Syd Barrett
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Syd Barrett
Syd Barrett
Barrett, 1969
Background information
Roger Keith Barrett
Born (1946-01-06)6 January 1946
Cambridge, England
Died 7 July 2006(2006-07-07) (aged 60)
Cambridge, England
  • Musician
  • singer-songwriter
  • artist
  • poet
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • piano
Labels Harvest

Roger Keith "Syd" Barrett (6 January 1946 - 7 July 2006) was an English singer, songwriter, and musician. Best known as a founder member of the band Pink Floyd, Barrett was the lead singer, guitarist and principal songwriter in its early years and is credited with naming the band. Barrett was ousted from Pink Floyd in April 1968 after David Gilmour took over as their new guitarist, and was briefly hospitalised amid speculation of mental illness and his excessive use of psychedelic drugs.

Barrett was musically active for less than ten years. With Pink Floyd, he recorded four singles, their debut album (1967's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn), portions of their second album (1968's A Saucerful of Secrets), and several unreleased songs. Barrett began his solo career in 1969 with the single "Octopus" from his first solo album, The Madcap Laughs (1970). The album was recorded over the course of a year with five different producers and included two tracks featuring members of Soft Machine. He recorded and released one more album, Barrett (1970), produced by Gilmour and featuring contributions from former bandmate Richard Wright. Two years later, Barrett left the music industry, retired from public life and strictly guarded his own privacy until his death in 2006. In 1988, an album of unreleased tracks and outtakes, Opel, was released by EMI with Barrett's approval.

Barrett's innovative guitar work and exploration of experimental techniques such as dissonance, distortion and feedback influenced many musicians. His recordings are also noted for their strongly English-accented vocal delivery. After leaving the music industry, Barrett continued painting and dedicated himself to gardening. Pink Floyd wrote and recorded several tributes to him, most notably the 1975 album Wish You Were Here, which included "Shine On You Crazy Diamond", as homage to Barrett.

Life and career

Early years

Barrett was born as Roger Keith Barrett in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire to a middle-class family living at 60 Glisson Road.[2][3] Barrett was the fourth of five children.[4] His father, Arthur Max Barrett, was a prominent pathologist[2][5][6] and was related to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson through Max's maternal grandmother Ellen Garrett, who was Elizabeth's cousin.[5][6] In 1951, his family moved to 183 Hills Road.[2][3]

Barrett played piano occasionally, but usually preferred writing and drawing. He got a ukulele at 10, a banjo at 11[7] and a Hofner acoustic guitar at 14.[8][9] A year after he got his first acoustic guitar, he bought his first electric guitar and built his own amplifier. One story of how Barrett acquired the nickname "Syd" is that at the age of 14 he was named after an old local Cambridge jazz double bassist,[9][10] Sid "The Beat" Barrett, which claims Syd Barrett changed the spelling to differentiate himself from his namesake.[11]

Another account is that when he was 13, his schoolmates nicknamed him "Syd" after he showed up to a field day at Abington Scout site wearing a flat cap instead of his Scout beret because "Syd" was a "working-class" name.[12] He used both names interchangeably for several years. His sister Rosemary stated, "He was never Syd at home. He would never have allowed it."[10] He was a Scout with the 7th Cambridge troop and went on to be a patrol leader.[13]

At one point at Morley Memorial Junior School he was taught by the mother of future Pink Floyd bassist Roger Waters.[14] Later, in 1957, he attended Cambridgeshire High School for Boys[15] with Waters.[2] His father died of cancer on 11 December 1961,[9][16] less than a month before Barrett's 16th birthday.[17] On this date, Barrett left the entry in his diary blank.[9] By this time, his brothers and sisters had left home and his mother decided to rent out rooms to lodgers.[16][18][19]

Eager to help her son recover from his grief, Barrett's mother encouraged the band in which he played, Geoff Mott and The Mottoes, a band which Barrett formed,[9] to perform in their front room. Waters and Barrett were childhood friends, and Waters often visited such gigs.[2][9][20] At one point, Waters even organised a gig, a CND benefit at Friends Meeting House on 11 March 1962,[2] but shortly afterwards Geoff Mott joined the Boston Crabs, and the Mottoes broke up.[9]

In September 1962, Barrett had taken a place at the Cambridge Technical College art department,[21] where he met David Gilmour.[22] During the winter of 1962 and early 1963, the Beatles made an impact on Barrett, and he began to play Beatles songs at parties and at picnics. In 1963, Barrett became a Rolling Stones fan and, with then-girlfriend Libby Gausden, saw them perform at a village hall in Cambridgeshire.[22]

At this point, Barrett started writing songs; one friend recalls hearing "Effervescing Elephant" (later to be recorded on his solo album Barrett).[23] Also around this time, Barrett and Gilmour occasionally played acoustic gigs together.[24] Barrett had played bass guitar with Those Without during the summer of 1963[24][25] and both bass and guitar with The Hollerin' Blues the next summer.[24] In 1964, Barrett and Gausden saw Bob Dylan perform.[22] After this performance, Barrett was inspired to write "Bob Dylan Blues".[26] Barrett, now thinking about his future,[24] decided to apply for Camberwell College of Arts in London.[27] Barrett enrolled in the college in the summer of 1964[24] to study painting.[28]

Pink Floyd years (1965-68)

Starting in 1964, the band that would become Pink Floyd evolved through various line-up and name changes including "The Abdabs",[29][30] "The Screaming Abdabs",[30] "Sigma 6",[30][31] and "The Meggadeaths".[30] In 1965, Barrett joined them as the Tea Set[30][32] (sometimes spelled T-Set).[33] When they found themselves playing a concert with another band of the same name, Barrett came up with "The Pink Floyd Sound" (also known as "The Pink Floyd Blues Band",[33] later "The Pink Floyd").[nb 1] During 1965, they went into a studio for the first time, when a friend of Richard Wright's gave the band free time to record.[nb 2][32]

