A fantasy based on facts.
Inspired by a hypothesis from Simon Matthews.
In a previous post the Church reviewed Simon Matthews' book Psychedelic Celluloid that lists some 120 'flower power' era movies and their ties with pop and rock stars from that period. One of the movies that pass the revue is The Committee, a 1968 flick that mainly gets its reputation from an 'unreleased' Pink Floyd soundtrack. As such it was dredged up in 2005 for a DVD release and, more recently, added to the Pink Floyd compilation The Early Years.
The movie, loved by some (including the Reverend, actually) and ignored by everybody else, tells the absurd story of a hitch-hiker (Paul Jones, lead singer from Manfred Mann) who decapitates the driver who offers him a ride. After a few minutes he sews the head back on the corpse and as if nothing had happened both men each go their own way.
A while later the hitch-hiker is invited to participate in an official Committee, where he is briefly confronted with his victim (whose neck-marks have been miraculously healed). This pretty Kafkaesque situation raises the question if that reunion was staged, or not, and if there will be any consequences for the perpetrator, or not.
Perhaps the Committee is a tribunal, or perhaps it is not. Perhaps it's all an elaborate trap, a mind-fuck, like number six had to undergo in the village. Contrary to The Prisoner the hitch-hiker decides not to make a run for it and immediately confesses his crime to the director of the Committee.
Unfortunately, the final twenty minutes of the film consists of pseudo-philosophical babble about the previous, concluding that 'the whole world is a madhouse, an extended madhouse', with thanks to R.D. Laing for the inspiration.
In a meta-prognostic way the movie relates to Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd who cut the head of the driver on their road to success. Then sewing the head back on and making big bucks from milking their guilty consciences. (And didn't R.D. Laing conclude that it wasn't Syd Barrett who was mad, but the people around him?)
The story of the soundtrack is as blurry as its script. On the DVD's obligatory interview there is the comment that the Floyd 'demanded the most expensive soundtrack studio in London' which is weird as they recorded the thing for practically nothing at the basement flat of the painter Michael Kidner.
The following abundantly lends from Julian Palacios' Dark Globe, David Parker’s Random Precision and the webzine Spare Bricks. Simon Matthews interviewed Max Steuer for Psychedelic Celluloid and gave the Church some valuable background information.
The Committee was filmed in autumn and winter of 1967 by Max Steuer (writer, producer) and Peter Sykes (writer, director). Steuer was a lecturer at the London School of Economics and when he made the preparations for the movie he consulted his ex-colleague Peter Jenner for a possible soundtrack. Jenner agreed as he had exactly the right band in his portfolio for the job: The Pink Floyd.
What both men didn’t know was that Pink Floyd was almost a goner and that Syd Barrett was full-time preoccupied losing his marbles. The movie was in its final stage when the band was limping between disaster gigs and unsettling recording sessions.
“How about that soundtrack?” asked Steuer.
“Coming up.” lied Jenner.
Blame it on the New Year, because here is where the story becomes blurry again.
In January 1968 pretty boy Gilmour had joined the band in a desperate move to salvage the sinking ship. At first Barrett joined them on a couple of gigs but they soon understood that the band’s dwindling live reputation could only be saved by leaving him, and his effervescing marbles, at home.
The same can be said about the recording sessions that were in full swing. Out of courtesy Barrett was invited to some, but after a while… well, things just got faster done with Syd not in the studio.
On 20 December 1967 Syd and the Floyd had been overdubbing Scream Thy Last Scream. Early January was used to have some rehearsals with the new guitarist and to work in the studio on Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun and Scream Thy Last Scream, however it is not certain if Syd was present, mentally or physically. The Have You Got It Yet session (presumably on the 10th of January) had not been appreciated, to say the least.
Saturday 20 January 1968 was Syd's last concert with Pink Floyd. Theoretically the five-man Floyd had existed for three weeks, but they only gigged at five concerts on four locations, in ten days. The next Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the band rehearsed as a four-piece, making it de facto clear that Syd’s days were over. Nobody found it necessary to pick up Barrett for further gigs and also the Saucerful of Secrets studio sessions would go on without him. Rumour goes that - at several occasions - Syd Barrett sat patiently outside the recording room, waiting to be asked in. Nobody asked him in.
