“by 1969, I had started taking photographs and even though many considered Syd’s general behaviour to have become rather strange at times, our relationship remained consistently positive. I remember that summer we took an acid trip together and it was a very pleasant experience. we simply drew(in my case doodled!), played music, and indulged in Marvel comics and the cartoon genius of Robert Crumb. it was the only time we took acid together, but it helped cement our special bond. though his very last public gesture was in 2002 when he co-signed 320 copies of the original limited edition version of my book of photos of him Psychedelic Renegades, he only signed ‘Barrett’ 'Syd’ was a persona he had shaken off sometime in the early 70’s. but he signed them and in doing so gave his blessing to the book and photos within and acknowledged that he still remembered our friendship from so long ago”
Michael Watts talks to ex-Pink Floyd man Syd Barrett
That he became overbearingly egotistical, impossible to work with. That he was thrown out of The Pink Floyd. That he suffered a psychological crack-up. That he once went for an afternoon drive and ended up in Ibiza. That he went back to live with his mother in Cambridge as a part of a mental healing process. That occasionally he goes to the house of Richard Wright, The Floyd’s organist, and sits there silently for hours without speaking.
Some of the stories are true.
Roger Waters: ‘When he was still in the band in the later stages, we got to the point where anyone of us was likely to tear his throat out at any minute because he was so impossible…
'When 'Emily’ was a hit and we were third for three weeks, we did Top Of The Pops, and the third week we did it he didn’t want to know. He got down there in an incredible state and said he wasn’t gonna do it. We finally discovered the reason was that John Lennon didn’t have to do Top Of The Pops so he didn’t.’
In the past two years he has made a couple of albums. One of them was called 'Barrett.’ The other was called 'The Madcap Laughs.’
The cover of 'Madcap’ has a picture of him crouching watchfully on the bare floorboards of a naked room. A nude girl stretches her body on the background.
The picture encapsulates the mood of his songs, which are pared-down and unembellished, unfashionably stripped of refined production values, so that one is left to concentrate on the words and the stream of consciousness effect. His work engenders a sense of gentle, brooding intimacy; a hesitant, but intense, awareness.
Syd Barrett came up to London last week and talked in the office of his music publisher, his first press interview for about a year. His hair is cut very short now, almost like a skinhead. Symbolic? Of what, then? He is very aware of what is going on around him, but his conversation is often obscure; it doesn’t always progress in linear fashion. He is painfully conscious of his indeterminate role in the music world: 'I’ve never really proved myself wrong. I really need to prove myself right,’ he says.
Maybe he has it all figured. As he says in 'Octopus,’ 'the madcap laughed at the man on the border.’
Watts: What have you been doing since you left The Floyd, apart from making your two albums?
Syd: Well, I’m a painter, I was trained as a painter…I seem to have spent a little less time painting than I might’ve done…you know, it might have been a tremendous release getting absorbed in painting. Any way, I’ve been sitting about and writing. The fine arts thing at college was always too much for me to think about. What I was more involved in was being successful at arts school. But it didn’t transcend the feeling of playing at UFO and those sort of places with the lights and that, the fact that the group was getting bigger and bigger.
I’ve been at home in Cambridge with my mother. I’ve got lots of, well, children in a sense. My uncle…I’ve been getting used to a family existence, generally. Pretty unexciting. I work in a cellar, down in a cellar.
Watts: What would you sooner be a painter or a musician?
Syd: Well, I think of me being a painter eventually.
Watts: Do you see the last two years as a process of getting yourself together again?
Syd: No. Perhaps it has something to do with what I felt could be better as regards music, as far as my job goes generally, because I did find I needed a job. I wanted to do a job. I never admitted it because I’m a person who doesn’t admit it
Watts: There were stories you were going to go back to college, or get a job in a factory.
Syd: Well, of course, living in Cambridge I have to find something to do. I suppose I could’ve done a job. I haven’t been doing any work. I’m not really used to doing quick jobs and then stopping, but I’m sure it would be possible.