During this summer Barrett had his first LSD trip in the garden of friend Dave Gale,[40][41] with Ian Moore and Storm Thorgerson.[nb 3][40] During one trip, Barrett and another friend, Paul Charrier, ended up naked in the bath, reciting: "No rules, no rules".[42] That summer, as a consequence of the continuation of drug use, the band became absorbed in Sant Mat, a Sikh sect. Storm Thorgerson (then living on Earlham Street) and Barrett went to a London hotel to meet the sect's guru; Thorgerson managed to join the sect, while Barrett, however, was deemed too young to join. Thorgerson perceives this as a deeply important event in Barrett's life, as he was intensely upset by the rejection. While living within proximity of his friends, Barrett decided to write more songs ("Bike" was written around this time).[36]

London Underground, Blackhill Enterprises and gigs

While Pink Floyd began by playing cover versions of American R&B songs,[43] by 1966 they had carved out their own style of improvised rock and roll,[44][45] which drew as much from improvised jazz.[46] After Bob Klose departed from the band, the band's direction changed. However, the change was not instantaneous,[nb 4] with more improvising on the guitars and keyboards.[36] Drummer Nick Mason reflected, "It always felt to me that most of the ideas were emanating from Syd at the time."[nb 5][36]

At this time, Barrett's reading reputedly included: Grimm's Fairy Tales, Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Carlos Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan,[clarification needed] and The I-Ching. During this period, Barrett wrote most of the songs for Pink Floyd's first album, and also songs that would later appear on his solo albums.[49] In 1966, a new rock concert venue, the UFO (pronounced as "you-foe"),[51] opened in London and quickly became a haven for British psychedelic music. Pink Floyd, the house band,[47][51][52][53] was its most popular attraction and after making appearances at the rival Roundhouse,[53][54][55] became the most popular musical group of the "London Underground" psychedelic music scene.[8]

By the end of 1966, Pink Floyd had gained a reliable management team in Andrew King and Peter Jenner.[56] Towards the end of October 1966, Pink Floyd, with King and Jenner, set up Blackhill Enterprises, to manage the group's finances. Blackhill was staffed by lodgers Jenner found in his Edbrooke Road house, and among others, Barrett's flatmate, Peter Wynne Wilson (who became road manager, however, since he had more experience in lighting, he was also lighting assistant).[57] King and Jenner wanted to prepare some demo recordings for a possible record deal, so at the end of October, they booked a session at Thompson Private Recording Studio,[53] in Hemel Hempstead.[nb 6][57] King said of the demos: "That was the first time I realised they were going to write all their own material, Syd just turned into a songwriter, it seemed like overnight."[58]

King and Jenner befriended American expatriate Joe Boyd, the promoter of the UFO Club, who was making a name for himself as one of the more important entrepreneurs on the British music scene. The newly hired booking agent, Bryan Morrison, and Boyd had proposed sending in better quality recordings. From Morrison's agency the band played a gig outside London for the first time.[59] In November, the band performed the first (of many) strangely named concerts: Philadelic Music for Simian Hominids, a multimedia event arranged by the group's former landlord, Mike Leonard, at Hornsey College of Art.[53][59] They performed at the Free School[60] for the following two weeks, before performing at the Psychodelphia Versus Ian Smith event at the Roundhouse in December, arranged by the Majority Rule for Rhodesia Campaign, and an Oxfam benefit at the Albert Hall[53] (the band's biggest venue up to this point).[59]

Tonite Lets All Make Love in London

At the beginning of 1967, Barrett was dating Jenny Spires (who would later marry future Stars member Jack Monck). However, unknown to Barrett, Spires had an affair with Peter Whitehead. Spires convinced Whitehead (who thought the band sounded like "bad Schoenberg") to use Pink Floyd in a film about the swinging London scene.[61] So at the cost of 80, in January, Whitehead took the band into John Wood's Sound Techniques in Chelsea,[62] with promoter Joe Boyd in tow.[61] Here, the band recorded a 16-minute version of "Interstellar Overdrive" and another composition, "Nick's Boogie".[61][62] Whitehead had filmed this recording, which was used in the film Tonite Let's All Make Love in London[62] and later on the video release of London '66-'67.[61][62] Whitehead later commented about the band that: "They were just completely welded together, just like a jazz group".[61]

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Boyd attempted to sign the band with Polydor Records.[50][63] However, Morrison had convinced King and Jenner to try to start a bidding war between Polydor and EMI.[63] In late January, Boyd produced a recording session for the group,[50][56] with them returning to Sound Techniques in Chelsea again.[nb 7][50][65] After the bidding war idea was finished, Pink Floyd signed with EMI. Unusual for the time, the deal included recording an album, which meant the band had unlimited studio time at EMI Studios in return for a smaller royalty percentage. The band then attempted to re-record "Arnold Layne", but the Boyd version from January was released instead.[64]

The band's first studio album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was recorded intermittently between February and July 1967 in Studio 3 at Abbey Road Studios, and produced by former Beatles engineer Norman Smith.[66] By the time the album was released on 4 August, "Arnold Layne" (which was released months earlier, on 11 March) had reached number 20 on the British singles charts[67] (despite being banned by Radio London)[64][68] and the follow-up single, "See Emily Play", had done even better, peaking at number 6.[67] The album was successful in the UK, hitting number 6 on the British album charts.[67] Their first three singles (including their third, "Apples and Oranges"), were written by Barrett, who also was the principal visionary/author of their critically acclaimed 1967 debut album. Of the eleven songs on Piper, Barrett wrote eight and co-wrote another two.[69]

Health problems and departure from Pink Floyd

Through late 1967 and early 1968, Barrett became increasingly erratic, partly as a consequence of his reported heavy use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD.[8] There is also speculation that he suffered from schizophrenia. Once described as joyful, friendly, and extroverted, he became increasingly depressed and socially withdrawn, and experienced hallucinations, disorganized speech, memory lapses, intense mood swings, and periods of catatonia.[4] Although the changes began gradually, he went missing for a long weekend and, according to several friends, including Wright, came back "a completely different person."[4]

One of the striking features of his change was the development of a blank, dead-eyed stare. He did not recognise old friends, and often did not know where he was; while on a tour of Los Angeles, Barrett is said to have exclaimed, "Gee, it sure is nice to be in Las Vegas!"[4] Many reports described him on stage, strumming one chord through the entire concert, or not playing at all.[70] At a show at The Fillmore in San Francisco, during a performance of "Interstellar Overdrive", Barrett slowly detuned his guitar. The audience seemed to enjoy such antics, unaware of the rest of the band's consternation.

