Sunday 16 December 2018

Crazy diamond Syd still shining on

An inspiration to Damon Albarn and David Bowie among others, Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett's legacy lives on

Syd Barrett was one of the great lost geniuses of his or any era
Syd Barrett was one of the great lost geniuses of his or any era
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Some of us will be tickled pink (Floyd). Bill Kopp's new tome, Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to the Dark Side of the Moon, hits the shelves next week (to say nothing of Roger Waters playing Dublin's 3Arena on June 26 and 27.) It will be sure to be a rollicking read. It will mark the 45th anniversary of a certain album that sold 50 million copies.

Kopp delves into how the Floyd rebooted themselves after the April 1968 departure of the incomparable Mr Barrett, and in particular those five years between Syd being jettisoned and the band's most illustrious release Dark Side of the Moon (originally called Dark Side of the Moon: A Piece for Assorted Lunatics, until the Floyd discovered a band called Medicine Head had put out an album with the same name) appearing in March 1973.

It was the band's great leap forward. As Michael Gallucci wrote in Ultimate Classic Rock, "The psychedelic tones Barrett brought to the music were still there, but the albums became headier - sturdier in ways that the always-delicate Barrett couldn't conceive or articulate. Through a series of musically complex and exploratory records, the four remaining members of Pink Floyd connected personal themes to space age freak-out music."

"Syd had been the central creative force in the early days, and so his having succumbed to schizophrenia was an enormous blow," Roger Waters said in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. "And also, when you see that happening to someone you've been very close friends with and known more or less your whole life, it really concentrates the mind on how ephemeral one's sensibilities and mental capacities can be. For me, it was very much, 'There but for the grace of God go I'."

Indeed. There is the apocryphal story that Syd once crushed a tube of Brycreem mixed with the drug Mandies onto his head at a Floyd gig; "his face appeared to be melting under the lights". This goes along with the just-as-apocryphal tale of Syd imprisoning his girlfriend in a broom cupboard and feeding her only water biscuits.

In an interview in 1971, Syd said: "I don't think I'm easy to talk about. I've got a very irregular head. And I'm not anything that you think I am anyway." He released two solo albums The Madcap Laughs and Barrett in 1970 and not long after he walked away from it all, retreating to his mother's house in Cambridge until his death in 2007. Solo tracks like Wouldn't You Miss Me (Dark Globe), Octopus, Gigolo Aunt, Terrapin, Effervescing Elephant and Baby Lemonade shone some sort of a light into his mental state.

Syd was one of the great lost geniuses of his or any era. As David Bowie, who was no stranger to genius himself, once said, Syd was "a major inspiration. He was the first guy I'd heard sing pop or rock with a British accent. The few times I saw him perform in London at the UFO and the Marquee clubs during the 1960s will be forever etched in my mind." His music, also, will be similarly etched in the minds of anyone who listened to it. Damon Albarn said after Syd died at the age of 60: "I'm no acid basket case but of course I love Syd Barrett's songs, especially the ones that sound unfinished. He wrote about his own reality in a way that very few people can. A couple of years ago I made a record called Demo Crazy. Not many people got to hear it, because it was just unfinished scraps of would-be songs I'd recorded in hotel rooms. But it was made totally under the influence of Syd Barrett. It simply couldn't have existed without him."

In 1975, Syd's one-time band mates in Pink Floyd, the group he founded in 1965, dedicated Shine On You Crazy Diamond - and the album Wish You Were Here - to him. The reality was Syd hadn't been there, or anywhere, for years. To think that he once shone like the sun. Now there's a look in your eyes. Like black holes in the sky.

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