But on Wednesday, 30 January 1968, Syd was indeed expected at the Sound Techniques studio to record The Committee soundtrack. He arrived one and a half hour late, didn’t bring his guitar, nor a band, much to the annoyance of Max Steuer who had been promised the full Floyd by Peter Jenner. That last was a bit difficult as Pink Floyd #2 was recording in the Abbey Road studios, about 3.9 miles (6.3 km) north from Old Church street.
While Jenner took Steuer for a therapeutic walk, Andrew King (and/or engineer John Wood) phoned around to get some gear and some musicians, probably Nice-drummer Brian 'Blinky' Davidson and Barrett-buddy Steve Peregrin Took. Julian Palacios:
Steuer and Jenner returned a few hours later to find a trio of drums, bass, and guitar.
Max [Steuer] told me that Barrett turned up with a drummer and bass player that he didn't recognize and this was the first inkling he had that things were not OK within the Pink Floyd.
The improvised band ploughed through a twenty-minute instrumental, which Barrett insisted should be played backwards for the soundtrack.
In an interview for Spare Bricks in 2005, Max Steuer remembered the story somewhat different:
Syd read the story and said he would do the film. This seemed fine by me. He asked us to book a very expensive studio, and showed up an hour and a half late, and without a guitar. He asked Peter Sykes and me to get lost, which we did. We came back a few hours later to find a trio - drums, bass, and guitar. They finished a bit and lased it up backwards. Syd thought it was a good start. It cost too much money, and would have sunk the film.
At midnight the session ended and they all went home. The next day John Wood phoned Barrett to have the title of the track they had recorded. Unfortunately Barrett couldn't be reached, so that field was never filled out on the session sheet.
Max Steuer nearly got a heart attack when he saw the bill. It was £61.6s. Nowadays this is hardly enough to buy a Pink Floyd Immersion set, but in those days it was the equivalent of about £1000 now (roughly $1240 or €1170). Add half a dozen sessions more to finish the job and The Committee and its directors would’ve been bankrupt.
Update April 2017: Max Steuer didn’t think there was anything particularly wrong with what the Barrett trio recorded for him. The film was being done for free by all participants against a share of any profits, but Syd Barrett wanting to record in a big studio almost wiped them out financially. Steuer told Simon Matthews the track sounded ‘really great’ when played backwards.
There are some strange things going on with that contract. The session document, that can be found in Parker’s study, was made up for Norman Smith and Pink Floyd and is dated 12 January. The typed date is stricken out and changed, by hand, to the thirtieth. Under the band’s name someone wrote that it was Syd Barrett who took the session, but unfortunately the names of the session musicians have not been noted.
Legally Syd Barrett was still in the band and it would take until May before all legal razzmatazz was fulfilled. Peter Jenner probably booked the studio when there was still hope for Syd’s future (as a songwriter and/or studio musician) but it is also rather understandable that the band didn’t want to be confronted with him after the Have You Got It Yet-debacle. If we are sure of something it is that somewhere mid-January Syd Barrett was declared persona non grata by the band.
Blackhill Enterprises still believed that Barrett was the goose with the golden eggs. If the Floyd wanted to go on without him it was their own stubborn stupid choice. Without the pressure of touring, Syd would be able to record those British oddities by the dozen. As a matter of fact a solo record had already been briefly discussed – just before Arnold Layne had been produced - when Syd gave Joe Boyd a six track demo tape containing Boon Tune (aka Here I Go) and a proto-version of Jugband Blues, that would resurface on Saucerful. It is believed the tape was given to Chris Joe Beard from The Purple Gang who promptly lost it. (For more info about that mishap, see: Hurricane over London.)
Making a soundtrack, that was usually just seen as an quick 'n' easy side-job, would be a great way to get Barrett in the picture and the studio again.
Syd Barrett and colleagues managed to record a 20 minutes jam. So where is the tape? Max Steuer:
Somehow, Peter Jenner got that tape. Peter, give me back my tape!
As far as I know I am not in possession of these tapes, I might have been given a copy, but surely not the masters. (…) Max Steuer 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. (The complete Peter Jenner interview at the Holy Church can be found at: An innerview with Peter Jenner)
When Simon Matthews interviewed Max Steuer for Psychedelic Celluloid it was re-confirmed that Peter Jenner collected the tape from him. All he can remember is that the piece sounded 'jazzy, with a groove'.