Interviewed on Pat Boone's show during this tour, Barrett's reply to Boone's questions was a "blank and totally mute stare"; according to Mason, "Syd wasn't into moving his lips that day." Barrett exhibited similar behaviour during the band's first appearance on Dick Clark's popular TV show American Bandstand.[71] Although surviving footage of this appearance shows Barrett miming his parts of the song competently,[72] during a group interview afterwards, when asked two questions by Clark, Barrett's answers were terse, almost to the point of rudeness (though, Clark noted, they had flown non-stop from London to Los Angeles). During this time, Barrett would often forget to bring his guitar to sessions, damage equipment and occasionally was unable to hold his pick.[73] Before a performance in late 1967, Barrett reportedly crushed Mandrax tranquilliser tablets and a tube of Brylcreem into his hair, which subsequently melted down his face under the heat of the stage lighting,[74] making him look like "a guttered candle".[75] Mason disputed the Mandrax portion of this story, stating that "Syd would never waste good mandies".[76]

During their UK tour with Jimi Hendrix in November 1967, guitarist David O'List from the Nice substituted for Barrett on several occasions when he was unable to perform or failed to appear.[77] Sometime around Christmas, Barrett's schoolfriend David Gilmour was asked to join the band as a second guitarist to cover for Barrett, with the idea of retaining a five-member line-up of the band. For a handful of shows Gilmour played and sang while Barrett wandered around on stage, occasionally joining the playing. The other band members soon grew tired of Barrett's antics and, on 26 January 1968, when Waters was driving on the way to a show at Southampton University, the band elected not to pick Barrett up: one person in the car said, "Shall we pick Syd up?" and another said, "Let's not bother."[78][79][80][81] As Barrett had, up until then, written the bulk of the band's material, the initial plan was to keep him in the group as a non-touring member--as the Beach Boys had done with Brian Wilson--but this proved impractical.[80][82][83] Gilmour subsequently became a full-time member of the band.

According to Waters, Barrett came to what was to be their last practice session with a new song he had dubbed "Have You Got It Yet?" The song seemed simple enough when he first presented it, but it soon became impossibly difficult to learn; they eventually realised that while they were practising it, Barrett kept changing the arrangement.[80][83] He would then play it again, with the arbitrary changes, and sing "Have you got it yet?" Eventually they realised they never would, and that they were simply bearing the brunt of Barrett's idiosyncratic sense of humour.[84] Waters called it "a real act of mad genius".[80][83]

Barrett did not contribute material to the band after A Saucerful of Secrets was released in 1968. Of the songs he wrote for Pink Floyd after The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, only one, "Jugband Blues", made it to the band's second album; one, "Apples and Oranges", became a less-than-successful single; and two others, "Scream Thy Last Scream" and "Vegetable Man", were never officially released until 2016 in The Early Years 1965-1972 box set, as they were deemed too dark and unsettling.[4] Feeling guilty for ousting their friend, the members of Pink Floyd were unable to bring themselves to definitively tell Barrett that he was no longer in the band.[4] According to Rick Wright, who lived with Barrett at the time, Wright had the awful job of telling Barrett that he was going out to buy cigarettes while he went off to play a gig. He would return hours later to find Barrett in the same position, sometimes with a cigarette burned completely down between his fingers (an incident later referenced in Pink Floyd's The Wall).[4] Emerging from catatonia and unaware that a long period of time had elapsed, Barrett would ask, "Have you got the cigarettes?".[4] Barrett supposedly spent time outside the recording studio, in the reception area,[85] waiting to be invited in. He also showed up to a few gigs and glared at Gilmour. Barrett played slide guitar on "Remember a Day" (which had been first attempted during the Piper sessions), and also played on "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun".[86] On 6 April 1968, the group officially announced Barrett was no longer a member,[85] the same day the band's contract with Blackhill Enterprises was terminated as the record label. Considering Barrett to be the musical brains of the band, Blackhill Enterprises retained Barrett.[4][80][87]

Solo years (1968-72)

After leaving Pink Floyd, Barrett was out of the public eye for a year.[88] Then, in 1969, at the behest of EMI and Harvest Records, he embarked on a brief solo career, releasing two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett (both 1970), and a single, "Octopus". Some songs, "Terrapin", "Maisie" and "Bob Dylan Blues", reflected Barrett's early interest in the blues.[89]

The Madcap Laughs

After Barrett left Pink Floyd, Jenner followed suit. He led Barrett into EMI Studios to record some tracks[90] in May that would later be released on Barrett's first solo album, The Madcap Laughs. However, Jenner said: "I had seriously underestimated the difficulties of working with him".[91] By the sessions of June and July, most of the tracks were in better shape; however, shortly after the July sessions, Barrett broke up with girlfriend Lindsay Corner and went on a drive around Britain in his Mini, ending up in psychiatric care in Cambridge.[92] During New Year 1969, a somewhat recovered Barrett had taken up tenancy in a flat on Egerton Gardens, South Kensington, London, with the Post Modernist artist Duggie Fields.[92][93] Here, Barrett's flat was so close to Gilmour's that Gilmour could look right into Barrett's kitchen.[92] Deciding to return to music, Barrett contacted EMI and was passed to Malcolm Jones, the then-head of EMI's new prog rock label, Harvest[90] (after Norman Smith[94] and Jenner declined to produce Barrett's record,[94] Jones produced it).[92][94] Barrett wanted to recover the Jenner-produced sessions recordings; several of the tracks were improved upon.[95]

