Rock of Ages
With Mick Rock (1948-2021) we have lost another member of the Cambridge mafia, although he wasn’t from that town, so perhaps Floydian mafia is a better description. Rock, a Londoner, was a student in Cambridge where he took a degree in Medieval and Modern Languages. He frequented some of the local beatniks, Emo (Ian Moore), Pip (Pip Carter) and Fizz (Frances Fitzgerald), and followed them to London to the legendary 101 Cromwell Rd drugs pad. Later he moved to Egerton Court where Syd Barrett, Duggie Fields, David Gale, Dave Henderson, Nigel and Jenny Lesmoir-Gordon, Aubrey ‘Po’ Powell, Ponji Robinson, Matthew Scurfield, Storm Thorgerson and Yes-collaborator Roger Dean all lived together.
In the beginning, was Syd
Rock knew Barrett since December 1966, they were hanging out together, getting high, discussing literature, playing Go, and developed some kind of virtual friendship that – according to Rock – would go on for decades. Syd’s last interview, for Rolling Stone in 1971, was taken by Mick Rock. Syd’s last ‘public’ outing was when he autographed 320 copies of Psychedelic Renegades, a 2002 Mick Rock coffee table book. Mick was one of the very few photographers who managed to picture Barrett in a relaxed state, laughing, as the 1971 pictures, taken in Syd’s back garden, prove.
My experience of Syd was he wanted to have fun. But somehow he was stymied and then he got caught in this trap, this psychological trap and he couldn’t get out of it.
The last time Mick Rock saw Syd was on an unexpected visit to Rock’s flat in Notting Hill Gate in early 1973.
Caught in a storm
There has been some animosity for years between Storm ‘Hipgnosis’ Thorgerson and Mick Rock over The Madcap Laughs pictures. History has been interpreted, changed and rearranged by both and different versions of what ‘really’ happened can be found, depending on the source one consults. Julian Palacios keeps it diplomatic in his Syd Barrett biography:
Storm Thorgerson supervised the photo session for the cover of The Madcap Laughs, bringing in Mick Rock to photograph, whom Syd requested. Rock: ‘Syd just called out of the blue and said he needed an album cover.’
The Holy Church already mentioned the divergence in a 2008 article: Stormy Pictures. Legally, the cover and back cover shots for Syd’s first solo album belong to Hipgnosis. The official story is that these have been taken by Storm, but Mick Rock has several times suggested that he was behind it all.
Thorgerson gave his point of view in the 2007 edition of Mind Over Matter:
A photo session was duly arranged at Syd’s request in the flat in Earls Court that he shared with the painter Duggie Fields. (…) My only decision was to use a 35mm camera (to adapt to Syd’s mercurial moods) and upgraded colour transparency, partly because of the low-level light conditions and partly for the grainy effect.
Mick Rock’s presence, that same day, is dryly explained as follows:
Friend and photographer Mick Rock, later famous for his Bowie photos amongst many others also came on the photo session, but I can’t remember why. I think it was to help me, which seemed ironic given his subsequent lensmanship and success in the rock business, especially in New York.
Mick Rock books (three different ones)
Mick Rock has devoted three books entirely to Syd Barrett. Two of them are part of a box that also contains some music.
Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs – The Mick Rock Photo-Sessions (UFO Books, 1993) is a limited deluxe box combining a book, a vinyl album and a t-shirt. The elaborate and well-researched text of this (sold out and deleted) book has been written by Pete Anderson, who is the co-author of the Syd Barrett biography Crazy Diamond. Pete Anderson wrongly dates the photoshoot in October and writes:
The task of designing the album sleeve fell to Storm Thorgerson and his partner Aubrey 'Po' at Hipgnosis.
When it comes to the actual photoshoot there isn’t a single word about Storm Thorgerson being there. Throughout the essay, it is mildly suggested that Mick Rock did all by himself.
