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Syd Barrett


Lsd, rock psychédélique, classic rock 60 et classic rock 70, rock

syd barrett by dubside on Grooveshark

Roger Keith "Syd" Barrett (6 January 1946 – 7 July 2006), was an English singer-songwriter, guitarist and painter, best remembered as a founder member of the band Pink Floyd. He was the lead vocalist, guitarist and primary songwriter during the band's psychedelic years, providing major musical and stylistic direction in their early work, including their name. He left the group in 1968 amid speculations of mental illness exacerbated by drug use, and was briefly hospitalised.

Besides being a pioneer in psychedelic rock with his expressive guitar playing and imaginative compositions, Barrett was also a pioneer in the space rock and psychedelic folk genres. He was active in music for only about seven years, recording four singles, the debut album (and contributed to the second one), plus several unreleased songs with Pink Floyd; and a single and two albums (plus a third one of unreleased tracks/alternate takes), as a solo musician, before going into self-imposed seclusion lasting more than thirty years.

In his post-musician life, he continued with his painting and dedicated himself to gardening, never to return to the public eye. He died in 2006. A number of biographies have been written about him since the 1980s, and Pink Floyd wrote and recorded several tributes to him after he left, most notably the 1975 album Wish You Were Here.

Early years

Barrett was born as Roger Keith Barrett in the English city of Cambridge to a middle-class family. His father, Arthur Max Barrett, was a prominent pathologist and it was known he was related to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, although research on Syd Barrett genealogy has not found any relation yet. Max Barrett was member of the Cambridge Philharmonic Society and both he and his wife, Winifred, encouraged the young Roger (as he was known then) in his music. After playing piano occasionally, preferring writing and drawing (he liked Edward Lear), Roger got a ukulele at 10 or less, then a banjo at 11, then an Hofner acoustic guitar six months after.[4] When Barrett was three years old, his family moved to 183 Hills Road. After his brothers and sisters left home, his mother rented out rooms to lodgers, including a future Prime Minister of Japan. One common tale of how Barrett acquired the nickname "Syd" at the age of 14, is of a reference to an old local Cambridge jazz double bassist, Sid 'the beat' Barrett, which claims Syd Barrett changed the spelling in order to differentiate himself from his namesake. However, when he was 13, his schoolmates nicknamed him "Syd" after he showed up to a field day at Abington Scout site wearing a flat cap instead of his Scout beret; making reference to "Syd" being a "working-class" name. He used both names interchangeably for several years and his sister Rosemary stated, "He was never Syd at home. He would never have allowed it" He attended Cambridgeshire High School for Boys and Cambridge College of Arts and Technology.

His father died of cancer on 11 December 1961, less than a month before Barrett's 16th birthday. Eager to help her son recover from his grief, Barrett's mother encouraged the band he played in, Geoff Mott and the Mottoes, to perform in their front room. Roger Waters and Barrett were childhood friends, and Waters often visited such gigs.[8] Barrett enrolled in Camberwell Art School in South London in 1964 to study painting.
Pink Floyd years (1965–68)

Starting in 1964, the band that would become Pink Floyd underwent various line-up and name changes such as "The Abdabs", "The Screaming Abdabs", "Sigma 6", and "The Meggadeaths". In 1965, Barrett joined them as The Tea Set, and when they found themselves playing a concert with a band of the same name, Barrett came up with the name "The Pink Floyd Sound" (later "The Pink Floyd"). He devised the name "Pink Floyd" by juxtaposing the first names of Pink Anderson and Floyd Council whom he had read about in a sleeve note by Paul Oliver for a 1962 Blind Boy Fuller LP (Philips BBL-7512): "Curley Weaver and Fred McMullen, (...) Pink Anderson or Floyd Council—these were a few amongst the many blues singers who were to be heard in the rolling hills of the Piedmont, or meandering with the streams through the wooded valleys". Barrett also told the story that the name was transmitted to him by a flying saucer while he was sitting on Glastonbury Toro.
London Underground

While Pink Floyd began by playing cover versions of American R&B songs (in much the same vein as contemporaries The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, and The Kinks), by 1966 they had carved out their own style of improvised rock and roll, which drew as much from improvised jazz as it did from British pop-rock, such as that championed by The Beatles. In that year, a new rock concert venue, the UFO, opened in London and quickly became a haven for British psychedelic music. Pink Floyd, the house band,[11] was its most popular attraction and after making appearances at the rival Roundhouse, became the most popular musical group of the so-called "London Underground" psychedelic music scene.

By the end of 1966, Pink Floyd had gained a reliable management team in Andrew King and Peter Jenner (who went on to manage new wave band Ian Dury & The Blockheads). The duo befriended American expatriate Joe Boyd, the promoter of the UFO Club, who was making a name for himself as one of the more important entrepreneurs on the British music scene.