The Jones-produced sessions started in April 1969 at EMI Studios. After the first of these sessions, Barrett brought in friends to help out: Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley, and Jokers Wild (Gilmour's old band) drummer Willie Wilson. For the sessions, Gilmour played bass. Talking to Barrett wasn't easy, said Jones: "It was a case of following him, not playing with him. They were seeing and then playing so they were always a note behind".[92] A few tracks on the album feature overdubs by members of the band Soft Machine.[54] During this time, Barrett also played guitar on the sessions for Soft Machine founder Kevin Ayers' debut LP Joy of a Toy,[96] although his performance on "Religious Experience" (later titled "Singing a Song in the Morning") was not released until the album was reissued in 2003.[54][97] One time, Barrett had told his flatmate that he was going off "for an afternoon drive". However, he followed Pink Floyd to Ibiza (according to legend, he skipped check-ins and customs, ran onto the runway and attempted to flag down a jet). One of his friends, J. Ryan Eaves, bass player for the short-lived but influential Manchester band York's Ensemble, later spotted him on a beach wearing messed-up clothes and with a carrier bag full of money. By this point, during the trip, Barrett had asked Gilmour for his help in the recording sessions.[92]

After two of the Gilmour/Waters-produced sessions,[98] they remade one track from the Soft Machine overdubs and recorded three tracks. These sessions came to a minor halt when Gilmour and Waters were mixing Pink Floyd's newly recorded album, Ummagumma, to Barrett's dismay. However, through the end of July, they managed to record three more tracks. The problem with the recording was that the songs were recorded as Barrett played them "live" in studio. On the released versions a number of them have false starts and commentaries from Barrett.[92] Despite the track being closer to complete and better produced, Gilmour and Waters left the Jones-produced track "Opel" off Madcap.[99]

Gilmour later said of the sessions for The Madcap Laughs:

[Sessions] were pretty tortuous and very rushed. We had very little time, particularly with The Madcap Laughs. Syd was very difficult, we got that very frustrated feeling: Look, it's your fucking career, mate. Why don't you get your finger out and do something? The guy was in trouble, and was a close friend for many years before then, so it really was the least one could do.[100]

Upon the album's release in January 1970, Malcolm Jones was shocked by the substandard musicianship on the Gilmour and Waters-produced songs: "I felt angry. It's like dirty linen in public and very unnecessary and unkind". Gilmour said: "Perhaps we were trying to show what Syd was really like. But perhaps we were trying to punish him". Waters was more positive: "Syd is a genius".[101]

Barrett said "It's quite nice but I'd be very surprised if it did anything if I were to drop dead. I don't think it would stand as my last statement."[101]


The second album, Barrett, was recorded more sporadically than the first,[102] with sessions taking place between February and July 1970.[101][103] The album was produced by David Gilmour,[101][104] and featured Gilmour on bass guitar, Richard Wright on keyboard and Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley. The first two songs attempted were for Barrett to play and/or sing to an existing backing track. However, Gilmour thought they were losing the "Barrett-ness". One track ("Rats") was originally recorded with Barrett on his own. That would later be overdubbed by musicians, despite the changing tempos. Shirley said of Barrett's playing: "He would never play the same tune twice. Sometimes Syd couldn't play anything that made sense; other times what he'd play was absolute magic." At times Barrett, who experienced synaesthesia,[4] would say: "Perhaps we could make the middle darker and maybe the end a bit middle afternoonish. At the moment it's too windy and icy".[101]

These sessions were happening while Pink Floyd had just begun to work on Atom Heart Mother. On various occasions, Barrett went to "spy" on the band as they recorded their album.[101]

Wright said of the Barrett sessions:

Doing Syd's record was interesting, but extremely difficult. Dave [Gilmour] and Roger did the first one (The Madcap Laughs) and Dave and myself did the second one. But by then it was just trying to help Syd any way we could, rather than worrying about getting the best guitar sound. You could forget about that! It was just going into the studio and trying to get him to sing.[105]


Despite the numerous recording dates for his solo albums, Barrett undertook very little musical activity between 1968 and 1972 outside the studio. On 24 February 1970, he appeared on John Peel's BBC radio programme Top Gear[101][106] playing five songs--only one of which had been previously released. Three would be re-recorded for the Barrett album, while the song "Two of a Kind" was a one-off performance (possibly written by Richard Wright).[nb 8] Barrett was accompanied on this session by Gilmour and Shirley who played bass and percussion,[101] respectively.[nb 9]

Gilmour and Shirley also backed Barrett for his one and only live concert during this period.[104] The gig took place on 6 June 1970 at the Olympia Exhibition Hall as part of a Music and Fashion Festival.[109] The trio performed four songs,[104] "Terrapin", "Gigolo Aunt", "Effervescing Elephant" and "Octopus". Poor mixing left the vocals barely audible until part-way through the last number.[109] At the end of the fourth song, Barrett unexpectedly but politely put down his guitar and walked off the stage.[104] The performance has been bootlegged.[109][110] Barrett made one last appearance on BBC Radio, recording three songs at their studios on 16 February 1971.[nb 10] All three came from the Barrett album. After this session, he took a hiatus from his music career that lasted more than a year, although in an extensive interview with Mick Rock and Rolling Stone in December, he discussed himself at length, showed off his new 12-string guitar, talked about touring with Jimi Hendrix and stated that he was frustrated in terms of his musical work because of his inability to find anyone good to play with.[111]

Later years (1972-2006)

Stars and final recordings

In February 1972, after a few guest spots in Cambridge with ex-Pink Fairies member Twink on drums and Jack Monck on bass using the name The Last Minute Put Together Boogie Band (backing visiting blues musician Eddie "Guitar" Burns and also featuring Henry Cow guitarist Fred Frith), the trio formed a short-lived band called Stars.[112] Though they were initially well received at gigs in the Dandelion coffee bar and the town's Market Square, one of their gigs at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge[113] with the MC5 proved to be disastrous.[114] A few days after this final show, Twink recalled that Barrett stopped him on the street, showed him a scathing review of the gig they had played, and quit on the spot,[114] despite having played at least one subsequent gig at the same venue supporting Nektar.[76]

Free from his EMI contract on 9 May 1972, Barrett signed a document that ended his association with Pink Floyd, and any financial interest in future recordings.[115] Barrett attended an informal jazz and poetry performance by Pete Brown and former Cream bassist Jack Bruce in October 1973. Brown arrived at the show late, and saw that Bruce was already onstage, along with "a guitarist I vaguely recognised", playing the Horace Silver tune "Doodlin'". Later in the show, Brown read out a poem, which he dedicated to Syd, because, "he's here in Cambridge, and he's one of the best songwriters in the country" when, to his surprise, the guitar player from earlier in the show stood up and said, "No I'm not".[116] By the end of 1973, Barrett had returned to live in London, staying at various hotels and, in December of that year, settling in at Chelsea Cloisters. He had little contact with others, apart from his regular visits to his management's offices to collect his royalties,[112] and the occasional visit from his sister Rosemary.

