Fasten Your Anoraks
No Pink Floyd release nowadays without a controversy between the fans, the (ex-)band members and/or record company. The Pink Floyd's first album 'The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn' has been celebrating its fortieth birthday and boys and girls that gravy train is riding again. Out comes a luxury package containing 3 disks: Piper in stereo, Piper in mono and a third disk containing the first 3 singles - 5 tracks, one B-side is exactly the same as on the album version and is not repeated - plus 4 alternative versions of Interstellar Overdrive (twice), Apples And Oranges and Matilda Mother.
So what is the controversy all about then?
1. EMI seems to release a special edition every decade.
Apart from the normal CD-issue that was basically just an analogue copy onto a digital carrier without fuddling we have already had a 1994 remastered stereo version and a limited (only a few million copies or so) 1997 mono version. The card box of the 1997 mono version was far too large to contain a single CD so that everyone could insert The First 3 Singles inside the box (that CD-EP had to be bought separately).
So basically this new edition combines the 1994 and 1997 versions in one package, adding 4 alternative takes. I know that EMI claims that the tapes have been remastered again (Why? Did James Guthrie do a bad job the previous times?) and the odd anorak will be able to tell you that the mono version of 1997 and the mono version of 2007 have a different fade out on one single track.
2. The tracks we are waiting for since decades are not included.
I don’t want to sound too ungrateful, collectors will find the 4 unearthed tracks worthwhile, but the tracks everybody was really waiting for are the final real tracks that Barrett recorded with his band: Scream Thy Last Scream and Vegetable Man. But perhaps these will find a place on an anniversary edition of A Saucerful Of Secrets.
And of course there are dozens of other (un)finished tracks and demos, believed to be lying in the EMI vaults that could have been included.
It would also have been a nice gesture to include the Pink Floyd's very first demo that has been circulating in bootleg circles for decades. Lucy Leave was Barrett's first song that was recorded by the band, including guitarist Bob Klose who would leave between the demo sessions and the band's debut at Abbey Road. The flip side of that acetate was the Slim Harpo classic (I'm A) King Bee, that has also been covered by Muddy Waters, The Rolling Stones, The Doors and The Grateful Dead.
3. One page is missing on the Fart Enjoy booklet.
Included with the Piper deluxe edition is an 'art' booklet that Syd Barrett made around 1965 for his friend Andrew Rawlinson. The existence of it was revealed in the Tim Willis biography Madcap that printed 6 out of the 12 pages (although a bit truncated). The remaining 6 could be found in the British Mojo music magazine (BTW, this month's issue of Mojo has a free CD entitled In Search Of Syd, containing 15 Pink Floyd inspired tracks).
One of the first people who confirmed that Fart Enjoy would be included on Piper was Ian Barrett, Syd's nephew. The official reason why the twelfth page of Fart Enjoy is missing is cryptically confirmed on the booklet:
This particular page has been left blank for legal reasons.
For further details see www.pinkfloyd.com.
Of course going to the official website of Pink Floyd doesn't give you extra information at all. Enough reasons for the fans to start speculating. The missing page contains 9 times the word 'fuck' and variations of the same verb such as 'fuk' and 'fuc'. According to a Pink Floyd manager who spoke with Keith Jordan, the webmaster from Neptune Pink Floyd, the reason was not the smutty language on the page but the accompanying copyrighted picture that couldn't be released. Very strange as the missing page has been published in Tim Willis's book before and can be found on the NPF website as well.
We haven't been amused like that since the Publius days.
Some of my Pink Floyd related goodies on this webspace (in Flash):
Syd-a-choo-choo (click-n-play puzzle/game)
Pink Floyd Pie Chart (quiz)
This post has been previously published at Felix Atagong's Unfinished Projects.
Si les cochons pourraient voler…
Have you ever seen President Sarkozy on the telly giving a speech? He always thinks he is doing a bloody Hamlet. His performances, because that is what he thinks they are, remind me more of Louis de Funès (or for the non-Francophiles among us: Benny Hill) than Napoleon Bonaparte, another one of those short short-tempered little men with a short fuse who think they can rule the world.
This post contains a fairly well hidden review of the Pink Floyd biography Pigs Might Fly by Mark Blake. To cut the intro, press here.
Flamingoes might fly
Eloquence is a French way of speech but that was not what I was thinking of when I read the following, decades ago:
Je ne sais qui doit le plus à l’autre! La France ou le Pink Floyd?
Le Pink Floyd peut-être.
(translation) I don’t know who owes the other more! France or Pink Floyd?
Pink Floyd perhaps.
The above is the start of a French rock biography (1977 edition), called Pink Floyd, written by Rock & Folk journalist Jean-Marie Leduc and issued by Albin Michel. Rock & Folk was an excellent French music magazine, that started in 1966, hence its name, and that wanted to inform the French public from the new trends in modern pop music. Jean-Marie Leduc hopped to London and wrote several articles about the London Underground music scene and le pouvoir des fleurs. He discovered this incredible band that would soon be the French progressive student movement’s darling, le Pink Floyd.
Although the most common language at London at that time was the language of love it would’ve helped Jean-Marie Leduc a little bit if he had actually understood some English. Which he didn’t. Probably the acid didn’t help either. That didn’t stop him to write a Pink Floyd biography that was published in October 1973, and that could still be found, a decade later, in every bookstore and self-respecting newspaper and magazine shop in France. Selling figures nearly must have achieved the same height as a regular Pink Floyd album; Leduc’s Pink Floyd was an instant classic and a steady seller.
It was also full of blunders. At page 19 Leduc wrongly mistakes the Pink Flamingo club for the band and throughout the book he will name the lads le Flamant Rose (it would take Rock & Folk until July 1994 to officially denounce the fact that Pink Floyd is a Phoenicopterus Roseus). Another botch is on page 49 where Leduc claims that ‘le 2 novembre (1967) (…) un nouveau simple du groupe “Apologises / Jugband blues” est commercialisé en Angleterre’. This one simple sentence has made French speaking Pink Floyd fans look for this non-existent track of the band for over a decade. At the end of the book the mistake is repeated at the discography, Jean-Marie Leduc keeps on maintaining that the Floyd’s third single was Jugband blues / Apologies (please note the different orthography and running order).
Jean-Marie Leduc’s biography was probably the very first biography on the band, as Charles Beterams wrote in the Echoes, a Dutch fan club magazine, and despite the mistakes it also contains a stunning revelation about the bands first recording, forgotten by most of the biographies that would come next. Leduc interviewed Nick Mason in 1973 and asked if Astronomy Domine was the Floyd’s first composition. Mason answered (translated from French back into English): “Not true. Our first composition was titled Lucy Lee in blue tight or something similar. We recorded it on acetate but it was never commercialised.” Once again Jean-Marie Leduc’s average knowledge of the English language made him note the song as Lucy Lee, and not as Lucy Leave, although Nick Mason’s pronunciation of the song title may not have been too comprehensible as well. It would take ages for another journalist to re-discover the truth about the band’s first recording.
