Until recently I’d never heard the name Syd Barrett. Not ever having been a particular Pink Floyd fan I’d just never heard the story of how, in its early days, the band had been lead by a bloke called Barrett. Hearing some of those very first songs I immediately loved them; more so than some of PF’s later ones which sometimes leave me with a nagging aftertaste of ‘Easy Listening‘ (fans would hunt me down for such a thought!). So I wondered what became of the man who actually wrote most of those early compositions. That’s when I realised the extent of my ignorance. Turns out that this amazingly original, intelligent, energetic and creative man had been increasingly affected by mental health problems from around 1967 onwards just when The Pink Floyd had been hitting full stride. Unable to cope with the pressures of that lifestyle, he had gradually edged away from (or been edged out of ) the band. Apart from a couple of impressive solo albums he never returned to making music. Instead, he spent the rest of his life living in his mother’s house in Cambridge and shunning fame. He died there at the age of 60 from pancreatic cancer/diabetic complications.
The exact truth of what happened to Syd Barrett will probably never be fully known. Some say his mental health problems were triggered by excessive drug taking, others claim he was not mentally ill but simply a unique and unusual individual. Journalists often tried to quiz him on what prompted what they saw as his fall from grace or his gradual deterioration. Those close to him tended to refute this notion and argue that, far from deteriorating, he had lived a perfectly rewarding life in which he simply chose painting instead of music as his mode of artistic expression.
All I know is… a lot of his music (and art work) is great! When I find something new to listen to that I really like I tend to want to listen to all there is… very fast… I can’t get enough of it. Barrett’s work has that thing which you rarely find… originality. Some of the pop tracks are obviously heavily influenced by the late Beatles stuff but the more personal tracks are brilliant. If you read a bit about the man it makes listening to the music even more fascinating but even without that knowledge it’s just great. Regarding Barrett as a person… he reminds me of some other brilliant artists who have been troubled individuals; I can think of a whole list (how about you?) many of the names on which have died very young or turned to drink or drugs. At least the music is still here to be listened to though. As I said, Syd Barrett only ever made two solo albums as well as his work with Pink Floyd. So I’d better stop listening so fast.