Syd Barrett, the enchanted hero of English psychedelic rock, appealed to a romantic idea of doomed genius, but also went on to live an ordinary life, says an ex-Pink Floyd producerby Joe Boyd / August 27, 2006 / Leave a comment
Soon after Syd Barrett’s death, Radio 4 played an interview he recorded with Hans Keller. It is a perfect 1960s culture-clash moment. The po-faced Keller with his strong Germanic accent demands to know “vy ze music must be zo loud!” The cliché would normally involve an inarticulate rock musician, mumbling ums and ers, but Syd calmly bats back all Keller’s forays, sounding as if he was born to be a Radio 4 pundit.
Hearing his speaking voice again after all these years brought back memories of old conversations and reminded me of the cultured intelligence that lurked inside the pop star. It also startled me to realise that the interview, with its references to Pink Floyd moving from club to concert hall, must have been from May 1967, just before or after the “Games For May” show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Three weeks after that concert, I watched Syd standing on stage at the UFO Club, his arms at his sides, staring vacantly into the bubbling lights as the group did its best to carry on behind him as a three-piece. Within months David Gilmour was propping him up and by 1968 the group had left him behind on their way to fame and fortune.
The irony of their success, of course, is that despite very few Floyd fans having ever heard Syd’s voice or guitar, he is—in Britain at least—more famous than any of the other four, as the media response to his death has shown. The day after it was announced, Syd was on the front page of four broadsheets and had long items devoted to him on Newsnight and Radio 4.
When Syd joined what was supposed to be a blues band, he gave them a name borrowed from two obscure blues singers, discovered deep in the liner notes to a Blind Boyd Fuller compilation album. No one knew what Pink Anderson and Floyd Council sounded like, but Syd’s oblique and knowing appropriation of their names provided this Cambridge outfit with the perfect handle.
Pink Floyd’s first job in London in 1966 was to provide the soundtrack to a film made by a London painter and consisting entirely of abstract shapes. Light played across the screen as they recorded the score. They liked the combination of their music and coloured lights—the accident of that commission providing a key element of psychedelic London in the 1967…