One bloke who does remember Lucy Leave is Mark Blake. In 2007 he wrote a Pink Floyd biography entitled Pigs Might Fly but because I am such a stingy money spender I wanted to wait until the paperback came sailplaning to me. The last couple of years it is raining Pink Floyd related books and accessories as if all kind of shady people want to have their free ride on the gravy train. It is of course a double feeling, here we are Pink Floyd fans wanting to know everything (and we mean everything) on the band but on the other hand we feel as if we are inside an orange squeezer (or to use Gerald Scarfe’s weird world of Floydian symbolism: a meat grinder). The last thing I’ve read on Pink Floyd merchandising is that Converse will bring out a range of shoes based on the cover art of three of their albums. Part of me is yelling yuck!, but another part is jumping up and down, not a pretty sight if you would catch me on my webcam.
About a decade ago, perhaps a bit longer, small record companies
suddenly discovered the tribute album. I jumped on it as a hungry louce
on a passing German shepherd dog. But when my heap of tribute records,
all made to honestly commemorate the band and not to make a quick buck,
started to become bigger than my genuine Pink Floyd collection I simply
gave up. I think that Babies
Go Pink Floyd was the last tribute album I bought, partially because
the concept attracted me. If you also feel tempted to listen to it.
Not only the record is tripe and you wouldn’t want to confront any baby with it without giving him or her a lifelong phobia for Pink Floyd music but also it doesn’t actually motivates grown-ups either to start procreating, normally a quite amusing and satisfactory pastime.
Recently I found this add from Dwell records that goes something like this:
The biggest names in hard rock and avant-garde metal have come together to pay tribute to the madcap genius of Syd Barrett. Featuring some of heavy-metals most influential players, this is a hard-rocking trip through the music world’s most idiosyncratic minds.
Some of the bands present on the record are the following: Dreg, Giant Squid, Jarboe, Kylesa and my favourite Stinking Lizaveta. Except in some distant Norwegian fjordic regions where these bands are probably world famous amongst the local satanic black metal scene these bands don’t really merit the eptitheton ‘biggest name in hard rock’ to begin with. I would have written the add for this album a little bit less triumphant:
Several virtually unknown hard rock and avant-garde metal bands that are constantly struggling to have a record contract have come together to rip off the musical heritage of Syd Barrett. Featuring some of heavy-metals obscurest players, this is a fruitless hard-rocking trip trying to get a fan-base that exceeds the dozen.
Now that is what I call a more realistic description of the project. You can listen to the songs at MySpace and I have to confess they don’t all sound like rubbish to me.
But all the above was merely a long, way too long, way to say that I quit buying Pink Floyd tribute records a while ago as most were, are and will be… full of crap. I had the same compulsive buying disorder when it came to Pink Floyd related music magazines and books. Despite the fact that I can’t play guitar I have dozens of guitar magazines that promise you the tablature of the third guitar solo in Comfortably Numb and a brand new exclusive Pink Floyd interview that was in fact already published in another guitar magazine from three years before that I already had in my scrapbook.
I define myself more than the average Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett fan, but less than an anorak, fanorak suits me fine.. Anoraks have the tendency to start flame wars because someone has told that Syd Barrett was wearing green socks on the 7th of August 1967 while every aficionado knows he was wearing brown socks that day. (To avoid death threats: I’ve just made this whole sock-thing up, but the 7th of August 1967 was of course an important day in Floydian history, about the importance of green socks, just check David Gilmour’s inside sleeve of his About Face album and shiver.)
So I quit buying Pink Floyd books as well, more or less… the last I bought was The Rough Guide To Pink Floyd that can now be found at local lo-price bookshops for the third of the price I bought it for. That is a very nice Pink Floyd biography by the way, and if you are in search for one, well don’t hesitate and get it. It’s cheap and cheerful.
But this post was originally intended as a review of Pigs Might Fly, a Pink Floyd biography by Mark Blake and all I did until now is take the piss out of:
a) the very first Pink Floyd biography by Jean-Marie Leduc;
b) the various tribute cds that do exist;
c) the growing pile of Pink Floyd biographies…
So I had given up buying Pink Floyd biographies but when I wrote on the Late Night forum that nobody had ever tried to locate Syd’s girlfriend we know as Iggy Mark Blake promptly replied that he certainly had. I more or less apologised and answered that I would read his biography.
So I did.
Who am I to post a review about a book that Record Collector choose as book of the year, that Q magazine described as a ‘detailed, orderly, first-rate read’, while Mojo praised its ‘heroic research’. It’s excellent, well written, full of anecdotes and it seems to please the casual and the more ardent fan of the band, although it still forgets to mention the colour of socks Syd Barrett was wearing on the 7th of August 1967. Anoraks will always find something to grumble about. I did. I found a mistake from microscopical importance about the Publius affair but only people daft enough to look for the Enigma mystery will probably realise that.
A while ago I started a side-project called the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit. In it I am looking for the whereabouts of the girl who appeared on the cover of the Syd Barrett album The Madcap Laughs. It is rather amazing how many bits and pieces can be found after all these years, but apparently Iggy was quite a character in those flowery powery days. The time was ripe as other people suddenly started to reveal their Iggy memories, amongst them Anthony Stern who made a four-minute movie about her in the Sixties that was premiered this year.
I wrote some things about Iggy that I thought were revolutionary but apparently Mark Blake had unravelled these before in his biography, only he didn’t need as many space to write these things down than I did and if this review goes on like this it might be longer than the book itself.
On page 140 Mark Blake writes about how Iggy performed The Bend (Church article: Bend It!),on the next page he reveals the existence of the Anthony Stern movie (before it became an item on YouTube) and how she used to go dancing at The Orchid in Purley (Church article: Shaken not stirred). And all this a year before the Church was started and something of an Iggy hype was created. Hats off to Mark Blake.
Mark Blake is not only an accurate but also a beautiful writer (I’m not speaking about his physical appearance here), reading the bit about the Live 8 reunion gave me tears in my eyes although I normally only weep when I read sweet little things about dying puppies. That more or less sums it up really; Pigs Might Fly moved me and I thank Mark Blake a lot for that.
(In America the book has been published under the alternative title Comfortably Numb, this was the working title of the book but as the cover has a snapshot from Battersea Power Station, including flying pig balloon, this was changed for the European market.)
A final word about Jean-Marie Leduc
One of the funnier parts of the very first Pink Floyd biography are the translated song texts. The Floyd’s first album is called Le joueur de flûte aux grilles de l’aube, but my favourite still is a song that is called Bonbons et pain aux raisins. And what to think about the following, I let you guess what song this has been taken from:
De tortueux signes voltigent.
Lueur. Lueur. Lueur.
