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In a previous
post it was told how Margaretta
Barclay and Rusty Burnhill took Syd Barrett to acid-folk singer Meic
Stevens in Wales, trying to raise Syd's appetite to play some music
again. None of the Barrett biographies, including the most recent one
from Rob Chapman, have mentioned this, although it was not exactly a
secret as Stevens recalls the visits in his autobiography that appeared
The Church is much obliged to Prydwyn who guided us towards Meic
Stevens's autobiography and who was so friendly to translate the texts
from Welsh to English. This article has mainly been written by him.
Meic Stevens is as huge and influential a name in the Welsh-language
folk, rock, and pop scene as Bob Dylan is (was) in the English-speaking
world. Meic has been recording since 1965 (mostly in Welsh, although for
those not willing to take him on in the language of Heaven, his
outstanding 1970 psychedelic masterpiece Outlander
has recently been reissued on CD).
For the most part he has performed under his own name, although in the
late 60s he was a member of Gary Farr’s backing group in London (playing
with Farr at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1969, the festival Syd
went to with Margaretta Barclay [note from FA]). Meanwhile in Wales
(and in Welsh) he, Heather Jones, and Geraint
Jarman performed as ‘Y Bara Menyn’ as well (late 60s).
I got a contract in 1965 for a record I’d written myself called Did
I Dream. Decca were going to try to market me as another Donovan or
Bob Dylan. But it all got too much for me, I had a nervous breakdown and
ended up back at Solva.
Meic returned to his home village of Solva, Pembrokeshire, to recover, a
time he details in his first autobiography, Solva
Blues, and he soon became a feature of the Welsh-language folk and
blues scene. In 1969 he was signed by Warner Brothers but after his
first album Outlander, the contract was abandoned by mutual
consent. (Taken from: Wales
Online, interview by Robin Turner.)
The following extracts are from Meic Stevens's first biography, Hunangofiant
y Brawd Houdini(2nd edition 2009, originally from 2003),
with translations following. An English version of this autobiography
has also been issued, although I haven’t read it and so am not 100% sure
it contains the same information. Update: There is one
significant difference between the English and Welsh version, see: Syd
meets... a lot of people.
Syd Barrett and Meic Stevens in a lost BBC documentary
The first piece refers to 1969. It must have been spring or summer, as
the next section in Stevens's autobiography is about the Isle of Wight
Festival. Meic Stevens, his partner and children were living in a
farmhouse (called Caerforiog) near Solva in rural southwest Wales.
Ro’n i’n dal i wneud peth gwaith i’r BBC yng Nghaerdydd pan gwrddes i â
chyfarwyddwr ifanc, Gareth Wyn Jones, oedd am ffilmio rhaglen ddogfen
amdana i a ’mywyd. Cymeradwyodd y pennaeth rhaglenni y syniad o gael y
cywaith ’ma yn rhan o bump o raglenni dogfen am Gymry cyfoes. Roedd un
ohonyn nhw am waith gwneuthurwr drymie o Gasnewydd.
ffilmio i lawr am wthnos a ffilmio yng Nghaerforiog, Solfach, a
Thyddewi. Wedyn wthnos arall lan yng Nghaerdydd a Llunden. Y cwbwl
wnaeth Gareth oedd ffilmio ein bywyd arferol ni o ddydd i ddydd...
y rhai eraill a ymddangosodd yn y ffilm roedd Heather a Geraint, Gary
Farr a Mighty Baby yn Llunden, a Syd Barrett o Pink Floyd fydde’n dod
i’n gweld ni yng Nghaerforiog.
Yn nes ymlaen, ffraeodd
Gareth ’da’r BBC a mynd i weithio yn Singapore, gan adael y ffilm heb ei
golygu. Beth amser wedyn, rhoddodd y BBC ganiatâd i gyfarwyddwr arall
olygu portread pum munud ohona i mas o gesys ffilm Gareth, a chafodd
beth oedd yn weddill ei daflu mas. Wyth rîl o ffilm un milimedr ar
bymtheg oedd yn gyfnod o’n bywyde ni yn 1969! Bachan drwg, Rhydderch
I was still doing a bit of work for the BBC in Cardiff when I met a
young director, Gareth Wyn Jones, who wanted to film a documentary about
me and my life. The chief programming approved the idea of getting this
joint effort as a part of five documentary programs about contemporary
Wales. One of the other ones was about a drum-maker from Casnewydd.
film crew came down for a week and filmed in Caerforiog, Solva, and St.
