Found these articles by Nick entitled "THE CRACKED BALLAD
OF SYD BARRETT" and "Marquee Moon", from the NME in 1974 and 1977 respectively. More memories...
The summer of '67 went up like a psychedelic mushroom-cloud,
and some of the fall-out's still coming down. Brian Jones
was casually snuffed out, Jimi Hendrix blew up in his own
face...but one extraordinary tragi-comedy struggles on and
on: The Cracked Ballad of Syd Barrett...
There is a story that exists pertaining to an incident which
occurred during one of Syd Barrett's later gigs with Pink
Floyd. After a lengthy interval, the band decided to take
the stage (there is a certain amount of dispute as to which
venue this all took place at), all except for Syd Barrett,
who was left in the dressing room, manically trying to
organise his anarchically-inclined hairstyle of the time.
As his comrades were tuning up, Barrett, more out of
desperation than anything, emptied the contents of a jar of
Mandrax, broke the pills into tiny pieces and mixed the
crumbs in with a full jar of Brylcreem. He then poured the
whole coagulated mass onto his head, picked up his
Telecaster, and walked on stage.
As he was playing his customary incoherent, sporadic, almost
catatonic guitar-phrases, the Mandrax-Brylcreem combination
started to run amok under the intense heat of the
stage-lighting and dribbled down from his scalp so that it
looked like his face was melting into a distorted wax effigy
This story is probably more or less true. It exists amidst
an infinity of strange tales, many of them fact, just as
many wistful fiction, that surround and largely comprise the
whole legend-in-his-own-time schtick of which Syd Barrett is
very much the dubiously honoured possessor.
Barrett is still alive and basically functioning, by the
Every so often he appears at Lupus Music, his publishing
company situated on Berkeley Square which handles his
royalties situation and has kept him in modest financial
stead these last few dormant years. On one of his last
visits (which constitute possibly Barrett's only real
contact with the outside world), Brian Morrison, Lupus'
manager, started getting insistent that Barrett write some
songs. After all, demand for more Syd Barrett material is
remarkably high at the moment and E.M.I. are all ready to
swoop the lad into the studio, producer in tow, at any given
Barrett claimed that no, he hadn't written anything; but
dutifully agreed to get down and produce *some* sort of
His next appearance at the office occurred last week. Asked
if he'd written any new tunes, he replied in his usual hazy
condition, hair grown out somewhat from its former scalp
shaved condition, "No." He then promptly disappeared again.
This routine has been going on for years now. Otherwise
Barrett tends to appear at Lupus only when the rent is due
or when he wants to buy a guitar (a luxury that at one point
became an obsession and consequently had to be curtailed).
The rest of Barrett's time is spent sprawled out in front of
the large colour TV in his two room apartment situated at
the hinterland of Chelsea or else just walking at random
around London. A recent port of call was a clothes store
down the King's Road where Syd tried on three vastly
different sizes of trousers, claimed that all of them fitted
him perfectly, and then disappeared again, without buying
And that's basically what the whole Syd Barrett story is all
about, a huge tragedy shot through with so many ludicrously
comic aspects that you could easily be tempted to fill out a
whole article by simply relating all the crazy anecdotes and
half-chewed tales of twilight dementia, and leave it at
that. The conclusion, however, is always inescapable and
goes far beyond the utterly bogus image compounded of the
artist as some fated victim spread out on an altar of acid
and sacrificed to the glorious spirit of '67.
Syd Barrett was simply a brilliant innovative young
song-writer whose genius was somehow amputated; leaving him
hamstrung in a lonely limbo accompanied only by a stunted
creativity and a kind of helpless illogical schizophrenia.
The whole saga starts, I suppose at least for convenience's
sake, with a band called The Abdabs. They were also called
the 'T'-Set and no one I spoke to quite knew which had come
first. It doesn't really matter though. The band was a
five-piece, as it happens, consisting of three aspiring
architects, Richard Wright, Nick Mason and Roger Waters, a
jazz guitarist called Bob Close and, the youngest member, an
art student called Roger Keith Barrett (Barrett, like most
other kids, had been landed with a nickname, "Syd", which
somehow remained long after his school days had been
The band, it was generally considered, were pretty dire,
but,as they all emanated from the hip elitist circles of
their home-town Cambridge they were respected after a
fashion at least in their own area. This hip elite was,
according to fellow-townsman Storm of "Hipgnosis" (the
well-respected record-sleeve design company who of course
have kept a close and solid relationship all along with the
Floyd), built on several levels of acquaintances, mostly
tied by age.
"It was the usual thing really. 1962 we were all into Jimmy
Smith. Then 1963 brought dope and rock. Syd was one of the
first to get into The Beatles and the Stones.