Fla. Pom. Pom.
Escaliers d’épouvante et lois de mort…
And a final word for collectors
If you are looking for a copy of the Pink Floyd book by Jean-Marie Leduc be sure to buy the Albin Michel / Rock & Folk versions (several editions from 1973 till 1983). In 1987 another book by Jean-Marie Leduc, also called Pink Floyd, and in the same mini format, was presented to the public by Le Club Des Stars / Seghers. Although based upon the previous versions this book has been completely rewritten and most of the errors have been edited out.
If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Fasten Your Anoraks
This post has been previously published at Felix Atagong's Unfinished Projects.
The best Pink Floyd book I've read in years is of course Mark Blake's Pigs Might Fly. Don't tell this to his friends and relatives but I know from a reliable source that he prays at the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit from time to time.
The funniest book about the Floyd are the memoirs, not of Nick gentleman drummer boy Mason, although they are good for a chuckle or two, crusty apple pie indeed, but those of Guy Pratt. About a third of My Bass and Other Animals colours pink as Guy joined the diet Floyd, although diet was not exactly the right word to describe the intake of Mr. Gilmour at that time, on their A Momentary Lapse of Reason world tour. Pratt has a very weird kind of humour and one of his pranks was an attempt to crash the Pink Floyd tour plane by frantically running up and down the corridor, in mid-flight! Normal bands have a tour bus; Pink Floyd has a tour plane and the drummer was flying it. If you don’t want to read the book, you can watch an interview where Guy tells about his Floydian encounters.
The best, best as in anoraky, Syd Barrett biography is Julian Palacios' Lost in the Woods, he is a silly bugger if you ask me as he invited the Church on the SBRS forum. Around this time a second (more condensed, I’m afraid) version of his book should finally appear. So far for this commercial break-up.
Speaking about Barretthings, the amount of Syd related books is slowly overhauling the man’s solo output and recently two new ones (in French) have made it onto my desk. Written by Jean-Michel Espitallier, Syd Barrett, le rock et autres trucs, looked the most promising. It doesn't claim to be a biography but a personal rendition, part essay, of a French Barrett connoisseur.
In my opinion France and rock go together like Germany and humour, Italy and efficiency, Belgium and world soccer finales but this one, I hoped, could be an exception as Mr. Jean-Michel Espitallier is not only is a devoted Barrett fan, but also the translator of the French edition of Tim Willis' Madcap biography, a renowned minor poet (dixit Francis Xavier Enderby) and drummer of the French rock band Prexley? (although that last is not exactly a reference, see above).
The title is a nice pun, un jeu de mots, as it can be interpreted as rock and other stuff but also as rock and other tricks. That is why I preferred to start with this tome instead of the other French Barrett book lying on my desk, called The First Pink Floyd, already deserving the price for lamest title of the year.
Stuff & tricks
It is 30 November 2004 and Jean-Michel Espitallier is nervously strolling around St. Margaret’s Square hoping to get a glimpse of the man who was once known as Syd but now prefers to be called Roger. When Syd-Roger drives by (in his sister's car) and the vehicle has to stop at the crossroads - I deliberately use this term here - where Jean-Michel is sitting on a bench, both men meet in the eye and both pretend, for a couple of minutes, not to see the other one. This anecdote sets the tone of the book, marvellously described by the drummer who can't hide his poetic roots. Strong stuff. Nice trick.
I once remarked at the, now defunct, Astral Piper forum that I couldn’t understand the romantic feelings some female Barrett fans had for Syd. I mean, this guy was a slightly disturbed diabetic elderly and if I should have asked them to have a fling with my grandfather they would’ve been insulted… Espitallier is aware of this dichotomy and compares Syd Barrett to Peter Pan. Syd was a Cambridge youngster who refused to grow up and died in the early Seventies when he, like Icarus, reached for the sky too soon. After all these years, fans were still hoping to find a glimpse of Syd, although only Roger had survived.
From old aged Roger it goes to old aged rock. Espitallier makes the point that we have forgotten about the My Lai massacre but only remember its soundtrack. Good Morning Vietnam has turned into an infomercialised cd-compilation (I have a Tour Of Duty TV-Shop-six-pack myself). Television documentaries use The Mamas and The Papas to comment napalm warfare. We look at a vintage take of an American soldier who has just placed a bullet through a women’s head but all we discuss is Suzy Q by the Creedence Clearwater Revival. Although the above is not really new, innovative or original, it is good to see it in print from time to time.
Jean-Michel Espitallier is not always well informed. I can forgive him that he mistakes the Dutch designer duo Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger for a couple of Germans but when it comes to Syd some facts should better have been checked before putting it into print. That Mick Rock did not shoot the cover of The Madcap Laughs is perhaps stuff for anoraks (Mick Rock himself has always hinted he was behind it anyway, a fact that Storm Thorgerson denies) but the story that, shortly before his death, Syd Barrett found a guitar from his brother-in-law and started strumming it can be found in the Mike Watkinson & Pete Anderson Crazy Diamond biography, that appeared 15 years before Syd Barrett passed away. And that particular anecdote probably dated already from a few years before it went into print. There are so many myths about Syd Barrett that one doesn’t need to create new ones.
It is perhaps understandable, the man is a poet and not a biographer. His book is about the Barrett phenomenon and not about the historical Barrett.
Lost in translation
Jean-Michel Espitallier writes : Il y a la musique qui nous rentre dans le cerveau musical et il y a la musique qui passe directement dans la poitrine…
Espitallier not only has been hit in the stomach by Syd’s music but received some hits on the head as well, resulting in some serious brain damage. He heard his first Syd song in 1973 and remembers it as Babe Lemonade; actually it is Baby Lemonade. And Jean-Michel’s lethargic song title memories keep on going on. Barrett’s James Joyce adaptation is baptized Golden Air (not Hair) and Syd’s final Pink Floyd statement Jugband Blues is changed to Jugband Blue. A couple of decades ago I started reading a promising French novel but quit after a dozen pages because the author kept on insisting on a Beatles’ song called Eleanor Rugby. Things like that make me grind my teeth. It makes me even wonder if Jean-Miche Espitallier is a real Barrett fan or a mere fraud trying to cash in, like a few others, on the Barrett legacy. For Ig’s sake, it just takes a 10 seconds look on a record sleeve to see if a title has been noted down without mistakes.
The book ends with a list of creative geniuses who stopped being creative at a certain point in their lives. One of these persons is the 19th century poet Arthur Rimbaud, who stopped writing at 21 and proclaimed: Merde à la poésie! I would like to end this review with: Merde au poète! But let’s have a look at the pros and cons of his Syd-hiking first (bad pun, I know)…
Pros: instead of the umpteenth biography this book is a personal journey from the author through music, art and literature, using the Barrett legend as a guide. Interesting viewpoints about music, fandom, culture and politics are intertwined with nice wordplays such as ‘Bob Dylan had a Plan Baez’.
