Interview

Farewell, Crazy Diamond

The September issue was just about to go to press when we heard that Syd Barrett and died and scrapped much of what we’d just done to turn around a special Syd commemorative issue, celebrating the unique genius of the man who created pink Floyd and changed the face of English rock in 1967.

In the end, because of ugly deadlines not all the things that people who loved Syd had to say about him and his music made it into our issue. Here, then, are those Syd tributes in full.

If you have any memories of Syd or have something you’d like to say about him nd his music, email allan_jones@ipcmedia.com

David Bowie
"I can't tell you how sad I feel. Syd was a major inspiration for me. The few times I saw him perform in London at UFO and the Marquee clubs during the sixties will forever be etched in my mind. He was so charismatic and such a startlingly original songwriter. Also, along with Anthony Newley, he was the first guy I'd heard to sing pop or rock with a British accent. His impact on my thinking was enormous. A major regret is that I never got to know him. A diamond indeed."

Dave Gilmour
"We are very sad to say that Roger Keith Barrett - Syd - has passed away. Do find time today to play some of Syd's songs and to remember him as the madcap genius who made us all smile with his wonderfully eccentric songs about bikes, gnomes and scarecrows. His career was painfully short, yet he touched more people than he could ever know."

Bobby Gillespie - Primal Scream
“It’s always been one of my favourites, it’s so beautiful. I went online last night and I found the video for it on Youtube. I didn’t even know this film existed, it’s a proper promo film with Syd fronting Pink Floyd. He’s got a white shirt on with a tiny little collar, really beautiful hair, really beautiful eyes, with an acoustic guitar. He’s singing the song with the band behind him, it’s incredible. He just doesn’t move, he’s really still.

“I’ve always loved his music since I was a teenager. He got me through a lot of hard times. He enriched my life. I love the sound of his voice. When I first heard him sing, it did something strange to me, made me feel amazing. I’d never heard anybody sing like that before. But he was also an incredible guitar player, spectral and other-worldly. I guess he was really into sounds before everybody else. Maybe he was on a parallel with Hendrix in that respect, but Jimi was more raunchy.

When I was in the Mary Chain, we did a cover of ‘Vegetable Man’. I think he’s a great writer because he could write about how he felt in very simple, poetic terms that really touched people. I don’t think even Dylan could write a song as fucked-up and fragmented as ‘Vegetable Man’. It’s hard to be that open, to admit that fragility – but it’s also direct and funny. There’s no self-pity in it. That’s a rare talent.

“The guy was like Rimbaud, he left an incredible body of work behind and then split. He’s always going to be a mythical character. But I don’t think the myth will outweigh the music.”
Favourite Syd song: ‘Jug Band Blues’

Damon Albarn
"I'm no acid basket case but of course I love Syd Barrett's songs, especially the ones that sound unfinished. They were so real and 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.

The sad thing is that I suppose all those terrible records they made after he'd left will now start selling again because of the attention and ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ will be in the charts. We really don't need that. The only Pink Floyd records I ever liked were the ones when he was still in the band."

Favorute Track: ‘Terrapin’...or any of the songs from the solo records that sound unfinished. It's that raw, unpolished quality that I love."

Jim Reid - Jesus and Mary Chain
“I never went along with the idea that Syd was insane. I think Syd was fragile, and he was too fragile to be a rock ‘n’ roll star. I dare say that he did get frazzled with drugs, but I think there was more to it than that. He was too fragile a character to be a front man in a rock band, and that comes across in a song like ‘Jug Band Blues’. He seems to be a guy who’s completely lost his identity, and it seems like a desperate cry for help. All the stories say that he was at his absolute worst, just before he got kicked out of the band, and it seems so sad.

