Mojo Magazine January 2006.
(Transcript thanks to Natalie Lyons)
In Search Of Syd
Newly enhanced DVD reveals how the Barrett legacy looms large over the band that left him behind.
“There was a film about me last night, on television. It was pretty good, actually.”
The words are phlegmatic, almost eerily blasé. Coming from the lips of Roger Keith “Syd” Barrett, and as recently as November 2001, they’re a revelation – and for John Edginton, the director of the BBC Omnibus documentary that Barrett stumbled across, they were music to his ears.
“His family hadn’t shown him the advance tape, just in case he threw a wobbler,” says the film-maker today. “But somehow he found out and watched it anyway. His sister saw him the next morning and told me how much he liked it.”
Next month, Floyd fans will be able to replace their VHS copies of Edginton’s film (The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story) with a definitive 2-DVD version, augmented by three hours of extras, including “director’s cut” footage from interviews with Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Nick Mason and Rick Wright. But to get the Floyd members on board, Edginton had first to convince Syd’s sister Rosemary that his film would not upset its subject.
“Syd doesn’t see Pink Floyd has having anything to do with him any more,” says Edginton. “He gets really upset when that stuff comes up.”
After Barrett’s 1967 departure from the first celebrated line-up of Pink Floyd – the group he’d fuelled with his quirky songs and inspired with his fried sonic vision – his mental collapse appears to have accelerated rapidly. Daily LSD use is accepted as the central factor, and the pressures of life in an ascendant pop group weren’t helping. By the time he turned up on Rosemary’s Cambridge doorstep in 1978, having walked all the way from London, his solo career lay in ruins and legends of his unpredictable behaviour were myriad.
These days, reports Edginton, Barrett receives nobody except his immediate family. Living in Cambridge in a modest semi, Barrett paints and gardens, is friendly with the neighbours and has an easy rapport with their kids. Apart from a possible problem with Type B diabetes, he is well.
“He’s a functioning human being,” says Edginton, “albeit private. He’s definitely had a period of semi-hospitalisation in the ’80s. Roger [Waters] is very forceful in saying that he’s suffering from schizophrenia. I think Rose would couch it as brain damage due to overuse of LSD.”
Perhaps the most striking revelation of Edginton’s film is the extent to which Barrett looms over the remaining Floyd members. Unable to see a way forward with a singer who’d ceased to sing, they’d parted ways for good by early 1968. But the shocking speed of his decline would continue to haunt them all.
“We were touring the West Coast,” says Waters. “We only did three gigs or something… [but] it was quite clear that he… he’d gone. You know, in [The Wall] where the cigarette burns down between [Pink’s] fingers? Well I saw Syd in a hotel room in LA with bits of cigarette, burned cigarette paper on his fingers, the rest of the cigarette lying on the floor. It had burned through his fingers without him noticing.”
Waters reveals that the Bob Geldof character in The Wall movie would have resembled Barrett even more closely if the Irishman had stuck to the script (“‘I’m not fucking shaving my head – for you or anybody else, Waters!’”). Certainly, he concedes that the conflation of Syd and Roger in the ‘Pink’ character was the culmination of an increasing fear for his own sanity.
“During the making of Wish You Were Here I split with my first wife,” he recalls, “and I remember sitting in the canteen at Abbey Road, having a nervous breakdown. That’s the only way I can describe it. Everything went down the other end of a telescope. And I thought, Fuck me, I’m going mad.”
As for Barrett, theories regarding the true nature of his mental “deterioration” pepper Edginton’s film. His former flatmate, pop art painter Duggie Fields, insists that Barrett had consciously tired of pop celebrity, while photographer Mick Rock holds that Syd made a rational decision to reject the rock’n’roll life. There’s no room for the less palatable rumours – notably, the allegation that Barrett beat up girlfriend Lindsay Korner (never confirmed by the latter) – and the emphasis is more on the talent than the torment. One controversy is unavoidable. Edginton includes a segment from the notorious “Syd’s First Trip” footage, filmed by Cambridge scenester Nigel Gordon in the Gog Magog hills near Cambridge in 1965. The film has provoked fierce debate on Floyd fan sites, many describing it as “exploitative”.
“David Gilmour realised this was out there, and didn’t approve,” says Edginton. “Thought it was a bit sick. So he bought it off this guy; the footage, the rights, everything”.
Still, the clip stayed in, joining a treasure trove of footage from the relatively well-known to the impossibly rare – notably, a segment from a January 1968 Tomorrow’s World in which the Floyd’s former Highgate landlord and art teacher, Mike Leonard, demonstrates his cutting-edge light machines while the band jam trippily. Presumed destroyed by the Beeb, a copy had been preserved by Leonard for 30-plus years. Leonard’s contribution brought another, unexpected boon.
“The things Syd mentioned he liked best was See Emily Play, and seeing Mike Leonard again,” recalls Edginton. “There was a discussion of whether we should take Mike to [visit Syd in] Cambridge, which is still ongoing. So it was a happy conclusion.”
The Pink Floyd And Syd Barrett Story Definitive Edition 2 DVD (Direct Video Distribution) is released in January. For more information go HERE
OUT OF FOCUS
How Pink Floyd came to soundtrack Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London.
In a bumper month for Pink Floyd on film, the full-length footage of the band shot by Peter Whitehead for his 1967 documentary, Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London, has emerged on DVD for the first time.
A neighbour of Syd Barrett’s in mid-’60s Cambridge (They’d start rehearsing, I’d turn up with my Bartok or Wagner to drown them out”), by ’66 Whitehead had become a Swinging London celebrity thanks to his cinema verité portrayal of the 1965 poetry-fest at the Royal Albert Hall, Wholly Communion.
“I got a phone call: ‘Hello, this is Andrew Loog Oldham’. I said, Well, I’m Peter Lorimer Whitehead. He said, ‘Do you know who I am?’ I said, No”.
From that unpromising beginning, Whitehead went on to shoot the 1965 Rolling Stones tour-doc Charlie Is My Darling and the promo for 1967’s We Love You. After Wholly Communion won the best documentary prize at the Mannheim Film Festival, Whitehead went in hock to The National Film Funding Council for another project: London 1966.
Setting out to document a city and culture in flux, he interviewed Mick Jagger, Julie Christie, Michael Caine, David Hockney, and an off-duty John Lennon skulking around the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream. To soundtrack the film he chose the still-unrecorded Pink Floyd: “I asked Jenny Fabian to ask the band’s permission, and she said, ‘They’ll do it, but you’ll have to record them’. It cost me £85.”
In early January 1967, Whitehead filmed the Floyd at Sound Techniques studio, their first proper recording session. He emerged with priceless footage of the improvised Nick’s Boogie, the definitive, 16-minute rendition of Interstellar Overdrive, and evidence of an already apparent gulf between Syd Barrett and his colleagues.
“That’s what finally excluded Syd,” Whitehead opines. “[He] was the jazz guy, and the others were classical.”
Whitehead’s affinity with Syd’s improvisatory zeal surfaced when he over-ran Tonite…’s budget and schedule: “I was given an ultimatum: finish the movie by the end of the week, or be sued. By Friday I was in hospital with some fiendish virus, but the film was finished. If I’d had longer I’d probably have fucked it up.”
Pink Floyd London 1966-1967 is available on DVD (Snapper Music); legal issues allowing, Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London will follow before Christmas.