In August 1974,[112] Jenner persuaded Barrett to return to Abbey Road Studios in hope of recording another album. According to John Leckie, who engineered these sessions, even at this point Syd still "looked like he did when he was younger ... long haired".[117] The sessions lasted three days and consisted of blues rhythm tracks with tentative and disjointed guitar overdubs. Barrett recorded 11 tracks, the only one of which to be titled was "If You Go, Don't Be Slow". Once again, Barrett withdrew from the music industry, but this time for good. He sold the rights to his solo albums back to the record label and moved into a London hotel. During this period, several attempts to employ him as a record producer (including one by Jamie Reid on behalf of the Sex Pistols, and another by The Damned, who wanted him to produce their second album) were all fruitless.[118][119]

Withdrawal to Cambridge

In 1978, when Barrett's money ran out, he moved back to Cambridge to live with his mother. He returned to live in London again in 1982, but lasted only a few weeks and soon returned to Cambridge for good. Barrett walked the 50 miles (80 km) from London to Cambridge.[120] Until his death, Barrett received royalties from his work with Pink Floyd from each compilation and some of the live and studio albums and singles that featured his songs; Gilmour said, "I made sure the money got to him."[121]

In 1996, Barrett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Pink Floyd, but he did not attend the ceremony.[122]

According to a 2005 profile in the book Madcap by biographer and journalist Tim Willis, Barrett, who had reverted to using his original name of Roger, continued to live in his late mother's semi-detached home in Cambridge, and had returned to painting, creating large abstract canvases. He was also said to have been an avid gardener and his main point of contact with the outside world was his sister, Rosemary, who lived nearby. He was reclusive, and his physical health declined, as he suffered from stomach ulcers and type 2 diabetes.[123]

Although Barrett had not appeared or spoken in public since the mid-1970s, time did little to diminish interest in his life and work. Reporters and fans still travelled to Cambridge to seek him out, despite his attempts to live a quiet life and public appeals from his family for people to leave him alone.[124] Many photos of Barrett being harassed by paparazzi when walking or cycling from the 1980s until his death in 2006, have been published in various media. Apparently, Barrett did not like being reminded about his musical career and the other members of Pink Floyd had no direct contact with him. However, he did visit his sister's house in November 2001 to watch the BBC Omnibus documentary made about him - reportedly he found some of it "a bit noisy", enjoyed seeing Mike Leonard of Leonard's Lodgers again, calling him his "teacher", and enjoyed hearing "See Emily Play" again.[125]

Barrett made a final public acknowledgement of his musical past in 2002, his first since the 1970s, when he autographed 320 copies of photographer Mick Rock's book Psychedelic Renegades, which contained a number of photos of Barrett. Rock was perhaps the last person in the music industry with whom Barrett kept in contact. In 1971, Rock conducted Barrett's final interview before his retirement from the music industry a few years later, and Barrett subsequently turned up on Rock's London doorstep "four, maybe five times" for a cup of tea and conversation through 1978, before Barrett moved back to Cambridge.[126] They had not spoken in more than twenty years when Rock approached Barrett to autograph his photography book, and Barrett uncharacteristically agreed. Having reverted to his birth name "Roger" from his stage name "Syd" many years before, he had autographed the book simply "Barrett." [126]

Death and aftermath

After suffering from diabetes for several years, Barrett died at home in Cambridge on 7 July 2006,[19] aged 60. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer.[127][128] The occupation on his death certificate was "retired musician".[129] He was cremated, with his ashes given to a family member or friend.[130] In 2006, his home in St. Margaret's Square, Cambridge, was put on the market and reportedly attracted considerable interest.[131] After over 100 showings, many to fans, it was sold to a French couple who bought it simply because they liked it; reportedly they knew nothing about Barrett.[132] On 28 November 2006, Barrett's other possessions were sold at an auction at Cheffins auction house in Cambridge, raising 120,000 for charity.[133] Items sold included paintings, scrapbooks and everyday items that Barrett had decorated.[134]NME produced a tribute issue to Barrett a week later with a photo of him on the cover. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Barrett's sister revealed that he had written a book:

He read very deeply about the history of art and actually wrote an unpublished book about it. But he found his own mind so absorbing that he didn't want to be distracted.[135]

In response to the news of Barrett's death, fellow Pink Floyd bandmate David Gilmour said:

We are very sad to say that Roger Keith Barrett - Syd - has passed away. Do find time to play some of Syd's songs and to remember him as the madcap genius who made us all smile with his wonderfully eccentric songs about bikes, gnomes and scarecrows. His career was painfully short, yet he touched more people than he could ever know.

According to local newspapers, Barrett left approximately 1.7 million to his two brothers and two sisters.[136] This sum was apparently largely acquired from royalties from Pink Floyd compilations and live recordings featuring songs he had written while with the band.[121] A tribute concert called "Madcap's Last Laugh"[137] was held at the Barbican Centre, London on 10 May 2007 with Robyn Hitchcock, Captain Sensible, Damon Albarn, Chrissie Hynde, Kevin Ayers and his Pink Floyd bandmates performing.[138] A series of events called The City Wakes was held in Cambridge in October 2008 to celebrate Barrett's life, art and music. Barrett's sister, Rosemary Breen, supported this, the first-ever series of official events in memory of her brother.[139] After the festival's success, arts charity Escape Artists announced plans to create a centre in Cambridge, using art to help people suffering from mental health problems.[140] A memorial bench has been placed in the Botanic Gardens in Cambridge and a more prominent tribute is planned in the city.[141]


Wish You Were Here sessions

Barrett visiting Abbey Road Studios on 5 June 1975

Barrett had one noted reunion with the members of Pink Floyd, in 1975 during the recording sessions for Wish You Were Here. He attended the Abbey Road session unannounced, and watched the band working on the final mix of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" -- a song that happened to be about him. By that time, the 29-year-old Barrett had become quite overweight, had shaved off all of his hair (including his eyebrows), and his former bandmates did not initially recognise him. Barrett's behaviour at the session was erratic; he spent part of the session brushing his teeth.[142][143] Roger Waters finally managed to ask him what he thought of the song and he simply said that it "sounds a bit old".[143] He briefly attended the reception for Gilmour's wedding to Ginger that immediately followed the recording sessions; however, he left early without exchanging goodbyes with the newlyweds.

