Somewhere in October 2019, I heard rumours about a Syd Barrett lyrics book that was in the pipeline. In April 2020 there was – finally – some official news about the book when Rob Chapman tweeted about it:
...the Syd Barrett lyric book has been put back to next year due to the Virus. A pity because there’s going to be an exclusive in there which will make all Syd fans gasp and spontaneously combust when they read it…
Two weeks later, during one of his ‘Theatre For Dreamers’ live streams, David Gilmour confirmed that he was proofreading Syd’s lyrics by comparing Chapman’s notes with the isolated voice tracks from the Syd Barrett masters.
Omnibus Press has the following to say about it:
The complete lyrics of Syd Barrett – 52 songs written for Pink Floyd and during his subsequent solo career – are presented together for the first time, along with rare photos and artwork, to form this beautifully illustrated book.
February 2021 the book has finally arrived in the hands of the fans, although Amazon France keeps on insisting that it doesn’t exist, yet. Let's talk about the 'rare' photos and artwork first. To be honest, there aren’t any. I’m browsing through the Kindle version and all pictures, except perhaps one, are those that are daily published on a multitude of Syd Barrett Facebook groups and Tumblrs, including my own ridiculous iggyinuit.tumblr.com.
But obviously, this book isn’t about the pictures although these could’ve been a bit less predictable, to say the least.
There is a foreword by Peter Jenner who compares Syd’s songs with Van Gogh’s paintings. He’s done that before, for instance on the Birdie Hop / The Church interview he did in 2014 (see: An innerview with Peter Jenner). Syd left an everlasting impression on the people he met and worked with, that’s for sure.
Before the lyrics section starts there is a quite brainy and erudite introduction by Rob Chapman. Evidently, it centralises on Syd's wordsmanship that often meanders in obscure waters. Some lyrics need a guide book that only existed in Syd’s mind, others are just plain gibberish and failed experiments, a bit like the early Floyd jams that sometimes were cool and often were not. But when Syd is brilliant, well… he’s just damn brilliant.
Chapman's essay regales its readers, read it slowly to let it sink in.
As soon as the first copies were distributed Syd fanatics had their remarks. Fans are used to their interpretations of Syd's lyrics and some of the Gilmour / Chapman adaptions were not that easily accepted. Here are a few examples:
Waddle with apples to grouchy Mrs Stores vs.
Waddle with apples to crunchy Mrs Stores.
Gregory Taylor on the Birdie Hop Facebook group about this Scream Thy Last Scream verse:
I am not sure that the word 'grouchy' was particularly in usage during the 1960s whereas 'crunchy' was very current particularly in telly adverts. Syd liked onomatopoeic words so that sounds more feasible to me. He also didn’t use obvious Americanisms like ‘grouchy’.
My point was that given the potential for multiple interpretations still, the book will inevitably have some kind of slant depending on who is involved.
Lime and limpet green vs.
Lime and limpid green.
Pink Floyd übergeek Rontoon at the Steve Hoffman Music Forum:
WTF is "limpet green"? Limpid green refers to the icy waters mentioned in the same verse. Limpid is a water reference. A limpet is a mollusk (and they aren't green).
Actually, Rontoon, green limpets do exist, the internet is full of them. However, it would be so nice if Rob Chapman could explain to the hardcore Sydocracy why he (and Mr Gilmour) put in the 'grouchy' and 'limpet' words instead of ‘crunchy’ and ‘limpid’.
Annotations would have been very helpful but unfortunately, Rob prefers to kick around on Twitter, making derogatory remarks about anyone who doesn’t agree with him.
Official Secrets Act
Some fans regret the fact that this book was assembled in secrecy and that Roger Waters, nor Nick Mason have been involved. Were they asked, we will never know, but it doesn't look that way. Syd Barrett is a division of the Gilmour-led Floyd company and shares the same management.
Chapman, who once described Pink Floyd as a firm of chartered surveyors, finds this utterly silly as well:
I’ve got to sit on hot information for nearly a year now. I’ll probably have to sign the Official Secrets Act. 48 hour ago I was the first person in the world outside of ‘certain famous parties’ to read it.