"He started playing guitar around then, used to take it to
parties or play down at this club called The Mill. He and
Dave (Gilmour) went to the South of France one summer and
Storm remembers Barrett as a "bright, extrovert kid, Smoked
dope, pulled chicks, the usual thing. He had no problems on
the surface. He was no introvert as far as I could see
Before the advent of the Pink Floyd, Barrett had three
brooding interests, music, painting, and religion. A number
of Barrett's seniors in Cambridge were starting to get
involved in an obscure form of Eastern mysticism known as
"Sant Saji" which involved heavy bouts of meditation and
much contemplation on purity and the inner light.
Syd attempted to involve himself in the faith, but he was
turned down for being "too young" (he was nineteen at the
time). This, according to a number of those who knew him,
was supposed to have affected him quite deeply.
"Syd has always had this big phobia about his age," states
Pete Barnes, who became involved in the labyrinthine
complexities of Barrett's affairs and general psyche after
the Floyd split.
"I mean, when we would try to get him back into the studio
to record he would get very defensive and say 'I'm only 24.
I'm still young. I've got time.' That thing with religion
could have been partly responsible for it."
At any rate, Barrett lost all interest in spiritualism after
that and soon enough he would also give up his painting.
Already he's won a scholarship to Camberwell Art School in
Peckham which was big potatoes for just another hopeful from
out in the sticks.
Both Dave Gilmour and Storm claim that Barrett's painting
showed exceptional potential: "Syd was a great artist. I
loved his work, but he just stopped. First it was the
religion, then the painting. He was starting to shut himself
off slowly then."
Music, of course, remained. The Ab-Dabs . . . well let's
forget about them and examine the "Pink Floyd Sound", which
was really just the old band but minus Bob Close who "never
quite fitted in." The Pink Floyd Sound name came from Syd
after a blues record he owned which featured two bluesmen
from Georgia, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. The two names
meshed nicely so...
Anyway, the band was still none too inspiring, no original
material, but versions of "Louie Louie" and "Road Runner"
into which would be interspersed liberal dosages of staccato
freak-out. Kinda like the Blues Magoos, I guess. "Freak-out"
was happening in the States at the time, the time being
1966, the year of the Yardbirds, The Mothers of Invention
and the first primal croaks from the West Coast. Not to
mention "Revolver" and "Eight Miles High."
The fat was obviously in the pan for the big 1967 Summer Of
Love psychedelic bust-out. However, The Pink Floyd Sound
weren't exactly looking to the future at this juncture.
Peter Jenner, a lecturer at the L.S.E. and John "Hoppy"
Hopkins were in the audience for one of their gigs and were
impressed enough to offer them some sort of management deal.
Admits Jenner: "It was one of the first rock events I'd seen
- I didn't know anything about rock really." (Jenner and
Hopkins had in fact made one offer prior to the Floyd, to a
band they'd heard on advance tape from New York called The
"Actually the Floyd then were barely semi-pro standard, now
I think about it, but I was so impressed by the electric
guitar sound. The band was just at the point of breaking up
then, y'know. It was weird, they just thought "Oh, well,
might as well pack it all in." But as came along and so they
changed their minds."
The first trick was the light show and the U.F.O. concerts.
The next was activating a policy of playing only original
This is where Syd Barrett came into his own. Barrett hadn't
really composed tunes before this, the odd one here and
there, a nonsense song called "Effervescing Elephant" when
he was, maybe, 16, and he'd put music to a poem to be found
in James Joyce's "Ulysses" called "Golden Hair", but nothing
Jenner: "Syd was really amazing though I mean, his
inventiveness was quite astounding. All those songs from
that whole Pink Floyd phase were written in no more than six
months. He just started and took it from there."
The first manifestation of Barrett's songwriting talents was
a bizarre little classic called "Arnold Layne". A sinister
piece of vaguely commercial fare, it dealt with the twilight
wanderings of a transvestite/pervert figure and is both
whimsical and singularly creepy.
The single was banned by Radio London who found its general
connotations a little too bizarre for even pirate radio
The Floyd were by now big stuff in Swinging London. Looking
back on it all, the band came on just like naive art
students in Byrds-styled granny glasses (the first publicity
shots are particularly laughable), but the music somehow had
an edge. Certainly enough for prestigious folk like Brian
Epstein to mouth off rhapsodies of praise on French radio,
and all the 'chic' mags to throw in the token mention.
There were even TV shows, good late night avant garde
programmes for Hampstead trendies like "Look of the Week" on
which the Floyd played "Pow R. Toc H."
But let's hear more about Syd's inventiveness. Jenner again:
"Well, his influences were very much the Stones, The
Beatles, Byrds and Love. The Stones were the prominent ones,
he wore out his copy of "Between the Buttons" very quickly.
Love's album too. In fact, I was once trying to tell him
about this Arthur Lee song I couldn't remember the title of,
so I just hummed the main riff. Syd picked up his guitar and
followed what I was humming chord-wise. The chord pattern he
worked out he went on to use as the main riff for
And Barrett's guitar style?