Watts: Tell me about The Floyd how did they start?
Syd: Roger Waters is older than I am. He was at the architecture school in London. I was studying at Cambridge I think it was before I had set up at Camberwell (art college). I was really moving backwards and forwards to London. I was living in Highgate with him, we shared a place there, and got a van and spent a lot of our grant on pubs and that sort of thing. We were playing Stones numbers. I suppose we were interested in playing guitars I picked up playing guitar quite quickly…I didn’t play much in Cambridge because I was from the art school, you know. But I was soon playing on the professional scene and began to write from there.
Watts: Your writing has always been concerned purely with songs rather than long instrumental pieces like the rest of The Floyd, hasn’t it?
Syd: Their choice of material was always very much to do with what they were thinking as architecture students. Rather unexciting people, I would’ve thought, primarily. I mean, anybody walking into an art school like that would’ve been tricked maybe they were working their entry into an art school.
But the choice of material was restricted, I suppose, by the fact that both Roger and I wrote different things. We wrote our own songs, played our own music. They were older, by about two years, I think. I was 18 or 19. I don’t know that there was really much conflict, except that perhaps the way we started to play wasn’t as impressive as it was to us, even, wasn’t as full of impact as it might’ve been. I mean, it was done very well, rather than considerably exciting. One thinks of it all as a dream.
Watts: Did you like what they were doing the fact that the music was gradually moving away from songs like 'See Emily Play’?
Syd: Singles are always simple…all the equipment was battered and worn all the stuff we started out with was our own, the guitars were our own property. The electronic noises were probably necessary. They were very exciting. That’s all really. The whole thing at the time was playing on stage.
Watts: Was it only you who wanted to make singles?
Syd: It was probably me alone, I think. Obviously, being a pop group one wanted to have singles. I think 'Emily’ was fourth in the hits.
Watts: Why did you leave them?
Syd: It wasn’t really a war. I suppose it was really just a matter of being a little offhand about things. We didn’t feel there was one thing which was gonna make the decision at the minute. I mean, we did split up, and there was a lot of trouble. I don’t think the Pink Floyd had any trouble, but I had an awful scene, probably self-inflicted, having a mini and going all over England and things. Still…
Watts: Do you think the glamour went to your head at all?
Syd: I don’t know. Perhaps you could see it as something went to one’s head, but I don’t know that it was relevant.
Watts: There were stories you had left because you had been freaked out by acid trips.
Syd: Well, I don’t know, it don’t seem to have much to do with the job. I only know the thing of playing, of being a musician, was very exciting. Obviously, one was better off with a silver guitar with mirrors and things all over it than people who ended up on the floor or anywhere else in London.
The general concept, I didn’t feel so conscious of it as perhaps I should. I mean, one’s position as a member of London’s young people’s, I dunno what you’d call it underground wasn’t it, wasn’t necessarily realised and felt, I don’t think, especially from the point of view of groups.
I remember at UFO one week one group, then another week another group, going in and out, making that set-up, and I didn’t think it was as active as it could’ve been. I was really surprised that UFO finished. I only read last week that itUs not finished. Joe Boyd did all the work on it and I was really amazed when he left. What we were doing was a microcosm of the whole sort of philosophy and it tended to be a little bit cheap. The fact that the show had to be put together; the fact that we weren’t living in luxurious places with luxurious things around us. I think I would always advocate that sort of thing the luxurious life. It’s probably because I don’t do much work.
Watts: Were you not at all involved in acid, then, during its heyday among rock bands?
Syd: No. It was all, I suppose, related to living in London. I was lucky enough…I’ve always thought of going back to a place where you can drink tea and sit on the carpet. I’ve been fortunate enough to do that. All that time…you’ve just reminded me of it. I thought it was good fun. I thought The Soft Machine were good fun. They were playing on 'Madcap,’ except for Kevin Ayers.