I always felt that Syd didn’t belong in the music scene, he seemed anti-show business, to the point where he was never going to fit in. We could relate to that in the Mary Chain – you’re in this thing and you don’t know if you want to be. The Mary Chain were always quite ambivalent to the place that we found ourselves in, so I can relate to that with Syd. There are parts of doing what you do that are a fantasy, a dream come true, but there’s a whole load of other shit that goes with it that you didn’t bargain on. I sense that with Syd Barrett. Obviously, I never met him and I could be completely wrong, but that’s what I took from hearing those songs.”

Favourite Track: ‘Jug Band Blues’

Robin Hitchcock
I feel really sad about Syd’s death. I’d just got used to the idea that he’d never do anything again - just sit there forever in Cambridge, being Roger. And with Syd a dwindling spectre in the distance, his host body Roger could potter about, this strange combination of old man and small child. The idea that he actually died is an incredibly decisive thing to do, for him; it’s the highest profile thing he’s done since 1972, although it wasn’t his idea.
I suppose I hoped, like a lot of people, that there’d be some kind of rekindling. Not that he’d write songs again, but maybe he’d give an interview - that there’d be some sort of glimpse of how he saw it all, before he went. But obviously there isn’t. That’s it. He’s taken his silence to the grave.

I think there was a struggle between “Syd” and “Roger”. I know he didn’t like to be known as Syd. The people in the Floyd camp say he was upset by being reminded of what he’d been. He had this struggle because he was briefly a glamorous pop star, but he was also an avant-garde artist, and this was back in 1967. And I think he found the two incompatible. But I think he probably also blamed himself for not being able to hold onto it. He was very frustrated with himself, but you can’t really see into how he must have felt, at having been so creative and losing it. He did paint. I think he probably rebuilt himself to carry on where he’d left off as an art student. And I know he’d had fantasies about being a doctor because that’s what his father was. So I think he tried to rebuild a life, skirting around the crater of having been Syd Barrett. We’re all talking about “Syd Barrett”, who really hasn’t existed since 1971. But behind that, there was this human who, however distorted things became, felt the emotions that produced that intense, beautiful, solitary music, which are still my three all-time favourite records. What I love about his work is that you can feel the person in there. He probably wasn’t capable of introspection; maybe that’s why he flipped out so badly. I’m one of the few who prefers the solo work. There’s a real honesty about it, in a world where so much is doctored and calculated and done for effect - even being a rock’n’roll casualty. What Barrett produced, he couldn’t help producing. And when it had gone, he could do no more. There are a lot of people making records now who’ve been stars in the past, and their records aren’t bad. But they just don’t matter. I don’t think that Barrett ever made a record that didn’t matter.

Favourite track: “Wolfpack”. Or “Rats”, the angry child taking it out on himself.

Stephen Malkmus
What did Syd Barrett mean to me? He wrote and recorded pivotal British psychedelia, later with a real demented vibe. If you sit and listen to some of his records, you can actually hear the acid. I first discovered when I was at Uni and his solo albums were seen as a badge of coolness. I never got the opportunity to see Syd live, but I have always pictured him in Pipers-era Pink Floyd with a throbbing light show at some mod London club. Young and dusted, hearing colours, before the fall.

Favourite Track: ‘See Emily Play’

James Sclavunos - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
When I was a teenager in the US in the early 70s post-Barrett Floyd  were not quite yet the ubiquitous FM radio staple that they’d  become by the end of that decade. Anglophiles like myself could  still approach the band without shame. I was into Ummagumma and the More soundtrack, but only marginallly aware of the earlier  epoch. By ‘79 I’d developed a meaty disdain for all things Floyd and shut  my ears to them. I was involved in what became known as the No Wave movement in which iconoclasm and nihilism were the name of  the game. Pink Floyd were an obvious target. However, right around that same time the late George Scott (of The  Contortions and my fellow band member in Eight Eyed Spy) introduced  me to Syd’s solo work which eventually led me back to Piper At  The Gates of Dawn. I really heard it clearly for the first  time and I couldn’t believe I what I’d been missing!

