore were taped...

PJ: They were indeed. But perhaps that started later, because the Floyd were there quite early. Weren't the archives of the Fillmore called Bear Tapes or something...

Owsley 'Bear' Stanley, the Grateful Dead's soundman, allegedly had over 13000 tapes of the San Francisco scene, from 1965 and later, most of the Dead but he did record other bands as well if he happened to handle the soundboard. We checked the Grateful Dead touring dates of that period and theoretically it is possible that Bear might have taped Pink Floyd. According to David Parker in Random Precision Bill Graham routinely had all Fillmore gigs taped and a Pink Floyd soundboard recording of their April 1970 Fillmore show does exist.

BH: But nothing ever of The Pink Floyd has been released or...

PJ: I've not known of anything reliable... I think there were some tapes of the stuff Syd did with Twink in Cambridge but I've never heard them. I don't know what they're like.

BH: Well we can always ask him.

Easy Action records will (finally!) release the Last Minute Put Together Boogie Band recording late May 2014. Other rehearsals and performances tapes may have been made by Victor Kraft who followed the band but these have never surfaced.

PJ: And there was some stuff around, semi-live stuff recorded by Peter Whitehead.

BH: The Tonight Let's All Make Love In London soundtrack.

PJ: There were a couple of film stuff that was done, but that is all I know about it.

BH: In our group we discussed the sessions Syd Barrett recorded for the film The Committee, and it was said that you were in possession of those tapes. Is this true?

PJ: As far as I know I am not in possession of these tapes, I might have been given a copy, but I surely not the masters. What was the name of the director.. my memory!

BH: It was in an article on the online publication Spare Bricks with Max Steuer. He claims you were given the tapes after the sessions. The director was Peter Sykes, by the way.

PJ: It was indeed Max Steuer, and he may have given us the tapes. But I do not remember them. But many things disappeared with the sudden collapse of Blackhill. My recollection is that they were less than amazing. However if I come across anything I will let you know.

Barrett & Jenner (67-ish)
Syd Barrett & Peter Jenner (67-ish).

BH: Thanks, that would be nice. There still is a lot in the vaults though.

PJ: Yeah, if they're not already out. Somewhere. If I look on your list: Double O Bo, I don't know that. I got Stoned rings a bell. She was a Millionaire that certainly was a tape which we thought might become a single. Andrew and I both liked that one. Reaction in G, I don't know about that. In the Beechwoods rings a bell. I'm a King Bee and Lucy Leave, I don't know what they were or where they came from.

Because when I was doing sessions with him they were very chaotic, you know. She Was a Millionaire was knocking around. Golden Hair was the most articulate, at the time I didn't realise those weren't his lyrics... It was from James Joyce, wasn't it?

BH: Yes indeed.

PJ: I was hoping that it would get finished, but with Syd it was really bits and pieces that would come through, bits of songs and bits of riffs and bits of lyrics. They would just come and then they would go and occasionally they would came back again... It was incredibly frustrating.

And I think that Roger and Dave did a lot to it, I don't know how much Syd really was involved in those tapes. You know we also tried to do some things with a band. “Syd, try this, try that.” There were various things we tried but none really worked.

BH: That's a pity... but that was how things were going...

PJ: Yes.

BH: There have been these rumours that Syd was influenced by Keith Rowe from AMM.

PJ: Well yes, I did take him to see Keith Rowe.

BH: Oh really?

PJ: Yes indeed, and I do think he saw Keith Rowe rolling a ballbearing up and down his guitar. It certainly did influence some of Syd's guitar playing, the zippos and things... and I think that the improvisational part of Pink Floyd was influenced by AMM and Keith Rowe. I knew these guys, I liked what they did and we were involved with the AMM record. Syd was also aware of them and perhaps even heard the tape. In a same way we also took them to the Radiophonic Workshop at the BBC to meet Delia Derbyshire. Again how far that influenced Syd or got into his head or that of the others, I have no idea.

Peter Jenner (courtesy of Moviestarnext)
Peter Jenner (courtesy of Moviestarnext).

BH: Did Keith Rowe and Syd Barrett actually meet or discussed music?

PJ: I don't know. I think they may have seen each other but in a sense I don't think you would need to discuss music. It was obvious what Keith Rowe was doing. And you don't need to sit there and discuss it. What's in the question of what chords you are using. It is all about the approach and the improvisational aspect.

I think Interstellar Overdrive was very influenced by that kind of stuff. That's an approach to improvisation. Presumably you know Interstellar Overdrive was recorded twice and mixed together, it was recorded simultaneously on top of each other.

