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Trip of a lifetime

By Cambridge News  |  Posted: November 01, 2012

  • Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon

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Cambridge-born writer and filmmaker Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon was at the centre of 60s counterculture. He counted Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull and Pink Floyd members among his friends, and as he returns to the city to talk about his new book, he tells JULIAN MAKEY about his special relationship with one man in particular – Syd Barrett.

A MOVIE shot by Cambridge-born film-maker Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon nearly 50 years ago became a cult classic after being forgotten for almost 20 years.

The film shows a good-looking young man wandering through the Gog Magog Hills near Cambridge – and it found a place in rock mythology because that good-looking young man was Pink Floyd legend Syd Barrett – supposedly experiencing his first psychedelic trip with the aid of some magic mushrooms.

Nigel, 68, grew up with members of Pink Floyd before moving to London, where he became part of a bohemian set, numbering Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull among his friends.

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He will be back in his home city on November 8 for an appearance at Waterstone’s, where he’ll be reading from his first novel Nothing and Everywhere, showing clips from his 1995 film The Colours of Infinity, and drawing parallels between the two very different works. Nigel will also be at Niche Comics in Huntingdon on November 24.

Nothing and Everywhere is the story of a mathematician – a subject close to Nigel’s heart after he worked with the maverick mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot.

Nigel made the short film – now known as Syd’s Barrett’s First Trip – in 1966, simply as friends messing about, although his eye as a film-maker can be seen in it. It is unlikely that it was Syd Barrett’s first trip and Nigel never intended it to be called that.

Nigel was born in a wartime Milton Road and went to St Faith’s prep school before moving on to Oundle where his estranged father wanted him to become an engineer.

“Unfortunately I was of an artistic bent so that was never viable for me,” says Nigel. “I was expelled from Oundle because I skipped a week of workshops.”

Jazz, poetry, CND and Elvis Presley all got in the way of Nigel’s education; he ended up coming to Cambridge technical college – and blew a chance to study at Trinity, despite being all but guaranteed a place.

“It was Jack Kerouac,” he says. “I wanted to be like Jack, a poet living on the edge.”

Nigel was continuing to write while working in the kitchen at Churchill College where John Dunbar, Marianne Faithfull’s husband to be, said: “You ought to go to my father’s film school.”

So he did. But Nigel had already been making the friends who would put him in the heart of 1960s culture: his friends included Storm Thorgerson – the Hipgnosis album sleeve designer best known for his work with Pink Floyd – the Floyd’s Syd Barrett and Roger Waters, and later guitarist David Gilmour, who replaced Barrett in the band.

“I first met Storm when we were 13 in Petty Cury,” Nigel recalls. “We were after the same girl and we just bonded. We spent a lot of time at Storm’s mother’s house. We were listening to the first Stones album. We were stoned and played it over again,” he said.

“We all loved pot.”

According to Nigel, Barrett was slightly younger, but fitted well with his older peers because of his obvious talents.

“I used to attend jam sessions at his mother’s house in Hills Road on Sunday afternoons, and I was aware then that I was in the presence of a formidable talent. He was very beautiful, a very handsome, elfin kind of character and he walked with a bounce in his step.”

Barrett’s mental decline is well documented. “We were all too young to understand that he was having a breakdown,” says Nigel. “We thought his behaviour was eccentric and bizarre, but there were a lot of eccentric and bizarre people around at that time and we were not wise enough to see that Syd’s behaviour was anything other than a strange, creative exuberance.

“We could not see that something was seriously wrong and a part of us delighted in his strange and extreme behaviour. In our ignorance, it was colourful fun.”

LSD had become part of the scene.

“There were acid casualties and Syd was one of them.”

Nigel, who now lives near Bedford, went to the London School of Film Technique in 1965 and moved into a flat at 101 Cromwell Road, South Kensington, which became a hip centre where Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull were visitors, along with Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs.

In her autobiography, Marianne Faithfull said: “And there was Nigel Gordon. Nigel was one of those useful creatures one did acid with.”

The need to make a living set in and by the 1970s Nigel had moved to the BBC as an editor; he also went on to work with Pink Floyd, 10cc, Squeeze, Rainbow, Joe Cocker, Wings, Paul Nicholas and Leo Sayer.

He then made commercials and corporate videos as well as making the award-winning documentary The Colours of Infinity, presented by Sir Arthur C Clarke and with music by David Gilmour. The film brought interest in Mandelbrot to the public eye.

Nigel’s first book, Introducing Fractals, published in 2009, traces the roots of fractal geometry. His second, based on The Colours of Infinity, appeared in 2010.

Nothing and Everywhere: A Moral Tale is published by Xlibris. Nigel will be at Waterstone’s, Cambridge on November 8 from from 5.30pm, and at Niche Comics in Huntingdon on November 24 from 6pm.


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