The Church was informed, a couple of days ago, that Rusty Burnhill died at the age of 70.
Rusty, and his girlfriend (and later wife) Gretta Barclay, were a 'hippie couple' who were in Syd Barrett's inner circle and who visited him in his apartment at Wetherby Mansions. It is there that they met Iggy and helped painting the floorboards in blue and red (or any colour variation you like).
Unfortunately the other tenant of the apartment wasn't really amused with the constant stream of visitors around the has-been pop-star and, in several interviews, many years later, he still uttered his frustration about this, naming the couple as one of the heavier nutcases.
This unfavourable account found its way in at least three renowned Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett biographies and as such the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit repeated that testimony as well. (Source: Love In The Woods (Pt. 2)).
However, another friend of Syd Barrett, who we may only address under the pseudonym JenS, for reasons too much complicated to explain here, vehemently disagreed and called the couple 'art school kids' who probably goofed out on booze and mandrax, like everyone else did in those days (Source: When Syd met Iggy... (Pt. 3)).
Gretta Barclay denied the accusations in her interview with the Church:
Syd was a very dear friend of ours and we did a considerable amount together in the 60's. Contrary to what I have read, we did not provide Syd with drugs. (Source: Gretta Speaks.)
JenS had met Gretta and her sister Trina during the mid sixties in a London grooming school and she introduced them to Syd when he was still living at 101 Cromwell Road. JenS, Gretta, Trina and the French Dominique (who apparently had a huge crush on Syd) lived together in Chelsea for a while. Then Gretta met Rusty.
In late 1969 or early 1970 the couple, who had never been part of the underground, left hectic London for Suffolk mainly because Gretta was pregnant from her first child. Later in 1970 they moved to Devon.
Barrett still was a close friend and they did visit him, but obviously not to indulge in drugs and booze. Rusty was a pretty good guitarist and he jammed with Syd on tracks as Terrapin, Octopus and the blues standards they both loved. The couple tried to upkeep Syd's interest for (his own) music and Rusty silently hoped to do something together.
Although Gretta, in her first and only interview she ever gave, is pretty vague about Syd's condition the couple must have sensed there was something terribly wrong with the Cambridge wonderboy. They actively tried to reactivate his musical interest by introducing him to the Welsh folk-maverick Meic Stevens.
They all visited the Welsh singer-songwriter in his house in Solva, where Syd and Rusty jammed with Meic's band Bara Menyn. A pretty bad photo exists of the encounter, perhaps with Gretta and Rusty sitting around the table with Syd, Meic, Heather Jones and Geraint Jarman. (Syd and Meic would meet several times and they were the subject of a BBC documentary that has probably been lost. See Meic meets Syd for the story.)
After a while Rusty and Margaretta went separate ways. Rusty lived for a few months with Jenny Spires and Jack Monck in Cambridge. Jack and Rusty even started a band, in 1972, right after the Stars debacle. Rocksoff (or Rocks Off) had Rusty Burnhill (gtr/voc), Jack Monck (bass/voc), George Bacon (gtr/voc), Dan Kelleher (gtr/pno/voc) and a succession of drummers, including Chris Cutler and Laurie Allan. (Source: http://calyx.perso.neuf.fr/mus/monck_jack.html.)
Rusty apparently travelled a lot before settling down on the North Frisian island Amrum (Germany) from 1978 till 1993. After a brief stay in Worpswede, a village in the North of Germany, where he participated in a few art exhibitions, he moved in 1995 to Barmstedt, a Hamburg suburb.
In March 2010, after some holistic detective agency proceedings, the Church could find Rusty's address. We knew he wasn't using mail and that he was very reluctant to speak about the past, so we wrote him a letter to ask for an interview.
It took quite a while, and actually we had forgotten all about it, but one day he called us out of the blue. Unfortunately the conversation wasn't going into the direction we had hoped for. After a tirade that took a few minutes Mr. Burnhill asked us:
Isn't it time this all ends?
This has been going on for 40 years now.
Can't you just let the music speak for itself?
Wise words. There are more important things in life than chasing shadows of dead men.
We really hope, Rusty, that you can finally form that band, you've always dreamt about.
Many thanks: Gretta Barclay, Thomas Hartlage, JenS, Gus Mark Peters, Rebecca Poole, anonymous. Picture of Rusty Burnhill: courtesy of Gretta Barclay.