The Octopus Rides Again
Last year in June a French 'Pathe Marconi' edition of Syd Barrett's Octopus single was sold for 10,500 Euro, a small fortune, if you ask us, unless you happen to be an administrator of a Facebook Syd Barrett group. The single came from the ORTF archives, Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française, and as such it was 'tattooed', labelled and written on.
So why were collectors so eager to have this (less than mint) vinyl record in their collection? The French-German television station Arte tried to find an answer and made a 25 minutes documentary about it all, existing in two languages.
French: Au fil des enchères: Le
45-tours "Octopus" de Syd Barrett
German: Zum Ersten, zum Zweiten, zum Dritten! Die Maxi-Single "Octopus" von Syd Barrett
Director: Joëlle Oosterlinck.
When you read this the chance is big you can’t watch the show any more as it was only online for a week, in January 2017. On top of that there was a geo-block, except for Belgium. Probably France and Germany are still still thinking we are one of their underdeveloped colonies.
The reason why this vinyl is so expensive is due to the fact that this particular edition has only survived in about ten copies (and one of those was recently lost in a fire). As such it is a Ferrari for vinyl collectors, as someone states in the documentary. They were only given away as promotional material and the superfluous copies were melted to recuperate the vinyl. Isn't recycling a good thing?
The ORTF library got four, numbers two and three went missing over the years, euphemistically described by the program makers as damaged, and the first one was auctioned to the public.
Those who are old enough to have seen The Wall movie in the cinemas may remember the intrepid interview that two Actuel reporters had with Syd Barrett in Cambridge. (Read it here: French Magazine Article - ACTUEL) Although the conversation with the madcap took only about six lines, and was mainly about a bag of laundry, it created quite a buzz. French like that. That same Actuel magazine also had an article about an adventurer archaeologist who knew where the mythical El Dorado could be found. Needless to say he couldn't but Actuel wrote a ten pages long article about it, just in case.
Arte does pretty much the same when they repeat the rumour that the Pathe Marconi sleeve could have been drawn by monsieur Barrett himself. They immediately embark to London to interview Duggie Fields. Fields doesn't immediately recognise Syd's style, but he isn't 100% sure either as there are certain Syd-esque style elements in the drawing. But several other details imply that the sleeve hasn't been made by Syd.
First of all: it depicts a sea animal, while the Octopus in the song is
a fairground ride.
Second: the sleeve has the name of the graphical artist printed at the right bottom side. Dessin: lilli, it reads, which means drawing by Lilli.
So those Frenchies could've avoided going to London anyway, but I guess they had to fill up those 25 minutes. And it is always a pleasure seeing Duggie, one of the few British gentlemen left. (Read our Duggie Fields self-interview here: Duggie Fields, much more than a room-mate)
Peter Jenner has been interviewed as well. He doesn’t really tell us anything new, but this documentary wasn’t made for Floydian anoraks. He talks about the fast rocket that Pink Floyd was, unfortunately a rocket that exploded in mid-flight.
I see him as a shooting star, he lifts off in 1966, he writes his songs, has an enormous success, and then he disappears.
(Read our Peter Jenner interview here: An innerview with Peter Jenner)
A third interviewee is Bill Palmieri, an American record collector who is an esteemed member of several Floydian groups, and who also happens to have an original French Octopus in his collection, after searching for it for over thirty years. He thinks there are less than 5 copies of this 'holy grail' in the hands of collectors. He talks with much love about his records, about Pink Floyd, about Syd Barrett. It is intriguing but quite a bit weird as well. It's pretty cool to see that he consults the Charles Beterams' Pink Floyd On Forty-Five book were the single is listed on page 69. Plenty of weirdos in Floydian circles, guilty as charged.
Update 19 January 2017: Charles Beterams, author of 'Pink Floyd in Nederland' and owner of a Floydian collectors shop, estimates there are still more copies around:
The “less than five” guess is far below what is realistic. I’ve sold two different copies over the years and know of at least four other copies in existence. a few dozen at least are left and around.
To further elaborate on the madcap’s enigma a French scholar is asked as well. Jean-Michel Espitallier, author of the quirky essay Le Rock Et Autres Trucs and translator of Tim Willis' Madcap in the language of Molière. He praises the lyrics of Octopus, in his opinion a predecessor of the lyrics that made progressive bands like Yes and Genesis so popular.
Syd Barrett is a person who traumatised rock . He was so powerful, so original, so fast, as a kind of Arthur Rimbaud.”
(Read our review of his book here: Cheap Tricks)
The value of this record has skyrocketed over the years. Record Collector 327 (September 2006) valued it at £650 and in the late nineties collector David Parker got offered one for £500, a deal he unfortunately refused and now regrets:
A dealer got in touch with me a few months ago, he was accepting bids for an ok -but-not-exceptional copy... current highest bid was €6500 (+/- £5740, FA).
An Italian collector signalled us that at the record fair in Utrecht the price was €16,000 for one and €20,000 for another one in a better condition. Lots of dough for an Octopus ride, but the copy from the ORTF archives seems to have beaten the record, for now...
A gallery with screenshots of this documentary on our Tumblr blog: Octopus.
The Church wishes to thank: Charles Beterams, Mary Cosco, Rich Hall,
♥ Libby ♥ Iggy ♥ Paula ♥