Syd Barrett died at his home in Cambridge aged sixty on 7th July 2006. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer and he had been suffering from stomach ulcers and type 2 diabetes. Syd was said to have become a keen gardener. He is survived by his his sister, Rosemary, who lived nearby.
Syd Barrett was born Roger Keith Barrett in Cambridge UK on 6th January 1946 where his father was a prominent pathologist and was the fourth of five children.
Syd played piano occasionally, but usually preferred writing and drawing. He got a ukulele at ten, a banjo at eleven and a Hofner acoustic guitar at fourteen. A year after he got his first acoustic guitar, he bought his first electric guitar and built his own amplifier. One story of how where Roger acquired the nickname "Syd" is that at the age of fourteen he was named after an old local Cambridge jazz double bassist, Sid "The Beat" Barrett, which claims Syd Barrett changed the spelling to differentiate himself from his namesake. Another story is that when he was thirteen, his schoolmates nicknamed him "Syd" after he showed up to a field day at Abington Scout site wearing a flat cap instead of his Scout beret because "Syd" was a "working-class" name. He used both names interchangeably for several years. He was a Scout with the 7th Cambridge troop and went on to be a patrol leader.
At one point at Morley Memorial Junior School Syd was taught by Roger Waters' mother, Mary. Later, in 1957, he attended Cambridgeshire High School for Boys (with Waters). His father died of cancer on 11 December 1961, less than a month before Syd's sixteenth birthday. By this time, his brothers and sisters had left home and his mother decided to rent out rooms to lodgers. Eager to help her son recover from his grief, Syd's mother encouraged the band in which he played, Geoff Mott and The Mottoes, a band which Syd formed, to perform in their front room. Roger Waters and Syd Barrett were childhood friends, and Waters often visited such gigs. At one point, Waters even organised a gig, a CND benefit at Friends Meeting House on 11 March 1962, but shortly afterwards Geoff Mott joined the Boston Crabs, and the Mottoes broke up.
In September 1962,Syd Barrett had taken a place at the Cambridge Technical College art department, where he met David Gilmour. During the winter of 1962 and early 1963, the Beatles made an impact on Barrett, and he began to play Beatles songs at parties and at picnics. In 1963, Syd Barrett became a Rolling Stones fan and, with then-girlfriend Libby Gausden, saw them perform at a village hall in Cambridgeshire. It was at this point Syd started writing songs; one friend recalls hearing "Effervescing Elephant" (later to be recorded on his solo album Barrett). Also around this time, Barrett and Gilmour occasionally played acoustic gigs together. Barrett had played bass guitar with Those Without during the summer of 1963 and both bass and guitar with The Hollerin' Blues the next summer. In 1964, Syd Barrett and Gausden saw Bob Dylan perform. After this performance, Syd was inspired to write "Bob Dylan Blues". Syd Barrett, now thinking about his future, decided to apply for Camberwell College of Arts in London and enrolled in the college in the summer of 1964 to study painting.
Beginning in 1964, the band that would become Pink Floyd evolved through various line-up and name changes including "The Abdabs", "The Screaming Abdabs", "Sigma 6", and "The Meggadeaths". In 1965, Syd joined them as The Tea Set (sometimes spelled T-Set). When they found themselves playing a concert with another band of the same name, Syd came up with "The Pink Floyd Sound" (also known as "The Pink Floyd Blues Band", later "The Pink Floyd"). During 1965, they went into a studio for the first time, when a friend of Richard Wright's gave the band free time to record.
During this summer Syd Barrett had his first LSD trip in the garden of friend Dave Gale, with Ian Moore and Storm Thorgerson. During one trip, Syd and another friend, Paul Charrier, ended up naked in the bath, reciting: "No rules, no rules". That summer, as a consequence of the continuation of drug use, the band became absorbed in Sant Mat, a Sikh sect. Storm Thorgerson (then living on Earlham Street) and Syd went to a London hotel to meet the sect's guru; Thorgerson managed to join the sect, while Syd, however, was deemed too young to join. Thorgerson perceives this as a deeply important event in Barrett's life, as he was intensely upset by the rejection. While living within proximity of his friends, Syd decided to write more songs ("Bike" was written around this time).