Davids. Then another week in Cardiff and London. All Gareth did was to
film our normal day-to-day life…
Among the others who
appeared in the film were Heather [Jones] and Geraint [Jarman], Gary
Farr and Mighty
Baby in London, and Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd, who came to
see us in Caerforiog.
Later on, Gareth quarrelled with the BBC
and went to work in Singapore, leaving the film unedited. Some time
later, the BBC gave permission to another director to edit a
five-minutes portrait of me out of the cases of Gareth’s film, and what
was left over got thrown out. Eight reels of 16mm film that were a
record of our lives in 1969! Shame on you, Rhydderch Jones!
Rhydderch Jones was a producer/director for the BBC’s Welsh-language
service at the time. This excerpt doesn’t make it fully clear if Syd
appeared in the London or Wales parts of the shooting, although it is
hinted that it was made while Syd visited Meic in Wales (note
from FA). Neither do we know if any of Syd's footage survived at all
in the five-minute segment that was eventually broadcast. But it does
confirm the year (1969) and the place (Caerforiog near Solva) where Syd
Update 2011 07 08: The Church found this picture on the Laughing
Madcaps Facebook Group depicting Meic Stevens and his shortlived
Bara Menyn. This folk trio also included Geraint
Jarman and Heather
Jones who made an album in March 1969. The Dylanesque man at the
back is Meic Stevens, the man with the hat and the guitar at the front
appears to be Syd Barrett. Standing behind Syd could be his friend Rusty
Burnhill, sitting behind Syd could be Gretta
Barclay. Unfortunately nobody (not even Barrett photo archivist Mark
Jones) seems to know where this picture comes from, nor if it is
authentic or not.
A message from the Church: We leave it up to other Syd scholars
to contact the Welsh branch of the BBC in order to locate the missing
reels of the original documentary. Some of the people mentioned above
are still around and can be contacted through the BBC or are present on
social network websites. And if you do find something, please let us
know! (Note: written in 2010 and 6 years later not a single soul
has attempted this.)
The next bit is part of the description of the recording sessions for
Meic’s 1970 (mostly) English LP, Outlander. As the album was recorded in
1969 it fixes the date of this anecdote also in that year.
Y dyddie hynny, fe fydden ni’n recordio gefen nos fel arfer. Bydde rhai
o’r sesiyne’n para tan orie mân y bore – neu drwy’r nos ambell waith –
ac wedyn bydden ni’n cael brecwast mewn caffi yn Soho tua saith neu wyth
o’r gloch... Allwn i ddim ymdopi ag Olympic, oedd yn hen sgubor fawr o
le ’da pentyrre Marshall ar hyd y lle ym mhobman, gwifre spaghetti, a
blyche llwch gorlawn.
Daeth Syd Barrett lawr yno un noson pan o’n
i ar fy mhen fy hun yno ’da gitâr acwstig, ac ro’n i’n falch pan
gyrhaeddodd Syd y tresmaswr ’da’i gariad, mynd â’r gitâr, iste ar lawr,
a dechre chware iddo fe’i hun. Ro’n i wedi recordio trac y noson honno,
o’r enw ‘One Night Wonder’, ac mae e ar Ghost Town, Tenth Planet
Records. Ar lawr y bydde Syd wastad yn iste; doedd dim celfi yn ei
stafell, dim ond estyll pren moel neu rai wedi’u peintio’n oren neu’n
las, ffôn gwyn, a Fender Telecaster.
Fi oedd un o’r ychydig
oedd yn cael mynd yno; dwi’n credu ’i fod e’n hoffi bod ar ei ben ei hun
lawer o’r adeg. Ambell waith, fe fydde’n chware’i Telecaster heb ei
chwyddo. Dro arall, syllu trwy’r ffenest neu i’r gwagle fydde fe. Doedd
Syd ddim fel ’se fe moyn llawer mewn bywyd, dim ond bod ar ei ben ei hun
’da’i feddylie. Roedd e’n foi golygus iawn, wastad ’da merch hardd ar ei
fraich pan oedd e mas neu’n gyrru’i Mini Cooper, yn dene fel styllen, ac
yn gwisgo dillad ecsotig few siwtie satin croendynn, cryse sidan
ffriliog, sgarffie hirlaes, a bŵts croen neidr!