Unless it is miraculously found back (what frequently happens when an anniversary release is announced) the recording seems to be lost.
The second soundtrack
The following day Roger Waters heard about the problem, either from Peter Jenner (still their manager) or from Rick Wright, who was living in a flat with Syd. He proposed to do the soundtrack with the band, in their spare time, a couple of months later. This took four days in an improvised studio. Max Steuer at Spare Bricks:
We started at nine each morning and did twelve hours or so. Roger was always there at 8:30, David Gilmour shortly after, then Nick Mason, and Rick Wright just before nine. It was amazingly professional.
It wouldn't be the last time Waters, Gilmour, Wright & Mason would come to Barrett's rescue. (A detailed review of the soundtrack, that includes an early version of Careful With That Axe, Eugene, can be found at Brain Damage.)
The Barrett tapes (by Simon Matthews)
According to Simon Matthews the aborted soundtrack session is intertwined with the departure of Barrett, Jenner and King from Pink Floyd. The following has almost been copied verbatim from him.
In early 68 Jenner and King thought (for about a week or so) about rebuilding a new group around Barrett and Wright. To do this they were in need of an extra bass player and drummer. Barrett duly turned up with a bass player and drummer at the studio for The Committee.
In May 68 Barrett had several sessions, with a bass player and drummer who were never named, but it is almost certain that Steve Peregrin Took was around. Rhamadan and Lanky are some of the instrumentals that came out of it.
By late June 68 Jenner and King had enough rough material they felt useable to be included on a Syd Barrett solo album. This included 3 Pink Floyd tracks: In the Beechwoods, Scream Thy Last Scream, Vegetable Man; Barrett's work for The Committee, now called Rhamadan and a couple of new ones: Swanlee (Silas Lang), Late Night and Golden Hair. Lanky Pt. 1 and Clowns & Jugglers were considered as well.
The Pink Floyd veto
At this point music industry politics kicked in. Pink Floyd #2 were releasing A Saucerful of Secrets and didn't want their 'old' material released under the Syd Barrett flag. The band guaranteed Blackhill Enterprises royalties for everything already released, but kept the rights for the unreleased tracks. These would be hidden in the vault for 50 years, until The Early Years came out.
By refusing to release those 3 early Barrett songs the idea of finishing a Barrett solo album soon was shelved. Peter Jenner and Andrew King moved on to easier things like Marc Bolan's T Rex. They wouldn't jeopardize, not unreasonably, the financial security that the Pink Floyd royalties gave them. Peter Jenner made the same request in 1974 and again Pink Floyd blocked him. Simon Matthews:
Given that Barrett got ousted from the group, dropped from The Committee, had the first version of his solo LP aborted, got dropped by Jenner (on rather vague grounds) and then had his re-started solo LP taken over by Waters and Gilmour and it's release put back until after the Pink Floyd had released Ummagumma, I'm not surprised that he was wary of Pink Floyd and Jenner and King thereafter.
The whole world is a madhouse, an extended madhouse.
(Simon Matthews is currently working on a sequel of Psychedelic Celluloid, covering the period 1975-1986.)
Many thanks to: Peter Jenner, Simon Matthews.
♥ Libby ♥ Iggy ♥
Sources (other than the above mentioned links):
Fitch, Vernon: The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia, Collector's Guide Publishing, Ontario, 2005, p. 66, 133.
Hughes, Christopher: A Committee of not many, Spare Bricks 25, 2005. (Max Steuer interview.)
King, David: An Interview with Peter Sykes, Spare Bricks 5, 2000.
Manning, Toby: The Rough Guide To Pink Floyd, Rough Guides, London, 2006, p. 260.
Matthews, Simon: Psychedelic Celluloid, Oldcastle Books, Harpenden, 2016, p. 74.
Matthews, Simon: email conversation with Felix Atagong, February 2017.
Palacios, Julian: Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe, Plexus, London, 2010, p. 320.
Parker, David: Random Precision, Cherry Red Books, London, 2001, p. 119-121.
Povey, Glenn: Echoes, the complete history of Pink Floyd, 3C Publishing, 2008, p. 90.