Syd Barrett (6 January 1946 - 7 July 2006), born Roger Keith Barrett, was an English singer, songwriter, guitarist and artist. He’s best remembered as a founding member of the psychedelic and progressive rock band Pink Floyd, providing their major musical and stylistic direction in their early work, although he left the group in 1968 amidst speculations of mental illness exacerbated by using drugs.
Barrett was active as a rock musician for about seven years, recording two albums with Pink Floyd: The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn (1967) and A Saucerful Of Secrets (1968) and two solo albums: The Madcap Laughs and Barrett (both 1970). After that he went into self-imposed seclusion that lasted more than thirty years. During his post rock band life, he was an artist and a keen gardener, ending with his death in 2006. A number of biographies have been written about him since the eighties. Pink Floyd wrote and recorded a song about Barrett: Shine On You Crazy Diamond that appeared on the album Wish You Were Here (1975).
Nowadays, many people have no idea who Syd Barrett actually was, because they weren’t born yet when he was an active musician. So it’s appropriate to introduce his work as a musician. David Gilmour, who replaced Syd in Pink Floyd after he was forced to leave the band, must have thought the same. He always did something extra to provide Syd with some financial back-up by playing his songs during a Pink Floyd-performance or solo. These songs were later on released on a live album. Good examples are Astronomy Domine and Fat Old Sun. Gilmour was also the executive producer of the latest compilation album of Syd Barrett called An Introduction To Syd Barrett. For one hour we hear songs Barrett recorded with Pink Floyd and as a solo artist. I must confess that I prefer the material he wrote and recorded with his old band to the material written for his two solo releases. The first six tracks on this release appeared on the abovementioned Pink Floyd-albums. Arnold Layne, See Emily Play and Apples And Oranges have been released as singles; they’re just simple songs, but great pop tunes still sounding fine today. For Apples And Oranges they used the stereo version for this album. Mathilda Mother, another track from Floyd’s early days, even got a new mix. I always liked the funny way Syd Barrett wrote about simple things. The song Bike is a good example on this compilation showing that you don’t have to use difficult words to write a fine pop tune.
The second part of the disc features songs from his solo albums. It’s a bit strange that Opel is missing here. Many prog heads are familiar with this song, because it was covered and adapted by several bands including RPWL. However, Terrapin which appears on the album instead, has been covered a lot as well. On Here I Go and She Took A Long Cool Look we can hear real studio outtakes. We hear Syd’s voice at the beginning of the recordings, but these are not the only nice features on this album. On Here I Go David Gilmour played some extra bass parts to honour his old friend. Bob Dylan Blues, t he last track on this compilation, reveals that Bob Dylan must have been a great inspiration. This piece obviously sounds as a Dylan-song; moreover many of Syd’s songs have the same structure.
I cannot end this review by mentioning something about the art work. It features various images related to the songs on the album. This beautiful art work was designed and created by the conceptual artist Storm Thorgerson and other people who worked for Storm Studios. The booklet looks really stunning as well. The lyrics of all songs are – together with fine art work – printed inside. Pictures of Syd Barrett alone and together with Pink Floyd are included. People who buy this album even get access to the bonus track Rhamadan by login on Syd’s website. This is a previously unreleased 20-minute instrumental track. Rumour has it that it features Steve Peregrine who once played congas in Marc Bolan’s T.Rex.
After listening to An Introduction To Syd Barrett I may conclude that the music of Syd Barrett has nothing in common with the music Pink Floyd recorded after he had left the band. I wouldn’t call this kind of music progressive rock either. Psychedelic rock is a better term to describe this musical genre. It also fits with the spirit of that age. I guess most readers know that Floyd’s music was also labeled as ‘psychedelic’ in the late sixties. This release certainly is a great document for people who want to be introduced to the music of Syd Barrett. Some people called him a musical genius. By listening to this album you can find out whether this statement is true or not.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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