Have you seen our new releases? Hope you like them! This post is dedicated to the artist who inspired to one of them: Syd Barrett. If you like classic rock, you must know his story. He is a icon of the Swingin’ Sixties, a pioneer of psychedelic rock with a sad ending, but his figure remains as a true symbol of an era.
Barrett was the leader and founder of the first Pink Floyd. This was some years before David Gilmour joined the band and Roger Waters took control of the ship. Syd wrote most of their songs and was a very particular lyricist. While most of his contemporary composers chose to write about love, and some of them were starting to talk about revolution (influenced by Bob Dylan), Barrett made his own way in search of bizarre stories. His lyrics were surrealistic, humorous and unique. Take for example the second verse of Floyd’s second single, “See Emily Play”: “Soon after dark, Emily cries. Gazing through trees in sorrow, hardly a sound ‘til tomorrow”. He also loved to give to his songs with the most incredible names: “Interstellar Overdrive”, “Astronomy Domine”, “Lucifer Sam”, all included in The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Floyd’s debut LP.
Syd was also one of the most “English” rockers of all time, Like Ray Davies, his “Englishness” was very noticeable in his songwriting and in his singing. That’s why he was adored by many British musicians, like Paul Weller, who once said: “Syd was a unique songwriter. I loved his guitar style and the sound he got. He opened up possibilities.”
In addition to this, Syd’s musical approach was unschakled and free-form. Indeed, English rock music’s entire notion of extemporising on blues modes and propelling them via lenghty improvisation into the outer reaches of the tonal stratosphere was begins with Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd. His odd guitar playing was the key for the sound of the band. He used his Danelectro with total freedom, interested in the textures and effects. He was painter and he brought an artist’s visual approach to his solos. “Syd set the tone for what people think of as pshychedelic guitar playing,” stated Joe Boyd, producer of the band’s first single, “Arnold Layne” (1967), the story of a very particular man who likes to go for a ramble every night and steal women’s clothes.
LSD inspired many of his work and opened up his imagination, but also affected his fragile personality. He was forced to leave Floyd due to his mental state while they were recording their second album, A Saurceful Of Secrets (1968). Schizophrenic, his sensibilities would be at odds forever, but made two amazing solo records, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett (both released in 1970), tried to occasionally play again live, and finally dissappeared from public life to remain at his house in Cambridge, still devoted to his painting, until his death, in 2006.
Although his musical discography is brief, his legacy is vital in rock and roll history and has inspired many artists. “Syd’s work as a sonic architect with Floyd is extremely inspiring to me and has something to do with where I’m going. The spirit of play there is where I think its at. His genius and his pure, childlike spirit make him shine as bright as anyone could,” said John Frusciante, one of his fans. Shine on you crazy diamond!
Note: some lines from this post were extracted from the great article “Seer. Painter. Piper. Prisoner…” by Rob Chapman, published on Mojo magazine #154.