|Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs
The Mick Rock Photo-Sessions
U.F.O. Books, 1993
(Note: This is the intro to a great book of photos by ace photographer Mick Rock, mostly from the legendary 'Madcap Laughs' photo session, a book that is now sadly out of print. But Mr. Rock is currently planning to re-publish it in 2002, see www.mickrock.com for more details. Many thanks to the Eskimo Spy for typing this text!)
JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS, 1968 Syd Barrett was once more drawn to London where he set about making a public comeback. His first task was to find a flat and he eventually settled for a three- room apartment in exclusive Earls Court Square where he moved in with two flatmates. One left almost immediately, the other was the now successful pop artist Duggie Fields.
At the time Fields was a 23-year-old student at the Regent Street Polytechnic who had been introduced into the Floyd entourage by Rick Wrights's wife Juliette. After college, Fields spent a year in America but on returning he quickly renewed contact with former acquaintances in London and towards the end of the year Syd wondered if he might like to share a flat. Fields, then enduring a miserable existence in a dank Holland Road basement, needed no second invitation, though he was later to have second thoughts about the decision.
Fields discovered the flat that would later feature on the cover of "The Madcap Laughs", but it was the more affluent Barrett who signed the lease. By chance, the new pad was situated next to Gilmour's flat and Barrett's Floyd successor could see right into The Madcap's kitchen.
Right from the start, the artist in Syd was in obvious competition with Fields and to visitors it sometimes appeared that the two were involved in some sort of bizarre race. While Fields worked studiously on his latest painting, Barrett toiled in the next room, conjuring up vivid creations from his own mind but seemingly never able to finish anything.
One semi-completed work was of a dark castle, another was a curious wire, paper and silk model which hung from the ceiling. Fields, who quickly sensed the ego clash, began to doubt Syd's motivation: "You have to have some reason for doing things - usually money - and his money problems were taken care of by his earlier musical successes. The pressure of having to produce something to earn money was taken off him very early. When we moved in, I noted he'd changed from the Syd I had known before moving to America. He was definitely nuttier and had become more withdrawn and moody. His deterioration was gradual until he reached the stage where he'd just lie in bed because he couldn't decide what to do. I did not rate him as an artist but perhaps he would have made it if he hadn't switched to music. He was talented but lacked direction and had no idea how to follow an idea through. He never discussed the Floyd but he did have identity problems about having been a pop star and now maybe not being one. He saw Dave (Gilmour) quite a bit. He may have been his replacement but David was the one he got on with for the longest time afterwards.
"To do something in a group is fine to begin with, but people change and move in different directions. The pressure of having sudden success is difficult for anyone to cope with. Things no longer seem pleasurable when you feel you must carry on repeating them and all this added to his withdrawal." During the first few weeks in the new flat, Syd's overall state actually improved considerably and soon after settling in he was talking about a return to recording. After all, Barrett was still a respected and now greatly missed part of the London Underground and he had managed to write a handful of new songs since the spilt. These, along with the unfinished recordings from the earlier Pete Jenner sessions, would be the framework of his first solo album. The first task was to book studio time at EMI and he was lucky that his request reached the ears of Malcolm Jones, a recent EMI recruit who had joined straight from university.
Jones was the 23-year-old boss of Harvest, a new progressive label set up by the parent company to compete with more fashionable independent rivals. Pink Floyd would soon switch from EMI's Columbia label to Harvest and other 'progressive' rock bands signed to EMI, notably Deep Purple, would follow suit. Syd's approach was timely. Following Harvest's successful launch, the enthusiastic Jones was planning more releases to build up the label's catalogue and establish its identity in a field that was rapidly becoming overcrowded.
He had never met Syd, but Jones was familiar with his past work and by chance had already quizzed the EMI management over a possible colo career for the once prolific songwriter. Dark references were made to chaos and general disorder in studios, broken microphones and other prima donna misdemeanours. Although EMI never actually accused Syd of causing the damage, it was strongly implied that he was persona non grata at Abbey Road. No one at EMI was falling over themselves to welcome him back.
Undeterred, Jones was sufficiently intrigued to contact Barrett who claimed he had a wealth of material waiting to be recorded. The Harvest boss was impressed by Syd's 'togetherness' which was in stark contrast to the groundswell of rumour, Syd said there was one song called 'Opel', another called 'Terrapin', a third about an Indian girl called 'Swan Lee', and a final one with the title 'Clowns And Jugglers'. He had also started work on a James Joyce poem, 'Golden Hair', which he was most anxious to complete. To Jones, whose imagination had been fixed by the many 'crazy- Syd' tales, it all seemed too good to be true.