"Well, he had this technique that I found very pleasing. I
mean, he was no guitar hero, never remotely in the class of
Page or Clapton, say"
The Floyd Cult was growing as Barrett's creativity was
beginning to hit its stride. This creativity set the stage
in Barrett's song writing for what can only be described as
the quintessential marriage of the two ideal forms of
English psychedelia, musical rococo freak-outs underpinning
Barrett's sudden ascendancy into the artistic realms of ye
olde English whimsical loone wherein dwelt the likes of
Edward Lear and Kenneth Grahame. Pervy old Lewis Carroll, of
course, presided at the very head of the tea-party.
And so Arnold Layne and washing lines gave way to the whole
Games for May ceremony and "See Emily Play."
"I was sleeping in the woods on night after a gig we'd
played somewhere, when I saw this girl appear before me.
That girl is Emily."
Thus quoth the mighty Syd himself back in '67, obviously
caught up in it all like some kite lost in spring.
And it *was* glorious for a time. "Piper at the Gates of
Dawn" was being recorded at the same time as "Sergeant
Pepper" and the two bands would occasionally meet to check
out each other's product. McCartney stepped out to bestow
his papal blessing on "Piper", an album which still stands
as my fondest musical memory of 1967, even more so than
"Pepper" or "Younger than Yesterday." (All except for "Bike"
which reeks of crazy basements and Barrett eccentricities
beginning to lose control, psychedelic whimsy taken a little
too close to the edge.)
You see, strange things were starting to happen with the
Floyd and particularly with Barrett.
"See Emily Play" was Top Five which enabled Barrett to more
than adequately live out his pop star infatuation number to
the hilt, the Hendrix curls, kaftans from "Granny's",
snakeskin boots and Fender Telecasters were all his for the
asking, but there were the, uh, unstabilising influences.
First came the ego-problems and slight prima donna fits, but
gradually the Floyd, Jenner et al realized that something
deeper was going on. Take the Floyd's three Top Of The Pops
appearances for "Emily."
Jenner: "The first time Syd dressed up like a pop star. The
second time he came on in his straightforward, fairly
scruffy clothes, looking rather unshaven. The third time he
came to the studio in his pop star clothes and then changed
into complete rags for the actual TV spot."
It was all something to do with the fact that John Lennon
had stated publicly he wouldn't appear on Top Of The Pops.
Syd seemed to envisage Lennon as some sort of yardstick by
which to measure his own situation as a pop star. "Syd was
always complaining that John Lennon owned a house while he
only had a flat." states Pete Barnes.
But there were far darker manifestations of a definite
impending imbalance in the Barrett psyche.
He was at that point involved in a relationship with a girl
named Lynsey, an affair which took an uncomfortably bizarre
turn when the lady involved appeared on Peter Jenner's
doorstep fairly savagely beaten up.
"I couldn't believe it at the time. I had this firm picture
of Syd as this really gentle guy, which is what he was,
Something was definitely awry. In fact there are numerous
fairly unpleasant tales about this particular affair
(including one that claims Barrett to have locked the girl
in a room for a solid week, pushing water-biscuits under the
door so she wouldn't starve) which are best not dwelt on.
But to make matters worse, Syd's eyes were often seen to
cement themselves into a foreboding, nay quite terrifying,
stare which *really* started to put the frighteners on
present company. The head would tilt back slightly, the eyes
would get misty and bloated. Then they would stare right at
you and right through you at the same time.
One thing was painfully obvious: the boy genius was fast
becoming mentally totally unhinged.
Perhaps it was the drugs. Barrett's intake at the time was
suitably fearsome, while many considered his metabolism for
such chemicals to be a trifle fragile. Certainly they only
tended towards a further tipping of the psyche scales, but
it would be far too easy to write Barrett off as some
hapless acid amputee even though certain folks now claim
that a two-month sojourn in Richmond with a couple suitably
named "Mad Sue" and "Mad Jock" had him drinking a cup of tea
each morning which was unknown to Syd, spiked with a heavy
dosage of acid.
Such activity can, of course, lead to a certain degree of
brain damage, but I fear one has to stride manfully
blind-folded into a rather more Freudian landscape, leading
us to the opinion of many people I talked to who claimed
that Syd's dilemma stretched back to certain childhood
The youngest of a family of eight, heavily affected by the
sudden death of his father when Syd was twelve years old,
spoilt by a strong-willed mother who may or may not have
imposed a strange distinction between the dictates of
fantasy and reality - each contention forms a patch work
quilt like set up of insinuations and potential cause and
"Everyone is supposed to have fun when they're young, I
don't know why, but I never did", Barrett talking in an
interview to Rolling Stone, Autumn 1971.