Now for the songs. These are the lyrics for the Syd Barrett tracks that have been officially released. Why do I say that? Because ‘Living Alone’ is missing and perhaps a few others.
‘Living Alone’ is vegetating on tape E95744Z that is in David Gilmour’s Fort Knoxian archives, along with Bob Dylan Blues. Bob Dylan Blues has been released on a compilation album, but Living Alone not. Is Living Alone a song with lyrics? Is it worth releasing? Who knows? Who cares?
Another missing song is ‘Remember Me’ from the 1965 demos. ‘Lucy Leave’, ‘Double O Bo’ and ‘Butterfly’ are in the book. ‘Remember Me’ not. This could mean it was written by someone else or perhaps it is just one of those traditional Floydian fuck-ups. As usual, there is silence in the Chapman / Pink Floyd camp.
A Rooftop Song In A Thunderstorm Row Missing The Point.
Then there is the case of ‘Rooftop’. The July 1974 issue of the fanzine Terrapin has an unpublished Syd Barrett poem, copied by Bernard White after a visit at the Hipgnosis headquarters.
It has survived in two versions, both in Bernard White’s handwriting. There is the published version in the fanzine, where he explicitly thanks ‘Hypgnosis’ (sic) for the poem. A second version was sold by Bonhams in December 2010 for the crazy price of 2160£.
The seller claimed that the poem was in Barrett’s handwriting. The Late Night forum and the Church debunked this and tried to warn potential buyers. Bonhams was warned as well but they ignored it. A decade ago I was advised not to dig too deep into the matter, as the seller had a high position in the Syd Barrett pecking order. Weird scenes inside the Syd Barrett goldmine, so it seems. See: Bonhams Sells Fake Barrett Poem.
In the uncut and unedited Darker Globe manuscript from Julian Palacios, one can find the following.
At El Patio, they read 19th Century French symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil. In Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell, the 17-year old hellion poet insisted, ‘It is necessary to be absolutely modern’. Syd was taken with Baudelaire’s 1869 Paris Spleen, and fragments found way into his poem ‘Rooftop in a Thunderstorm Row Missing the Point’. Syd scribbled, ‘the prophecy, to recreate the truth / in visions of a seasonal mood...’
Unfortunately, I can't find the Paris Spleen fragments that inspired Barrett, but The Old Clown poem does have a clowns and jugglers line.
It was one of those gala days that all the clowns, jugglers, animal trainers, and ambulant hucksters count on, long in advance, to make up for the lean seasons of the year.
In a tweet from February 2021, Rob Chapman calls Rooftop a total fake.
Yes its that totally unconvincing Thunderbird (sic) Row missing the point forgery that Bernard White was passing around in the 80s. He casts a long vapour trail does Mr White.
Wolfpack, over at Late Night, has his objections about Chapman’s comment:
There were no Xerox machines just easily available in the early 1970s. So, if White found a sheet of Barrett lyrics in some Hipgnosis archive, he just couldn't run to some supermarket to copy the sheet.
All he could do was writing down in his own handwriting, what he was reading in front of him.
First of all, the Rooftop poem doesn't date from the eighties but was published in Terrapin in 1974. In his foreword Bernard White thanks ‘Hypgnosis for the poem and photos’. This is repeated in the ‘credits’ section: ‘This issue all photos plus poem: Hypgnosis’. Bernard White doesn’t seem the person to me to fabricate a false Syd Barrett poem. The Hipgnosis archive, where he claimed to have found the poem, has been lost. We can’t prove its authenticity. Chapman can’t prove the opposite either.
The 2001 Syd Barrett compilation album Wouldn’t You Miss Me? has a partial facsimile of the Mind Shot lyrics, better known as It Is Obvious. It is believed that it comes straight out of Syd’s binder that contained his lyrics.
Wolfpack has asked, and rightly so, why this sheet hasn’t been included. Most of Syd’s typewritten lyrics have been lost, so why didn’t they add the one(s) that did survive?
