NSFW warning: although heavily pixelated this article contains a small picture of naked b⊚⊚bs which may result in temporary blindness for minors.
Barrett & The Whole World
Imagine a super session with Syd Barrett, Kevin Ayers, David Bedford, Lol Coxhill, Mike Oldfield, Bridget St. John and Robert Wyatt, all in the same band. Well, it nearly happened, sort of, if we may believe the ‘SHOW’ entertainment gossip column of Dutch newspaper Het Vrije Volk (The Free People) from the 29th of July 1970.
This blog entry was suggested (and then promptly forgotten) to us by David De Vries who traced back the newspaper article on an online archive.
Dutch broadcaster VPRO (Vrijzinnig Protestantse Radio Omroep / Liberal Protestant Radio Broadcasting Corporation) was, as the name suggests, a religious radio at first, but transformed into a progressive TV-station, deliberately exploring the boundaries of Dutch television. In the late-sixties, so it seems, there was a ‘coup’ when progressive minds managed to kick the conservative vicars out of the organisation.
Suddenly flower power television makers shocked the public with Fluxus happenings and other avant-garde, alternative humour and a pretty weird taste in music. Legendary was the short-lived Hoepla show that started in July 1967 and that confronted Dutch teenagers with Hapshash and the Coloured Coat and gigs from Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa (ripping one of his albums to pieces) and The Soft Machine (Soft Machine performing We Know What You Mean at Hoepla).
Hoepla ignored the current conventions on almost all points. Instead of making emotionless, polished, risk-free programs using Victorian standards (…) Hoepla opposed the rules of television craftsmanship.
They had nifty sets, loud music that was drowning out the interviews, jerky camera work and shots that sometimes took way too long.
This apparent amateurism was their method to try to realize an open and direct way of communication.
Video material that was usually thrown in the garbage bin ended up on the screen, making it a thousand times more relevant. (Het Open Blote Medium (The Open Naked Medium) by Igor Teuwen & Ivo van Leeuwen, 1986. Quote at approx. 16'15". Freely translated / adapted from Dutch by FA.)
The second Hoepla show created a row in Dutch parliament because the progressive VPRO beatniks had dared to display a topless woman, Fluxus performer Phil Bloom, for about fifteen seconds. A third show was only broadcast after the VPRO board of directors censored the naughty bits and that was the end of it.
Hoepla was history but its influence was enormous and the seeds of controversy couldn’t be stopped. VPRO continued with other mind-bending programs, not always in good taste and not always watchable either. But if you pretended to be a leftist progressive intellectual in the seventies, the VPRO Sunday night was obligatory stuff, also for people in dreary Belgium... especially for people in dreary Belgium where national TV was still something from the Christian minded fifties.
In 1997 music journalist Oscar Smit started to inventory the hundreds of audio- and video tapes that were lying on attics, in cupboards and dusty corners of the VPRO headquarters.
He found back the Piknik tapes, live registrations of gigs in the seventies and other ‘interesting’ stuff.
Some bands weren’t always happy with the recovered material. In the summer of 1969 Pink Floyd gave a concert at Paradiso Amsterdam. Unfortunately the electricity failed and the concert was postponed for a couple of hours. When the band finally started around 1 AM David Gilmour got an electric shock and the gig was again delayed for about 30 minutes. Because of the electricity problems the PA was partially disabled, the Floyd had to play without stereo effects, with less instruments and without microphones. That night they only played instrumentals and 4 out of 5 were captured by VPRO.
Roger Waters made a deal with VPRO that the Paradiso tapes would not be broadcast, but he had to promise that the band would return for another taped concert. That one became one of their most famous gigs, recorded by VPRO, bootlegged multiple times and cherished by fans for decades.
When Oscar Smit found back the Paradiso tape (in 1997) he promptly received a letter from the Floyd’s men in black with the message that the recording was still a no-go zone. But in 2016 they were finally released on The Early Years, together with the mythical The Man And The Journey (17 September 1969) from a couple of weeks later.