Peter Jenner: "I think we tended to underrate the extent of
his problem. I mean, I thought that I could act as a
mediator - y'know having been a sociology teacher at the
L.S.E. and all that guff...
"I think, though...one thing I regret now was that I made
demands on Syd. He'd written "See Emily Play" and suddenly
everything had to be seen in commercial terms. I think we
have pressurized him into a state of paranoia about having
to come up with another 'hit single'.
"Also we may have been the darlings of London, but out in
the suburbs it was fairly terrible. Before 'Emily' we'd have
things thrown at us onstage. After 'Emily' it was screaming
girls wanting to hear our hit song."
So the Floyd hit the ballroom circuit and Syd was starting
to play up.
An American tour was then set up in November, three dates at
the Fillmore Went in San Francisco and an engagement at
L.A.'s Cheetah Club. Barrett's dishevelled psyche started
truly manifesting itself though when the Floyd were forced
onto some TV shows. "Dick Clark's Bandstand" was disastrous
because it needed a miming job on the band's part and "Syd
wasn't into moving his lips that day."
"The Pat Boone Show" was quite surreal: Boone actually tried
to interview Barrett on the screen, asking him particularly
inane questions and getting a truly classic catatonic
piercing mute stare for an answer.
"Eventually we canceled out on 'Beach Party'." says Jenner's
partner and tour manager Andrew King.
So there was the return to England and the rest of the Floyd
had made the decision. On the one hand, Barrett was the
songwriter and central figure, one the other his madness was
much too much to handle. He just couldn't be communicated
Patience had not been rewarded and the break away was on the
But not before a final studio session at De Lane Lea took
place, a mad anarchic affair which spawned three of
Barrett's truly vital twilight rantings. Unfortunately only
one has been released.
"Jug Band Blues", the only Barrett track off "Saucerful
of Secrets," is as good an explanation as
any for Syd not appearing on the rest of the album.
"Y'see, even at that point, Syd actually knew what was
happening to him." claims Jenner, "I mean 'Jug Band Blues'
is the ultimate self-diagnosis on a state of schizophrenia."
"It's awfully considerate of you to think of me here. And
I'm most obliged to you for making it clear that I'm not
here. And I'm wondering who could be writing this song."
Barrett even had a Salvation Army Band troop in during the
middle of the number. The two unreleased numbers (incidently
these, contrary to belief, are the *only* unreleased numbers
Barrett has ever recorded) are both unfinished creations,
one a masterful splurge of blood curdling pre-Beefheartian
lunacy - "Scream Thy Last Scream"...
"Scream Your Last Scream/Old Woman with basket/
Wave your arms madly, madly/Flat tops of houses/Houses Mouses/She'll
be scrubbing apples on all fours/Middle-dee-tiddle with
Dumpy Mrs. Dee/we'll be watching telly for all hours."
The other, "Vegetable Man," is a crazy sing along. "Syd",
recalls Jenner, "was around at my house just before he had
to go to record and, because a song was needed, he just
wrote a description of what he was wearing at the time and
threw in a chorus that went "Vegetable man, where are you?"
A nationwide tour of Great Britain followed. Jimi Hendrix,
The Move, The Nice and the Floyd on one package, which
distanced things out even further. Syd often wouldn't turn
up on time, sometimes didn't play at all, sat by himself on
the tour coach.
The rest of the Floyd socialized with The Nice (guitarist
David O'List played with the band when Barrett was
incapable) But surely the two uncrowned kings of acid rock,
Hendrix and Barrett, must have socialized in some capacity ?
"Not really," states Jenner. "Hendrix had his own limousine.
Syd didn't talk to anyone. I mean, by now he was going
onstage and playing one chord throughout the set. He was
into this thing of total anarchistic experiment and never
really considered the other members of the band."
There was also this thing with Syd that the Floyd were "my
band". Enter Dave Gilmour, not long back from working with
various groups in France, an old mate and fair guitar. The
implications were obvious.
Jenner: "At the time Dave was doing very effective takeoffs
of Hendrix-style guitar playing. So the band said 'play like
Yeah, but surely Dave Gilmour had his own style, y'know, the
slide and echo sound ?
"That's *Syd*. Onstage Syd used to play with slide and a
bunch of echo boxes."
The Floyd played maybe four gigs with the five-piece and
then Barrett was ousted. It was a courageous move, he
reacted and everyone seems to agree that it was all
perfectly warranted. Except, maybe, Syd.
Jenner: "Yeah, Syd does resent the Floyd. I don't know, he
may *still* call them 'my band' for all I know".
From here on in, the whole Barrett saga goes a trifle
Barrett himself loped off into the back country of Earl's
Court to greet the usual freak show, but not before he'd
stayed over at South Kensington awhile with Storm.