Joe Boyd produced a recording session for the group in January 1967 at Sound Techniques in Chelsea, which resulted in a demo of the single "Arnold Layne". King and Jenner took the song to the recording behemoth EMI, who were impressed enough to offer the band a contract, under which they would be allowed to record an album; the band accepted. By the time the album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was released, "Arnold Layne" had reached number 20 on the British singles charts (despite a ban by Radio London) and the follow-up single, "See Emily Play", had done even better, peaking at number 6.

Their first three singles, including their third ("Apples and Oranges"), were written by Barrett, who also was the principal visionary/author of their critically acclaimed 1967 debut album. Of the eleven songs on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Barrett wrote eight and co-wrote another two.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was recorded intermittently between January and July 1967 in Studio 3 at Abbey Road Studios, and produced by former Beatles engineer Norman Smith. At the same time, The Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in Studio 2 and the Pretty Things were recording S.F. Sorrow in Studio 1. When The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was released in August of that year it became a smash hit in the UK, hitting #6 on the British album charts (although it was not nearly so successful in the US). However, as the band began to attract a large fan base, the mounting pressures[clarification needed] on Barrett are thought[by whom?] to have contributed to his escalating psychological problems[citation needed].
Barrett's departure from Pink Floyd

Through late 1967 and early 1968, Barrett's behaviour became increasingly erratic and unpredictable, partly as a consequence of his reported heavy use of psychedelic drugs, most prominently LSD.[4] Many report having seen him on stage with the group, strumming on one chord through the entire concert, or not playing at all. At a show at The Fillmore in San Francisco, during a performance of "Interstellar Overdrive", Barrett slowly detuned his guitar. The audience seemed to enjoy such antics, unaware of the rest of the band's consternation. Interviewed on Pat Boone's show during this tour, Syd's reply to Boone's questions was a "blank and totally mute stare"; according to Nick Mason, "Syd wasn't into moving his lips that day". Barrett exhibited similar behaviour during the band's first appearance on Dick Clark's popular TV show American Bandstand. When asked two questions by Clark, Barrett's answers were terse, almost to the point of rudeness (though, as Clark admitted, they had been flying non-stop from London to Los Angeles). Before a performance in late 1967, Barrett reportedly crushed Mandrax tranquilliser tablets and an entire tube of Brylcreem into his hair, which subsequently melted down his face under the heat of the stage lighting, making him look like "a guttered candle". Nick Mason later disputed the Mandrax portion of this story, stating that "Syd would never waste good mandies".

During their UK tour with Jimi Hendrix in November 1967, guitarist David O'List from The Nice was called in to substitute for Barrett on several occasions when he was unable to perform or failed to appear. And sometime around Christmas, David Gilmour (a school friend of Barrett's) was asked to join the band as a second guitarist to cover for Barrett, whose erratic behaviour prevented him from performing. For a handful of shows Gilmour played and sang while Barrett wandered around on stage, occasionally deciding to join in playing. The other band members soon grew tired of Barrett's antics and, on 26 January 1968, on the way to a show at Southampton University, the band elected not to pick Barrett up: one person in the car said, "Shall we pick Syd up?" and another said, "Let's not bother."[17] As Barrett had, up until then, written the overwhelming bulk of the band's material the initial plan was to keep him in the group as a non-touring member — as The Beach Boys had done with Brian Wilson — but this soon proved to be impractical.

According to Roger Waters, Barrett came into what was to be their last practice session with a new song he had dubbed "Have You Got It, Yet?". The song seemed simple enough when he first presented it to his bandmates, but it soon became impossibly difficult to learn and they eventually realised that while they were practising it, Barrett kept changing the arrangement. He would then play it again, with the arbitrary changes, and sing "Have you got it yet?". Eventually they realised they never would and that they were simply bearing the brunt of Barrett's idiosyncratic sense of humour.

Barrett did not contribute material to the band after A Saucerful of Secrets was released in 1968. Of the songs he wrote for Pink Floyd after The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, only one ("Jugband Blues") made it to the band's second album; one ("Apples and Oranges") became a less-than-successful single, and two others ("Scream Thy Last Scream" and "Vegetable Man") were never officially released. Barrett supposedly spent time outside the recording studio, waiting to be invited in. He also showed up to a few gigs and glared at Gilmour. Barrett played slide guitar on "Remember a Day" (which had been first attempted during The Piper at the Gates of Dawn sessions), and also played on "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun". On 6 April 1968, the group officially announced Barrett was no longer a member of Pink Floyd.

Solo years (1968–72)

After leaving Pink Floyd, Barrett distanced himself from the public eye. At the behest of EMI and Harvest Records, he embarked on a brief solo career, releasing two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett. Most of the compositions on both albums date from Barrett's most productive period of songwriting, late 1966 to mid-1967, and it is believed that he wrote few new songs after he left Pink Floyd.