He talked the EMI bosses into letting Syd back into the studio, pointing out that they could be missing out on a lucrative career to run alongside that of his former Floyd colleagues, presently entrenched in the recording of a soundtrack for the Barbet Schroeder film More.
Barrett began work at EMI's Studio Three in early April with Jones himself in the producer's chair. Although far smaller than the main studio Pink Floyd were using only a drum beat away, Jones considered it more intimate and felt Barrett would appreciate the more relaxed atmosphere: "Syd was in great mood and fine form, a stark contrast to the rumours I'd been fed with. In little over five hours we'd laid down vocal and guitar tracks for four new songs and two old ones. At Syd's request, the first thing we did was 'Opel'. We both felt at the time it was one of his best new songs. Syd took nine runs at it to get a complete take, but nevertheless it had a stark attraction to it."
By midnight Jones and Barrett had worked on seven titles and felt they had done enough for one day. On the way home in a cab Syd said he'd be bringing some backing musicians for the next session. One of these was drummer Jerry Shirley. He had arrived in London at the age of 16 after landing a job with Steve Marriot's Humble Pie. He lived close to Barrett and was keen to play on the album. Shirley frequently visited Barrett's apartment, "It was your typical hippy-type hangout - washing-up never done, dog shit in the corner, cat piss on the floor and Sunday papers all over the place. In those days most people's flats looked like that but Syd's was particularly raunchy."
The teenage Shirley, new to London and somewhat over awed by the whole scene, found Syd rather unnerving: "You could have a perfectly normal conversation with him for half-an-hour then he would suddenly switch off and his mind would go off somewhere else. One night I went down to the Speakeasy with him and on the way he was quite all right, chatty and absolutely normal. We walked in and there was this instant pressure of people looking at Syd - not that it would have seemed like that to most people - and he absolutely froze, wouldn't say a word.
"Syd had a terrible habit of looking at you and laughing in a way that made you feel really stupid. He gave the impression he knew something you didn't. He had this manic sort of giggle which made 'The Madcap Laughs' such an appropriate name for his album - he really did laugh at you."
Shirley and Willie Wilson, the former Jokers Wild drummer, were both drafted into the making of the LP midway through April, helping in the recording of 'No Man's Land', with its incoherent spoken piece, and 'Here I Go', the second 'old timey' song on the album. Jones states categorically that this latter track, with its unusual music hall structure, was written in the studio in a matter of minutes, so refuting Roger Waters' assertion that all Syd's material was written prior to the split with Pink Floyd. The track was recorded "live" with the freshly written lyrics in front of Syd.
"He used to read his lyrics off a stand. If someone knew a song well enough, I wouldn't have though it necessary to start reading the words off a stand two years later," says Jones.
Dave Gilmour also maintains that songs such as 'Rats' and 'Maisie' on the second album simply fell into place during studio rehearsals. Barrett never had eye contact with fellow musicians in the studio as everyone would face the control room and watch him from behind. Syd rarely issued instructions on how to play a song so the others simply adopted a policy of trial and error - a situation that proved murderously difficult but one that they handled quite well in the circumstances.
Jones: "It was a case of following him, not playing with him. There was no togetherness because they were always backing musicians to Syd and not a group. They were seeing and then playing so they were always a note behind."
As far as Jerry Shirley was concerned, Barrett's behaviour in the studio was exactly the same as outside.
"He'd let everyone else get nowhere, then he would suddenly come out with this crystal clear statement. When this happened he seemed as normal as the next chap and I wondered whether he was just testing us. He possibly knew something was happening to him and used everyone around him to play mind games."
Syd turned up at one session clutching a small portable cassette player which Jones assumed he had brought to make a copy of a long and tedious track called "Rhamadan', recorded by Jenner the previous May. Instead, he said he wanted to overdub some motorbike sounds onto the track and had been out on the back of a friend's bike with the recorder. Jones was dismayed when Syd played him the cassette. Not only was the quality poor, but there was no starting or revving sound - Syd had recorded just one long continuous note. Although the producer dug up a motorbike tape from EMI's large sound effects library, he never found out what Syd had planned as he later changed his mind and abandoned the exercise.
