Syd meets… a lot of people
Syd meets Meic
A couple of weeks ago this blog published excerptsfrom Meic Stevens’ autobiography Hunangofiant y Brawd Houdini (in Welsh, but awesomely translated by Prydwyn) describing how the Cymry bardencountered Syd Barrett in the late Sixties.
These meetings, as far as the Church is aware, have never been mentioned before, not in any of the four main Syd Barrett biographies and not on any website, blog or forum dedicated to the Pink Floyd frontman. It is a bit weird, seen the fact that the biography already appeared in 2003.
Normally Syd related news, regardless of its triviality, is immediately divulged through the digital spider web tying Syd anoraks together. The Church does not want to take credit for this find, it is thanks to Prydwyn, who contacted the Church, that we now have this information, and we hope that it will slowly seep into the muddy waters of the web. (Strange enough the Church post was almost immediately detected by (Welsh) folk music blogs but ignored by the Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett communities. Is the rumour true that there is a general Syd Barrett fatigue going on?)
The psychedelic London Underground was not unlike the rapid transit system that listens to the same name. The counterculture wasn’t really an organised movement, but constituted of many, independent stations with tubes going from one station to the other. Some persons travelled a lot, switching from line to line using intersecting stations as apparently Syd Barrett’s Wetherby Mansions flat was one, much to the dismal of Duggie Fields who wanted to produce his art in peace.
Syd meets Spike Hawkins
In a YouTube interview Rob Chapman, author of the Syd Barrett biography A Very Irregular Head, recalls how he found out that beatnik and poet Spike Hawkins was an acquaintance of Syd Barrett. He was interviewing Pete Brown for his book and when the interview was over he remarked that some Barrett lyrics had a distinct Spike Hawkins style. At that point Pete Brown remarked: “I think Spike Hawkins knew Syd Barrett.” Without that lucky ad hoc comment we would (probably) never have known that the two artists not only knew, but also met, each other at different occassions, although it was probably more a Mandrax haze that tied them rather than the urge to produce some art together.
Syd meets Dominique
The Church already mentioned the names of Meic Stevens, Jenny Spires, Trina Barclay, Margaretta Barclay and her friend, painter and musician Rusty Burnhill (who used to jam with Barrett, but is rather reluctant to talk about the past), Iggy (or Evelyn, who is also rather reluctant to talk about the past) and the FrenchDominique A., who was – at a certain moment – rather close to Barrett.
Dominique is, like they say in French, un cas à part. Unfortunately nobody seems to know what happened to her, but if the six degrees of separation theory is accurate it might not be too difficult to find her. The problem is that nobody remembers if she stayed in Great Britain or returned to France. But if you read this and have a granny, listening to the name Dominique A., who smiles mysteriously whenever you mention the name Pink Floyd, give us a call.
Syd meets Carmel
Church member Dark Globe compared the English version of Meic Stevens’ biography Solva Blues(2004) with the excerpts of the Welsh version we published here and found a few differences. Apart from the fact that Meic also had an Uncle Syd who appears quite frequently in the book there are some minor additions in the English version, absent from the original Welsh.
The Welsh version notes fore instance that ‘Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd came to see us in Caerforiog’ (Original text: Syd Barrett o Pink Floyd fydde’n dod i’n gweld ni yng Nghaerforiog).
The English version adds a small, but in the life of a Barrett anorak, rather important detail. It reads:
Syd Barrett from Pink Floyd who used to visit us at Caerforiog with his girlfriend Carmel.
It is the first time the Church (and Dark Globe) hears from this lady, and she is probably one of those two-week (or even two-day) girlfriends Mick Rock and Duggie Fields have been talking about.
(Warning Label: The picture just above has been taken from the Mick Rock movieLost In The Woods, nobody knows for sure who is the mysterious brunette. This blog does not imply she is Dominique A. or Carmel, for that matter.)
The second reference (about Syd visiting the Outlander sessions) also has one addition in the English version. Solva Blues adds the line:
I wouldn’t have thought he had a drug problem – no more than most people on the scene.