The startling colour images were taken in a single two-hour session in the autumn of 1969 in the spartan bedroom of Syd Barrett's Earls Court flat in London. (...)
The sleeve, showing the beleaguered "star" squatting bird-like in a room devoid of all creature comforts save a vase of flowers and a battered electric fire, perfectly summed up the mood of the record which many have interpreted as a scream for help.
But isn’t the above description about the Thorgerson picture? Mick Rock (and Pete Anderson) carefully dance around the subject.
"We hadn't had any discussion about how the pictures were going to be," says Rock. "I suppose the idea had always been to do them in the flat because Syd had told me about the floorboards and he was pretty excited about that.”
“But there had been no talk of getting a model in. Iggy just happened to be there. I have no idea where she came from or where she went to. Everyone just knew her as Iggy the Eskimo." (...)
"There were no curtains, just the bed, Syd's record player, the vase, and maybe the stool. I can't remember if that was because the floor had just been painted or because he didn't like furniture."
It is no secret that Mick Rock used to work as a freelancer for Hipgnosis in his early career. His camera was a black Pentax that he had bought from Po (Aubrey Powell), equipped with a cheap 28mm wide-angle Soligor lens. The following paragraph however seems to imply that there was more than one person around (without naming them):
"I think we did make a conscious decision not to have Iggy's face in the pictures and we also decided that Syd would look good with a bit of kohl make-up around his eyes. Iggy put that on. "Syd was pretty passive about the whole thing and he was never that interested in the pictures afterwards. (…) Syd could be quite uncommunicative but I can see from the pictures that he was relaxed that day."
The photoshoot only took about two hours. Mick Rock used only two rolls of film, simply because he couldn't afford a third.
"There had been no discussion about money at all. Later on I did get a very minor payment but it couldn't have been more than £50 and I don't know if it came from Syd or EMI."
Again, not a word about Storm Thorgerson nor Hipgnosis.
Two of a kind
In his other books, Mick Rock is a bit less authoritative.
Psychedelic Renegades – Photographs of Syd Barrett by Mick Rock. Genesis Publications published a limited first edition in 2002. 320 copies were autographed by Roger Barrett & Mick Rock and 630 copies were signed by Mick Rock alone. In 2007 the book was published in a regular version, by Plexus (London) and Gingko (USA).
This is the picture book to get if you are interested in Mick Rock's Syd pictures. It has an introduction/essay by Rock and throughout the book there are some observations by the photographer, although these are not always accurate. Contrary to the first book Rock acknowledges that Storm was around that day, although he still stresses the fact that the initiative came from him:
Syd asked me to take the pictures. We had talked about the shoot for a while, and the day before it happened I told Storm from Hipgnosis, so he came along because they were putting the package together.
So the actual session turned out to be a collaboration really because Storm also took some pictures. I remember Storm asking me whether to credit the image, ‘Hipgnosis and Mick Rock’ and I said, ‘No just credit it Hipgnosis’.
This must have been a decision Rock regretted later.
Syd Barrett – The Photography Of Mick Rock is a tin box that includes a 128 pages booklet and a 7-inch single 'Octopus' b/w 'Golden Hair' (EMI Records Ltd & Palazzo Editions Ltd, Bath, 2010). There is an introduction and some observations by Mick Rock who repeats that Syd asked him to do the photoshoot in autumn.
The Holy Church of Iggy the Inuit was the first blog in the world where it was suggested that The Madcap Laughs photoshoot took place during spring. This theory, originating from Jenny Spires, has now been largely accepted by Syd fanatics and scholars. It is possible that a second photoshoot took place later in the year, but the sleeve uses the pictures of April 1969.
Remarkably, ‘Renegades’ and ‘Octopus’ contain a picture that was cropped on the back cover of Syd’s second solo album, without crediting Mick Rock.