BH: It is also very interesting to hear the different versions, because the first version was the one from the movie of Peter Whitehead.

PJ: Yes.

BH: And there is a big difference between both versions. The early one is still R&B influenced...

PJ: Yes.

BH: And the version on Piper is much more experimental...

PJ: Yes. They were experimenting, they recorded it in the studio and then they played the song again, listening to the earlier take. It was double-tracked.

BH: I think lots of people were surprised when they first heard it on the record.

PJ: I would think so.

BH: In the middle of '67 however things started to go wrong. The question that fans still ask today is: did anyone try to get into his mind or ask what was going wrong?

PJ: We certainly suggested, and I can't quite remember whether we ever got to him, but we certainly did want him to see Ronny Laing. But he clearly was unhappy and getting chaotic. The key thing that I remember was when they came back from America. Andrew (King), my partner, said that it had been a nightmare. Syd had become hard to manage and refused to do as would be expected. Things like: “Syd, it's a TV show, can you play a song?”, that all became very difficult. Andrew knows much more about that than I do because he was there. He and the rest of the band. The Hendrix tour was after that, wasn't it?

BH: Yes.

PJ: That is when it became clear that there really was a major problem with Syd. That is where Syd started not always being there for the pick-up and where we had the show with Dave O'List instead of him. By then he'd moved to Cromwell Road, hadn't he? Unfortunately by that time I saw less of him, I was close to him when he was in Earlham Street. Once he'd moved out and ended up in Cromwell Road... I never knew the people who... and I only know the legends, the rumours... that Syd was given a lot of acid, that there was acid every day. It certainly coincides with him becoming more and more weird.

And then he subsequently moved to stay with Storm and Po. So we thought that might be better and that it might help, but it didn't... So we were aware there were problems, the band became increasingly aware of the fact there were performance issues and that it was very hard for them to work with him... and that is where the breakup with Blackhill occurred because we were so keen on trying to keep Syd with the band.

Apples & Oranges Syd wrote all these great songs and there was a lot of pressure during the summer of '67 for him to write more songs. Which is Why She Is A Millionaire was knocking around. That is why we ended up with things like Apples and Oranges, because we needed a follow-up to See Emily Play. That is when pressure started to get to Syd really. Having a hit, doing TV shows, being interviewed, posing for magazine front covers... things started to be more work than he could handle.

BH: Do you think it was something that gradually happened or was there something like a lost weekend with a massive overdose...

PJ: I think gradually, that was certainly the impression one had. He just became weirder and weirder and we thought that it was maybe just a question of fame.

BH: People have said that when they came back from America, Roger Waters asked you to have Syd fired. Was the band indeed thinking of...

PJ: No, Roger didn't ask to get him fired but it became clear they were finding it very difficult to work with Syd. It was more my recollection that they were looking for means to make it work. So that is when Dave was introduced. What we were doing in a sense was the Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys solution. We were consciously thinking: “Well maybe Syd can go on if we take the pressure off him.”

We could all see that he wasn't well, so if we reduced the pressure maybe he still would be able to write songs and keep the band on the road. Because none of the band really wrote much. Roger did a little bit, but these songs weren't, you know... The one single they put together which wasn't a Syd song did not very well, It Would Be So Nice (written by Rick Wright) was not a great song. Pow R Toc H and Set The Controls To The Heart Of The Sun weren't that great either, in my opinion. We certainly felt that there was a problem with the songs on the second album which was why there was a certain pressure to get Vegetable Man and Scream Thy Last Scream on it, they got recorded because we needed them for the album.

But our ways were parting and I think the band always thought these songs were too much. By the time the Saucerful record finally got put together we weren't really working with them any more and we were slowly moving into history. The rest of the band put that record together, while I was still working with Syd. My wife and myself, we were trying to help, help him to stabilise and write...

BH: Was there any truth in the rumours that Syd and Rick tried to form a band?

PJ: I don't think so, I have never heard that. I mean, once things were starting to go weird there was no question of anyone wanting to work with Syd. But we were all close to Syd and we were certainly hoping that Syd would get back together. That said, Rick and Syd were quite close, Juliette (Gale, Rick's wife) was sort of sympathetic and we were close to Juliette... Also, Rick was the other major musician in the band, because at that stage Roger was not much of a musician.

Roger didn't write very much, but he was already conceptual, to come up with some of the things he came up with later. But he couldn't really sing and he couldn't tune his bass guitar. He was not a sort of natural musician, which makes it all the more remarkable in my book the way he got to with it all.

BH: Is it true that the Christmas On Earth show, on the 22nd of December '67, was the turning point and that it was decided then to put Syd on a 'Brian Wilson' status?