The first album, The Madcap Laughs, was recorded in two sessions, both at Abbey Road Studios: a few tentative sessions took place between May and June 1968 (produced by Peter Jenner), while the bulk of the album was recorded between April and July 1969. The record was produced first by Malcolm Jones, a young EMI executive, and then by David Gilmour and Roger Waters. In his book The Making of the Madcap Laughs, Jones states that "when Dave came to me and said that Syd wanted him and Roger to do the remaining parts of the album, I acquiesced." A few tracks on the album feature overdubs by members of the band Soft Machine. Barrett also played guitar on the sessions for Soft Machine founder Kevin Ayers' debut LP Joy of a Toy, although his performance on "Religious Experience" was not released until the album was reissued in 2003.

Gilmour, on the sessions for The Madcap Laughs:

[Sessions] were pretty tortuous and very rushed. We had very little time, particularly with The Madcap Laughs. Syd was very difficult, we got that very frustrated feeling: Look, its your fucking career, mate. Why don't you get your finger out and do something? The guy was in trouble, and was a close friend for many years before then, so it really was the least one could do."
— David Gilmour,

The second album, Barrett, was recorded more sporadically than the first, with sessions taking place between February and July 1970. The album was produced by David Gilmour and Richard Wright, featured Gilmour on bass guitar, Wright on keyboard and Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley. Wright said of the Barrett' sessions:

Doing Syd's record was interesting, but extremely difficult. Dave [Gilmour] and Roger did the first one (The Madcap Laughs) and Dave and myself did the second one. But by then it was just trying to help Syd any way we could, rather than worrying about getting the best guitar sound. You could forget about that! It was just going into the studio and trying to get him to sing.
—Richard Wright,

Despite the numerous recording dates for his two solo albums, Barrett undertook very little musical activity between 1968 and 1972 outside the studio. On 24 February 1970, he appeared on John Peel's BBC radio programme Top Gear playing five songs—only one of which had been previously released. Three would be re-recorded for the Barrett album, while the song "Two of a Kind" was a one-off performance (the song appears on the 2001 compilation The Best of Syd Barrett: Wouldn't You Miss Me?) with the lyrics and composition having since been credited to Richard Wright. Barrett was accompanied on this session by David Gilmour and Jerry Shirley who played bass and percussion, respectively (these five songs were originally released on Syd Barrett: The Peel Session).

Gilmour and Shirley also backed Barrett for his one and only live concert during this period. The gig took place on 6 June 1970 at the Olympia Exhibition Hall, London, and was part of a Music and Fashion Festival. The trio performed four songs, playing for less than half an hour, and because of poor mixing, the vocals were inaudible until part-way through the last number. At the end of the fourth song, Barrett unexpectedly but politely put down his guitar and walked off the stage.

Barrett made one last appearance on BBC Radio, recording three songs at their studios on 16 February 1971 (these three songs, along with the five from the Top Gear performance, were released on Syd Barrett: The Radio One Sessions). All three came from the Barrett album, and were presumably aired to encourage people to buy the record. After this session, he took a hiatus from his music career that lasted more than a year, although in an extensive interview with Mick Rock and Rolling Stone in December, he discussed himself at length, showed off his new 12-string guitar, talked about touring with Jimi Hendrix, and stated that he was frustrated in terms of his musical work because of his inability to find anyone good to play with.

Later years (1972–2006)
Final recordings

In February 1972, after a few guest spots in Cambridge with ex–Pink Fairies member Twink on drums and Jack Monck on bass using the name The Last Minute Put Together Boogie Band (backing visiting blues musician Eddie "Guitar" Burns and also featuring Henry Cow guitarist Fred Frith), the trio formed a short-lived band called Stars. Though the band was initially well received at gigs in the Dandelion coffee bar and the town's Market Square, one of their gigs at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge with the MC5 proved to be disastrous. Monck described how disastrous it was in a 2001 TV interview for the BBC Omnibus series documentary 'Crazy Diamond'. A few days after this final show, Twink recalled that Barrett stopped him on the street, showed him a scathing review of the gig they had played, and quit on the spot despite having played at least one subsequent gig at the same venue supporting Nektar.[16] A tape of the Eddie "Guitar" Burns gig surfaced recently but has yet to see a commercial release though brief snippets have appeared on the internet. Similarly, all the Stars shows were recorded but the tapes are considered lost. The tenuous Pink Fairies connection is continued with the appearance of Barrett on at least one track, possibly more, on a posthumous release by founder Fairy and ex Tyrannosaurus Rex percussionist Steve Peregrine Took alongside assorted members of the Pink Fairies and Took's own band Shagrat.