The following month, various members of Soft Machine tackled the difficult task of overdubbing on Syd's ragged and unpredictable tracks. The group's Robert Wyatt thought the sessions were merely rehearsals for the real thing. "We'd say, 'What key is that in Syd ?' And he would simply reply: 'Yeah!' or 'That's funny'."
Ironically the quirky nature of 'The Madcap' songs is the very thing that endears them to many Barrett fans.
When Syd transferred all the four tracks to eight-track for the final mixing, Jones noticed that 'Opel' was among them: "Syd obviously intended to include it on the album. I still think to this day that it is one of his best tracks and it's tragic that it wasn't included in the final album."
By now the Floyd had completed the soundtrack to More and following a meeting with Syd at Waters' Shepherd's Bush flat, they agreed to speed up production of 'Madcap' by taking on the remaining tracks themselves. They supervised the remaking of 'Clowns and Jugglers' - with the new title 'Octopus' - and 'Golden Hair', which had developed into one of Syd's finest solo efforts, plus two new titles, 'Dark Glove [sic]' and 'Long Gone'. Waters and Gilmour then returned to complete on the third Floyd album 'Ummagumma' which, coupled with a short tour of Holland, meant the final touches to Syd's album were postponed until late July. Syd was understandably frustrated by the delay and decided to take a holiday, following a large crowd of Cambridge hippies who had jetted off to the Mediterranean island of Ibiza.
Among them was Ian Moore: "One day we decided to go into San Fernando on Ibiza and saw a strange figure across the square who looked exactly like Syd. He was standing there smiling at us in his bright satin shirt, velvet trousers and Gohills boots. It could not have been anyone else - Syd often visited our London flat and when he realised we'd left without him he made a girlfriend book him a flight and drive him to the airport."
Dealing with the inconvenience of check-in desks, customs and ticket barriers was not high on the list of Barrett's priorities. Late for his plane, he skipped the lot, ran towards the runway and tried to flag down a passing jet as if it were a cab. Syd, who'd told his flatmate he was merely popping out "for an afternoon drive" duly arrived in the Mediterranean a few hours later and crossed the square to greet his amazed friends with a nonchalant: "Hi".
Moore: "He had a carrier bag of clothes that I could smell from where I was standing. The bag was full of money - he had gone to his London bank and taken out a load of cash but had forgotten to change it when he arrived in Spain."
Syd's bright garb was no particular surprise to the plainly- clothed locals that summer, as it seemed that the entire Kings Road set had forsaken the grime of the city for sand, sea and sex in the sun.
Moore: "We had all taken our Chelsea clothes with us but we were totally out of place on Ibiza so we decided to move en masse to Formentaire - the lesser-known island next door. Syd was still great to be with and we had some amazing times when he would play the guitar or come down to the beach with us. He would be laughing and telling us a joke one minute and then suddenly go back to his land of never-never. Although the sun was extremely hot he didn't take much care of his body. We continually told him to cover up but he wouldn't take any notice and ended up suffering third degree burns. Blisters came up all over his body and burst on his chest and back making his shirts stick to his skin. In the end we had to grab him, hold him down, and cover him from head to toe in Nivea."
Back in London, work on the album moved into its final phase. According to Gilmour, EMI was becoming increasingly worried about a project it had spent a considerable amount of money on without seeing any return. He believes the record company was considering shelving the album when Barrett approached him and Waters for help in finishing it. The last 'Madcap' session took place on July 26 and included the segued section 'She Took A Long Cold Look', 'Feel', and 'If It's In You'.
Gilmour: "EMI gave us two days' recording time. On one of those days we had a gig and had to leave at 5.30 in the afternoon. We recorded the rest of the album in a day-and-a-half. I did all the mixing, trying to make sense of it with varying degrees of success. At least we got the album out - EMI had spent a lot of money on something it thought wasn't going to happen."
The rushed final recording session reveals a very different Syd from the one who had been sufficiently together to record and mix the first 'Madcap' tracks in the spring. What happened in the studio that day would lead one writer to describe the album as "a portrait of a breakdown." Syd falters during 'She Took A Long Cold Look' and the turning of his lyrics pages can clearly be heard. Singing in a tortured voice, he launches into 'Feel' with no accompaniment from his guitar. During the closing 'If It's In You' he finally breaks down and has to restart. Syd just couldn't find the right key to the song which, more than any other, prompted Melody Maker to describe the album as "the mayhem and madness representing the Barrett mind unleashed."