Cons: actually Jean-Michel Espitallier gets more Barrett song titles wrong than he gets them right. At a certain moment I even thought he did it on purpose, the man is a poet after all.
I used to have this philosophy teacher who subtracted points from our exam results if we made spelling mistakes. Although we were angry with the man in those days I can now see he had a point (our points, actually). So out of 10, Syd Barrett, le rock et autres trucs gets an 8 for its content, but I feel obliged to subtract at least 5 points for its many mistakes.
...it is silent in here. Did a poet pass or did someone fart?
Espitallier, Jean-Michel: Syd Barrett, le rock et autres trucs, Editions Philippe Rey, Paris, 2009, 192 pages, 17 €.
Note: This book grew out of an essai radiophonique Jean-Michel Espitallier gave on radiostation France Culture on 4 November 2007. Called Syd Barrett Quand Même it can be found on the (interesting) French Floyd fansite Seedfloyd. Webbrowser version: http://www.seedfloyd.fr/article/syd-barrett-quand-meme. Direct downloads in MP3 or WMA format can be found on the same page.
If you liked this post - you might be interested in this one as well: Si les cochons pourraient voler…
This post has been previously published at Felix Atagong's Unfinished Projects.
Barrett: first in space!
It is a good thing that for the last few weeks I have been busy with several walkthroughs for the adventurous nookie monster ArianeB and that my review for the most recent French Syd Barrett biography, Syd Barrett, le premier Pink Floyd by Emmanuel Le Bret vegetated in that small Bermuda triangle called My Documents.
Right after I had read the book my opinion about French authors was as follows; I give you an unpublished exclusive excerpt from my first draft:
As long as French biographers keep on insisting that les Pink Floyd is part of their national treasury just because David Gilmour had a fling with BB once they will need to be hunted down by a mob of critics armed with boiling tar and blood stained feathers.
According to the credits on the back cover Emmanuel Le Bret is not only a Sixties collector and connoisseur but also a well known lecturer, although in French this is described as a conférencier what is not exactly the same. Anyway and this is a cheap blow under the belt, I apologize beforehand, a search on the world wide web doesn’t reveal any of his performing qualities to me but perhaps he only reads on private parties.
Syd Barrett, le premier Pink Floyd, is not Emmanuel Le Bret's first book so tells me Google . He debuted with an esoteric study about Uranus, a subject he knows more about than you dare to imagine. I could add in a joke or two here, but I won't. Uranus is not something one makes jokes about, unless you're from Klingon territory.
The biographical planet orbits between two opposing points. At the sinister side all attention goes to meticulously verified, double verified and triple verified facts. This does not always lead to readable books, I'm afraid. Spiralling at the other side are those who will not hesitate to add a good, albeit probably untrue, anecdote because it goes down so well. They probably think they're writing telenovelas instead.
Emmanuel Le Bret certainly admires the second biographical viewpoint. Several times he warns us, the innocent reader, not to give too many attention to the many legends around Syd Barrett and continues then by giving us a page and a half of the wildest rumours circling around about the madcap. Some of these were even unknown to me but this could be due to the French and their legendary lust for the baroque and the bizarre. It took them until the mid nineties to finally understand that Pink Floyd wasn't a bird so one juicy Syd rumour more or less can't hurt Emmanuel must have thought. Le Bret is as passionate about the rock star as he is passionate about Uranus and this shows in the many sentences that end with an exclamation mark! Like this! And that! And then just another one when you least expect it! French love this kind of stuff as you can see in their many movie comedies filled with screaming people who keep on smashing doors.
If you want to know what the general tone of the book is, I invite you to read the following post that I found at The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit. The author of that blog is a complete nutter, ready for the strap jacket, but I can follow the Reverend in what he has to say about Syd Barrett, le premier Pink Floyd: Tattoo You.
I am now also pretty sure that the French lack the proper DNA string that give other nationalities the magic force to copy and paste English words. For fuck's sake how moronic do you need to be to keep on insisting throughout the entire book that Syd's one time girlfriend is named Libby Gausdeen or that David Gilmour's early band is called Jocker's Wild?
There must be a zillion Internet joints, from Albania to Zambia, where they do manage to spell these names right, except in France. I made a list of the dozens of spelling mistakes in the book, and boys and the one single Nordic girl reading this blog, you are lucky that it has disappeared mysteriously from my harddisk, and I am too fed up to look for them again. Spoken about a narrow escape!
One could say that Emmanuel Le Bret writes English like officer Crabtree (from Allo Allo fame) speaks French (I know that this blog is not spotless either but we Belgians are semi-French anyway).
One time I really had to laugh out loud and that was when le brat re-baptises the hippy couple Jock and Sue, you know those hipsters that according to popular believe and certainly to our brave Uranus spotter spiked the drinking water and the cat food with LSD, as Mad Max and Mad Sue.
In real life Mad Jock was Alistair Findlay and Mad Sue was Susan Kingsford, and they both deny that they have ever mixed LSD in Barrett’s tea. Alistair Findlay even stated in Tim Willis’ Madcap biography that ‘spiking was a heinous crime’. Although these testimonies date from 2002 (and were repeated in Mark Blake’s biography from 2007) Emmanuel Le Bret still describes this as a proven fact and categorizes the couple as:
…un couple infernal (le mot n’est pas trop fort) [qui] biberonne le genie, rêvant sans doute de l’accompagner dans son voyage, à défaut de partager son talent…
…a devilish couple (that depiction is not too harsh) boozing the genius, without doubt dreaming to accompany him in his voyage and to share his talent… (translated by FA, original found on p. 138)
Pure bollocks, if you ask me, and further proof that the French are at least 7 years behind compared to the rest of the world.
What is there more to say? Le premier Pink Floyd has no pictures, although some French photo material does exist, and no index, what is a pity, especially for a biography. Basically the book reads like a train but flies like a brick...
To end this misery, a positive note. Here is a proposal to all French would-be authors who want to write the next Floydian biography, if one more is still needed: send me a copy before it goes to the publisher and I will check it for copy and paste errors. It will cost you nothing except a free copy once it does gets out, promised!
Le Bret, Emmanuel : Syd Barrett. Le premier Pink Floyd., Editions du Moment, Paris, 2008
Notes (other than the above internet links)
Willis, Tim, Madcap, Short Books, London, 2002, p. 75, repeated in:
Blake, Mark: Pigs Might Fly, Aurum Press, London, 2007, p.83.
Illustration (top left) by synofsound - thanks syn!
Seedfloyd has some articles and an audiolink concerning this book at the
Radio Canada interview.
Other Pink Floyd related books that were trashed by me can be found here:
Fasten Your Anoraks
Si les cochons pourraient voler…
The Rough Guide To Pink Floyd (at Felix Atagong's Unfinished Projects)
This post has been previously published at Felix Atagong's Unfinished Projects.