Apart from a brief encounter between Waters and Barrett in Harrods a couple of years later[114][144] (during which, when Barrett saw Waters, he ran outside, dropping his bags full of sweets in the process),[114] this was the last time any member of Pink Floyd saw him. A reflection on the day appears in Mason's book Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd. A reference to this reunion also appears in the film The Wall, where the character Pink, played by Bob Geldof, shaves his body hair after having a mental breakdown.


In 1988, EMI Records (after constant pressure from Malcolm Jones)[145] released an album of Barrett's studio out-takes and previously unreleased material recorded from 1968 to 1970 under the title Opel.[146] The disc was originally set to include the unreleased Barrett Pink Floyd songs "Scream Thy Last Scream" and "Vegetable Man", which had been remixed for the album by Jones,[145] but the band pulled the two songs[147] before Opel was finalised.[148] In 1993 EMI issued another release, Crazy Diamond, a boxed set of all three albums, each with further out-takes from his solo sessions that illustrated Barrett's inability or refusal to play a song the same way twice.[149] EMI also released The Best of Syd Barrett: Wouldn't You Miss Me? in the UK on 16 April 2001 and in the US on 11 September 2001.[150] This was the first time his song "Bob Dylan Blues" was officially released, taken from a demo tape that Gilmour had kept after an early 1970s session.[150] Gilmour kept the tape, which also contains the unreleased "Living Alone" from the Barrett sessions.[151] In October 2010 Harvest/EMI and Capitol Records released An Introduction to Syd Barrett--a collection of both his Pink Floyd and remastered solo work.[152] The 2010 compilation An Introduction to Syd Barrett includes the downloadable bonus track "Rhamadan", a 20-minute track recorded at one of Syd's earliest solo sessions, in May 1968. In 2011, it was announced that a vinyl double album version would be issued for Record Store Day.[153][154][155]

Bootleg editions of Barrett's live and solo material exist.[156][157] For years the "off air" recordings of the BBC sessions with Barrett's Pink Floyd circulated, until an engineer who had taken a tape of the early Pink Floyd gave it back to the BBC--which played it during a tribute to John Peel on their website. During this tribute, the first Peel programme (Top Gear) was aired in its entirety. This show featured the 1967 live versions of "Flaming", "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", and a brief 90-second snippet of the instrumental "Reaction in G". In 2012, engineer Andy Jackson said he had found "a huge box of assorted tapes", in Mason's possession, containing versions of R&B songs that (the Barrett-era) Pink Floyd played in their early years.[158]

Creative impact and technical innovation

Barrett's first acoustic guitar
Barrett's Mirrored Fender Esquire

Barrett wrote most of Pink Floyd's early material. He was also an innovative guitarist, using extended techniques and exploring the musical and sonic possibilities of dissonance, distortion, feedback, the echo machine, tapes and other effects; his experimentation was partly inspired by free improvisation guitarist Keith Rowe of the group AMM, active at the time in London.[159] One of Barrett's trademarks was playing his guitar through an old echo box while sliding a Zippo lighter up and down the fret-board to create the mysterious, otherworldly sounds that became associated with the group. Barrett was known to have used Binson delay units to achieve his trademark echo sounds. Daevid Allen, founder member of Soft Machine and Gong, has cited Barrett's use of slide guitar with echo as a key inspiration for his own "glissando guitar" style.[160]

His recordings both with Pink Floyd and in later solo albums were delivered with a strongly British-accented vocal delivery, specifically that of southern England. He was described by Guardian writer Nick Kent as having a "quintessential English style of vocal projection".[161] David Bowie was quoted as saying that Barrett, along with Anthony Newley, was the first person he had heard sing rock or pop music with a British accent.[162]

Barrett's free-form sequences of "sonic carpets" pioneered a new way to play the rock guitar.[163] He played several different guitars during his tenure, including an old Harmony hollowbody electric, a Harmony acoustic, a Fender acoustic, a single-coil Danelectro 59 DC,[164] several different Fender Telecasters and a white Fender Stratocaster in late 1967. A silver Fender Esquire with mirrored discs glued to the body[165] was the guitar he was most often associated with and the guitar he "felt most close to".[111]

Musical and pop culture influence

Many artists have acknowledged Barrett's influence on their work. Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend,[166]Blur,[167][168][169]Kevin Ayers,[170]Gong,[170]Marc Bolan,[168][171]Tangerine Dream,[172]Julian Cope[173] and David Bowie[168][171] were inspired by Barrett; Jimmy Page, Brian Eno,[174]Sex pistols,[175] and The Damned[118][176] all expressed interest in working with him at some point during the 1970s. Bowie recorded a cover of "See Emily Play" on his 1973 album Pin Ups.[177] The track "Grass", from XTC's album Skylarking was influenced when Andy Partridge let fellow band member Colin Moulding borrow his Barrett records. Robyn Hitchcock's career was dedicated to being Barrett-esque; he even played "Dominoes" for the 2001 BBC documentary The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story.[173]

Barrett also had an influence on alternative and punk music in general. According to critic John Harris:

To understand his place in modern music you probably have to first go back to punk rock and its misguided attempt to kick aside what remained of the psychedelic 1960s. Given that the Clash and Sex Pistols had made brutal social commentary obligatory, there seemed little room for any of the creative exotica that had defined the Love Decade - until, slowly but surely, singing about dead-end lives and dole queues began to pall, and at least some of the previous generation were rehabilitated. Barrett was the best example: having crashed out of Pink Floyd before the advent of indulgent "progressive" rock, and succumbed to a fate that appealed to the punk generation's nihilism, he underwent a revival."[178]

Barrett's decline had a profound effect on Roger Waters' songwriting, and the theme of mental illness permeated Pink Floyd's later albums, particularly 1973's The Dark Side of the Moon and 1975's Wish You Were Here[179] which was a deliberate and affectionate tribute to Barrett, the song, "Shine on You Crazy Diamond",[180] and also 1979's The Wall.[179] "Wish You Were Here", partly about Barrett,[181] borrows imagery of a "steel rail" from Barrett's solo song, "If It's in You," from The Madcap Laughs album.