The songs are more significant to me as a body of work rather than as individual tunes. The inexorable progression (or degeneration as some might see it) of Barrett’s compositional style says more to me  than any one song taken out of that context. He was a beautiful thing to behold. His pictures project a  mesmerizing iconic mystery: simultaneously erotic, deranged, eerie, wise and innocent.

Pore over his biographical details all you like, but he remains apart, a flaming creature, an unknowable cipher obstinately stuck right in the heart of rock mythology. No matter how debatable his motives, methods or levels of cognizance, however  inscrutable the mental processes that produced these works, his  legacy and influence of those works cannot be dismissed.

Jimi Goodwin - Doves
The thing that made Syd special for me, is that he went further than most, whether it was intentional or not. He also wrote some incredibly groovy songs. The Madcap Laughs is full of them. I wonder what’s in the vaults and if he had a four-track he used to write and record songs at home? I guess we'll never know unless his family decide to release them one day. I’m not into raking over why he went mad or decided to live like a recluse for the last few decades, that was his choice. I just hope he found some peace in his head and that he wasn’t in any pain at the end.

Favourite Track: ‘No Good Trying’

Richard Hawley
Hearing the news of Syd’s death yesterday completely crushed me. I was just about to board a plane when I heard it announced on the BBC News. I was a massive, massive fan of his work and we played ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ last night as a tribute. The fact the whole crowd went crackers is testament to his power as a human being and songwriter.

I never got the opportunity to meet Syd or collaborate with him, but I wish I’d had the chance to thank him for throwing me and my wife together. She’s the only woman I’ve ever met who loved his music as much as me and I knew she was The One when she told me her cat was called Floyd. He died four days before Syd and in the back of my mind, I think there must have been some connection between them. I was twelve when I first got into his solo material. I was already into early Pink Floyd and bands like Thirteenth Floor Elevator, then this kid at school played me The Madcap Laughs. Once that diamond was planted, it never went away. It wasn’t just his voice that hooked me in, it was the way his songs felt so random lyrically and musically. II’m not very good at talking about my feelings or expressing my emotions, but Syd used his music to articulate his and I envy that.

People like to imagine that when a big band splits up or one of the members walks away, that they went on to do something profound and meaningful. Personally, I don’t care whether he recorded any more songs or not. I just hope he was happy. I remember reading somewhere that just before he left Pink Floyd he made the band rehearse a song called ‘Have You Got It Yet’ and everytime he sang the chorus he kept changing the words. I find that very funny and I think it says a lot about his sense of humour and his spirit.

Favourite Track: ‘No Man’s Land’. All the songs are brilliant but to be where he was mentally and write a song called that is mind-blowing.

Thea Gilmore
I was born in 1979, years after Syd Barrett stopped making music.  But my father’s record collection harboured a particular penchant for English eccentrics... from the Bonzos to Kevin Ayers - and even Jake Thackeray!  - and of course Syd. I'm not in the least bit drawn to the acid casualty hoopla, but I love the fantastic innocence of the music,  the complete wide eyed craziness.  Plenty of alleged seminal figures have slipped off the radar, but his influence doesn't go away: that's the reason Flaming Lips and Smashing Pumpkins have his covered songs, as has Jolie Holland, one of my current favourites.
My favourite Syd track is ‘Late Night’, it's just deceptively dark and a really beautiful melody, with a truly bizzarre time signature. It will be tunes like this, rather than morbid fascinations with his later life, which will ensure people will still be listening and writing about him in another 40 years time.
Favourite Track: ‘Late Night’

Gilles Hatton - The Earlies
I really got in to Syd's music at the age of fifteen when I bought a Pebbles compilation because of the psychedelic cover. It was also the same year I tried LSD for the first time and the two events had a huge impact on me and are probably totally to blame for what I do. I’d already heard The Wall and Dark Side Of The Moon and wasn’t very impressed, then a friend played me Relics and I loved it so much I got a copy immediately. Tracks like ‘Arnold Lane’ and ‘See Emily Play’ had a surreal, dark edge to them that was utterly inspirational. I listened to them constantly, then tracked down a copy of Madcap Laughs and was just blown away. It wasn’t just the beauty of Syd’s songwriting or the Englishness of his voice, it was the first time I’d heard music that sounded like it might disintegrate at any moment yet at the same time was really powerful and moving. Of course I went on to have a soft spot for other psychedelic bands, but it was Barret who had the biggest effect on me, God rest his soul.