While Pink Floyd began by playing cover versions of American R&B songs, by 1966 they had carved out their own style of improvised rock and roll, which drew as much from improvised jazz. After Bob Klose departed from the band, the band's direction changed. However, the change was not instantaneous, with more improvising on the guitars and keyboards.
At this time, Syd Barrett's reading reputedly included: Grimm's Fairy Tales, Tolkien's The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Carlos Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan, and The I-Ching. During this period, Syd wrote most of the songs for Pink Floyd's first album, and also songs that would later appear on his solo albums. In 1966, a new rock concert venue, the UFO opened in London and quickly became a haven for British psychedelic music. Pink Floyd, the house band, was its most popular attraction and after making appearances at the rival Roundhouse, became the most popular musical group of the "London Underground" psychedelic music scene.
By the end of 1966, Pink Floyd had gained a reliable management team in Andrew King and Peter Jenner. Towards the end of October 1966, Pink Floyd, with King and Jenner, set up Blackhill Enterprises, to manage the group's finances. Blackhill was staffed by lodgers Jenner found in his Edbrooke Road house, and among others, Syd Barrett's flatmate, Peter Wynne Wilson (who became road manager, however, since he had more experience in lighting, he was also lighting assistant). King and Jenner wanted to prepare some demo recordings for a possible record deal, so at the end of October, they booked a session at Thompson Private Recording Studio, in Hemel Hempstead. King said of the demos: "That was the first time I realised they were going to write all their own material, Syd just turned into a songwriter, it seemed like overnight.
King and Jenner befriended American expatriate Joe Boyd, the promoter of the UFO Club, who was making a name for himself as one of the more important entrepreneurs on the British music scene. The newly hired booking agent, Bryan Morrison, and Boyd had proposed sending in better quality recordings. From Morrison's agency the band played a gig outside London for the first time. In November, the band performed the first (of many) strangely named concerts: Philadelic Music for Simian Hominids, a multimedia event arranged by the group's former landlord, Mike Leonard, at Hornsey College of Art. They performed at the Free School for the following two weeks, before performing at the Psychodelphia Versus Ian Smith event at the Roundhouse in December, arranged by the Majority Rule for Rhodesia Campaign, and an Oxfam benefit at the Albert Hall (the band's biggest venue up to this point).
At the beginning of 1967, Syd Barrett was dating Jenny Spires. However, unknown to Barrett, Spires had an affair with Peter Whitehead. Spires convinced Whitehead (who thought the band sounded like "bad Schoenberg") to use Pink Floyd in a film about the swinging London scene. So at the cost of £80, in January, Whitehead took the band into John Wood's Sound Techniques in Chelsea, with promoter Joe Boyd in tow. Here, the band recorded a 16-minute version of "Interstellar Overdrive" and another composition, "Nick's Boogie". Whitehead had filmed this recording, which was used in the film Tonite Let's All Make Love in London and later on the video release of London '66–'67. Whitehead later commented about the band that: "They were just completely welded together, just like a jazz group".
Boyd attempted to sign the band with Polydor Records. However, Morrison had convinced King and Jenner to try to start a bidding war between Polydor and EMI. In late January, Boyd produced a recording session for the group, with them returning to Sound Techniques in Chelsea again. After the aforementioned bidding war idea was finished, Pink Floyd signed with EMI. Unusual for the time, the deal included recording an album, which meant the band had unlimited studio time at EMI Studios in return for a smaller royalty percentage. The band then attempted to re-record "Arnold Layne", but the Boyd version from January was released instead.