In 1987, an album of Barrett cover songs called Beyond the Wildwood was released. The album was a collection of cover songs from Barrett's tenure with Pink Floyd and from his solo career. Artists appearing were UK and US indie bands including The Shamen, Opal, The Soup Dragons, and Plasticland.[182]

Other artists who have written tributes to Barrett include his contemporary Kevin Ayers, who wrote "O Wot a Dream" in his honour (Barrett provided guitar to an early version of Ayers' song "Religious Experience: Singing a Song in the Morning").[54][97]Robyn Hitchcock has covered many of his songs live and on record and paid homage to his forebear with the song "(Feels Like) 1974". Phish covered "Bike", "No Good Trying", "Love You", "Baby Lemonade" and "Terrapin". The Television Personalities' single "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives"[169] from their 1981 album And Don't the Kids Love It is another tribute.[nb 11] In 2008, The Trash Can Sinatras released a single in tribute to the life and work of Syd Barrett called "Oranges and Apples", from their 2009 album In the Music. Proceeds from the single go to the Syd Barrett Trust in support of arts in mental health.

Johnny Depp showed interest in a biographical film based on Barrett's life.[184] Barrett is portrayed briefly in the opening scene of Tom Stoppard's play Rock 'n' Roll (2006), performing "Golden Hair". His life and music, including the disastrous Cambridge Corn Exchange concert and his later reclusive lifestyle, are a recurring motif in the work.[185][186] Barrett died during the play's run in London.

In 2016, in correspondence of the 70th Anniversary birthday, The Theatre of the Absurd, an Italian independent artists group, published a short movie in honor of Syd Barrett named Eclipse, with actor-director Edgar Blake in the role of Syd. Some footage from this movie was also shown at the Syd Barrett - A Celebration during Men on the Border's tribute: the show took place at the Cambridge Corn Exchange, with the participation of Syd's family and old friends.[]

For 2017 TV series Legion creator Noah Hawley named one of the characters after Syd Barrett, whose music was an important influence on the series.[187]

Personal life

There has been much speculation concerning Barrett's psychological well-being. His family has denied that he suffered from mental illness,[4] but in a 2016 interview, his sister Rosemary Breen said that his mind was brilliant, bordering on that seen in Asperger's syndrome.[4][188] Barrett's use of psychedelic drugs, especially LSD, during the 1960s is well documented, and there were theories he subsequently suffered from schizophrenia.[84][189][190] Rick Wright asserts that Barrett's problems stemmed from a massive overdose of acid, as the change in his personality and behavior came on quite suddenly.[4] However, Roger Waters maintains that Barrett suffered "without a doubt" from schizophrenia,[4] and in an article published in 2006, in response to notions that Barrett's problems came from the drug, David Gilmour was quoted as saying:

In my opinion, his nervous breakdown would have happened anyway. It was a deep-rooted thing. But I'll say the psychedelic experience might well have acted as a catalyst. Still, I just don't think he could deal with the vision of success and all the things that went with it."[191]

Many stories of Barrett's erratic behaviour off stage as well as on are also well-documented. In Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey, author Nicholas Schaffner interviewed people who knew Barrett before and during his Pink Floyd days. These included friends Peter and Susan Wynne-Wilson, artist Duggie Fields (with whom Barrett shared a flat during the late 1960s), June Bolan and Storm Thorgerson, among others.

"For June Bolan, the alarm bells began to sound only when Syd kept his girlfriend under lock and key for three days, occasionally shoving a ration of biscuits under the door."[192] A claim of cruelty against Barrett committed by the groupies and hangers-on who frequented his apartment during this period was described by writer and critic Jonathan Meades. "I went [to Barrett's flat] to see Harry and there was this terrible noise. It sounded like heating pipes shaking. I said, 'What's up?' and he sort of giggled and said, 'That's Syd having a bad trip. We put him in the linen cupboard'".[193] Storm Thorgerson responded to this claim by stating "I do not remember locking Syd up in a cupboard. It sounds to me like pure fantasy, like Jonathan Meades was on dope himself."[193] Other friends assert that Barrett's infamous flatmates, "Mad Jock" and "Mad Sue," believed that acid held all the answers and thought of Barrett as a genius or "god," and were spiking his morning coffee with LSD every day without his knowledge, leaving him in a never-ending trip.[4] He was later rescued from that flat by friends and moved elsewhere, but his erratic behavior continued.[4] Watkinson and Anderson included quotes from a story told to them by Thorgerson that underscored how volatile Barrett could be. "On one occasion, I had to pull him off Lindsay (Barrett's girlfriend at the time) because he was beating her over the head with a mandolin".[194] On one occasion, Barrett threw a woman called Gilly across the room, because she refused to go to Gilmour's house.[114] These strange behaviors contradicted Barrett's usually gentle nature.[improper synthesis?][4] According to Gilmour in an interview with Nick Kent, the other members of Pink Floyd approached psychiatrist R. D. Laing with the 'Barrett problem'. After hearing a tape of a Barrett conversation, Laing declared him "incurable".[195][196]

After Barrett died, his sister Rosemary insisted that Barrett neither suffered from mental illness nor received treatment for it at any time since they resumed regular contact in the 1980s.[197] She allowed that he did spend some time in a private "home for lost souls"--Greenwoods in Essex--but claimed there was no formal therapy programme there. Some years later, Barrett apparently agreed to sessions with a psychiatrist at Fulbourn psychiatric hospital in Cambridge, but Breen claimed that neither medication nor therapy was considered appropriate.[197] His sister denied he was a recluse or that he was vague about his past:

Roger may have been a bit selfish--or rather self-absorbed--but when people called him a recluse they were really only projecting their own disappointment. He knew what they wanted, but he wasn't willing to give it to them.