Watts: Are you trying to create a mood in your songs, rather than tell a story?
Syd: Yes, very much. It would be terrific to do much more mood stuff. They’re very pure, you know, the words…I feel I’m jabbering. I really think the whole thing is based on me being a guitarist and having done the last thing about two or three years ago in a group around England and Europe and The States, and then coming back and hardly having done anything, so I don’t really know what to say. I feel, perhaps, I could be claimed as being redundant almost. I don’t feel active, and that my public conscience is fully satisfied.
Watts: Don’t you think that people still remember you?
Syd: Yes, I should think so.
Watts: Then why don’t you get some musicians, go on the road and do some gigs?
Syd: I feel though the record would still be the thing to do. And touring and playing might make that impossible to do.
Watts: Don’t you fancy playing live again after two years?
Syd: Yes, very much.
Watts: What’s the hang-up then? Is it getting the right musicians around you?
Watts: What would be of primary importance whether they were brilliant musicians or whether you could get on with them?
Syd: I’m afraid I think I’d have to get on with them. They’d have to be good musicians. I think they’d be difficult to find. They’d have to be lively.
Watts: Would you say, therefore, you were a difficult person to get on with?
Syd: No. Probably my own impatience is the only thing, because it has to be very easy. You can play guitar in your canteen, you know, your hair might be longer, but there’s a lot more to playing than travelling around universities and things.
Watts: Why don’t you go out on your own playing acoustic? I think you might be very successful.
Syd: Yeah…that’s nice. Well, I’ve only got an electric. I’ve got a black Fender which needs replacing. I haven’t got any blue jeans…I really prefer electric music.
Watts: What records do you listen to?
Syd: Well, I haven’t bought a lot. I’ve got things like Ma Rainey recently. Terrific, really fantastic.
Watts: Are you going into the blues, then, in your writing?
Syd: I suppose so. Different groups do different things…one feels that Slade would be an interesting thing to hear, you know.
Watts: Will there be a third solo album?
Syd: Yeah. I’ve got some songs in the studio, still. And I’ve got a couple of tapes. It should be 12 singles, and jolly good singles. I think I shall be able to produce this one myself. I think it was always easier to do that.
The Madcap Speaks Interview with Syd Barrett c.1971 by Giovanni Dadomo (unpublished until printed in Terrapin no. 9/10) July 1974
at the end of this interview Syd claims to have recorded or is set to record at least four songs! probably during his time in the Stars
There is a formidable and sometimes rather tasteless mystique surrounding Syd Barrett, not very different to that which until recently went hand in hand with the name of Arthur Lee. Strangely enough Syd turns out to be as normal, unkempt and emaciated as most of us. Talkative, unpretentious and above all, very human….
Q: Piper at the Gates of Dawn?
Syd: ‘Wind in the Willows.’ That was very difficult in some ways, getting used to the studios and everything. But it was fun, we freaked about a lot. I was working very hard then; there’s still lots of stuff lying around from then, even some of the stuff on 'Madcap’.
Q: Some of your songs seem rather obscure, like Chapter 24 on Piper.
Syd: 'Chapter 24’…that was from the 'I Ching’, there was someone around who was very into that, most of the words came straight off that. 'Lucifer Sam’ was another one, it didn’t means much to me at the time, but then three or four months later it cam to mean a lot.
Q: How important are lyrics to you?
Syd: Very important. I think it’s good if a song has more than one meaning. Maybe that kind of song can reach far more people, that’s nice. On the other hand, I like songs that are simple. I liked Arnold Layne because to me it was a very clear song.
Q: Some of your words don’t come over too clearly, like on 'Octopus’ there’s 'little Minnie Conn coughs and clears his throat’. Have you though about printing the words on the sleeve next time?
Syd: Yeah that would be nice (laughing). That was 'little minute gong.’
Q: What about Octopus, that was my personal favourite.