PJ: Was that in Olympia?

BH: Yes. Apparently you took the money and ran...

PJ: I think it was a financially very strange show. It was all a bit questionable what was happening. I can't really remember what exactly happened, but I do recall it was all a bit of a disaster. There wasn't a lot of people there and I think that was really the problem. Not a lot of people also meant not a lot of money and by that time we were getting short of cash so we needed whatever we could get.

June Child (67-ish)
June Child (67-ish).

BH: Legend goes that June Child cashed the money before Pink Floyd started and that she ran away with it. After two or three songs the promoter came to you to reclaim it, because the Floyd was so bad...

PJ: Well, I don't think we ever paid them back! I don't think that ever happened. It was all a bit too rough, they were wrong as well. Congratulations to June for getting the money. I'm sure we were all involved in telling her to go and get it and then... run for it... It wasn't a great gig.

BH: Apparently not.

PJ: I don't mean just the Floyd, but the whole organisation. It was a disaster, it was run by an amateur who just thought it would be a good thing. Because there weren't that many professional promoters, if you thought you could do it, you did it. After all, Hoppy (John Hopkins) had done things and Joe Boyd had done things and neither of them had ever been promoters before. And we did things and we never had been promoters. It was all very new, so you did what you thought you could do. Then things like Middle Earth came along and that was all done by people who never had done that before. So a lot of people trying things out who did not know what they were doing, including me...

The Christmas On Earth show was filmed but only a few snippets have survived. On one of these, an interview with Jimi Hendrix, you can hear Pink Floyd on the background. Rumour goes the camera crew bought old film to spare some money, but unfortunately the film negative was so degraded that most of it was for the rubbish bin. A rough cut was made, which was seen by Joe Boyd, but nobody knows if it still exists. Anyway, it is not even clear if the Pink Floyd show was actually recorded or not.

BH: Shortly after that the Floyd went their own way with A Saucerful of Secrets and Syd Barrett went his way with The Madcap Laughs.

PJ: Well, in a way he never really made The Madcap Laughs. He did a series of sessions where I tried to get some recordings from him but only bits and pieces came together. Nothing ever got to the point of: "Well that's a record." So we had to try again but everything just dribbled away. We were thinking: “We'll try some sessions and see what comes out of it.”, but after we did the sessions we realised we really hadn't got very much. So then I thought it would be better if we'd leave Syd for a bit, to wait until he got himself a little bit better and then try all over again. Eventually we did but still nothing much happened.

We tried to do some things with a band as well, I think we got a band in, and some musicians to come and play with him, but he couldn't... that really didn't work either.

I had a second lot of sessions with Syd, a few years later, when Bryan Morrison asked me to have another go.

BH: That was in 1974 then?

PJ: Yes.

BH: But apparently, nothing really much came out?

PJ: The same thing, nothing really much came out. Because Syd never had any songs, there would just be these glimpses of songs, it was really very chaotic.

BH: Some of the material of the 1974 sessions are in the open, they have been bootlegged.

PJ: Right.

BH: Some of the tunes he plays are just blues standards. He is just covering them, if you'd like.

PJ: Well I don't think he was covering them, that was just what came out (laughs).

BH: Songs he used to listen too when he was 16, 17 years old.

PJ: Probably. He would just play things... working with him on those sessions was like things coming in and out of fog. At first nothing much would happen but then the fog would come down and then there were signs of something. I would think: “Ah, it's going to happen!” and then it would disappear again. It was just the most frustrating and difficult thing I have ever been involved in my life. Because there were signs of things... “Look, it's gonna come, no, no... it's not.” It's like waiting for the rain during a drought or waiting for the sun during the winter.

BH: What's your opinion about The Madcap Laughs?

PJ: Well, I think Dave and Roger tried to fish out what they could fish out and turn it into whatever they could turn it into. And I was surprised at how good a job they did of it. A lot in there is their work rather than Syd's, it was them trying to imagine what it was he was trying to do.

BH: You personally didn't feel it weird that they redid Golden Hair and Octopus, which was first called Clowns And Jugglers. They redid it after you had already recorded it on your sessions.

PJ: Golden Hair was the only one from my sessions which almost might have been a song. There were some old tunes that he had, that I've heard him play, like Octopus. He had a book of songs and every now and then we'd go through the old ones. I can't remember what they all were but they were very childlike, a lot of them, Effervescing Elephant and things like that. And there was this sort of very childlike aspect to Syd which was very charming but also, I think, quite disturbing in a way.

BH: Opel, that was recorded by Malcolm Jones, was forgotten for the album.