The band's first studio album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was recorded intermittently between February and July 1967 in Studio 3 at Abbey Road Studios, and produced by former Beatles engineer Norman Smith. At the same time, the Beatles were recording "Lovely Rita" for their album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, in Studio 2. By the time the album was released on 4 August, "Arnold Layne" (which was released months earlier, on 11 March) had reached number 20 on the UK singles charts. and the follow-up single, "See Emily Play", had done even better, peaking at number 6. The album was successful in the UK, hitting number 6 on the British album charts. Their first three singles (including their third, "Apples and Oranges"), were written by Syd Barrett, who also was the principal visionary/author of their critically acclaimed 1967 debut album. Of the eleven songs on Piper at The Gates of Dawn, Syd Barrett wrote eight and co-wrote another two.
Through late 1967 and early 1968, Syd Barrett's behaviour became increasingly erratic and unpredictable, partly as a consequence of his reported heavy use of psychedelic drugs, most prominently LSD. There is also much speculation that he suffered from schizophrenia. Once described as joyful, friendly, and extroverted, he became increasingly depressed and socially withdrawn, and experienced hallucinations, disorganized speech, memory lapses, intense mood swings, and periods of catatonia. Although the changes began gradually, he went missing for a long weekend and, according to several friends including Rick Wright, came back "a completely different person." One of the striking features of his change was the development of a blank, empty, dead-eyed stare. He was unable to recognize old friends that he had known for years, and often did not know where he was. Many reports described him on stage, strumming one chord through the entire concert, or not playing at all. At a show at The Fillmore in San Francisco, during a performance of "Interstellar Overdrive", Syd Barrett slowly detuned his guitar. The audience seemed to enjoy such antics, unaware of the rest of the band's consternation. Interviewed on Pat Boone's show during this tour, Syd's reply to Boone's questions was a "blank and totally mute stare," according to Nick Mason, "Syd wasn't into moving his lips that day." Barrett exhibited similar behaviour during the band's first appearance on Dick Clark's popular TV show American Bandstand. Although surviving footage of this appearance shows Syd miming his parts of the song competently. During a group interview afterwards, when asked two questions by Clark, Sydt's answers were terse, almost to the point of rudeness (though, Clark noted, they had been flying non-stop from London to Los Angeles). During this time, Syd Barrett would often forget to bring his guitar to sessions, damage equipment and occasionally was unable to hold his pick. Before a performance in late 1967, Syd reportedly crushed Mandrax tranquilliser tablets and an entire tube of Brylcreem into his hair, which subsequently melted down his face under the heat of the stage lighting, making him look like "a guttered candle". Nick Mason later disputed the Mandrax portion of this story, stating that "Syd would never waste good mandies".
During their UK tour with Jimi Hendrix in November 1967, guitarist David O'List from The Nice was called in to substitute for Syd Barrett on several occasions when he was unable to perform or failed to appear. Sometime around Christmas, David Gilmour (Barrett's old school friend) was asked to join the band as a second guitarist to cover for Barrett, with the idea of retaining a five-member line-up of the band. For a handful of shows Gilmour played and sang while Barrett wandered around on stage, occasionally deciding to join in playing. The other band members soon grew tired of Barrett's antics and, on 26 January 1968, when Waters was driving on the way to a show at Southampton University, the band elected not to pick Syd up. As Syd Barrett had, up until then, written the bulk of the band's material, the initial plan was to keep him in the group as a non-touring member—as The Beach Boys had done with Brian Wilson—but this soon proved to be impractical. Gilmour subsequently became a full-time member of the band.
According to Roger Waters, Syd Barrett came into what was to be their last practice session with a new song he had dubbed "Have You Got It Yet?" The song seemed simple enough when he first presented it, but it soon became impossibly difficult to learn and they eventually realised that while they were practising it, Syd kept changing the arrangement. He would then play it again, with the arbitrary changes, and sing "Have you got it yet?" Eventually they realised they never would, and that they were simply bearing the brunt of Syd Barrett's idiosyncratic sense of humour. Waters had called it "a real act of mad genius".