Over the years, these anguished pieces have aroused considerable controversy. Was it really necessary to include them and why was the classic 'Opel' omitted, remaining unreleased until the rarities album of 1988 ?
Jones: "When I first heard the finished product it came as a shock, this wasn't the Syd of two or three months ago. I felt angry. It's like dirty linen in public and very unnecessary and unkind. Keeping conversation in is all very well if it enhances the record but I fail to see how the sound of pages being turned can do anything for Syd, I fail to see the point."
Gilmour also regrets this part of the album which, given another chance, he'd do differently. "It's very hard to say whether one's decisions are the right ones or the wrong ones but those are the decisions we made. We wanted to inject some honesty into it to try and explain what was going on. We didn't want to appear cruel but there is one bit I wish I hadn't done in retrospect. Don't forget we were digging around for stuff to put on the album. Syd wanted to do one song called 'Two Of A Kind' which Rock (Wright) wrote. He thought it was his."
Questioned about the exclusion of 'Opel', Gilmour cannot remember the track and wrongly assumes it to be an alternative title for one of the released songs. Sadly, it appears that during the undignified scramble of the final recording and mixing, this classic Barrett track was overlooked.
The task of designing the album sleeve fell to Storm Thorgeson and his partner Aubrey 'Po' at Hipgnosis. That October Malcolm Jones dropped into Syd's flat to leave a tape of the album and what he saw gave him a start: "In anticipation of the photographic session Syd had painted the floorboards of his room orange and purple. Up until then the floor had been bare with Syd's possession mostly on the floor - hi-fi, guitar, cushions, books and paintings. Syd was well pleased with his day's work and I must say it made a fine setting for the session due to take place."
By the time the artwork was completed it was too late to have the album pressed and into the shops in time for Christmas. Realising there was still a fair amount of money around in January, Harvest delayed release until late that month, selecting 'Octopus' backed with 'Golden Hair' as a single to promote it. Initial reaction was favourable although, apart from a live session on Top Gear, there was precious little airplay for either single or album. EMI was still half-hearted towards Harvest and the only person who played Syd on the radio was John Peel. Radio was even more chart-oriented than it is today but even so a sales figure sheet at the end of February showed "The Madcap Laughs" had sold over 6000 copies, mainly through word-of-mouth based on Barrett's reputation. Disc announced that it was "an excellent album to start 1970" while Beat Instrumental labelled it a beautiful solo record, best played late at night.
IN a professional career that has spanned nearly 25 years, rock photographer Mick Rock believes he has never bettered the pictures that appear on these pages.
The startling colour images were taken in a single two-hour session in the autumn of 1969 in the spartan bedroom of Syd Barrett's Earls Court flat in London.
Barrett's first solo LP The Madcap Laughs was released a few months later in January 1970 and by then his mental condition left much to be desired.
"I don't know that Syd necessarily took more drugs than a lot of other people I knew in those days. It's just that, like many other highly original artists over the centuries, Syd's psyche was very fragile, and the drags broke it down. Syd went way too fast, too soon, psychologically and creatively."
The sleeve, showing the beleaguered "star" squatting bird-like in a room devoid of all creature comforts save a vase of flowers and a battered electric fire, perfectly summed up the mood of the record which many have interpreted as a scream for help.
And yet there was no high concept behind the shot.
"It wasn't like 'let's make Syd look like a complete lunatic because the record's called The Madcap Laughs'," says Rock. "At that stage the LP didn't even have a title. That came later and I have no idea where it came from. I wasn't involved in that stage of the process."
In fact Rock had no formal training as a photographer. He had been studying modern languages in Cambridge and first met Barrett at the Cambridge Arts College Christmas Party of 1966.
"Until I took LSD, I had no interest at all in cameras," he recalls. The drug experience opened up a "whole new visual world" to the young student.
"Prior to Madcap I hadn't really done anything significant. I had taken some pictures of the Pretty Things and Eire Apparent, who had just toured America with Hendrix (they had the same manager, Chris Chandler), and a few other musicians."
Over the years he had kept in contact with Syd and even shared a communal flat with him for a couple of months earlier that summer. As part of his film studies he had shot a short experimental 16mm film (which he still has) of Syd apparently jumping into a mirror.
Although Barrett had since moved out into the more spacious Earls Court apartment, Mick and he saw each other frequently.
"You have to remember that the times were very different," says Rock. "The music business was a lot more casual than it is now.
"I think we had maybe talked about doing some pictures but in the end Syd just called out of the blue and said he needed an album cover.
