10 May 2007
Syd Barrett died last year but as a musician he departed in an untimely fashion. He was an early casualty of the drug culture that some say, fuelled his music. He was showcased in two short years, 66-67, at Joe Boyd’s legendary “underground” UFO club, where 60’s psychedelia was invented, and where the Beatles hung out, predating Serjeant Pepper, and where Mark Boyle’s light shows, provided the visual ambience to Syd’s remarkable eccentric tunes.
The Soft Machine and Pink Floyd alternated on the billing at the UFO, and both featured outstanding creative and original vocalists; Robert Wyatt for Soft Machine and Syd Barrett who invented the name, “Pink Floyd”, and was indeed Pink Floyd’s vocalist, lead guitarist and inspiration. Long instrumental passages marked the beginning of Progressive Rock, subsequently, much maligned when it emerged from the “underground.”
Both bands dispensed with the services of their talented vocalists. Soft Machine became a pure jazz outfit until they ran out of time signatures, and Pink Floyd became corporate. Both bands appeared to have had diminishing returns, while the legacy and reputation of their much admired, but sacked vocalists, have flourished.
Syd Barrett, was commemorated tonight, and The Monks were lucky to have seats in the circle of the Barbican, where a variety of celebrities, paid homage to Syd Barrett with covers of his songs. (See this for the set list)
Most of the performers are too young to have met Syd Barrett but a number of his contemporaries were present. Mick Heron and Kevin Ayers, and the unbilled Roger Waters, and then finally the remainder of the unbilled Pink Floyd performed the classic, Arnold Layne.
Personal highlights for the Monks were Kate McGarrigle’s tear jerking version of See Emily Play, and Golden Hair. Kate was accompanied by daughter Martha Wainwright and Lily Lankin. And Robyn Hitchcock, who appeared to inhabit Syd Barrett’s persona and indeed his contemporary dress sense (Polka dots and purple trousers). “Pink Floyd” fans were catered by Captain Sensible’s version of Astronomy Domine. Captain Sensible demonstrated Syd’s influence upon him by naming his child after him, Syd Sensible.
Alongside us were two Italian gentleman who new every word of every Syd Barrett song and insisted on singing along, and then discussing every song in Italian between each song.
Damon Albarn offered us a version of The Word Song, perhaps the most abstract song ever written, The lyrics were projected onto a screen and the entire audience sang along with Damon and the Italians.
Joe Boyd produced this Barbican Show “The Madcap’s Last Laugh” and all proceeds are donated to the charity, “Sane”
Joe Boyd’s book White Bicycles, chronicles the UFO years, and the remainder of his remarkable career. Highly Recommended.