Syd Barrett (1974, double album vinyl compilation)
In 1974 Storm and Po knocked on Syd’s door asking if they could take some pictures for a budget vinyl compilation that was going to be released. Barrett never let them in and told his old chums to ‘fuck off’. Thorgerson designed one of his iconic sleeves instead, the one with a plum, an orange and a box of matches.
The inner sleeve of the Syd Barrett double album contains a bunch of disorganised press clippings and pictures of Syd and Pink Floyd. Some of these undoubtedly are Mick Rock’s. It means that Hipgnosis, at one point, did have access to Mick Rock’s negatives. It is believed that Mick Rock gave his film rolls to Storm, to have them developed. (Pictures of the Syd Barrett inner sleeve can be found at our Storm Watch gallery.)
There are quite a few Hipgnosis related coffee table books around (the reverend’s wife claims he’s got at least six too many). We have already quoted from Mind Over Matter, but what do the others have got to say?
It needs to be said that the sleeve pictures of The Madcap Laughs can not be found in any of Mick Rock’s books, these can only be found in Hipgnosis/Storm Thorgerson related works.
Walk Away René
The 1978 book Walk Away René (The Work of Hipgnosis, Paper Tiger, 1978) contains a detailed description of every picture in the book, except for The Madcap Laughs. It gives conspiracy theorists a field day, although it doesn't help anyone any further.
Taken By Storm
Taken By Storm (The Album Art of Storm Thorgerson, Omnibus Press, 2007) leaves no ambiguity as Storm writes:
He crouched down by the fireplace and I took a 35mm pic quite quickly.
For The Love Of Vinyl
One year later For The Love of Vinyl (The Album Art of Hipgnosis, Picturebox, 2008) was published and obviously the cover of The Madcap Laughs is represented as well. Storm Thorgerson:
Back in 1970, the Floyd helped him make a solo album called The Madcap Laughs. I told him I was coming over to his Earls Court flat to take a picture. Mick Rock came too. I think Syd painted the floor specially for us. He crouched. I took a pic. A naked girl appeared. Mick took a pic, and we went home.
Storm Thorgerson died in 2013. Po published another Hipgnosis book one year later: Portraits. According to Po, the Madcap sleeve was taken by Storm Thorgerson, using a Nikon with a 500 ASA 24 x 36 mm film.
Powell writes that Syd invented the word Hipgnosis and that he wrote it on the front door of the Egerton Court house they all lived in. About The Madcap Laughs photoshoot Po has the following to say:
Syd's management company, Blackhill, commissioned us to do the Madcap cover, and Storm went to the flat with our assistant, Mick Rock. (Translated from the French edition by FA.)
Suddenly Mick Rock has become merely an assistant of Storm Thorgerson. It gives the story about who did what a completely new insight.
But our investigations aren’t over yet.
In the 2017 documentary Shot! – the Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock – Mick Rock hints again that he was behind the cover shot.
In the beginning, was Syd. Psychedelic Syd. (…) Syd had actually left Pink Floyd and was living in relative obscurity. He asked me to take the cover photo for his solo album The Madcap Laughs.
It is then that the official ‘Hipgnosis’ sleeve picture appears, for the first time, in a Mick Rock publication, albeit without giving credit to Storm Thorgerson. The image, with a handwritten title, clearly hints that it is Mick Rock’s work, not Storm’s. Of course, when this documentary came out Storm wasn't around anymore to comment on Rock's interpretation of the past.
I didn't really have any plans. It simply was to shoot El Syd... and Iggy opened the door in the altogether. All together now, miss Iggy.
She was holding company with Syd... but of course, the gift was the floorboards. He had moved in not long beforehand and he was painting the floorboards and he... he was painting all over these... I mean, there were dog ends buried in there. He didn't clean the floor before he started painting.
Rock shows one of the better known Madcap pictures and claims:
That should really have been the cover of The Madcap Laughs. (…) That’s what me and Syd wanted.