On top of that, Chapman changes Syd’s line ‘Oh mumma listen dolly’ into ‘Mumble listen dolly’. Once again some explanation would have been appreciated.
There are plenty of cases where different interpretations of the lyrics are possible. But it’s nice to see that there finally is a consensus about Opal (instead of Opel) and that both mad cats and madcaps are hiding in Octopus / Clowns & Jugglers.
Meanwhile, it has been suggested that Gilmour and Chapman didn't listen to isolated voice tracks for all tracks, despite all the brouhaha, only for those they had a problem with. There is a line in Octopus that officially goes: "The seas will reach and always seep."
That's wrong, states Chapman on Twitter, nearly a year ago, suggesting: “The seas will wreath. We’ll always see.”
So why did it change back to the first – clearly wrong – line in the book?
Walk with me
Chris Flackett on Twitter:
I do have one question, respectfully asked, as it goes: I always thought the line in Candy and a Currant Bun was 'please just fuck with me'. Was it just a common mishearing then? Always wondered how they slipped that past EMI.
Rob Chapman replies:
Didn't have any multi-track to prove that but I think it's both, like madcap and madcat on Octopus.
Wrong, multi-tracks of Candy do exist and have even been (partially) published on YouTube. Rob Chapman plays it safe and uses the politically correct line: "Please, just walk with me."
This is weird because in 'Irregular Head' Chapman acknowledges the existence of the four-letter word: “He slips a cleverly disguised ‘fock’ into the chorus and makes it sound like ‘walk’.”
No Man’s Land
The promised part where fans would ‘spontaneously combust’ is the spoken word ending of No Man's Land. It must have been a titanic work to isolate the mumbling sentences of the crazy bard, spoken at a staggering speed.
It’s a work of love and dedication and Sydiots all over the planet will thank the Chapman / Gilmour team for that.
Is this the definitive statement on Syd’s lyrics as Chapman proudly tells in an interview with the Bureau of Lost Culture? I don’t think it is. There are still some loose ends and as some anoraks have said, it wouldn't have hurt to add some annotations. It’s not that Chapman / Gilmour didn’t have the time.
But it will find its way into the shrines of most Sydiots, I’ll guess. They will discuss its contents for centuries to come.
Let’s add another Syd Barrett myth, shall we? Over at Hoffman’s Music Corner member APH claims he had several brief Syd encounters:
I was watching my friends' group the Fire Dept at Strawberry Fair, late eighties. There was a bald guy in a jumpsuit dancing around enthusiastically on his own. I was told it was Syd. After that, I recognised him around Cambridge through the years. Generally just walking alone. Occasionally doing something like paying for his weekly shop in pennies, and making everyone wait.
He was quite well known locally, it wasn't considered the done thing to approach him. I heard he would scream at people who did that. One look at him, and it was obvious there was no reason to approach him, he wasn’t the same person.
The Church wishes to thank: APH, Asdf35, Eleonora Siatoni, Gregory
Taylor, Hallucalation, Julian Palacios, Matthew Cheney, Psych62, Rich
Hall, Rob Chapman, Rontoon, Stephen Coates, Swanlee, Wolfpack,
♥ Libby ♥ Iggy ♥
A podcast about the lyrics book at Bureau of Lost Culture: The
legend, Legagacy and Lyrics of Syd Barrett
The lyrics of Syd Barrett… @ Late Night Forum
Syd Barrett 2021 Releases @ Steve Hoffman Music Corner
The Lyrics of Syd Barrett, Omnibus Press @ Yeeshkul
New book: The Lyrics Of Syd Barrett @ Neptune Pink Floyd
Birdie Hop @ Facebook
Sources (others than the links above):
Baudelaire, Charles: Paris Spleen 1869, New Directions Publishing, New York, 1970, p.25. Translated from the French by Louise Varèse.
Chapman, Rob: A Very Irregular Head, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 134.
Palacios, Julian: Darker Globe: Uncut and Unedited, private publication, 2021, p. 85.