The Big Barrett Conspiracy Theory
This (quite controversial) review has been previously published at Felix Atagong's Unfinished Projects. Some amendments and updates have been made.
Syd Barrett: A very irregular head - Rob Chapman
There are now more Syd Barrett biographies around (in the English language alone) than Syd Barrett records and several Pink Floyd biographies consecrate the same amount of pages for the first three years of the Floyd than for the next 30. So obviously there must be something mysterious going on with this Syd character.
The last in line to open Pandora's box is Rob Chapman. He was actually one of the few people (around 30 to 50) who saw Syd's mythical band Stars at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge (24 February 1972) and is still relatively sane enough to recall it. Young chap Robert Chapman even wrote a review for Terrapin magazine, that would disappear a few years later for 'lack of Syd' but also because no three Syd Barrett fans can come together without having a tremendous fight. Try running an Internet joint for that lot nowadays and you'll see what I mean.
Writing a biography is a difficult job and I once remarked in a (quite pompous) review that biographers are situated on a scale, ranging from those who meticulously verify, double verify and triple verify tiny facts to those that will not hesitate to add a good, albeit probably untrue, anecdote just because it goes down so well.
Rob Chapman is, and often quite rightly so, annoyed with the many legends around Barrett and wants to set the record straight. I kind of like this way of working. But he doesn't indulge us either in an ongoing shopping list of facts and figures. The art of writing biographies is not in adding details, that is the easy bit, but in weeding out the superfluous so that a readable book (rather than a shopping list) remains.
But sometimes I have the feeling that he weeded a bit too much. The trouvaille of the name Pink Floyd (p. 53) is literally dealt with in a single line. Of course ardent Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett fans alike already know the story about Philips BBL-7512 and its liner notes by heart, but the occasional reader might as well benefit from an extra wee bit of information. And quite frankly it is about time that David (Dave) Moore gets the credits for the mail he sent to Bryan Sinclair on the 14th of March 2005 entitled: “RE: [pre-war-blues] Pink Anderson / Floyd Council.”
Chapman, the fearless vampire killer
You might say, that piece of information is too anoraky and Rob Chapman was right not to include it, but why then, when he can lash out at previous Syd Barrett biographers, doesn't he apply his own rules anymore? Every new biography should have its new findings, otherwise there would be no necessity to write it, and I do understand that you can point out a flagrant mistake that has been made in a previous biography, but Chapman acts repeatedly as a vindictive (and verbally abusive) Von Helsing, wooden stake in his hand, ready to stick it through the heart of a vampire on the loose. Only, in my book, a fellow biographer should not be treated as a vampire but rather as a colleague, perhaps an erring colleague, but still a colleague... Writing that some biographies should have a government health warning on their cover is not nice and is better left to amateur blog authors like yours truly and journalists of The Sun.
We have established by now that Rob Chapman does not like false and superfluous information, but on top of that he also has some theories of his own. David Gilmour recalls how he was invited at the See Emily Play recording session (officially the 21st of May 1967, but, according to David Parker, a first session could have taken place on the 18th) and how he found that 'the golden boy had lost the light in his eyes'. Somewhere around that date Syd turned 'crazy' so we have been lead to believe for the past 40 years…
Chapman is of the opinion that Barrett didn't turn mad, but rather that he was alternatively wired and that, what other people have described as mad behaviour, was really Syd playing cosmic jokes on the rest of the world or setting up dadaist and misinterpreted avant-garde performances.
Just like the proverbial fish in a fisherman's story gets bigger and bigger so have Syd legends accumulated weight over the years. Rob Chapman doesn't like these apocryphal stories and wants to debunk these once and for all. He does a good job at that, but - once again - weeds to much. It is not because you can correct a couple of false rumours that - by definition - all memories from all witnesses have to be categorised untrue. And that is what Chapman implies. Even more, in order to prove his theory, he deliberately skips several events that have happened but that he can't immediately minimise or contradict.
It is good to counterbalance the Syd Barrett articles and biographies that have thriven upon sensationalism (Le premier Pink Floyd from Emmanuel Le Bret comes to mind, luckily that 2008 biography was written in French and completely ignored by the Anglo-Saxon world) but that is not a reason to indulge into a fairytale world of Barrett the mystic, but misinterpreted, genius. That is unethical and close to historical revisionism and it turns the middle part of the biography (covering the Piper and Madcap years) into a somewhat misplaced hagiography.
You will probably not believe me when I tell I didn't do it on purpose,
but when Chapman quotes Nick Mason's autobiography Inside Out on
page 198, saying that Nick writes that 'Syd went mad' during the
American tour of 1967, I grabbed my copy (actually, I carefully took and
opened it, as it is quite heavy) and read pages 87 till 97 over again.
I can't find it. I will not conclude that Nick may never have written (or said during an interview) that 'Syd went mad' but it isn't there where Chapman claims it is.
Update October 2010: By accident I stumbled upon the Syd is crazy quote (or one of the Syd is crazy quotes) from Nick Mason in Barry Miles' The Early Years book:
"You can't believe that someone's deliberately trying to screw it up and yet the other half of you is saying 'This man's crazy - he's trying to destroy me!'"
Nick however does write that on two different occasions on the American tour Syd detuned his guitar, one time even 'until the strings fell off'. This apparently made Roger Waters so angry that he 'gashed his hand in a furious attack on his bass guitar', smashing the (lend) instrument to pieces at the end of the show.
Rob Chapman doesn't see where the problem is and remarks joyfully that Syd had been deliberately detuning his guitar in the past (during the Floyd's early free-form jams) and that it was tolerated and even encouraged then. He seems not to realise that there might have been a time and place to detune a guitar and a time and place NOT to detune a guitar. When I visit my doctor, who is looking gorgeous by the way, and unbutton my trousers in front of her she will not be offended, but if I catch her at the local supermarket, choosing a deep-freeze pizza (the living proof that deep-freeze pizzas are healthy, by the way) and dangle my ding-a-ling in front of her, I will be in hell of a trouble. Not that I have done that, those rumours are incredibly exaggerated and I am again allowed to enter the supermarket anyway.
The Big Barrett Conspiracy
Chapman more or less suggests that, over the years, there has been a Big Barrett Conspiracy going on, claiming that Syd went mad while he was just being artistically misunderstood. It is obvious that Waters, Mason and Wright, and to a lesser extent Gilmour, were behind the conspiracy. They quit their studies and promising architectural career to follow the narrow path of psychedelic pop music and when money was finally starting to come in a whimsical Barrett wanted to turn the clock back (probably through a washing machine) and concentrate on experiment again (proto-Floyd members Bob Klose and Chris Dennis had left the band in the past just because their profession stood in the way). Chapman doesn't even try to hide his disgust for post-Syd Floyd, but more about that later.