"Syd was well into his 'orbiting' phase by then. He was
travelling very fast in his own private sphere and I thought
I could be a mediator of some sort. Y'see, I think you're
going to have to make the point that Syd's madness was not
caused by any linear progression of events, but more a
circular haze of situations that meshed together on top of
themselves and Syd. Me, I couldn't handle those stares
By that time, the Floyd and Blackhill Enterprises had parted
company, Jenner choosing Barrett as a brighter hope. What
happened to the Floyd is history, they survived and
flourished off on their own more electronic tangent, while
"The Madcap Laughs", Barrett's first solo album, took a
sporadic but nonetheless laborious year to complete.
Production credits constantly changed hands. Peter Jenner to
Malcolm Jones (who gave up half the way though), ultimately
to Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters.
By this time Barrett's creative processes refused to mesh
properly and so the results were often jagged and
unapproachable. Basically they were essays in distance, the
Madcap waving whimsically out from the haze. Or maybe he was
"My head kissed the ground/I was half the way down... Please
lift a hand/I'm only a person/ With Eskimo chain I tattooed
my brain all the way/Would you miss me/ Oh, wouldn't you
miss me at all ?"
On "Dark Globe" the anguish is all too real.
Many of the tracks though, like "Terrapin", almost just lay
there, scratching themselves in front of you. They exist
completely inside their own zone, like weird insects and
exotic fish, the listener looking inside the tank at the
In many ways, "Madcap" is a work of genius, in just as many
other ways, it's a cranked-up post-acid curio. It's still a
vital, thoroughly unique album for both those reasons.
Jenner: "I think Syd was in good shape when he made
'Madcap'. He was still writing good songs, probably in the
same state as he was during 'Jugband Blues'."
Storm: "The thing was that all those guys had to cope with
Syd out of his head on Mandrax half the time. He got so
'mandied' up on those sessions, his hand would slip through
the strings and he'd fall off the stool."
"Barrett", the second album, was recorded in a much shorter
space of time. Dave Gilmour was called in to produce, and
brought in Rick Wright and Jerry Shirley, Humble Pie's
drummer, to help.
Gilmour: "We really had basically three alternatives at that
point, working with Syd. One, we could actually work with
him in the studio, playing along as he put down his tracks,
which was almost impossible, though we succeeded on
'Gigolo Aunt'. The second was laying down some kind of track
before and then having him play over it. The third was him
putting his basic ideas down with just guitar and vocals and
then we'd try and make something out of it. all.
"It was mostly a case of me saying 'Well, what have you got
then, Syd ?' and he'd search around and eventually work
The Barrett disintegration process continued through this
album giving it a feel more akin to that of a one-off demo.
The songs, though totally off the wall and often vague
creations, are shot through with the occasional sustained
glimpse of Barrett's brain-belled lyricism at its most
Like "Wolfpack", or "Rats", which hurtles along like classic
"Trout Mask Replica" Beefheart shambling thunder, with
crazed double-edged nonsense lyrics to boot.
"Rats, Rats/Lay Down Flat/ We Don't Need You/ We Act Like
Cats/ If you think you're unloved/ Well we know about that."
"Dominoes" is probably the album's most arresting track, as
well as being the only real pointer to what the Floyd might
have sounded like had Barrett been more in control of
himself. The song is exquisite, a classic kind of Lewis
Carroll scenario which spirals up and almost defies time and
space. "You and I/And Dominoes/A day Goes By,", before
drifting into an archety, pal Floyd minor-chord refrain
straight out of "More".
Gilmour: "The song just ended after Syd had finished singing
and I wanted a gradual fade so I added that section myself.
I played drums on that, by the way."
Gilmour by this time had become perhaps the only person
around who could communicate with Barrett.
"Oh, I don't think *anyone* can communicate with Syd. I did
those albums because I liked the songs, not, as I suppose
some might think, because I felt guilty taking his place in
the Floyd. I was concerned that he wouldn't fall completely
apart. The final re-mix on 'Madcap' was all mine as well."
In between the two solo albums E.M.I., Harvest or Morrison
had decided to set up a bunch of press-interviews for
Barrett, whose style of conversation was scarcely suited to
the tailor- made ends of the Media.
Most couldn't make any sense whatsoever out of his verbal
ramblings, others tumbled to a conclusion and warily
pinpointed the Barrett malady in their pieces. Peter Barnes
did one of the interviews.
"It was fairly ludicrous on the surface, I mean, you just
had to go along with it all, y'know Syd would say something
completely incongruous one minute like 'It's getting heavy,
innit' and you'd just have to say 'Yeah, Syd, it's getting
heavy,' and the conversation would dwell on *that* for five
"Actually, listening to the tape afterwards you could work
out that there was some kind of logic there, except that Syd
would suddenly be answering a question you'd asked him ten
minutes ago while you were off on a different topic
Hmmm, maybe a tree fell on him. Anyway another Syd quirk had
always been his obsessive tampering with the fine head of
black hair that rested firmly on the Barrett cranium.