For a ‘secret’ gig that would take place on 30 July 1970 Kevin Ayers and The Whole World were announced. Posters and publicity mentioned they would bring in a more than special guest: Syd Barrett.
This was not the first time Syd Barrett had to play The Netherlands. In his excellent Floydian biography ‘Pink Floyd In Nederland’ Charles Beterams writes that Barrett was scheduled to premiere The Madcap Laughs at De Melkweg (The Milky Way) in Amsterdam, on the third of January 1970, the day after the album was officially released. Support Act: Kevin Ayers. This gig – sorry, we can’t give you more information – was presumably cancelled at the last moment.
That Kevin Ayers would join Syd Barrett is not that weird. A couple of weeks earlier Syd had joined Kevin at EMI to guest on Religious Experience, that would later be re-baptised Singing A Song In The Morning.
But perhaps the summer of 1970 was a better moment for Syd Barrett ‘to revitalise his reputation on a truly progressive festival circuit’, to quote Julian Palacios in Dark Globe.
In February Barrett had started working on the successor of The Madcap Laughs (after a ‘live’ session for BBC’s Top Gear) and by the end of July 1970 the Barrett album was basically ready. A first master had been assembled by David Gilmour and Peter Bown. (In September a second and final master was made with remixed versions of Maisie and Waving My Arms In The Air.)
June 1970 had seen the first real Syd Barrett concert since January 68 (just before the Floyd ‘forgot’ to pick him up). It was the fairly shambolic Olympia show in London, with David Gilmour and Jerry Shirley, that only went on for 4 numbers. According to Rob Chapman in A Very Irregular Head the band itself was not that bad, but the gig was destroyed by PA problems that made the singing inaudible. Syd Barrett brought the show to a halt by leaving at the end of Octopus, while that number was actually the first where the PA more or less started to sound OK.
It has to be said that Barrett was fairly nervous for this gig and that he had to be persuaded by his bandmates to go on stage. In an interview with Giovanni Dadomo however, Syd sounded pretty eager to go back on the road:
I’ve got this Wembley gig [Olympia, FA] and then another thing in summer [Piknik, FA]. I’ll be getting something together for the Wembley thing and then just see what happens.
Jerry Shirley, however, tells another thing:
He was going to do it, he wasn’t going to do it. Finally we said, Look, Syd, come on, man, you can do it!
The Syd Barrett gig, with Kevin Ayers & The Whole World show was going to take place at the Gemeentecentrum (communal centre) of Driebergen, near Utrecht. But an article, the day before the gig, in Het Vrije Volk already hinted that Barrett would probably not 'show' up.
WEDNESDAY 29 JULY 1970
Problems concerning fourth Piknik
Will Syd Barret sing or will he not sing?
From our reporter ALE VAN DIJK
HILVERSUM - VPRO television is uncertain about the course of the fourth Piknik show, that will be live transmitted from the province of Utrecht on Nederland 1 on Thursday evening.
Part One – Beaujolais
The first problem, according to reporter Ale Van Dijk was that the band had to be bribed with wine:
Director Roelof Kiers has six bottles of Beaujolais from 1969 ready. The bottles will be on stage on Thursday evening where pop singer Kevin Ayers (ex-Soft Machine) and the group The Whole World will perform.
Kevin's manager has ordered three bottles with the message that the boys will perform better if they see the bottles with the wine they love. They also always take a sip of it during their performance. And the wine must be from 1969, according to Kevin and his men, an excellent year.
Part Two – Syd Barrett
A second problem is Syd Barrett, former Pink Floyd singer-composer and arranger. Syd Barrett is a close friend of Kevin Ayers. That is why the VPRO also invited him to come to Piknik. But the strangest stories are circulating about Syd Barrett in the pop world. One of Syd's peculiarities is that he always refuses to sign a contract that binds him to perform.