Syd: I carried that about in my head for about six months before I actually wrote it so maybe that’s why it came out so well. The idea was likethose number songs like 'Green Grow the Rushes Ho’ where you have, say, twelve lines each related to the next and an overall theme. It’s like a fool-proof combination of lyrics, really, and then the chorus comes in and changes the tempo but holds the whole thing together.
Q: There’s a strong childhood feel to a lot of your songs with lots of fairy-tale and nursery rhyme elements. Have you ever thought of writing for kids?
Syd: Fairy-tales are nice…I think a lot of it has to do with living in Cambridge, with nature and everything, it’s so clean, and I still drive back a lot. Maybe if I’d stayed at college, I would have become a teacher. Leaving school and suddenly being without that structure around you and nothing to relate to…maybe that’s a part of it, too.
Q: There was a strong science-fiction thing in the early Floyd. Were you ever into that?
Syd: Not really, except 'Journey into Space’ and 'Quatermass’, which was when I was about fifteen, so that could be where it came from.
Q: Your lyrics could be described as surrealistic collages. Did your art training affect your writing?
Syd: Only the rate of work, learning to work hard. I do tend to take lines from other things, lines I like, and then write around them but I don’t consciously relate to painting. It’s just writing good songs that matters, really.
Q: Do you still paint?
Syd: Not much. The guy who lives next door to me paints, and he’s doing it well, so I don’t really feel the need.
Q: Do you want to do other things?
Syd: A lot of people want to make films and do photography and things, but I’m quite happy doing what I’m doing.
Q: Are you into other people’s music?
Syd: I don’t really buy many records, there’s so much around that you don’t know what to listen to. All I’ve got at home is Bo Diddley, some Stones and Beatles stuff and old jazz records. I like Family, they do some nice things.
Q: What about the Underground?
Syd: I haven’t been to the Arts Lab or anything, so I don’t really know what’s happening. There are just so many people running around doing different thingsand no kind of unity. It doesn’t really bother me.
Q: Do you read poetry?
Syd: I’ve got Penguins lying around at home. Shakespeare and Chaucer, you know? But I don’t really read a lot. Maybe I should.
Q: Were you satisfied with Madcap Laughs?
Syd: Yes, I liked what came out, only it was released far too long after it was done. I wanted it to be a whole thing that people would listen to all the way through with everything related and balanced, the tempos and moods offsetting each other, and I hope that’s what it sounds like, I’ve got it at home, but I don’t listen to it much now.
Q: Madcap is rather gentle compated with your Floyd stuff. What about the new album?
Syd: There’ll be all kinds of things. It just depends what I feel like doing at the time. The important thing is that it will be better than the last.
Q: In 'No Man’s Land’ on Madcap there’s a long spoken part which is barely audible, like the 'faded’ lyrics of Astronomy Domine. Was the intention to abstract the words into just background noise?
Syd: Originally the words were meant to be heard clearly, but we went and actually did it, that’s how it came out, which wasn’t really how I’d planned it.
Q: How’s the guitar playing?
Syd: I always write with guitar. I’ve got this big room and I just go in and do the work. I like to do the words and music simultaneously, so when I go into the studio I’ve got the words on one side and my music on the other. I suppose I could do with some practice.
Q: What about the future? Are you looking forward to singing and playing again?
Syd: Yes, that would be nice. I used to enjoy it, it was a gas. But so’s doing nothing. It’s art school laziness, really, I’ve got this Wembley gig and then another thing in summer.
Q: What about forming a band?
Syd: I’ll be getting something together for the Wembley thing and then just see what happens.
Q: And now?
A: I’m working on the album. There’s four tracks in the can already, and it should be out about September. There are no set musicians, just people helping out, like on 'Madcap’, which gives me far more freedom in what I want to do…I feel as if I’ve got lots of things, much better things to do still, that’s why there isn’t really a lot to say, I just want to get it all done.