What is less understandable is that Peter Jenner and Andrew King are part of the conspiracy as well, because when Syd and Pink Floyd went separate ways, they choose to manage Syd instead of following the goose with the golden eggs. Jenner assisted Barrett during his first batch of sessions for The Madcap Laughs (1968) but commented later that these were 'chaos'. The sessions had been going on from May till July and Jenner reported that they weren't getting anywhere.
Chapman disagrees, he states that during the 6 studio sessions in 1968 Barrett recorded half a dozen of rough tracks dispelling the myth of a 'muse run dry'. I count 9 sessions, by the way, making Barrett's tracks per sessions ratio one third less performing as Chapman wants us to believe, but that is not the issue here. The main problem is not that Barrett was out of songs. Six of them still doesn't make an album, unless you would add the 18 minutes of the avant-garde (read: tedious) Rhamadan. The main problem with Barrett was that the songs never outgrew the rehearsal or demo stadium. Simply said: Barrett wasted a lot of studio time. And these were still the days that a record company expected an artist to cut an entire album in three or four sessions, the only exception perhaps being The Beatles.
Update October 2010: after 40 years Rhamadan has been issued as a free download with the An Introduction to Syd Barrett compilation. The track isn't half as bad as everyone - especially those who never heard it - claimed it to be, but it needs some serious weeding to be presentable as a 'real' album track. More info: Gravy Train To Cambridge
I see in Rob Chapman a man with a passion and he is at his best when he
analyses Syd's songs. It takes him 7 pages to scrutinise Clowns &
Jugglers (re-titled later as Octopus),
making it clear to the outside world that Syd wasn't just a young
innocent bloke whose lyrics came to him in a psychedelic, LSD-induced,
dream. Chapman traces back references (and quotes) from:
Huff the Talbot and our Cat Tib (Mother Goose rhyme),
Thomas Nashe's Summer's Last Will and Testament (an Elizabethan masque play),
Shakespeare's King Henry VI Pt. 1,
Kenneth Grahame's The Wind In The Willows
and poems from
Anonymous (Mr Nobody),
John Clare (Fairy Things),
Sir Henry Newbolt (Rilloby-Rill) and
William Howitt (The Wind in a Frolic).
Unfortunately I have in my small collection of Barrett related works a 12-page essay, written in 2005 by Paul Belbin, published at the Madcapslaughing and Vegetable Friends mailing groups, titled: Untangling the Octopus. It describes in detail, almost verse per verse, where Syd Barrett sampled the lines from Octopus from. Although Chapman nearly literally copies the information for 7 pages long, he neglects to mention the source of his findings.
Update October 2010: Paul Belbin has authorised the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit to host the 2006 version of his essay: Untangling the Octopus v2 (PDF file).
In 2009 a revised and updated version of Untangling The Octopus was published by Julian Palacios, a Syd Barrett biographer who doesn't even appear in Chapman's bibliography, but as Chapman spifflicates the biographies he does mention that probably is a compliment.
Chapman can get downright cynical when he wants to take the myth out of Barrett and this is where the biography as a biography goes astray. Although a biographer may be unconditionally in love with his subject he (she) must at the same time keep a certain distance, be unprejudiced and should approach the subject with at least a glimpse of unbiased neutrality.
Debunking the brylcreem and mandrax anecdote is not bad, but it is not directly original either. Chapman isn't the first one to have done this as shows this forum post by Julian Palacios and also Mark Blake has put some question marks concerning the event.
Apart from some anecdotes that happened at family parties or random encounters on the street with old friends and (past) lovers, we don't know a lot about Syd Barrett's life in Cambridge. So if a witness does turns up it would perhaps be a chance to check him (or her) out. But in a Q&A that was published on the official Syd Barrett website Chapman tells why he didn't contact the Barrett neighbour who has not always been positive about the rockstar next door:
My thoughts, clearly and unambiguously are that I didn’t want to give this individual a scintilla of publicity. (…) I did check him out, quite extensively as it happens, and my enquiries lead, among other places, to a website where he gives his enlightened views on capital punishment and who should receive it – most of us, by the look of it.
It is not because someone has a dubious opinion about capital punishment that his memories about Barrett are - by definition - untrue or unreliable. However Chapman is not that reluctant when a witness turns up who has got some positive things to say about Barrett.
On pages 365 and following, Chapman recites the charming anecdote of a young child who ran into Barrett's garden to ask him a pertinent question about a make-believe horse. Not only did Barrett patiently listen to her dilemma, he also took the time to explain her that in fairy tales everything is possible, even flying horses.
It is in anecdotes such as this that Chapman shows his unconditional love for Barrett, and I confess that it made my grumpy heart mellow as well. Here is the man, who invariably smashed the door to any fan approaching his house, earnestly discussing fairy tales figures with a neighbourhood's kid.
Wish You Where... 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 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.)
The Madcap Laughs
Another mystery Chapman can't solve is the exact time frame of the shooting of The Madcap Laughs album cover. He still situates this between August and November 1969 although there is a slightly obscure website on this world that maintains that the pictures date from the beginning of that year.
Chapman does a good, what do I say, a great job by describing Syd's later years. He still can't say a lot about Syd's lost weekend between the mid-Seventies and the early Eighties, although there must be people around who knew or even visited him. Perhaps that insane Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit should try to locate some of them.
In 1982, in the midst of Wall-mania, Barrett left his Syd-character behind by walking the distance between London and Cambridge. For the remainder of his life he would prefer to be known as Rog or Roger.
Chapman managed to talk to Rosemary Breen, Syd's sister, and it is through her that we know a great deal of Barrett's later life. It is a sad story, but one with many laughs, as Rosemary remembers mainly her brother's latter-day sense of humour. That and the story of Syd's life as an adolescent, thanks to the many letters that Libby Gausden has kept for all these years, are the strongholds of this, his, biography.
Just when you thought this review was finally going to end it is time to get personal.
I started reading this biography and was genuinely intrigued by the author's style, his wit, his knowledge, but also his unhealthy habit of demeaning anyone who doesn't share his ideas. But I could live with it, despite the odd tsk-tsk that would leave my mouth once in a while.
The passage that made me loose my marbles can be found halfway the book on page 213. It describes how Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd legally split up. Peter Jenner and Andrew King stayed with Barrett, the rest of the band had to choose a new agency, a new manager and a new recording contract. The rest of the band's history, so writes Rob Chapman, is accountancy.
The Early 70 Tours with the Embryo suite: accountancy?
Meddle (with Echoes): accountancy?
Dark Side Of The Moon: accountancy?
Wish You Where Here: accountancy?
The Wall: accountancy?
Update October 2010: When Barrett and Pink Floyd split up there was the small matter of a 17,000 British Pounds debt that the band had. The Abdab accountants didn't burden Syd Barrett, nor Peter Jenner and Andrew King with that.