PJ: Yes, and maybe a couple of other things that were half-done but that weren't dug up. You know, I never had produced anything, I didn't know what I was doing. I was just there trying, hoping to capture something. Cause that was what we had been doing with the Floyd. We didn't know what was going on, songs would just come. I don't think anyone of us knew what we were doing. Syd had some ideas about the songs, Norman (Smith) had some ideas. We tried to work them out and surely Norman helped a lot. The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn sessions were fine but later we could only see the rot set in. What it was and why it was will always be one of those mysteries, so I don't know...

Stones in Hyde Park
The Rolling Stones in Hyde Park.
Charlie Weedon (left), Rolling Stones roadie, friend of Syd Barrett
Charlie Weedon (left), Rolling Stones roadie, friend of Syd Barrett.

BH: Somebody also wanted to know about the famous Rolling Stones show, at the Hyde Park festival. Everybody says it was a Rolling Stones show but apparently it was a whole festival with a lot of groups.

PJ: After the Floyd had left we did some shows at the Festival Hall, perhaps even at the Queen Elisabeth Hall, I'm not sure about that, and then at Hyde Park.

In June 1968 the Floyd and Roy Harper played and I even think we managed to put on four different free festivals that summer. The Floyd did the first one, which was actually quite small, and they returned a couple of years later (in July 1970). The second summer we had Blind Faith (in June 1969), that one was really huge and very successful and it launched Blind Faith into stardom and that was when the Rolling Stones said they could do it as well. And that was already organised a few weeks later, wasn't it?

BH: The Stones was in July 1969.

PJ: I think so.

BH: Blackhill started as a bunch of enthusiast amateurs with an amateur band, but in two years time you had become a very big company.

PJ: We were not a big company! No, no, no, no. We were small, but we just did it. Somebody said: "Let's do that" and we did it. By the times the Stones came it had turned into a big show but it was still very amateurish. There was no security, there was hardly any police. No public litters. No admission either, it was just a free concert and it was pretty weird.

BH: It probably was still the time that one could contact the Rolling Stones to ask them things like that.

PJ: Well, it was a hippy era and they asked us, they wanted us to do it.

BH: Really?

PJ: We didn't ask them, The Rolling Stones asked us, I think Mick had worked out that was a way they could relaunch themselves as a live band.

BH: One of the rumours is that Syd Barrett was also on that concert, he was even driven by someone of your company there. I don't know if you know that.

PJ: That might have been the case but I can't remember. Personally I wouldn't think so, by the time of the Rolling Stones gig he was pretty far gone. He wasn't, as it were, under our control or care or anything, he had gone off into his own world. We were happy to have been part of his world but he didn't seem to want us to be part of his world. So he might well have been there but he certainly wasn't there for me.

BH: Thank you very much, Mr. Jenner, it was nice talking to you...

PJ: It's a mad world we live in, isn't it?

© Birdie Hop & The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit, 2014.


Many thanks to Rich Hall, Peter Jansens, Peter Jenner. Inspired by questions from: Al Baker, Alexander P. Hoffmann, Allen Lancer, Andrew Charles Potts, Bruno Barbato Jacobovitz, Cathy Peek Collier, Clay Jordan, Ewgeni Reingold, Gaz Hunter, Gian Palacios-Świątkowski, Göran Nyström, Jenny Spires, Kiloh Smith, Lisa Newman, Mark Sturdy, Matthew Horsley, Memo Hernandez, Paul Newlove, Peter 'Felix' Jansens, Rich Hall, Richard Mason Né Withnell, Stanislav V. Grigorev, Steve Czapla, Steve Francombe, Tim Doyle. Thanks posted to ‎Giulio Bonfissuto and Raymond John Nebbitt for spotting errors!

♥ Iggy ♥ Libby ♥ Birdie Hop

Sources
Peter Jenner top picture. Source: Wikipedia, taken by Ralf Lotys (Sicherlich).
Van Gogh, Wheat Field with Crows & Syd Barrett mashup. Source (painting): Wikipedia, public domain. Mashup: Felix Atagong.
Syd Barrett & Peter Jenner (cropped). Source: June Ellen Child, The Cosmic Lady. Originally published in Nick Mason's Inside Out biography.
Peter Jenner third picture. Source: Pasado, presente y futuro de la música según Peter Jenner @ Movistarnext.
June Child (cropped). Source: June Ellen Child, The Cosmic Lady. Originally published in Nick Mason's Inside Out biography.
The Rolling Stones, Hyde Park. Source: The Stones in the Park @ Ukrockfestivals, taken by John Leszczynski.
Charlie Weedon, watching the Stones. Source: unknown.