2017-05-29

Shady Diamond

Syd Barrett by Duggie Fields
Syd Barrett, by Duggie Fields.

Brain Damage

At the 'Mortal Remains' Pink Floyd exhibition that is currently running in London a Polaroid can be found showing Syd Barrett at the Abbey Road studio in July 1975. This is not the picture that was magically found back when Nick Mason needed to promote his biography in 2004 and that dates from June 1975.

Here is what Nick writes about that:

It was during these sessions at Abbey Road, on 5th June, that we had one totally unexpected visitor. I strolled into the control room from the studio, and noticed a large fat bloke with a shaven head, wearing a decrepit old tan mac. He was carrying a plastic shopping bag and had a fairly benign, but vacant, expression on his face. His appearance would not have generally gained him admittance beyond studio reception, so I assumed that he must have been a friend of one of the engineers. Eventually David asked me if I knew who he was. Even then I couldn’t place him, and had to be told. It was Syd. More than twenty years later I can still remember that rush of confusion.
Syd Barrett, 5 June 1975. Picture: Nick Mason.
Syd Barrett, 5 June 1975. Picture: Nick Mason.

Remember a Day

Confused is what Mason is indeed, as he doesn't mention Syd's second visit to the studio, a month later, accidentally - or not? - on David Gilmour's wedding day. In a Mojo interview from 2006 David Gilmour denied that Syd was at his wedding, although he seems to recall that Barrett visited the band more than once.

From a 1982 Musician Magazine interview:

He showed up at the studio. He was very fat and he had a shaved head and shaved eyebrows and no one recognized him at all first off. There was just this strange person walking around the studio, sitting in the control room with us for hours. If anyone else told me this story, I'd find it hard to believe, that you could sit there with someone in a small room for hours, with a close friend of yours for years and years, and not recognize him. And I guarantee, no one in the band recognized him. Eventually, I had guessed it. And even knowing, you couldn't recognize him. He came two or three days and then he didn't come anymore. (Taken from: December 1982 - Musician Magazine at Brain Damage)

So, Gilmour does seem to acknowledge that Syd Barrett visited the studio more than once, only not on his wedding day.

Mark Blake in Pigs Might Fly:

On 7 July, during a break in the Wish You Were Here sessions, Gilmour married girlfriend Ginger at Epping Forest Register Office, and the Syd tale takes on another curious twist. In conversation with Mojo magazine in 2006, Gilmour disputed any stories that Syd had attended his wedding. Yet at least three of the guests claim they saw Syd at a post-wedding meal at Abbey Road. Ex-manager Andrew King recalled Barrett looking ‘like the type of bloke who serves you in a hamburger bar in Kansas City’. Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley referred to him as ‘an overweight Hare Krishna-type chap’.

Young Lust

One who does remember - obviously, as it was her wedding day - is Ginger Gilmour in her autobiography Bright Side Of The Moon:

While clearing his throat, the registrar leaned over towards David and said, "Excuse me, Sir, the ring?" We both looked at each other with a look of...OH NO. I had waited all my life for this moment and we had forgotten to get a ring! Linnie came up to us from behind and offered for us to use a ring she had gotten from a box of Crackerjacks. An American sweet popcorn, which always had a surprise gift inside and she had just happened to eat on the way. God was on our side, even if we didn't realize it. David eventually had a ring designed in white gold with two interlocking hearts by a friend who was a designer of jewelry.
The registrar did turn a few shades of red at the thought but proceeded. When the words, "You may put the ring on her finger" was said, neither of us knew which finger or which hand David should put it on. Once my embarrassment settled, I remembered that it was the fourth finger but not which hand. Boy, were we well rehearsed. I had both fourth fingers up. We both teetered between them as we tried to get it right and hold our pride intack. Linnie said in a low whisper trying to say it just low enough for us to hear, "The right one, the right one." David looked relieved and chose the right. Phew, at last we heard the words, "You may kiss the bride." We all went on to celebrate at our local pub with a giggle and good cheer. What a tale, it has made a sweet story ever since and brought smiles to my kids' faces many years later.
David had to go to Abbey Road to continue recording Wish You Were Here. I went with him so that we could share the day together. The band had no idea until we walked in. There always seem to be stories within stories in our life. You will see why as you read further. Just to add to the day's event, when we arrived, Roger walked up to David pulling him aside and whispered to him, "Look who is sitting on the sofa." They both went slowly over to the place Roger was referring, Nick and Rick following discreetly.
There is a huge sofa in front of the mixing desk in that EMI recording room. I don't think any of them were completely certain who was sitting there until David confirmed it. David looked and his face clouded over with the reality of what he saw. Under his breath, he said, "It's Sid." The atmosphere in the room went silent as they digested the moment. Roger, especially, who is quoted to have had many mixed emotions for the past came flooding back.
There was Sid pear shape, hairless and overweight. They stood silently in disbelief. Old memories rushed into their hearts. What happened? His timing was uncanny! Their lost love and the tragedy of Sid inspired the creation of "Shine On". And there they were in the middle of recording it when Sid appeared weather worn and without hair. They stumbled to have a conversation, inviting him to listen to a track. Sid just sat there lost, on the sofa, wondering why? What a day to ponder. What a day to Remember.
(Taken from: Memoirs of the Bright Side of the Moon, p. 103-104.)
Syd Barrett, 7 July 1975. Picture: Nick Mason.
Syd Barrett, 7 July 1975. Picture: Nick Mason.

Remember Me

For one reason or another, Pink Floyd members (and other witnesses) amalgamated the different Barrett appearances into one, quasi mythical, event. Venetta Fields hinted already in March 2004 that there were pictures of the event:

I think there were photos taken at that time... I remember telling someone that was showing me a photo. I can’t remember who? I may even have a picture. We took a lot of pictures that day. They had been at the studio for hours before we got there. I think that while we were there, Syd came into the studio. Everything stopped. We were all shocked to see him and the way he looked. (Taken from: An Interview With Venetta Fields at A Fleeting Glimpse.)

The Gold It's in the...

Another mystery is why Nick Mason, who has meticulously classified the Pink Floyd archive, only came up with this second picture now – almost by chance - when he needed to promote yet another Pink Floyd pension fund.


Previously we have written some bits and pieces about the Wish You Were Here Syd Barrett appearances. Rather than let you search for these we'll just copy and paste them here:

Amplex ad, ca. 1958.
Amplex ad, ca. 1958.

Wish You Were... but where exactly?

One of the greatest legends about Syd Barrett is how he showed up at the Wish You Were Here recording settings on the fifth of June 1975. A Very Irregular Head merely repeats the story as it has been told in other biographies, articles and documentaries, including Rick Wright's testimony that Barrett kept brushing his teeth with a brush that was hidden in a plastic bag. Roger Waters however claims that Barrett only took sweets out of the bag. As usual different witnesses tell different stories.

The toothbrush myth is one Chapman doesn't know how to demystify but recently Mark Blake may have found a plausible explanation.

The 'toothbrush' and 'bag of candies' may have come out of the story I heard from somebody else [Nick Sedgwick, see underneath] that was at Abbey Road that day. They claimed Syd Barrett had a bag filled with packets of Amplex. For those that don't know or remember, Amplex was a breath-freshener sweet that was popular in the 70s. This eyewitness claims that Syd Barrett was nervously stuffing Amplex sweets into his mouth... another story to add to the pile... but you can see how the story of 'breath-freshener sweets' could turn into a 'toothbrush' and/or 'a bag of candies'. (Taken from May 5, 2010 Roger Waters TV interview at Late Night.)

(Taken from The Big Barrett Conspiracy Theory, 2010)

Venetta Fields, Carlena Williams, 1975 (courtesy of A Fleeting Glimpse).
Venetta Fields & Carlena Williams, 1975 (courtesy of A Fleeting Glimpse).

Remembering Games

A typical Floydian example of false memory syndrome is the visit of Syd Barrett in the Abbey Road studios on the 5th of June 1975. It is a mystery to us why EMI didn't ask for entrance money that day as a complete soccer team, including the four Pink Floyd members David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters and Rick Wright, claim they have seen, met and spoken to Syd Barrett.