Although this is coming from an entertainment gossip page it is pretty revealing. Syd may have been mad, but not mad enough to be willing to sign contracts. Ale Van Dijk continues:
He is against it. It sometimes happens that he is present, but if he does not like the atmosphere or if he thinks he is not in the right shape, he simply does not enter the stage. It is already certain that Syd Barrett will only fly to the Netherlands on Thursday if a taxi picks him up at his house, drives him to the plane and if another taxi is waiting at Schiphol to take him to the "secret" venue of Piknik in the province of Utrecht (somewhere on the border with two other provinces).
Fair enough. Apparently the VPRO didn’t mind organising Syd’s trip to Holland. There must have been quite a few Syd Barrett fans among those avant-garde television freaks. But the reporter from Het Vrije Volk isn’t finished yet. Now it’s really time to gossip:
The possibility is also great that the first taxi will not find Barrett because something has gotten out of hand between Wednesday and Thursday. Moreover, he may feel "too sick" to go. And the VPRO cannot wave with a contract. Syd Barrett, however, has been informed about the Dutch Piknik event and he liked what he heard about it, according to the VPRO.
So far for the Syd Barrett rumours. Did you catch the ironic “too sick” line? Gossip or not, Ale van Dijk got it right. We will never be certain if a taxi really waited in front of Syd’s door but if there was one Syd never made it to The Netherlands.
Part Three – The Whole World
The rest of the article has some idle chit chat about The Whole World.
The group The Whole World is a pop group that differs from the usual electronic bands. A few members of the group have been found on street corners by Kevin Ayers. They were buskers. There is even a middle-aged musician in the group who allegedly creates "cheerful superpop".
We are not sure who the journalist meant with ‘buskers’ but the middle-aged musician must have been sax-player Lol Coxhill who, at 38, was 12 years older than Kevin Ayers. Mike Oldfield, with 17, was the youngest in the band..
The Piknik concert of Kevin Ayers & The Whole World that, according to one reviewer is ‘as oddly disconcerting as any live Ayers experience ought to be’ can be found at YouTube, thanks to the VPRO.
This live broadcast from 1970 catches the Whole Wide World at their most maddening, a collection of songs that veers deliberately between the whimsical and the obtuse, with little middle ground in between.
If only they could’ve had Syd Barrett with them. He would not have been misplaced in that band of loonies.
The Dutch Het Vrije Volk article can be consulted at our Tumblr: Zingt Syd Barret wél of zingt hij niet?
The Kevin Ayers & The Whole World concert, without Syd
Barrett, can be found at:
One hour 'pristine' version, music only: https://youtu.be/kDvhSIwKr6I
One hour and 45 minutes version: https://youtu.be/HpytiwOKtWI
The Church wishes to thank Charles Beterams, Ron de Bruijn, Gijsbert
Hanekroot, David De Vries, Julian Palacios.
♥ Libby ♥ Iggy ♥
Sources (other than the above mentioned links):
Beterams, Charles: Pink Floyd in Nederland, Permafrost Publishers, Rotterdam, 2017, p 102-104, 125.
⚛ Pink Floyd in Paradiso picture: Gijsbert Hanekroot.
Carvalho, Hester: VPRO's Muzikale Goudschat, NRC.nl, 25/04/1998 (paywalled).
Chapman, Rob: A Very Irregular Head, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 270.
Dadomo, Giovanni: The Madcap Speaks, Terrapin #9/10, Jul 1974 (interview dating from 1970).
Palacios, Julian: Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe, Plexus, London, 2010, p. 371, 377.
Parker, David: Random Precision, Cherry Red Books, London, 2001, p. 157-158, 188-189.
⚛ Syd Barrett Piknik ad: Ron de Bruijn.
Teuwen, Igor & van Leeuwen, Ivo: Het Open Blote Medium, 1986.