Syd Barrett did not contribute material to the band after A Saucerful of Secrets was released in 1968. Of the songs he wrote for Pink Floyd after The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, only one, "Jugband Blues", made it to the band's second album; one, "Apples and Oranges", became a less-than-successful single; and two others, "Scream Thy Last Scream" and "Vegetable Man", were never officially released until 2016 in The Early Years 1965–1972 box set, as they were deemed too dark and unsettling. Feeling guilty for ousting their friend, the members of Pink Floyd were unable to bring themselves to definitively tell Barrett that he was no longer in the band. According to Rick Wright, who lived with Barrett at the time, Wright had the awful job of telling Syd that he was going out to buy cigarettes while he went off to play a gig. He would return hours later to find Syd in the same position, sometimes with a cigarette burned completely down between his fingers (an incident later referenced in Pink Floyd's The Wall). Emerging from catatonia and unaware that a long period of time had elapsed, Barrett would ask, "Have you got the cigarettes?". Syd Barrett supposedly spent time outside the recording studio, in the reception area, waiting to be invited in. He also showed up to a few gigs and glared at Gilmour. Syd Barrett played slide guitar on "Remember a Day" (which had been first attempted during the Piper sessions), and also played on "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun". On 6 April 1968, the group officially announced Syd Barrett was no longer a member, the same day the band's contract with Blackhill Enterprises was terminated as the record label, considering Syd Barrett to be the musical brains of the band, stayed with Barrett.
After leaving Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett was out of the public eye for a year. Then, in 1969, at the behest of EMI and Harvest Records, he embarked on a brief solo career, releasing two solo albums, The 'Madcap Laughs' and 'Barrett' (both 1970), and a single, 'Octopus'. Some songs, 'Terrapin', 'Maisie' and 'Bob Dylan Blues', reflected Syd's early interest in the blues.
After Syd Barrett left Pink Floyd, Jenner followed suit. He led Syd Barrett into EMI Studios to record some tracks in May that would later be released on Syd Barrett's first solo album, The Madcap Laughs. However, Jenner said: "I had seriously underestimated the difficulties of working with him". By the sessions of June and July, most of the tracks were in better shape; however, shortly after the July sessions, Syd Barrett broke up with girlfriend Lindsay Corner and went on a drive around Britain in his Mini, ending up in psychiatric care in Cambridge. During New Year 1969, a somewhat recovered Syd Barrett had taken up tenancy in a flat on Egerton Gardens, South Kensington, London, with the Post Modernist artist Duggie Fields. Here, Syd's flat was so close to Gilmour's that Gilmour could look right into Barrett's kitchen. Deciding to return to music, Syd Barrett contacted EMI and was passed to Malcolm Jones, the then-head of EMI's new prog rock label, Harvest. After Norman Smith and Jenner declined to produce Syd Barrett's record, Jones produced it). Syd wanted to recover the Jenner-produced sessions recordings; several of the tracks were improved upon.
The Jones-produced sessions started in April 1969 at EMI Studios. After the first of these sessions, Syd Barrett brought in friends to help out: Humble Pie drummer, Jerry Shirley and Jokers Wild (Gilmour's old band) drummer, Willie Wilson. For the sessions, Gilmour played bass. Talking to Syd wasn't easy, said Jones: "It was a case of following him, not playing with him. They were seeing and then playing so they were always a note behind". A few tracks on the album feature overdubs by members of the band Soft Machine. During this time, Syd also played guitar on the sessions for Soft Machine founder Kevin Ayers' debut LP Joy of a Toy, although his performance on "Religious Experience" (later titled "Singing a Song in the Morning") was not released until the album was reissued in 2003. One time, Syd Barrett had told his flatmate that he was going off "for an afternoon drive". However, he followed Pink Floyd to Ibiza. One of his friends, J. Ryan Eaves, bass player for the short-lived but influential Manchester band "York's Ensemble", later spotted him on a beach wearing messed-up clothes and with a carrier bag full of money. At this point, during the trip, Syd Barrett had asked Gilmour for his help in the recording sessions.