Those days, we usually recorded in the middle of the night. Some of the
sessions would continue until the wee hours of the morning – or right
through the night sometimes – and afterwards we’d have breakfast in a
café in Soho around seven or eight o’clock… I couldn’t cope with Olympic
[Studios], which was an old barn of a place with Marshall stacks
everywhere throughout the place, wires like spaghetti, and overflowing
Syd Barrett came down there one night when I was on my
own with an acoustic guitar, and I was glad when Syd trespassed his way
in with his girlfriend, took the guitar, sat on the floor, and started
playing to himself. I had been recording a track that night called One
Night Wonder, which is on Ghost Town, Tenth Planet Records.
Syd would always sit on the floor; there was no furniture in his room,
just bare wooden planks or ones painted orange or blue, a white phone,
and a Fender Telecaster.
I was one of the few who got to go
there; I believe he liked being on his own most of the time. Sometimes,
he would play his Telecaster unamplified. Other times, he would stare
through the window or into empty space. Syd didn’t seem to want much in
life, just being on his own with his thoughts. He was a very
good-looking boy, always with a beautiful girl on his arm when he was
out or driving his Mini Cooper. He was as thin as a rail, and wore
exotic clothes like skin-tight satin suits, frilly silk shirts, long
scarves, and snakeskin boots.
Probably NOT Syd
Finally, there is mention of a Syd somewhere in 1964 or 1965, although I
don’t think the man in question is Syd Barrett. Still, just in case.
Ro’n i’n iste ar y stâr yn Chalk Farm un noswaith yn trial chware fel
Big Bill Broonzy, pan ddaeth Syd, y boi oedd yn byw drws nesaf, mas a
sefyll yno’n edrych arna i. Ymhen dipyn, medde fe, “Can you play what
you’re thinking?” Wedyn, yn ôl â fe at ei deipiadur a chau’r drws. Do’n
i rioed wedi meddwl am chware beth o’n i’n feddwl; ro’n i wastad yn
trial copïo cerddoriaeth pobol eraill. Ar chwap fel ’ny, fe wnaeth e i
fi feddwl yn wahanol am gerddoriaeth, a dwi’n fwy gofalus byth ers hynny.
I was sitting on the stair in Chalk Farm one evening trying to play like
Big Bill Broonzy, when Syd, the boy who lived next door, came out and
stood there looking at me. After a while, he said, “Can you play what
you’re thinking?” Then, back he went to his typewriter and closed the
door. I’d never thought about playing what I was thinking; I was always
trying to copy other people’s music. Just like that, he made me think
differently about music, and I’ve been more careful ever since then.
Chalk Farm is an area lying in the London borough of Camden. In 1964 Syd
Barrett was living in Mike Leonard's house in Stanhope Gardens,
Highgate. The next year he moved to the West End, renting rooms at 12,
Tottenham Street. As none of these addresses are next door to
Chalk Farm it probably was another 'Syd' Meic Stevens is talking about.
Also if Meic had met Syd Barrett (who was still an amateur musician at
that point) in 1964 or 1965 he would certainly have stressed this a bit
Many thanks to Prydwyn for his writing and translating skills.
Sources: (other than internet links mentioned above): Chapman, Rob: A
Very Irregular Head, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 81. Stevens,
Meic: Hunangofiant y Brawd Houdini, Y Lolfa, Talybont, 2009, p.
138, p. 190-191, p. 202 .
In my very early days of Internet I wanted to know everything of my
favourite band: Pink
Floyd. Webpages were still something very exotic, and a webpage that
changed its appearance once a month even more so, but luckily there was
mailing list that I still read every day for over a decade and half now.
Subscribing to Echoes would automatically give you a copy of the latest
Echoes Pink Floyd FAQ, maintained by that monument of Floyd oddities Gerhard
den Hollander. Divided in 10 sections it learned me more about the
brothers Floyd than anything else, I kept it close to me just like that
other, lavishly illustrated, monument of knowledge and wisdom, Pink
Floyd, The Visual Documentary (1980) by (Barry) Miles.