Somewhere along the line, our hero had decided to shave all
his lithesome skull appendages down to a sparse grizzle,
known appropriately, as the "Borstal crop".
Jenner: "I can't really comment too accurately, but I'm
rather tempted to view it as a symbolic gesture. Y'know -
goodbye to being a pop-star, or something."
Barrett, by this time, was well slumped into his real
twilight period, living in the cellar of his mother's house
in Cambridge. And this is where the story gets singularly
An interview with Rolling Stone in the Christmas of '71
showed Barrett to be living out his life with a certain
whimsical self-reliance. At one point in the rap, he stated
"I'm really totally together. I even think I should be."
Almost exactly a year later, from the sheer frustration of
his own inertia, Barrett went temporarily completely haywire
and smashed his head through the basement ceiling.
In between these two dates, Syd went into the studios to
"It was an abortion:, claims Barnes, "He just kept over-
dubbing guitar part on guitar part until it was just a total
chaotic mess. He also wouldn't show anyone his lyrics, I
fear actually because he hadn't written any."
Jenner was also present: "It was horribly frustrating
because there were sporadic glimpses of the old Syd coming
through, and then it would all get horribly distorted again.
Nothing remains from the sessions."
And then there was Stars, a band formed by Twink, ex-drummer
of Tomorrow, Pretty Things and Pink Fairies.
Twink was another native of Cambridge, had previously known
Barrett marginally well, and somehow dragged the Madcap into
forming a band including himself and a bass-player called
Jack Monck. It is fairly strongly considered that Barrett
was *used*, his legendary reputation present only to enhance
what was in effect a shambling, mediocre rock band.
The main Stars gig occurred at the Corn Exchange in
Cambridge where they were second billed to the MC5. It was
an exercise in total musical untogetherness and, after an
hour or so, Barrett unplugged his guitar and sauntered off
the stage to return once again to his basement.
Since that time, Syd Barrett may or may not have worked in a
factory for a week or so/worked as a gardener/tried to
enroll as an architectural student/grown mushrooms in his
basement/been a tramp/spent two weeks in New York
busking/tried to become a Pink Floyd roadie.
All the above are stories told to me by various semi-
More than likely, most of them are total fabrications. One
thing, though appears to be clear: Syd Barrett is unable to
write songs ("Either that or he writes songs and won't show
them to anyone", Jenner.)
In the meantime, Barrett has been elevated into the position
of becoming perhaps the leading mysterioso figure in the
whole of rock. Arthur Lee and Brian Wilson are the only
other figures who loom large in that echelon of twilight
zone notoriety and myth- weaving.
His cult-appeal has reached remarkable proportions in
America, to the extent that Capitol Records are finally
releasing the two Barrett solo albums in a double package,
while in countries as diverse as France and Japan, Barrett
is a source of fanatical interest.
And then there is the Syd Barrett International Appreciation
Society centered in Britain, which puts out magazines, tee-
shirts, and buttons. It is unfortunately as trivial as it is
"I mentioned the Society to Syd once." states Peter Barnes.
"He just said it was O.K., y'know, He's really not
interested in any of it. It's ironic, I suppose, he's much
bigger now as the silent cult-figure doing nothing than he
was when he was functioning."
And still the offers to take Syd back into the studio come
in from all manner of illustrious folk. Jimmy Page has long
wanted to produce Barrett, Eno has eagerly inquired about
such collaboration, Kevin Ayers has wanted to form a band
with the Madcap for ages.
David Bowe is a zealous admirer (his version of "See Emily
Play" on "Pinups" will certainly keep Syd financially in
adequate stead for a few months).
"Syd has always said that when he goes back into the studio
again he will refuse to have a producer. He still talks
about making a third album. I don't know, I think Dave is
the only one who could pull it off. There seems to be a
The last words are from Dave Gilmour:
"I don't know what Syd thinks or *how* he thinks. Sure, I'd
be into going back into the studio with him, but I'm into
projects like that anyway. Period.
"I last saw him around Christmas in Harrod's. We just said
'Hi', y'know, I think actually of all the people you've
spoken to, probably only Storm and I really know the whole
story and can see it all in the right focus.
"I mean Syd was a strange guy even back in Cambridge. He was
a very respected figure back there in his own way.
"In my opinion, it's a family situation that's at the root
of it all. His father's death affected him very heavily and
his mother always pampered him, made him out to be a genius
of sorts. I remember I really started to get worried when I
went along to the session for 'See Emily Play'. He was
strange even then. That stare, y'know!