Gilmour later said of the sessions for The Madcap Laughs: "they were pretty tortuous and very rushed. We had very little time, particularly with The Madcap Laughs. Syd was very difficult, we got that very frustrated feeling: Look, it's your fucking career, mate. Why don't you get your finger out and do something? The guy was in trouble, and was a close friend for many years before then, so it really was the least one could do".
Upon the album's release in January 1970, Malcolm Jones was shocked by the substandard musicianship on the Gilmour and Waters-produced songs: "I felt angry. It's like dirty linen in public and very unnecessary and unkind". Gilmour said: "Perhaps we were trying to show what Syd was really like. But perhaps we were trying to punish him". Waters was more positive and said "Syd is a genius". Syd Barrett said "It's quite nice but I'd be very surprised if it did anything if I were to drop dead. I don't think it would stand as my last statement."
The second album, 'Barrett', was recorded more sporadically than the first, with sessions taking place between February and July 1970. The album was produced by David Gilmour, and featured Gilmour on bass guitar, Richard Wright on keyboard and Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley. The first two songs attempted were for Syd Barrett to play and/or sing to an existing backing track. However, Gilmour thought they were losing the "Barrett-ness". One track ("Rats") was originally recorded with Syd Barrett on his own. That would later be overdubbed by musicians, despite the changing tempos. Shirley said of Syd Barrett's playing: "He would never play the same tune twice. Sometimes Syd couldn't play anything that made sense; other times what he'd play was absolute magic." At times Syd, who experienced extreme synesthesia, would say: "Perhaps we could make the middle darker and maybe the end a bit middle afternoonish. At the moment it's too windy and icy".
These sessions were happening while Pink Floyd had just begun to work on Atom Heart Mother. On various occasions, Syd Barrett went to "spy" on the band as they recorded their album. Wright said of the Syd Barrett sessions:" Doing Syd's record was interesting, but extremely difficult. Dave Gilmour and Roger did the first one on The Madcap Laughs and Dave and myself did the second one. But by then it was just trying to help Syd any way we could, rather than worrying about getting the best guitar sound. You could forget about that! It was just going into the studio and trying to get him to sing".
Despite the numerous recording dates for his solo albums, Syd Barrett undertook very little musical activity between 1968 and 1972 outside the studio. On 24 February 1970, he appeared on John Peel's BBC radio programme Top Gear playing five songs—only one of which had been previously released. Three would be re-recorded for the Barrett album, while the song "Two of a Kind" was a one-off performance. Syd Barrett was accompanied on this session by Gilmour and Shirley who played bass and percussion, respectively.
Gilmour and Shirley also backed Syd for his one and only live concert during this period. The gig took place on 6th June 1970 at the Olympia Exhibition Hall as part of a Music and Fashion Festival. The trio performed four songs, 'Terrapin', 'Gigolo Aunt', 'Effervescing Elephant' and 'Octopus'. Poor mixing left the vocals barely audible until part-way through the last number. At the end of the fourth song, Syd Barrett unexpectedly but politely put down his guitar and walked off the stage. The performance has been bootlegged. Syd Barrett made one last appearance on BBC Radio, recording three songs at their studios on 16 February 1971. All three came from the 'Barrett' album. After this session, he took a hiatus from his music career that lasted more than a year, although in an extensive interview with Mick Rock and Rolling Stone in December, he discussed himself at length, showed off his new 12-string guitar, talked about touring with Jimi Hendrix and stated that he was frustrated in terms of his musical work because of his inability to find anyone good to play with.
In February 1972, after a few guest spots in Cambridge with ex-Pink Fairies member Twink on drums and Jack Monck on bass the trio formed a short-lived band called Stars. Though they were initially well received at gigs in the Dandelion coffee bar and the town's Market Square, one of their gigs at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge with the MC5 proved to be disastrous. A few days after this final show, Twink recalled that Syd stopped him on the street, showed him a scathing review of the gig they had played, and quit on the spot, despite having played at least one subsequent gig at the same venue supporting Nektar.
