Looking back at the Psychedelic Maverick

Posted on February 4, 2012

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The Crazy Diamond Legacy

The 60s – a time of unimaginable recreational experiences and political propaganda. Often seen as a benchmark of the music and drug scene in regards to the 20th century, it is looked back upon as an incomprehensible period for us later generations trying to grasp the oddities and the fantasia surrounding it. There was Hendrix, the Stones, the Beatles, the Kinks; all of whom had their own distinctive sound, which the music industry of today recalls with appreciation; and then there was Roger Keith Barrett – the founding member of Pink Floyd.

Famously known by his nickname ‘Syd Barrett’, Roger Keith Barrett was another maverick of the 60s music scene. There was the peak of his spotlight years in the original Pink Floyd line-up, where he lead the band to fame as the creative frontman; and there were his reclusive days, after he left the band due to problems surrounding his mental health to live the quieter life.

Born on the 6th of January 1946 in Cambridge, Syd Barrett was the fourth of five siblings to Winifred and Arthur Barrett. He had spent a great deal of his childhood being encouraged by both parents in regards to music, and was known to have been an artist, attending Cambridge College of Arts and Technology.

However, his father had died of cancer on 11 December 1961, barely a month before Barrett’s 16th birthday. Eager for her son recover from his grief, Winifred encouraged Barrett’s band at that time, Geoff Mott and the Mottoes, which included childhood friend Roger Waters, to play in their living room. This is often seen as the pushing point in regards to the birth of Pink Floyd.

Then the year was 1966. There had already been the formation of Pink Floyd – the name had been coined by Barrett after juxtaposing two bluesmen, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council.  A new club under the name UFO had appeared on the scene in London, playing prominent psychedelic music. Pink Floyd became the house band, and Syd was greeted with success. One of the founders, Joe Boyd, took an interest in them and helped produce their first track.

Notoriety had Syd Barrett with his first successful single ‘Arnold Layne’, a song about a transvestite that stole women’s clothes as a past-time, banned by Radio London for being ‘far too removed from normal society’. It became a successful hit, making the top 20 in 1967. This was followed by the successful ‘See Emily Play’, a song which reached number six in the British charts.

Barrett’s debut album with Pink Floyd, ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, had reached number six in the British album charts, a feat in the music industry of Britain. However, there was mounting pressure as the bands fan base grew larger, and Barrett, already having written eight of the tracks in the album and co-writing two of the others, was beginning to feel the pressure in terms of creativity. It was around these years that Barrett began to experiment profusely with drugs.

There was growing consternation within the band. Barrett was becoming more and more frantic on stage. After an unsuccessful American tour t and a flop of a third single, he began to show signs of alienation on stage; playing the same chord for an entire song, sometimes detuning his guitar without the consent of the band. There were escalating problems.

The developing issues of Barrett’s mental health lead the rest of the band to gradually let go of him, especially to the build up of their second album, ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’, replacing him with David Gilmour, a friend of Barrett. Only one of Barrett’s songs made the album, ‘Jugband Blues’, which is often seen as a realisation and commemoration piece in regards to the band and his departure.

Syd Barrett went on to produce two solo albums, ‘The Madcap Laughs’, and ‘Barrett’, which revealed a raw, but very real disposition of Barrett himself, and perhaps the chaos that was going on in his mind. There were a lot of problems with the production, since Barrett became increasingly unpredictable. Ultimately, David Gilmour had to take over some of the key-production during the ending sequences of the album.

After the album’s had been produced, Syd attempted one last gig on the 6 June 1970 at Olympia Exhibition Hall, London as part of a Music and Fashion Festival, where he played a few tracks and ‘politely placed down his guitar’ due to mixing problems.

Syd Barrett died at the age of 60 on 7 July 2006. Despite all the speculation into Barrett’s unusual mind, his antics on and off the stage, and his reclusive days spent away from the spotlight, there still lies something raw yet golden about his legacy.

By Adam Logan

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Posted in: Feature