Barrett, she said, took up photography and sometimes they went to the seaside together. She also said he took a keen interest in art and horticulture and continued to devote himself to painting:

Quite often he took the train on his own to London to look at the major art collections--and he loved flowers. He made regular trips to the Botanic Gardens and to the dahlias at Anglesey Abbey, near Lode. But of course, his passion was his painting.[197][198]

Despite his relationships with various women, such as Libby Gausden, Lindsay Korner, Jenny Spires and Iggy the Eskimo (aka Evelyn),[199][200] Barrett never married or had children.[201] He was briefly engaged to marry Gayla Pinion and planned to relocate to Oxford,[202] but the marriage never happened.


Studio albums


See also


Informational notes

  1. ^ Barrett devised the name "Pink Floyd" by juxtaposing the first names of Pink Anderson and Floyd Council[34] whom he had read about in a sleeve note for a 1962 Blind Boy Fuller album: "Curley Weaver and Fred McMullen, [...] Pink Anderson or Floyd Council--these were a few amongst the many blues singers who were to be heard in the rolling hills of the Piedmont, or meandering with the streams through the wooded valleys."[35][36]
  2. ^ They recorded a cover of Slim Harpo's "I'm a King Bee", and three Barrett originals: "Double O Bo", "Butterfly" and "Lucy Leave".[37][38] "Double O Bo" and "Lucy Leave" survive as vinyl acetates.[38][39]
  3. ^ While under the influence of the acid, Barrett had placed an orange, a plum and a matchbox into a corner, while staring at the fruit, which he claimed symbolised "Venus and Jupiter".[40][41] Thorgerson later used this imagery, by adding the previously mentioned items to the cover of the double album combination of Barrett's solo albums, Syd Barrett.[40]
  4. ^ The band were still playing R&B hits as late as early 1966,[47][48] however, mixed in with several original songs: "Let's Roll Another One", "Lucy Leave", "Butterfly", "Remember Me" and "Walk with Me Sydney".[47]
  5. ^ Barrett, frequently at his Earlham Street residence, played The Mothers of Invention's Freak Out!, The Byrds' Fifth Dimension, The Fugs' and Love's debut albums,[49] and The Beatles' Revolver,[50] repeatedly. All these albums were connected by their proto-psychedelic feel, which had begun to guide Barrett's songs, as much as R&B had, previously.[49] "Interstellar Overdrive" (included into the band's setlist from autumn), for example, was inspired by the riff from Love's "My Little Red Book", the free-form section (and also, "Pow R. Toc H.") was inspired by Frank Zappa's free-form freak-outs and The Byrds' "Eight Miles High". The Kinks' "Sunny Afternoon" was an important influence on Barrett's songwriting.[49]
  6. ^ The demo recordings consist of "I Get Stoned" (aka "Stoned Alone"), "Let's Roll Another One", "Lucy Leave" and a 15-minute version of "Interstellar Overdrive".[57]
  7. ^ The Sound Techniques session resulted in a recording of the single "Arnold Layne",[50][59] and the recording of other songs: "Matilda Mother", "Chapter 24", "Interstellar Overdrive" and "Let's Roll Another One" (which was renamed to "Candy and a Currant Bun", at the suggestion of Waters). Referring to the choice of "Arnold Layne", Nick Mason said: "We knew we wanted to be rock'n'roll stars and we wanted to make singles, so it seemed the most suitable song to condense into 3 minutes without losing too much".[64]
  8. ^ "Two of a Kind" was credited to Richard Wright on the original Peel Session release, but to Barrett on later releases, including The Best of Syd Barrett: Wouldn't You Miss Me?.[107] According to David Gilmour, Wright wrote the song but an increasingly confused Barrett insisted it was his own composition (and wanted to include it on The Madcap Laughs).[108]
  9. ^ These five songs were originally released on Syd Barrett: The Peel Session.
  10. ^ These three songs, along with the five from the Top Gear performance, were released on Syd Barrett: The Radio One Sessions.
  11. ^ The Television Personalities became the subject of controversy and derision when, as they had been selected as the opening act on Gilmour's About Face tour in the early 1980s, lead singer Dan Treacy decided to read aloud Barrett's real home address to the audience of thousands. Gilmour removed them from the tour immediately afterwards.[183]


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  • Blake, Mark (2008). Comfortably Numb: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo. ISBN 0-306-81752-7. 
  • Chapman, Rob (2010). Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head (Paperback ed.). London: Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-23855-2. 
  • Jones, Malcolm (2003). The Making of The Madcap Laughs (21st Anniversary ed.). Brain Damage. 
  • Manning, Toby (2006). The Rough Guide to Pink Floyd (1st ed.). London: Rough Guides. ISBN 1-84353-575-0. 
  • Mason, Nick (2011) [2004]. Philip Dodd, ed. Inside Out - A Personal History of Pink Floyd (Paperback ed.). Phoenix. ISBN 978-0-7538-1906-7. 
  • Palacios, Julian (1997). Lost in the Woods: Syd Barrett and the Pink Floyd. Boxtree. ISBN 0-7522-2328-3. 
  • Palacios, Julian (2010). Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe (Rev. ed.). London: Plexus. ISBN 0-85965-431-1. 
  • Parker, David (2003). Random Precision: Recording the Music of Syd Barrett 1965-1974. Cherry Red. ISBN 1-901447-25-1. 
  • Parker, David (2001). Random Precision: Recording the Music of Syd Barrett, 1965-1974. Cherry Red Books. 
  • Schaffner, Nicholas (2005). Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey (New ed.). London: Helter Skelter. ISBN 1-905139-09-8. 
  • Watkinson, Mike; Anderson, Pete (2001). Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett & the Dawn of Pink Floyd. ISBN 978-1-8460-9739-3. 
  • Willis, Tim (2002). Madcap: The Half-Life of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's Lost Genius. Short Books. ISBN 1-904095-24-0. 

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