While he testified earlier that Syd wasn’t interested in the pictures at all, he suggests in Shot! that they both agreed on a sleeve cover, an opinion that wasn’t followed by Hipgnosis.
For years there have been rumours in anoraky Floydian circles that Thorgerson and Rock sued (or threatened to sue) each other over the ownership of The Madcap Laughs pictures. Probably a deal was made – a bit like the one between Roger Waters and Pink Floyd over The Wall. The Madcap Laughs front and back sleeve pictures officially belong to Hipgnosis (Storm Thorgerson). The out-takes belong to Mick Rock. It has been hinted before that Rock handed over his film rolls to Thorgerson to have them developed and part of the deal must have been that the negatives were returned to him.
This could be the reason why the Mick Rock out-takes can’t be found in
Hipgnosis / Storm Thorgerson books.
This could be the reason why ‘official’ Madcap pictures can’t be found in any Mick Rock publication, except for Shot!
Both parties seem to agree that Hipgnosis was commissioned by the record company (Harvest, EMI) to supervise the record sleeve.
Did Syd Barrett ask his friend Mick Rock, an aspiring would-be photographer, to organise the shooting for the forthcoming album? As Rock was freelancing for Hipgnosis and they all were buddies anyway, he may have warned Storm that Syd was expecting a photographer the next day. The result was that Storm was there, not as Mick Rock’s colleague, but as his boss.
We keep hearing from people how nice a person Mick Rock was. From Men On The Border we have this reaction, coming from Jenny Spires:
The wonderful Mick Rock, unmatched intelligence, kind and generous, totally lacking in malice, a dear friend. RIP. I will miss you, Mick.
That’s why it is a pity that Storm and Mick never conciliated, fought over the legacy of the Madcap pictures and refused to give the other one some credit.
Because of their stubbornness, there will always be some doubt who took The Madcap Laughs cover (and back cover) pictures. But it doesn't matter really. It's the stuff legends are made of.
Many thanks to: Anonymous, Göran Nyström.
♥ Libby ♥ Iggy ♥
Sources (other than the links above):
Chapman, Rob: A Very Irregular Head, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 385.
Palacios, Julian: Darker Globe: Uncut and Unedited, private publication, 2021, p. 823, 963.
Hipgnosis & Storm Thorgerson:
Powell, Aubrey: Hipgnosis, Les Pochettes Mythiques du Célèbre Studio, Gründ, Paris, 2015, p. 40, 118 (French edition of Hipgnosis Portraits).
Thorgerson, Storm & Powell, Aubrey: For The Love Of Vinyl, Picturebox, Brooklyn, 2008, p. 38.
Thorgerson, Storm & Curzon, Peter: Mind Over Matter 4, Omnibus Press, London, 2007, p. 234.
Thorgerson, Storm & Curzon, Peter: Taken By Storm, Omnibus Press, London, 2007, p. 100.
Thorgerson, Storm: Walk Away René, Paper Tiger, Limpsfield, 1989, p. 103.
Rock, Mick: Psychedelic Renegades, Plexus, London, 2007, p. 20.
Rock, Mick & Anderson, Pete: Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs - The Mick Rock Photo-Sessions, U.F.O. Books, London, 1993. The text of this book ca be consulted at Luckymojo.com.
Rock, Mick: Syd Barrett - The Photography Of Mick Rock, EMI Records Ltd, London & Palazzo Editions Ltd, Bath, 2010.
Syd Barrett related excerpt from Shot!: The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock: Syd Barrett SHOT!
Mick Rock Shot! Q&A, hosted by Barney Hoskyns. Filmed Wednesday 12th July 2017: Mick Rock Q&A (Syd bit starts at 5:30, do not miss the hilarious anecdote about David Gilmour being chased by Brian Epstein in his bedroom).
Mick Rock: on shooting Syd Barrett for 'Madcap Laughs' album cover. Interviewed in his studio, September 2001: Mick Rock.