Barrett, Sydguitarist, singer, composer, painter
Syd Barrett, born Roger Keith Barrett (January 6 1946 – July 7 2006) was born and died in Cambridge.
Syd also grew up in Cambridge. He was born to Arthur Max Barrett and Winifred Barrett at 60 Glisson Road, the fourth of five children (he had two brothers and two sisters, Alan, Donald, Ruth and Rosemary).
When Syd was 11, his father, Arthur Barrett, a prominent pathologist, died all of sudden. Many think the tragic event could later fuel the development of Syd’s mental illness.
Syd earned his nickname at the age of 15, when he started to adore the drummer of a local band called Sid Barrett. Syd changed the i to y to distinguish himself. Later he started to dislike the nickname and tried to discourage others from using it. He was not successful and its use became so widespread, most people believe it was his actual name even now.
Syd joined Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright along with bass guitarist Bob Klose in 1965 and he soon came up with the last and definitive name for the band that changed its name all the time – Pink Floyd, or originally, The Pink Floyd Sound, after two American bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. Initially, Roger played the backing guitar to end up with the bass later. Bob, who took over the solo guitar after Roger, soon felt that the music Pink Floyd played was not for him and left the band. Soon, Syd started to define the style. Before he joined, the band just had fun playing cover versions of other peoples’ songs. Syd came up with the idea that Pink Floyd should play their own music, “something like blues, but different – alternative.”
Syd began to write his own music and lyrics. His first songs were immensely successful at the then parties in Marquee and UFO clubs in London. At the time, the first, initially instrumental pieces Stoned Alone (supposedly the oldest original Pink Floyd song, not preserved anywhere), Interstellar Overdrive and Astronomy Domine. The space themes, along with the playful motifs of the then Summer of Love such as Arnold Layne or See Emily Play, were extremely successful. Syd was the author of most of the songs from the debut album – Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and Pink Floyd, led by Syd, became a symbol of the 1960’s London.
However, in 1967 Syd began to suffer from mental disorder possibly triggered by excessive use of drugs, especially marijuana and the then legal LSD. It is said that Syd also took heroin, but that was never confirmed. Syd began to suffer from manic psychical disorders and his behaviour got extremely unpredictable. His condition ranged from being completely normal to catatonic stiffness. At the time, he also gained notoriety for his “funny” acts and distorted rumours about these spread among the underground. Taking to account that in the mid 1960’s, almost everyone in the band, perhaps except Roger Waters, took drugs, often with enormous amounts of alcohol, his extravagances were not considered anything unusual. Syd was becoming an icon and his popularity only increased with these excesses.
Syd gradually began to endanger not only the people close to him (he almost beat his girlfriend Jenifer to death with a mandolin, because he thought she was an alien who came to kill him), but even the very existence of the band. During the concerts, Syd would often end up unable to play, which caused financial losses to Pink Floyd and it damaged their reputation. Because of that, the promising first American tour had to be cancelled.
Although Syd was the main motor of the band, who were working on a sophomore album at the time, after the surprising success of Piper, the other members felt that something had to be done. As a solution, David Gilmour, Syd’s childhood friend and guitarist, started to play the backing guitar in live concerts, ready to substitute for Syd in case he was not fit, but it did not go well, as well as the attempts to leave Syd at home, let him write songs and perform without him. Then one day the car did not stop at Syd’s to pick him up for a gig at all. Later, Syd would literally torture Gilmour by attending the concerts of his then already ex-band, standing right by the stage and staring at him as if he was controlling him. However, some people think Syd did not even know that he had been expelled.
After his departure in early 1968, Syd devoted himself to his solo career. In 1970, he released the relatively well-acclaimed The Madcap Laughs album, produced by members of Pink Floyd and especially David Gilmour, who felt obliged to Syd. David recorded the bass guitar parts and Rick Wright recorded the keyboards.
In the same year, he released one more album, named simply Barrett. Although his former bandmates helped Syd with this one as well, its quality was comparatively lower.
From 1970 to 1972 Syd did not appear in public almost at all. He was the guest in John Peel’s Top Gear Show and he was to play a concert on the 6th of June 1970 at Olympia Exhibition Hall with David Gilmour and Jerry Shirley at the drums. After the fourth song he suddenly put his guitar on the stage carefully and left without a word.
Until 1972 nobody heard anything about Syd. However, in that year he announced a triumphal comeback with his new band called Stars. His bandmates were the drummer, Twink (John Charles Alder) and bass guitarist Jack Monck. The band only played a few gigs before it broke up for the same reasons Syd was expelled from Pink Floyd. After that, Syd retired again.
Syd showed up again in 1975, during the recording of Wish You Were Here, concretely the opus Shine On You Crazy Diamond. All of sudden, he appeared at the studio. He had gained several pounds, his hear and eyebrows were shaven and none of the people recognised him. When they figured out who the person was, they could not help themselves and cried. Syd tried to convince them that he was alright and wanted to join Pink Floyd again. Meanwhile, he was brushing his teeth, holding the toothbrush still and jumping ... Since then, no one from the band heard of him again.
Although Syd only recorded one album as a member of Pink Floyd, one song for the second album (plus some guitar parts) and only two solo albums, he inspired a number of artists, including punk bands such as Sex Pistols, who considered him their guru, and he achieved a cult following. Compilations of Syd’s songs are released regularly. These often include the so called takes, multiple raw recordings of one song, usually of the quality of a demo. The most known compilations are Syd Barret (the two solo albums released as a double album), Opel (a compilation of never before released studio takes + bonuses), Crazy Diamond (The Madcap Laughs, Barrett and Opel released together + bonuses), and others.
Since 1975, Roger Barrett could not be seen in public. He lived with his mother. When she died, he lived alone in the outskirts of Cambridge. He devoted his time to his original hobby, painting (he painted large abstract canvas paintings). He became the target of sensationalist photographers and fans, which was not good for his mental condition. He suffered from a specific form of schizophrenia and also type 2 diabetes. It is highly probable that complications caused by the illness caused his death. Syd died alone.
Syd was probably never married and had no steady girlfriend after 1970.
David Gilmour feels obliged to Syd even today. In his concerts he never forgets to perform some of Syd Barrett’s songs, for example Dominoes or Love You.
|English version by:|
Vít Benešovský, Jan "Johnny" Petrus