On page 317 Chapman infuriates me a little bit more by writing that Waters, Mason, Wright and Gilmour sound like a firm of chartered surveyors. I find this remark as insulting as deliberately mistaking Rob Chapman for Mark David Chapman.
His opinion that, on Wish You Were here, Pink Floyd uses sixth-form imagery to describe their former bandsman (and friend) didn't hurt me anymore. By then Rob Chapman had already become something I usually pick out of my nose.
In Chapman's opinion an entire generation of musicians (in the Seventies) began to make music 'more appropriate to the rocking chair than to the rocket ship'. The man has a way with words, that I have to admit.
I had heard of these Pink Floyd haters before, people who really think that the band died when Barrett left the gang. The problem is that most of these people are aware of Syd Barrett thanks to the fame and glory of a dinosaur called Pink Floyd.
Without Syd Barrett no Pink Floyd, I agree (although it was Roger Waters who invited Barrett to join the band, not the other way round). But without Pink Floyd most of us, myself included, would never have heard of Syd Barrett either.
Thanks to the success of the classic Pink Floyd concepts EMI kept the Barrett solo records in their catalogue. The 1974 vinyl compilation Syd Barrett was a direct result of the interest for early Floyd, after A Nice Pair (1973) had proven successful. Poor Barrett earned 'two and a half million quid' in one year thanks to the Echoes compilation alone.
The backside is that due to Dark Side, Wish You Were Here and The Wall fans from all over the globe started to look for Barrett, hoping he would explain them the meaning of life. Probably Syd would have preferred to be left alone even if it meant not to have all those millions on the bank. But if there is one thing we can't do, it is to change past history, although Chapman tries, more than once, to do so.
Until finally Julian Palacios comes up with a revised edition of Lost in the Woods, Rob Chapman deserves my sincere felicitations for writing one of the most readable Barrett biographies ever. But for constantly exposing himself as an infallible Barrett-prophet, pooh-poohing all those who don't think like him and deliberately ignoring facts that don't fit in his gospel, he deserves nothing more than a good kick on the nose.
Sources: (other than internet links mentioned above)
Belbin, Paul: Untangling the Octopus v2, 2006. PDF version, hosted at the Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit with Paul Belbin's permission.
Blake, Mark: Pigs Might Fly, Aurum Press, London, 2007, p. 95, p. 231.
Mason, Nick: Inside Out: A personal history of Pink Floyd, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2004, p. 94-95.
Miles, Barry: Pink Floyd The Early Years, Omnibus Press, London, 2006, p.111.
Parker, David: Random Precision, Cherry Red Books, London, 2001, p. 136, p. 138.
A quite nice (promotional) interview with Rob Chapman can be found at Youtube.
Other Pink Floyd related books that were trashed by me can be found here:
Pigs Might Fly by Mark Blake: Si les cochons pourraient voler…
Pink Floyd by Jean-Marie Leduc: Si les cochons pourraient voler…
Syd Barrett, le premier Pink Floyd by Emmanuel Le Bret: Barrett: first in space!
Syd Barrett, le rock et autres trucs by Jean-Michel Espitallier: Cheap Tricks
The Rough Guide To Pink Floyd by Toby Manning: The Rough Guide To Pink Floyd (on Felix Atagong's Unfinished Projects)
Gravy Train To Cambridge
A couple of months ago a new Syd Barrett compilation was announced and EMI (Harvest) was proud to proclaim that Syd Barrett had joined the league of Jimi Hendrix or Marc Bolan, meaning that the man has got more compilation albums written on his name than genuine albums.
Let's make a quick sum, shall we? Barrett, who was the founder of the mythical band Pink Floyd, was overtly present on their first album The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. On the second album A Saucerful Of Secrets he had already taken a sabbatical, and although present on 3 tracks (out of 7) he only takes the vocal lead (and writing credits) on the testamentary coda Jugband Blues.
There are at least 7 Pink Floyd compilations that have Barrett's (sometimes unreleased) work on it and the last one Echoes (2001) turned Syd Barrett into an overnight millionaire. The fortieth anniversary edition of Piper (2007) has (in the deluxe edition) an extra CD containing some alternative versions and the Pink Floyd's early singles as well.
Barrett's solo output in the early seventies is limited to two albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, and that is all there is, give or take 5 or 6 compilations. The count depends whether one catalogues the Opel (1988) record as a compilation of alternative takes and unreleased material or as a real 'third' solo album.
The most recent compilation 'An Introduction To Syd Barrett' boasts that this is the first time in history that Barrett's Pink Floyd and solo tracks have been compiled on one disk. This is true, but… so what?
On the other hand a quick glance at the list of unreleased material shows that there are about a dozen Pink Floyd studio tracks from their Syd Barrett era, but alas this compilation still doesn't contain any of them.
So what could possibly be the added value of this album, one might ask?
Not its cover, that doesn't show Syd Barrett at all but that has been created, as usual, by Storm Thorgerson. Thorgerson, and more particularly his Hipgnosis studio, made some landmark record sleeves in the Seventies and Eighties, but he seems not able nowadays to sell his creations to influential bands, unless you call the freaky weirdoes of The Mars Volta influential of course. Thorgerson's contemporaneous work flirts a bit too much with cheap kitsch and luckily there is still Pink Floyd Ltd that keeps him away from the unemployment office. I'm quite fond of Thorgerson's work and I do like the cover although most Syd Barrett fans I frequent compare it with visual diarrhoea so I leave it to you to make up your own mind.
As a Barrett anorak I am not interested in the regular songs on this compilation - as a matter of fact I didn't even listen to those - but I jumped immediately on top of the so-called enhanced tunes. The compilation boasts that 4 tracks have been remixed and one track has been 'upgraded' with additional bass from David Gilmour who also supervised the mixes. (The following review has been largely influenced by Blade's comments on the NPF forum and MOB's comments on the A Fleeting Glimpse forum.)
Dominoes: the new mix has been so subtly done that there is hardly any difference. The vocals are more emphasized and the backwards guitar sounds a trifle clearer. Some corrections may have been done, because on the original versions several (drum) parts were out of 'synch'. These errors have miraculously disappeared on the 2010 mix.
Octopus: this track is 7 seconds longer, due to the fact that a 'false' start has been added at the beginning. The "isn't it good to be lost in the woods" vocals have been clarified and brought to the fore and it could even be that its first part has been taken from an alternative take (also a few drumbeats have been added that weren't there on the 1970 version). Overall the muddled sound of vocals and guitars have been cleaned.
She Took a Long Cool Look: this track has always been called She Took A Long Cold Look in the past, but the title has now been changed. This is one of so called 'live' bits from Barrett's first album. These included false starts, bad guitar playing, unstable singing and Barrett generally loosing it… David Gilmour said he included these demos in 1970 to reveal Barrett in all his fragility, but later regretted his choice…
The 2010 version snips some of the unnecessary background sounds (Barrett turning some papers) and the guitar breakdown in the middle of the song is replaced by some strumming from another take. And - as with all of these remixes - Barrett's voice sounds more crisp than before and with less disturbing echo.
