One of the first voices you hear in Roddy Bogawa and Storm Thorgerson’s documentary is Syd Barrett himself. Taken from a 1968 interview, Barrett discusses returning to the visual arts after his recent “break” from Pink Floyd. “If I want to say nothing, or if I want to act in an extraordinary way, then I feel that is justified,” he says in his meticulous, if slightly stoned, BBC English tones. You could argue that he had already acted “in an extraordinary way”, as the leading light of Britain’s psychedelic underground. Now free of the pressures of commercial expectation, bright new possibilities presented themselves. But after two scruffy, endearing solo albums, Barrett chose instead “to say nothing”, absenting himself in the early ’70s until his death in 2006. While Have You Got It Yet? reminds us of Barrett’s many gifts, in doing so it also inevitably underscores what – and who – got lost along the way. “You couldn’t over-emphasise his importance,” says Nick Mason. “He was a creative genius.”
In this context, Barrett’s upbringing in 1950s Cambridge, among well-off academic families with bohemian tastes, provides favourable material from which to investigate his early promise. We hear from many of Barrett’s peers and school friends – of which Thorgerson was one – who remember a tall, handsome youth with good hair, so endowed that he even “smelled nice”. As fellow Cantabrigian Andrew Rawlinson sees it, “Everything he turned to worked. The girls worked. The painting worked. The music worked. The friendships worked.” In 1964, Barrett moved from a secure ecosystem in Cambridge into another, slightly less secure one in London, to study art at Camberwell College of Arts; many of his friends moved, too. Before long he was in a band with Roger Waters, Nick Mason, Rick Wright and Bob Klose; eventually he was earning £200 a week with The Pink Floyd and art took a back seat to his blossoming music career.
Appealing as David Gilmour’s assertion is that “Life was just too easy for him”, as it progresses, Have You Got It Yet? becomes a more subtle cautionary tale than anyone might have expected. This takes place at the affluent end of the counterculture, as Syd’s wider circle of friends head out from their flats in South Kensington to the increasingly popular acid-soaked rave-ups in the capital. “We thought we were moving in this wonderful direction to Utopia,” says Peter Wynne-Wilson, Floyd’s former lighting engineer. “We were fully engaged in the hip dream – and it was a dream. We had spiritual heights in our sights. And Syd, too.” As is often the way with gilded youth, everything seemed so effortless – until such time as it wasn’t. In footage, we see Barrett in the studio turning the dials on his Binson Echorec, interviewed alongside Waters on BBC2’s The Look Of The Week or on stage with the Floyd during their technicolour peak. But the pressures on Barrett became considerable. Co-manager Andrew King recalls the Floyd’s three-week stint performing “See Emily Play” on Top Of The Pops: “By the third week, we couldn’t find him anywhere…”
While this is a film about Syd, it’s also a film about Storm Thorgerson, who began the project with Bogawa in 2011 and died from cancer in 2013, before he could complete it. As much as Thorgerson is mining his old school friends for tales of Syd, there is a valedictory quality here, too. “This whole story depends upon the memories of people of our age,” acknowledges Roger Waters. At least five of the film’s talking heads have died since their interviews took place.
Thorgerson’s involvement opened a lot of doors – along with Gilmour, Mason and Waters, there are interviews with Barrett’s sister Rosemary, a string of his former flames, chums and admirers including Pete Townshend, Graham Coxon and Tom Stoppard. But while the vibe often feels like old friends reminiscing – “Jenny dear, tell me how you first met Syd” – the results are rather more candid and satisfying than you might otherwise expect. “We probably did as much as we could, but we were all very young,” says Gilmour. “I regret that I never went up to his house in Cambridge – in the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s. But none of us did.”
Have You Got It Yet? is part of a modest flurry of Barrett activity, along with the launch of an official Youtube channel and a BBC Radio 4 drama, The Ballad Of Syd & Morgan, about a fictional meeting between Barrett and EM Forster. Landing during Dark Side Of The Moon’s 50th anniversary year, these act as a welcome reminder of the fragile visionary who set the Floyd on their interstellar path. “Syd defined the whole of that moment in the ’60s,” says Townshend in Bogawa and Thorgerson’s documentary. “The colour, the vivacity of it. The psychedelic freedom.”
Essential, then, for lovers everywhere of gingerbread men, terrapins and mice called Gerald.