"Yeah, it was fairly obvious that I was brought in to take
over from him, at least on stage...It was impossible to
gauge his feelings about it. I don't think Syd has opinions
as such. He functions on a totally different plane of logic,
and some people will claim, 'Well yeah man he's on a higher
cosmic level', but basically there's something drastically
"It wasn't just the drugs, we'd both done acid before the
whole Floyd thing, it's just a mental foible which grew out
of all proportion. I remember all sorts of strange things
happening - at one point he was wearing lipstick, dressing
in high heels, and believing he had homosexual tendencies.
We all felt he should have gone to see a psychiatrist,
though someone in fact played an interview he did to R.D.
Laing, and Laing claimed he was incurable. What can you do,
"We did a couple of songs for 'Ummagumma', the live tracks,
we used 'Jugband Blues' for no ulterior motive, it was just
a good song. I mean that 'Nice Pair' collection will see him
going alright for a couple of years, which postpones the day
"I dunno, maybe if he was left to his own devices, he might
just get it together. But it is a tragedy, a great tragedy
because he was an innovator. One of the three or four greats
along with Dylan.
"I know though that something is wrong because Syd isn't
happy, and that really is the criteria, isn't it ? But then
it's all part of being a 'legend in your own lifetime'."
Television and "Marquee Moon":
Review of 'Marquee Moon" by Nick Kent Feb. 1977
I concur thus.
Sometimes it takes but one record----one cocksure magical statement, to
cold cock all the crapola and all purpose wheat chaff mix'n'match, to set the
whole schmear straight and get the current state of play down, down, down,
to stand or fall in one dignified granite hard focus.
Such statements are precious indeed. 'Marquee Moon' the first album from
Tom Verlaine's Television however is one: a 24 carat inspired work of pure
genius, a record finely in tune and sublimely arranged with a whole new slant
on dynamics, centered around a totally invigorating passionate application to
the vision of mastermind Tom Verlaine.
Forget all the New York minimalist punk stuff. Television's music is the total
antithesis, and to call them punk rock is rather like describing Dostoevsky a
short story writer.
Television's music is remarkably sophisticated, unworthy of even being paralled
with that of the original Velvet Underground whose combined instrumental
finesse was practically a joke compared to what Verlaine and Company are
cooking up here.
Each song is tirelessly conceived and arranged for maximum impact, the point
where decent parallels really need to be, made with the very, very best.
Dylan and early Love spring to mind, the Byrds cataclysmic 'Eight Miles High'
period, a soupcon even of the Doors and Captain Beefheart and their mondo
predilections, plus the very cream of those psychedelic punk bands that only
Lenny Kaye knows about.
Above all though, the sound belongs most undoubtedly to Television, and the
appearance of 'Marquee Moon' at a time when rock is so helplessly lost within
the labyrinth of its very own inconsequentiality. Where actual musical content
has come to take a backseat to 'attitude' and all that word is supposed to
signify, is to these ears little short of revolutionary.
My opening gambit about the album providing a real focus for the current
state of rock, bears a relevance simply because here at last is a band
whose vision is centered quite rigidly within their music----not, say, in
some half-baked notion of political manifesto mongery with that trusty,
thoroughly reactionary three chord backdrop to keep the whole scam buoyant.
Verlaine's appearance is simply as exciting as any other innovator's to the
rock sphere---like Hendrix, Syd Barrett, Bob Dylan---and yes, Christ knows
I'm tossing up some true-blue heavies here, but goddamnit I refuse to repent
because the talents of Verlaine's Television just damn excites me so much.
To the facts then---recorded in A&R studios, New York, produced by Andy
Johns---the album lasts roughly three quarters of an hour and contains eight
songs, several of which have been recorded in demo form at least twice before,
and have been performed live innumerable times.
The wait has been worthwhile because the refining process instigated by
some hesitant non-recording contract months has sculpted the songs into
masterpieces that are here, present for all to experience.
Side one makes no bones about making its presence felt, kicking off with
the full-bodied thrust of 'See No Evil'. Guitars, bass and drums are strung
together fitting tight as a glove, clenched into a fist punching metal rivets
of sound with the same manic abandon that typified the elegant ferocity
of Love's early drive.
There is real passion here, no half-baked metal cut and thrust---each beat
reverberates to the base of the skull, with Verlaine's voice mixed perfectly
into the grain of the rhythm. The chorus/climax is irresistible
anyway---Verlaine crooning, "I understand all destructive urges and it seems
so perfect . . . I see . . . I see . . . no e-v-i-i-l-l."
The next song is truly something else---'Venus de Milo'. It 's simply one of
the most beautiful songs I've ever heard (the only other parallel to it is
Dylan's 'Mr. Tambourine Man') a vignette of sorts, dealing with a dream-like
quasi-hallucinogenic state of epiphany.
"You know it's like some new kind of drug, my senses are sharp and my
hands are like gloves. Broadway looks so medieval, it seems to flap like
little pages . . . I fell sideways laughing, with a friend from many stages."