Favourite Track: ‘Wolfpack’ . A totally unique record that’s both terrifying and beautiful. The sound of mania.

Luke Haines
My favourite Syd song is ‘Lucifer Sam’. It’s a devastating riff and you're always onto a winner with songs about cats, there's even a bit of cat rivalry in there with Jennifer Gentle. Syd's narrating the song and Lucifer Sam is on one side of Syd and Jennifer (the really bad cat) is on the other. Syd's stuck in the middle - caught between two very cool cats  - and freaked out 'Oh no, That cat's something I can't explain...' He does a similar thing in 'Apples And Oranges', the third overreaching Floyd single. Syd's describing a dolly bird that he has his eye on. After a Move style ‘bababa’ section Syd crashes in shouting 'Thought you might like to know - I'm a lorry driver man' It's very deliberate and very funny. So call me a c***, but he created a whole new syntax for rock’n’roll.

I can never really work out how they recorded the early Floyd stuff. It sounds so much better than most other stuff from that period. The thing that I now love about the early Floyd and that first album is the purity of Syd’s artistic vision. There's an early track from '65 - 'Lucy Leave' - when they were still an R & B covers band, you can hear Syd breaking loose on it, inventing that guitar sound. He came up with the band’s name and sound, wrote all the good songs and designed the back cover of the first LP.

Everyone likes The Piper At The Gates of Dawn, but it's never up there with all the creeps in the higher echelons of those best ever albums lists. I like that. It's like it cannot be tamed. People are now (rightly) jaded about art. Is it or isn't it? Let me tell you - it's all art, darling. The question is, whether it is good or bad art? In Syd’s case it was astonishing, and maybe that was the problem. It’s like Buzz Aldren and those early astronauts. What do you do after you've been to the moon? Where do you go after 'Interstellar Overdrive'?

The first I knew of Syd was when I bought 'Relics' in a small local record shop. It cost £1.49 and was the cheapest record in the shop that looked like it might be all right. I was 12 years old. I only had a couple of Slade singles, A couple of Boomtown Rats singles and maybe a Shadows album or something. The only record player in the house was a big old ugly wooden gramophone on four legs and about the size of a small car. This is what my parents played their Matt Monroe and Jack Jones records on. When I played 'Interstellar Overdrive' my parents thought that it had broken the gramophone. Happy days.

Jeff Dexter
60s’ scenester, DJ and regular at UFO
My main interest in Syd at UFO was that he was a babe-magnet. He was always surrounded by beauties. He was a genteel man. He was also very conscious of the underground scene he was part of. He was a good hippie at heart, and moreso; he wanted to delve deeper, into beauty and communication. It was the event the Floyd were in that was the important part, not their gig. They were part of the people’s show.

I’ve been rather sick myself this last year. And I felt incredibly vulnerable when I heard that he’d died. Because David Gilmour, Syd Barrett, Emo, their oldest friend, and myself were all born in ’46. We all get our bus-pass this year. His bus-pass has taken him somewhere else.

It’s not acid that made Syd sick. Lots of people around him took loads more, and survived very well. He was schizophrenic. Everyone talks about his wonderful songs, and that he was a genius. I think he was cleverer than all of them, because he saw early along that he should leave this strange music business completely behind. It always bugged me when people said, ‘Will he ever come back, man?’ He hadn’t gone anywhere. He’d just stepped outside of this stupid rock’n’roll hall of fame. He’d stayed at home, lived with his Mum, painted his pictures and ridden his bike to the supermarket. There’s nothing wrong with just being an honourable, simple person at heart.


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