The Echoes FAQ is not updated anymore since 1999, although a feeble
attempt to resuscitate it was once made a couple of years ago, but there
are zillions of websites and blogs dealing with those matters nowadays
and in case of doubt, there will always be Wikipedia.
Mailing Group FAQs are now as hip as a telex machine was when the fax
came out. So it goes.
Thus when Amazon nicely proposed to send me Pink Floyd FAQ from Stuart
Shea I followed their advice, mainly because my memories of the original
Pink Floyd FAQ were still short and sweet. The moment I clicked I felt
remorse because this book could easily be a rehash of the original FAQ
that I already had, updated with news that I already knew and the four reviews
I found ranged from "this is a great book" to "the book is one of the
most useless publications about that band in years". Nice.
Let me start with the obvious. The book is not half as bad as I feared
it would be but neither is it as good as a book could be that pretends
to contain a FAQ, a whole FAQ and nothing but a FAQ.
The subtitle Everything Left to Know… and More! (exclamation point
included) is a bit overzealous if you ask me.
The book does not give a chronological overview of Pink Floyd but ranges
its subjects by the subject, as shows the table of contents that you can
Unfortunately the book has got no index, what duly pisses me off, so if
you want to know something about, let's say: You
Gotta Be Crazy, there is no other way to find it than to start
reading the bloody thing all over again. So called biographies and
reference books (as a FAQ, by definition should be) without an index (or
an alphabetical or chronological filing system) are immediately put
aside by me and won't be touched again. Ever. Probably the author won't
care, the book was sold anyway.
Got A Moment?
Some of the chapters look like they have been inspired by these non
informational page filling articles in pop magazines that keep on
appearing whether you like it or not.
What are ten great Syd Barrett moments? What are ten great David
Gilmour moments? What are ten great Roger Waters moments? What are
ten great Rick Wright moments?
and last but not least the quite ridiculous…
What are ten great Nick Mason moments?
Probably you see it coming, but there is something basically irrational
in the previous list. You can most likely find ten memorable Syd Barrett
songs in the short period he was with the band (although Stuart Shea
can't and cheats by adding Barrett solo stuff), obviously you can find
ten memorable Rick Wright collaborations in Pink Floyd, although the
The Inside Out, that is, in retrospect, his musical testament has
been unexplainably overlooked. And so is, Syd almighty, The
Great Gig In The Sky. That song, I'm sure, is treated in another
chapter, but as the book has got no index, I haven't got a clue where to
find that information.
To note down ten notable Nick Mason moments you have to scrape the
barrel a bit. Don't get me wrong, I think that Nick Mason probably was
the best drummer Pink Floyd ever had and he was a crucial part in
creating the classic Pink Floyd sound (on recent albums he insisted to
record his drum licks analog instead of digital to name just one
useless, but nevertheless interesting, point that is overlooked in the
FAQ), but he didn't get a lot of official credits for it.
But let's be honest, only ten great David Gilmour or Roger Waters
moments? Roger Waters thinks he has ten great Roger Waters moments
between getting out of bed and his morning pee! All fun aside, making a
'ten great moments' list is considered more appropriate for internet
fora (with all discussions and no-no-s involved) than for a book.
Bob Dylan Shoes
Although a FAQ can't answer all possible questions, it is - by
definition - a list of the most frequent questions, it helps the reader
if he finds as much information as possible. If, at chapter 12: what
acts influenced Pink Floyd?, Bob Dylan is mentioned it would, perhaps,
be interesting to know that Syd Barrett once recorded a tune called Bob
Dylan Blues or that Roger Waters covered Knocking On Heaven's Door,
but it doesn't. According to Stuart Shea one of the ten most influential
bands or artists for Pink Floyd was the legendary disco outfit Chic
Brick In The Wall (Pt. 2) carries a hundred-beats-per-minutes
beat. I would have preferred to see a reference to AMM
Soft Machine instead.
And when there is talk of a FAQ, I would also like to have some accurate
information as well. Page 132 has a picture from the Floyd with the
caption 'The Floyd on an oddly small stage during the early 1970s. By
this time, they had graduated to playing large halls'. The fact why the
Floyd stands on an oddly small stage is because the picture comes
from the movie Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii (1972). Their rendition of Careful
With That Axe, Eugene, however was not recorded in Pompeii but in a
studio in France and in order to get them all four on screen they had to
be standing close to each other. Simple as that. No need to create an
extra Floydian fable when there is no need to do that.