"I tried to get round two or three times before the pictures were actually taken but he was still in bed or whatever. His new flat was only ten minutes walk along the Brompton Road so eventually I just went round without warning."
And, although it was well into the afternoon before Rock arrived, camera in hand, for the session, it was no surprise that Barrett was still in bed that day too.
"There are at least a couple of shots of him just in his underpants. He had answered the door and I took a few pictures as he went back to the bed area."
Barrett was not alone. His enigmatic half-Eskimo girlfriend Iggy was in bed with him and it is her striking figure that is seen in the background of many of the Madcap pictures.
Again there was no grand design behind her involvement, no pre- conceived idea to present Barrett as the decadent pop star having his way with whichever beautiful woman took his fancy.
"We hadn't had any discussion about how the pictures were going to be," says Rock. "I suppose the idea had always been to do them in the flat because Syd had told me about the floorboards and he was pretty excited about that.
"But there had been no talk of getting a model in. Iggy just happened to be there. I have no idea where she came from or where she went to. Everyone just knew her as Iggy the Eskimo."
The model's nakedness and Barrett's dishevelled appearance provided a perfect snapshot of the couple's lifestyle. She routinely walked round the flat in the nude, must to the embarrassment of Syd's flatmate, the avant garde artist Duggie Fields.
The persona of the former Pink Floyd leader clearly demanded a very hip and eccentric interpretation. Iggy's back certainly helped.
The room was too was just as it appeared when Rock arrived.
"There were no curtains, just the bed, Syd's record player, the vase, and maybe the stool. I can't remember if that was because the floor had just been painted or because he didn't like furniture."
Technically the shoot couldn't have been simpler. Rock used the most basic of equipment. That was all he had.
He had bought the camera from Aubrey "Po" Powell, a long time friend of the Floyd and a fellow student at the London Film School.
"Po had a camera he wanted to get rid of and I bought it and began messing around. That's how it all started really.
"It was a black Pentax and I used 28mm wide-angle Soligor lens which was quite a cheap lens. Later on I sold it to Roger Dean who did the Yes LP covers and lived upstairs above my flat in Egerton Court."
It was Po and Storm Thorgeson, his partner at the design company Hipgnosis, who eventually put together The Madcap sleeve.
"The first pictures were done using just the light from the window. Later on, as the light faded, I set up a couple of basic photo-flood lights but that was all we used.
"They were long exposures because of the low light and they were push-developed which means that you give the film more time in the processing fluid. You can tell because the colour changes and the film starts to break up which causes that grainy effect.
"I think we did make a conscious decision not to have Iggy's face in the pictures and we also decided that Syd would look good with a bit of kohl make-up around his eyes. Iggy put that on. "Syd was pretty passive about the whole thing and he was never that interested in the pictures afterwards. Until David Bowie came along people were not so obsessed about image. Syd could be quite uncommunicative but I can see from the pictures that he was relaxed that day."
A couple of hours later, Rock was satisfied with what he had. In all he had used just two rolls of film, largely because he couldn't afford to use much more.
"There had been no discussion about money at all. Later on I did get a very minor payment but it couldn't have been more than L50 and I don't know if it came from Syd or EMI."
And that is almost the end of the story of the pictures that adorn The Madcap laughs. Almost but not quite...
"I actually went back a couple of weeks later. We still didn't know what the LP was going to be called and we thought we might need something different for the inner sleeve or some publicity shots.
"It was late, maybe midnight or 1am, and we only had an ordinary houselamp as lighting. I was using black and white film because it is faster so you can use it in lower light but I had only got halfway through the film when the camera jammed. For whatever reason the camera got opened which is why there is a bit of fogging on the pictures.
"I was going to go round again and take some more but I never did and I forgot all about that roll of film for years. Syd never saw the pictures. I didn't even have it printed up because I knew it was fogged but for some reason I kept it and only found them again recently. If you like it is the great lost Syd Barrett photo session."
Today, Mick Rock recognises that neither set of pictures is perfect in a technical sense, but he adds: "The truth is they perfectly capture the spirit of the times. It always amazes me how well they turned out. There's a certain atmosphere about them.
"They were definitely intuitive rather than conceptual.
Over the years my understanding and direction of the psychology, technique
and preparation of the photographic process has expanded. But while I have
arguably equalled the Syd sessions, I don't think I have ever bettered
them. Of course, Syd was such a unique subject..."