9 Jugband Blues
From A Saucerful Of Secrets
Syd says goodbye in extraordinary style, singing along to an oompah band, but his stuttering lyrics hint at an all-too-real psychosis…
Mick Rock, photographer: There was certainly no conflict in Syd when I first met him in December ’66, when he played at the Cambridge Arts College Christmas Party. He was this incredible figure, bouncing up and down, while the other members of the Floyd were anonymous.
I did take one acid trip with Syd and a fun affair it was, too. He wasn’t any problem on LSD. He was quite relaxed, smiling a lot. I remember us playing Coltrane and Stones records and looking at Robert Crumb comics. In 1971, I did the final interview he ever did, for Rolling Stone. He described himself as having “a very irregular head” and said, “I’m full of dust and guitars.” The lyrics that kick off “Jugband Blues”– “It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here /And I’m much obliged to you for making it clear / That I’m not here” – seem to be making some kind of statement about his situation. And it’s not like any other song in the world. It’s always haunted me. Maybe it’s a great description, not just verbally but sonically, of a schizophrenic state and a kind of psychic disintegration. It seems to sum Syd up for me more than any other song in existence.
8 Astronomy Domine
From The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn
Swapping his kaleidoscope for a telescope, Syd contemplates the universe with awe…
Peter Jenner, Floyd manager, ’66-’68: I was at the studio when they were making the first LP. Syd suddenly said, “Let’s have you read a bit through a megaphone.” And I was game for that, so they used it on the song. Syd had me read bits from a book of his, from which he was getting all his info about astronomy. Syd wasn’t particularly into astronomy, it’s more a case of us all being hippies and groovy and “wow! man”. In that context, it worked. Syd’s music was that of a very English eccentric.
7 Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun
From A Saucerful Of Secrets (June 1968)
Wonderfully atmospheric Floyd cosmic-rock prototype, written by Waters, full of spooked whispers, eerie keyboards, spine-tingling glockenspiels and pummelled tom-toms.
Nick Mason: It’s a good example of something that we got our teeth into, which is that not everything had to be flat out all the time. We could be a bit more subtle and laid back. I can see now more clearly where the influences came from, so far as the drums are concerned. Do you remember a film called Jazz On A Summer’s Day? There was a sequence in that where Chico Hamilton played with mallets. I always had this in the back of my mind, long before Pink Floyd were even thought of, as something that was fantastically cool. Ginger [Baker] also played mallets with Cream on “We’re Going Wrong”. It’s that whole thing about being able to repress, instead of the endless, wild banging away that characterises so much rock music. And I think that this is also a wonderful, held-back drum part.
We recorded this around the time that Syd left. Before it all went wrong, ha ha! I’m not entirely sure if Syd was at this recording session or not – it was one of the Abbey Road dates where Syd was around for some but not others. But he would have dropped quite easily into proceedings were he there.
I think you can see this as us not so much looking for a new direction rather than just developing something that was already kicked off – songs like “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Astronomy Domine”. We started getting into the business of extending everything, particularly anything we played live. It soon became unthinkable that we’d go on stage and begin and end a song within six or seven minutes.
Actually I think there was quite a lot of structure to these songs, even if it doesn’t sound like it! When we were doing Saucer – even tracks like “Interstellar Overdrive” – there was a move to put some structure into it, there’s actually quite a disciplined structure of sorts. And certainly, A Saucerful Of Secrets was highly structured in the way that it worked. Having said that, we went on to release stuff like “Echoes” and a number of pieces that could be unspeakably open-ended and witter on for as long as anyone had the patience!
It’s weird that, around 1967-’68, we all still thought we wanted to be an R’n’B band. We all thought it terribly important to perm our hair and wear leather trousers. But it’s absolutely true what David and Roger say about our lack of musicianship being turned into a positive attribute. As we admired those fairly “authentic” R’n’B musicians like Eric Clapton and John Mayall, we couldn’t quite do that, so we ended up doing something else. And one positive product of that – one that we weren’t aware of at the time! – was the significance of having our own material. So many great artists like John Mayall and Aynsley Dunbar would release albums where virtually every song was a traditional blues song, arranged by them. I think our limitations meant that we ended up making music like “Set The Controls…”. I still think it sounds fantastic and I love playing it today.
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