Despite the fact that you can answer a lot of Pink Floyd questions (the
original FAQ had 10 sections, each with dozens of questions and answers)
several chapters do overlap each other, and this happens more than once. How
did the US discover Pink Floyd goes one about their early (American)
tours, so does the chapter What were Pink Floyd concerts Like in…,
so does The 1972 and 1973 Tours, so does A Pink Floyd live top
What I do like is that some articles have been written by guests that
ring distant church bells with Pink Floyd fans: Mark Campbell, Steven
Leventhal, Ron Geesin, John Leckie, Toni Tennile, Ginger Gilmour…
overall the book is fun to read (and written in an agreeable way) but
the bottom line is: this is not a Pink Floyd FAQ and certainly not THE
Pink Floyd FAQ. Easily read, but also easily forgotten.
People who don't know nothing about the Floyd are, in my opinion,
better off with The
Rough Guide To Pink Floyd (Tobby Manning) that combines the band's
history, has a discography (with reviews for every album) and a thematic
approach like 'Floyd's finest 50' and 'Floyd on Film'. This is an
excellent book for starters (and as a Pink Floyd fan for over 35 years I
enjoyed it as well).
If you would like an in-depth Pink Floyd biography I can recommend Mark
Might Fly or, if you have a lot of money, the memoirs of Mr. Nick
Mason himself (Inside
Out). And for anoraks who want to look up the nitty-gritty there is
Pink Floyd Encyclopaedia by Vernon Fitch (alphabetically) and Echoes
by Glenn Povey (chronologically).
I am not entirely sure what kind of public Stuart Shea wanted to reach
with his book but what I am sure of is that, throughout the book, the
author likes to ventilate his own opinion rather than to stick to the
facts. Here is what he has to say about The Cult of Syd Barrett (p.313):
Some Syd Barrett fans are as sick as the man himself was at his worst.
Despite the voluminous evidence of his excessive drug use, physical
assaults on girlfriends and business associates, disastrous attempts at
recording and gigging, and largely incoherent interviews from his
post-Floyd period in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there are those who
wish to romanticize his illness as a willful subversion of pop stardom.
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
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)
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.”
From an LP apparently in the possession of Syd Barrett: Blind Boy
Fuller, Country Blues 1935-1940, issued on Phillips BBL-7512, c. 1962.
The sleeve notes were by Paul Oliver, and include the following: "Curley
Weaver and Fred McMullen, Georgia-born but more frequently to be found
in Kentucky or Tennessee, Pink Anderson or Floyd Council -- these were a
few amongst the many blues singers that were to be heard in the rolling
hills of the Piedmont, or meandering with the streams through the wooded
valleys." (Source: Pink
Anderson / Floyd Council @ pre-war-blues Yahoo, membership probably
Update 2015: The complete story of the Blind Boy Fuller album
that gave Pink Floyd its name can be found at: Step
It Up And Go.
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
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
did this three times. 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. It makes Chapman a
sloppy researcher, to say the least.
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.
Juggling the Octopus
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
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
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
Update September 2013: some more information about this girl,
Radharani Krishna, can be found at the following article: Making
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
The toothbrush myth is one Chapman doesn't know how to demystify but
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
5, 2010 Roger Waters TV interview at Late
Update August 2011: according to Mark Blake in Mojo 215 the
Amplex story comes from journalist Nick Sedgwick, who was writing an
(unreleased) Pink Floyd related book at that time and author of the
novel Light Blue With Bulges, that describes his beatnik adventures in
Cambridge in the early sixties. More info: The
Case of the Painted Floorboards (v 2.012).
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,
Just when you thought this review was finally going to end it is time to
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 Were Here: accountancy? Animals: accountancy? The
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
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
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.
Update: some of the anoraky points mentioned in the above article
(Octopus lyrics, 1968 sessions) have been further examined in Mad
Cat Love (2011).
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.
Mandrax & Brylcreem drawing taken from thepiperatthegatesofdawn.co.uk
(site no longer available).
A quite nice (promotional) interview with Rob Chapman can be found at Youtube.