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Syd Barrett
Roger Keith Syd Barrett is still, to many, the true source of Pink Floyd’s greatness. After moving to London to attend Camberwell Art College, he encountered Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright and formed a band that would become legendary. Barrett bestowed upon them a name drawn from two of his favourite blues musicians ~ Floyd Council and Pink Anderson. The Pink Floyd Sound, as they originally called themselves, were soon at the very epicentre of the burgeoning free love ’60s, as the band soon attracted a whole scene of young minds ready to experiment in both sound and light.

Spotted in 1966 by Joe Boyd, A&R man for Elektra Records, the Floyd became the house band for his UFO club on Tottenham Court Road. Legend has it that it was here that a young Jimi Hendrix, new in town, caught Barrett at his experimental peak creating noises on his telecaster guitar that undoubtedly rubbed off on the rock legend. An innovative guitarist, one of Barrett’s trademarks included playing his Fender Esquire guitar by sliding a Zippo lighter up and down the fret-board creating the mysterious otherworldly sounds that came to be associated with the group. The band was signed to EMI records and released a single Arnold Layne in early 1967. A quirky tale of a transvestite thief, it was banned by the BBC and brought them notoriety. Second single See Emily Play was a hit, and the band then set to work on their first album for EMI in the studio adjacent to The Beatles.

It was Barrett who wrote most of Pink Floyd's groundbreaking debut album, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, released in 1967. Success seemed to be just within their reach when things started to go awry for Barret. David Gilmour, a childhood friend of Barrett’s, was brought on board in 1968 to support the spaced out front man after a disastrous abridged tour of the US. Gilmour began to play Barrett’s guitar parts while Barrett was supposed to be off stage to write songs for the band, but instead he would do nothing in particular. The other band members soon tired of Barrett's presence altogether and later that year it was officially announced that Barrett was no longer a member of Pink Floyd. Barrett became increasingly reclusive and was subsequently admitted to a psychiatric hospital after a psychedelic-drug induced breakdown.

Barrett did have a brief solo career after leaving Pink Floyd and having the breakdown, releasing two mercurial solo albums ~ The Madcap Laughs and Barrett ~ before leaving the music business altogether. Pink Floyd’s 1975 opus Wish You Were Here was actually the band's tribute to Barrett, and coincidentally Barrett attended the Abbey Road recording session unannounced and watched the band record Shine On You Crazy Diamond (a song about him). None of the band members recognized Barrett, thinking he was the caretaker, but they eventually realized who he was and Waters was so distressed that he was reduced to tears. In later years a reference to this reunion appeared in Pink Floyd’s 1982 film The Wall.

Many artists have acknowledged Barrett's influence on their work. Paul McCartney and Jimmy Page were early fans; David Bowie, Eric Clapton and The Sex Pistols all expressed interest in working with him at some point during the 1970s. Barrett died on July 7, 2006 at age of 60 at the Cambridgeshire home to which he retreated as a recluse more than 30 years ago and has rarely been seen since. A statement issued on behalf of Pink Floyd said: "The band are naturally very upset and sad to learn of Syd Barrett's death. Syd was the guiding light of the early band line-up and leaves a legacy which continues to inspire." From us at The Record, he will be sincerely missed.

You can read the rest of our feature on Syd Barrett in the July 2006 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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