Syd attended an informal jazz and poetry performance by Pete Brown and former Cream bassist Jack Bruce in October 1973. Brown arrived at the show late, and saw that Bruce was already onstage, along with "a guitarist I vaguely recognised", playing the Horace Silver tune "Doodlin'". Later in the show, Brown read out a poem, which he dedicated to Syd, because, "he's here in Cambridge, and he's one of the best songwriters in the country" when, to his surprise, the guitar player from earlier in the show stood up and said, "No I'm not."

By the end of 1973, Syd had returned to live in London, staying at various hotels and, in December of that year, getting accommodation at Chelsea Cloisters. He had little contact with others, apart from his regular visits to his management's offices to collect his royalties, and the occasional visit from sister Rosemary. He was often seen out wandering London streets by former friends, including on one notable occasion when Syd was approached by someone who knew him (usually reported as either Bernard White or Roy Harper), and he was asked "Where are you going?". Syd fixed the person with an icy stare and said "Far further than you could possibly imagine", before walking off.

In August 1974, Peter Jenner persuaded Barrett to return to Abbey Road Studios in hope of recording another album. According to John Leckie, who engineered these sessions, even at this point Syd still "looked like he did when he was younger..long haired". Little became of the sessions, which lasted three days and consisted of blues rhythm tracks with tentative and disjointed guitar overdubs (the only titled track is "If You Go, Don't Be Slow"). Once again, Barrett withdrew from the music industry. He sold the rights to his solo albums back to the record label and moved into a London hotel. During this period, several attempts to employ him as a record producer (including one by Jamie Reid on behalf of the Sex Pistols, and another by The Damned, who wanted him to produce their second album), were all fruitless.
Withdrawal to Cambridge

In 1978, when Barrett's money ran out, he moved back to Cambridge to live with his mother. He returned to live in London again in 1982, but this only lasted a few weeks, and he soon returned to Cambridge for good. Legend has it, and his sister confirms, that Barrett walked the 50 miles from London to Cambridge[citation needed]. Until his death, Barrett still received royalties from his work with Pink Floyd from each compilation and some of the live albums and singles that featured his songs. Gilmour commented that he (Gilmour) "[made] sure the money [got] to him all right".

According to a 2005 profile by biographer Tim Willis, Barrett, who had reverted to using his original name of Roger, continued to live in his late mother's semi-detached home in Cambridge, and had returned to his original art-form of painting, creating large abstract canvases. He was also said to have been an avid gardener. His main point of contact with the outside world was his sister, Rosemary, who lived nearby. He was reclusive, and his physical health declined, as he suffered from stomach ulcers and type 2 diabetes.

In 1996, Barrett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Pink Floyd. Barrett did not attend the ceremony.

Although Barrett had not appeared or spoken in public since the mid-1970s, time did little to diminish interest in his life and work. Reporters and fans still travelled to Cambridge to seek him out, despite his attempts to live a quiet life and public appeals from his family for people to leave him alone. Many photos of Barrett being annoyed by paparazzi when walking or biking, from the 1980s until his death in 2006, have been published in various media.

Apparently, Barrett did not like being reminded about his past as a musician and the other members of Pink Floyd had no direct contact with him. He did go to his sister's house in November 2001 to watch the BBC Omnibus documentary made about him – reportedly he found some of it "a bit noisy", enjoyed seeing Mike Leonard of Leonard's Lodgers again, calling him his 'teacher', and enjoyed hearing "See Emily Play" again.
Death and aftermath

After suffering from diabetes for several years, Barrett died at his home in Cambridge on 7 July 2006. He was 60 years old. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer. The occupation on his death certificate was given as "retired musician." He was cremated, with his ashes given to a family member or friend.

In 2006, his home in St. Margaret's Square was put on the market and reportedly attracted considerable interest. After over 100 showings, many by fans, it was sold to a French couple who bought it simply because they liked it; reportedly they knew nothing about Barrett. His other possessions were sold at an auction at Cheffins, with £120,000 being raised for charity. NME produced a tribute issue to Barrett the week after with a photo of him on the cover. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Barrett's sister revealed that he had written a book: "He read very deeply about the history of art and actually wrote an unpublished book about it, which I’m too sad to read at the moment. But he found his own mind so absorbing that he didn’t want to be distracted."

According to local newspapers, Barrett left approximately £1.7 million to his two brothers and two sisters.[38] This sum was apparently largely acquired from royalties from Pink Floyd compilations and live recordings featuring songs he had written while with the band.

A tribute concert was held at the Barbican Centre, London on 10 May 2007 with Robyn Hitchcock, Captain Sensible, Damon Albarn, Chrissie Hynde, Kevin Ayers and his Pink Floyd bandmates performing (albeit not on stage at the same time).

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