Roadie (and guitar technician) Phil Taylor remembers he had a drink in the mess with Syd and David. Stormtrooper Thorgerson has had his say about it all but if one would give him the opportunity he would argue – probably in yet another book rehashing the same old material – that he started the band Pink Floyd at the first place. Other 'reliable' witnesses that day include (alphabetically sorted):
Venetta Fields, backing singer and member of The Blackberries
John Leckie, EMI engineer and producer (but not on Wish You Were Here)
Nick Sedgwick, friend of Roger Waters and 'official' biographer of Pink Floyd
Jerry Shirley, Humble Pie drummer and friend of David Gilmour
Carlena Williams, backing singer and member of The Blackberries

Some say that Barrett visited the studio for two or three days in a row and three people, including his former managers Peter Jenner and Andrew King, claim they spoke to Syd Barrett about a month later on David Gilmour's wedding while the bridegroom himself claims that Syd Barrett never showed up. To quote Pink Floyd biographer Mark Blake: “...not two people in Pink Floyd's world have matching stories...”, and neither do two biographies...

(Taken from The Case of the Painted Floorboards (v 2.012), 2011)

Nick Sedgwick (front) with Syd Barrett (back).
Nick Sedgwick (front) with Syd Barrett (back). Picture taken from Mick Rock's Shot! documentary (2017).

Nick Sedgwick

Nick Sedgwick agrees he never felt comfortable in the presence of Syd, who was popular, eagerly sought after and always welcome. Syd Barrett may have been cooler than cool, but at what price? The shock for the band came years later when they recorded Wish You Were Here. Nick Sedgwick was around as well:

When I joined the band for lunch one day (there) was a bald fat person dressed in loose and lace-less hushpuppies, and a pair of outsize trousers held up by a length of string. (…)
I sat for twenty minutes or so, eating lunch, exchanging random news, acutely aware of the alarming presence at the head of the table that somehow seemed to dominate the proceedings. Despite the large number of people – the Floyd, engineers, EMI employees, personal assistants – these were noticeably stilted. I avoided eye contact, examined food and ashtrays during lulls in conversation. Next to me, Roger, no doubt wondering how long it would take me 'to get it', seemed increasingly amused by my discomposure. A few more minutes of strained joviality passed, then Roger nudged me gently. “Have you copped Syd yet?” he said. My head snapped up, and I swivelled open-mouthed in Syd's direction, instantly processing the message in a visceral shock of recognition. (…)
The hair was gone – from his head, from his arms, and even from his eyebrows – and, if he stood erect he would not have been able to view his feet without tilting his head forward over his belly. Only his eyes were familiar. (…)
Syd drank orange juice almost by the bucket, chewed Amplex tablets, and observed the action. I asked him what he thought of the music. There was a prolonged pause, then he answered. “It's all… all a bit Mary Poppins.” P24-26.

Nick Sedgwick does not agree with the blind adoration some fans have for Syd Barrett and calls it absurd and morbid. Syd disappeared too soon and his work, even the one with Pink Floyd, is too fragmented to speak about an oeuvre. The legend of Syd is not about him being a genius, the legend is about Barrett disappearing from the spotlights before he could become a genius. It's the James Dean syndrome and the fact that Syd Barrett didn't die but just went crazy only adds up to the legend. You can't deny Sedgwick feels somebody should have tried helping Syd (and all those others) before it was too late.

(Taken from: Roger is always right, 2018)


Check extra big pictures and other assorted trivia at our 'IggyInuit' Tumblr page: 1975.

Many thanks to: Marc-Olivier Becks, Johan Frankelius, Antonio Jesús, Göran Nystrom.
♥ Libby ♥ Iggy ♥

Sources (other than the above mentioned links):
Blake, Mark: Pigs Might Fly, Aurum Press Limited, London, 2013, p. 231-232.
Gilmour, Ginger: Memoirs of the Bright Side of the Moon, Angelscript International, 2015, p. 103-104.
Mason, Nick: Inside Out: A personal history of Pink Floyd, Orion Books, London, 2011 reissue, p. 207.