If there is one returning constant about the underground days it is its general tunnel vision. In the brave new psychedelic world every move, the crazier the better, was considered cool and there was a general consensus to deny any problem that could and would occur. Rob Chapman is right when he, in his rather tempestuous style, writes:
What do you do if your lead guitarist is becoming erratic / unstable / unhinged?
You send him off round the UK on a package tour (…) with two shows a night for sixteen nights.
Nick Mason acknowledges this illogical (not to use another term) behaviour:
If proof was needed that we were in denial about Syd’s state of mind, this was it.
Why we thought a transatlantic flight immediately followed by yet more dates would help (Syd) is beyond believe.
Syd almost meets R.D. Laing
Of course looking for professional psychiatric help in those crazy days wasn’t that simple either. Bluntly said: you could choose between the traditional cold shower – electroshock therapy or go for anti-psychiatry.
Although it is impossible to turn back the clock it still is the question if experimental anti-psychiatry would have helped Barrett. In a previous post we have given the example how an experimental therapist administered LSD to aCantabrigian friend of Syd as an alternative way of therapy and R.D. ‘I like black people but I could never stand their smell‘ Laing was no exception to that.
Pink Floyd’s manager Peter Jenner made an appointment for Syd with R.D. Laing, but Syd refused to go on with it, but this didn’t withhold Laing to make the following observations as noted down by Nick Mason:
Syd might be disturbed, or even mad. But maybe it was the rest of us (Pink Floyd, note by FA) who were causing the problem, by pursuing our desire to succeed, and forcing Syd to go along with our ambitions.
This is the main theory that is overzealously, but not always successfully, adhered by Chapman in his Syd Barrett biography. R.D. Laing ended his Barrett diagnosis, who he never met, by saying:
Maybe Syd was actually surrounded by mad people.
Although some biographers may think, and there they are probably right, that the other Pink Floyd members may have been an ambitious gravy train inspired gang, there was also the small matter of a 17,000 British Pounds debt that the architectural inspired band members still had to pay off after the split. They didn’t burden Syd Barrett, nor Peter Jenner and Andrew King with that. Now that is what the Church calls accountancy.
We now know that giving Syd Barrett the time and space, outside the band, to meddle at his own pace with his own affairs and music was not entirely fruitful either. In the early to mid Seventies Syd Barrett entered a lost weekend that would almost take a decade and that is a blank chapter in every biography, apart from the odd Mad Syd anecdote.
Mini Cooper (based upon a remark from Dark Globe)
It is also interesting that Meic Stevens mentions Syd’s Mini Cooper:
He was a very good-looking boy, always with a beautiful girl on his arm when he was out or driving his Mini Cooper.
Presumably this is the same car Syd drove all over England in, following the band, when he was freshly thrown out of the Floyd.
Syd swapped this Mini Cooper for a Pontiac Parisienne (and not a Buick as car fanatic Nick Mason writes, although Buick and Pontiac were of course closely related brands) with T-Rex percussionist Mickey Finn in the beginning of 1969, which would date the first meetings between Stevens and Barrett prior to the Mick Rock photo session.
But that photo session has been discussed here ad nauseum already so we won’t get further into that. So, my sistren and brethren, bye, bye, till the next time, and don’t do anything Iggy wouldn’t have done. Especially at this warm weather.
Sources: (other than internet links mentioned above)
Chapman, Rob: A Very Irregular Head, Faber and Faber, London, 2010, p. 201, p. 227.
Green, Jonathon: Days In The Life, Pimlico, London, 1998, p. 210. (R.D. Laing quote)
Mason, Nick: Inside Out: A personal history of Pink Floyd, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2004, p. 87-88, p. 95.
Stevens, Meic: Hunangofiant y Brawd Houdini, Y Lolfa, Talybont, 2009, p. 190-191, p. 202.
Stevens, Meic, Solva Blues, Talybont, 2004 (English, slightly updated, translation of the above).
Many thanks go to:
Dark Globe for checking the English version of Meic Stevens’ autobiography.
Prydwyn for checking and translating the Welsh version of Meic Stevens’ autobiography.
Rob Chapman’s An Irregular Head biography has been reviewed at: The Big Barrett Conspiracy Theory.