Matilda Mother (Pink Floyd): the 40 years anniversary edition of Piper already had this alternative take but in a much shorter version. This one takes 50 seconds longer and has benefited from a real mix. Probably the 2010 version is a sound-collage of several outtakes.
Here I Go: this little dance hall tune has always been my favourite Barrett track. For over 40 years I have wondered how this song really ended and now the ditty lasts 5 seconds longer. Gilmour has done a fine job by adding extra bass and after my second listen I already felt that this was the way it should always have been. (There is also a tiny rhythm correction - compared with the original version - at 01:46.)
Personally I find it a bad judgment from Gilmour & Co to keep the fade out but the closing chord I had been waiting for can still be heard. And I know it's starting to sound repetitive, but Barrett's vocals have been upgraded as well and sound crispier than ever. You don't need to buy the album to listen to this track as a promo video has been put on the web as well: Here I Go (official video).
The few remixes on this compilation are subtle, have been done with great care and love for the original material so that my initial anoraky opinion of 'don't touch the originals' has now been switched over to 'why didn't they simply enhance all tracks'?
But the real revelation of the album can't be found on plastic. The CD contains a key to download the mythical Rhamadan track from the official Syd Barrett website and this is what the next chapter is all about.
I won't get into the old story, legend or myth, of Rhamadan as it is all old news by now. The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit wrote a bit about it in Anoraks and Pontiacs and Rob Chapman in A Very Irregular Head describes it as a 'conga-heavy jam session lasting eighteen minutes and of little merit', although it is highly doubtful that the biographer could get hold of the piece.
The only person, apart from some EMI alumni, who could listen to the track in its full glory was David Parker, author of Random Precision. In order to get EMI's permission he had to sign a 'scarily draconian declaration', so scarily draconian that he even had to delete a forum post wherein he had simply admitted it had been 'scarily draconian'. The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit sometimes threatens with the Holy Igquisition but apparently that secret service is peanuts compared to the EMI 'unlimited supply, there is no reason why' storm troops.
David was the only author who could write, in detail, how the piece sounded and as it is so damn accurate I see no point of trying to give my own description.
Peter Bown announces Rhamadan take 1 over some bass and organ noises. He pronounces the title Rarmardarn like a 1950's BBC newsreader. The piece itself begins with the conga drums (probably Steve Took from Tyrannosaurus Rex).
The bass comes in and immediately takes the lead role (whoever the bass player is they are extremely proficient) with some very fast Stanley Clarke style runs and slides in places. The vibes then begin to come in, along with some disjointed organ chording (mostly on one chord). This then continues for a couple of minutes with the bass leading over the conga beat, vibes and organ chords. A piano then enters playing a loose boogie rhythm, and someone starts playing some very staccato mellotron notes as well. Things settle into a groove, and a second drummer joins in, mainly on cymbals. After about 5 minutes Syd's guitar starts to appear, playing muted chords to fill out the sound. The bass falls back slightly, and the piano takes the lead, Syd's guitar feeding back momentarily as he begins to play solo notes. (…)
The piece eventually starts to fizzle out with some mad staccato mellotron, the ever present organ chord and a lot of bass improvisation with a sprinkling of piano notes. Syd plays some open chord plucking and everything gets rather free form with Syd letting his guitar build-up feedback and then fades it out. (…)
Syd starts another riff but it begins to fade until the bass player picks up on it, and everyone begins following along. Another crescendo of feedback builds up as Syd picks out what sounds like the Close Encounters three note theme (!). (…)
Things build up yet again, with everyone in random improvisation, then everyone stops except the organ chord. The bassist begins a strident riff, giving the vibes a chance to solo (with staccato mellotron accompaniment). The bass rockets off into a hyper-drive riff, then everything finally falls to bits, ending with our old friend the organ chord drone, the mad mellotronist and a few bass notes.
We don't really know who are the players on Rhamadan, but Steve Peregrin Took is a name that appears in almost all biographies. Biographer Julian Palacios, however, seems to disagree now:
Talking to my friend GH today, he wrote: 'I don't think that Steve Took is the conga player on these sessions. I knew Steve and discussed Syd with him on a few occasions, he said that Syd had jammed with him round at his flat and that he had recorded it, but there was never any mention of going into a recording studio with Syd. My understanding was that Steve didn't get pally with Syd until after his split from Marc (Bolan). Back in 68 Tyrannosaurus Rex where gigging like crazy and still very much a going concern.' (Taken from Late Night Discussion Forum.)
Rhamadan isn't half as bad as everyone, who had never heard it, claimed it to be. Especially when one remembers that the same biographers and journalists tend to praise AMM, The Soft Machine or The Third Ear band for their revolutionary musical approach. Rhamadan is of course a highly freakadelic experiment, almost free-jazz in its approach, a genre Syd Barrett was not unfamiliar with.
If you have bought the CD, Rhamadan can be downloaded (legally) from the official Syd Barrett website, but unfortunately only in the MP3 format with a rather cheapish 152kbs bitrate. But its bitrate is not the only amateurish characteristic. While millions of people all over the world have discovered MP3 tags, EMI is of the opinion that this doesn't apply to them. The tags reveal that it is untitled (Track 1), comes from an unknown album, is from an unknown artist and from an unknown year. Not even the Publisher and Copyright data are filled in. My 8-years old godchild can rip MP3 tunes better than EMI does, she at least knows how to attach a (sleeve) picture to the file. (Although I worked this out by myself, Jen D at madcapslaughing beat me by a day by publishing the same findings before me. As I haven't got an irregular head I'll give this bloke the credits.)
While EMI has been nagging us for years that copying is killing music a closer look on the MP3 tags reveals us that the file has been converted with FreeRIP. Here is the biggest music company in the world and it uses a freeware version of a (quite good, I agree) MP3 converter to spread around a track belonging to the founder of their second most commercially successful band, next to The Beatles.
I know of the bad financial situation of the music company but I wasn't aware that EMI was that close to bankrupt that they can't even afford a 29,75 dollar software program.
None really. The best thing is to decide for yourself if the 5 remixes and the 1 download are sufficient to buy the album. As a Barrett anorak myself, I simply had no choice.
Sources: (other than internet links mentioned above)
Chapman, Rob: A Very Irregular Head, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 215.
Parker, David: Random Precision, Cherry Red Books, London, 2001, p. 132-133.
The Introduction album and Rhamadan track are further discussed here:
Introduction at Late Night
Introduction at NPF
Rhamadan at Late Night
Rhamadan at NPF
A review of the 40 years anniversary edition of the Piper at the Gates of Dawn can be found at Fasten Your Anoraks
Sister blog Unfinished Projects has recently published a review of the latest Orb album featuring David Gilmour: Metallic Spheres.