'Friction' is probably the most readily accessible track from this album,
simply because with its cutting anarchic quasi-Velvets feel, plus
(all important) Verlaine's most pungent methedrine guitar fretboard
slaughter. Here it'll represent the kind of thing all those weaned on
the hype and legend, without hearing one note from Television, will
The song has vicious instrumentation and a perfect climax which has
Verlaine vengefully spelling out the title F-R-I-C-T-I-O-N, slashing his
guitar for punctuation.
The album's title track closes side the first side. Conceived at a time
when rock tracks lasting over ten minutes are somewhere sunk deep
below the subterranean depths of contempt, 'Marquee Moon' is as
riveting a piece of music as I've heard since the halcyon days of
. . . O'h, God knows, too many years have elapsed.
Everything about this piece is startling, built around Verlaine's steely
runs and meshed with Lloyd's intoxicating counterpoints.
Slowly a story unfolds---a typically surreal Verlaine ghost story
involving a Cadillac pulling up to a grave yard and the disembodied
arms beckoning the singer to get in while "Lightning struck itself",
and various twilight rejects from 'King Lear' (that last bit's my own
fancy, by the way), babbling crazy retorts to equally crazy questions.
The lyrics as a scenario for the music are utterly compelling. It
transforms from a strident two chord construction to a breathtakingly
beautiful chord progression, which acts as a motif/climax for the
narrative as the song ends with a majestic chord pattern.
'Marquee Moon' is the perfect place to draw attention to the band's
musical assets. Individually each player in Television is
superb---Verlaine's guitar solos are sublime; they are in short a
potential total redefinition of the electric guitar. As it is, Verlaine's
solo constructions/coltraneisms are always unconventional, forever
delving into new areas, never satisfied with referring back to formulas,
simply he can solo without ever losing the point.
Richard Lloyd is a good foil for Verlaine. Another fine musician, his
more fluid conventional pitching and manic rhythm work is the perfect
complimentary force, and his contribution demands to be recognized
for the power it possesses.
Fred Smith on bass is an excellent solid player; he holds down and
controls the undertow of the music with great skill. His understanding
of what is required of from him is a real pleasure to listen to.
Billy Ficca, a delicate but fine drummer, using every portion of his kit to
colour and embellish. I can only express a quiet awe at his inventiveness.
Individual accolades apart, the band's main clout lays in their ability
to function as one and perhaps a good demonstration of this can be
found in 'Elevation', side two's opening gambit. Layer upon layer of
gentle boulevard guitar makes itself manifest, until Lloyd holds the
finger-picked melody together and Verlaine sings in that truly incisive
style of his.
The song again is beautiful, proudly contagious with a chorus that
lodges itself in your subconscious like a bullet in the skull---"Elevation
don't go to my head", repeated thrice until on the third line a latent
ghost-like voice transmutes, "Elevation" into "Television". Guitars
cascade in and out of the mix so perfectly.
'Guiding Light' is reflective, stridently poetic---a hymn for aesthetes
---shimmering with lovely piano lines played by Verlaine.
'Prove It', the following track is a potential single. Verlaine spits and
seats his command on the vocal---"This case . . . this case I've been
working on so long . . . so long." And of course that chorus which I
still can't hesitate quoting---"Prove it . . . Just the facts . . . Confidential."
Final song on the album is 'Torn Curtain'. A song of grievous
circumstances (as with many of Verlaine's lyrics), the facts---cause
and effect---remain enigmatically sheltered from the listener. The
structure is indeed strange, with Verlaine's vocals at their most
yearning. The song is absolutely compelling and I can't think of a
single number written in the rock idiom that I could possibly compare
So THAT'S IT. 'Marquee Moon', a work of real genius suffice to
say---O'h listen it's released on Elektra and reminds me of just how
great that label used to be. I mean this is Elektra's finest record along
with 'Strange Days'. Tom Verlaine is probably the single most important
songwriter/guitarist of his kind since Syd Barrett.
If this review needs to state anything in big bold, black type it's simply
this: 'Marquee Moon' is an album for everyone, whatever their musical
creeds and/or quirks. Don't let anyone put you off with jive turkey
terms like 'avante-guard' or 'New York psychos'.
This music is passionate, full blooded, dazzlingly well crafted, brilliantly
conceived and totally accessible to anyone who (like myself) has been
yearning for a band with the vision to break on through into new
dimensions of sonic overdrive and the sheer ability to back it up.
Tom Verlaine and Television are out there hanging fire and cruising like
meteors above all the three chord wonder boys.
Prove it? They've already done it; all you have to do is listen to
the album, and levitate along with it.
They are one band in a million, the songs are some of the greatest
ever. The album is 'Marquee Moon'.
.................with apologies to Alistair Cook
Friday, 8 August 2008
Found these articles by Nick entitled "THE CRACKED BALLAD
Posted by Chris Bulow at 15:03