Free from his EMI contract on 9 May 1972, Syd Barrett signed a document that ended his association with Pink Floyd, and any financial interest in future recordings. Syd Barrett attended an informal jazz and poetry performance by Pete Brown and former Cream bassist Jack Bruce in October 1973. Brown arrived at the show late, and saw that Bruce was already onstage, along with "a guitarist I vaguely recognised", playing the Horace Silver tune "Doodlin'". Later in the show, Brown read out a poem, which he dedicated to Syd, because, "he's here in Cambridge, and he's one of the best songwriters in the country" when, to his surprise, the guitar player from earlier in the show stood up and said, "No I'm not". By the end of 1973, Syd Barrett had returned to live in London, staying at various hotels and, in December of that year, settling in at Chelsea Cloisters. He had little contact with others, apart from his regular visits to his management's offices to collect his royalties, and the occasional visit from his sister Rosemary.
In August 1974, Jenner persuaded Syd Barrett to return to Abbey Road Studios in hope of recording another album. According to John Leckie, who engineered these sessions, even at this point Syd still "looked like he did when he was younger..long haired". The sessions lasted three days and consisted of blues rhythm tracks with tentative and disjointed guitar overdubs. Syd Barrett recorded 11 tracks, the only one of which to be titled was "If You Go, Don't Be Slow". Once again, Syd withdrew from the music industry, but this time for good. He sold the rights to his solo albums back to the record label and moved into a London hotel. During this period, several attempts to employ him as a record producer (including one by Jamie Reid on behalf of the Sex Pistols, and another by The Damned, who wanted him to produce their second album) were all fruitless.
In 1978, when Syd Barrett's money ran out, he moved back to Cambridge to live with his mother. He returned to live in London again in 1982, but lasted only a few weeks and soon returned to Cambridge for good. Syd Barrett walked the 50 miles from London to Cambridge. Until his death, Syd Barrett received royalties from his work with Pink Floyd from each compilation and some of the live and studio albums and singles that featured his songs; Gilmour said that he "made sure the money got to him".
In 1996, Syd Barrett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Pink Floyd, but he did not attend the ceremony.
According to a 2005 profile in the book Madcap by biographer and journalist Tim Willis, Syd Barrett, who had reverted to using his original name of Roger, continued to live in his late mother's semi-detached home in Cambridge, and had returned to painting, creating large abstract canvases.
Although Syd Barrett had not appeared or spoken in public since the mid-1970s, time did little to diminish interest in his life and work. Reporters and fans still travelled to Cambridge to seek him out, despite his attempts to live a quiet life and public appeals from his family for people to leave him alone. Many photos of Syd Barrett being harassed by paparazzi when walking or cycling from the 1980s until his death in 2006, have been published in various media. Apparently, Syd Barrett did not like being reminded about his musical career and the other members of Pink Floyd had no direct contact with him. However, he did visit his sister's house in November 2001 to watch the BBC Omnibus documentary made about him – reportedly he found some of it "a bit noisy", enjoyed seeing Mike Leonard of Leonard's Lodgers again, calling him his "teacher", and enjoyed hearing "See Emily Play" again.
Syd Barrett made a final public acknowledgement of his musical past in 2002, his first since the 1970s, when he autographed 320 copies of photographer Mick Rock's book Psychedelic Renegades, which contained a number of photos of him. Rock was perhaps the last person in the music industry with whom Barrett kept in contact. In 1971, Rock conducted the final interview of Barrett before his retirement from the music industry a few years later, and Syd Barrett subsequently turned up on Rock's London doorstep "four, maybe five times" for a cup of tea and conversation through 1978, before he moved back to Cambridge. They had not spoken in more than twenty years when Rock approached Syd Barrett to autograph his photography book, and he uncharacteristically agreed. Having reverted to his birth name "Roger" from his stage name "Syd" many years before, he had autographed the book simply "Barrett."