The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

Music fans around the world were saddened this month to hear of the death of Sy d Barrett, the founder member of Pink Floyd. The story of his rise to fame, mental breakdown, subsequent disappearance and life as a recluse is well documented, most notably in the excellent book ‘Crazy Diamond’. Why is the world still interested in an artist who burned so brightly for only one brief year and then hardly engaged in anything else again? Pink Floyd went onto even greater success post-Syd, a large portion of their songs are about him, especially on the LPs ‘Wish You Were Here’, ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ and even ‘The Wall’. On the Pink Floyd greatest hits album, Syd’s material comprises 30% of the CD where in fact he only too part on less than 5% of their musical output.

In 1967, Syd Barrett penned and performed on The Pink Floyd’s first three singles and first album, ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ (recorded at the same time as the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper, in the adjacent room) and then due to mental instability and depression, possibly triggered by copious amounts of recreational drugs, he left the band. Apart from two solo albums produced by his old friend (and Pink Floyd replacement) Dave Gilmore, he would never perform again. It would be like the Beatles having John Lennon leave in 1963 even before ‘She Loves You’ was made. Syd’s story is a story of unrevealed potential.

1967 was the year rock music was born. It was when pop music suddenly wasn’t about boy meets girl anymore. Syd’s music personified the psychedelic revolution that spawned Bowie, T-Rex, heavy rock and even punk. (Both the Sex Pistols and Captain Sensible attempted to track Syd down i n the 70s to produce their albums). Syd’s music was utterly creative with the childish perspective of ‘See Emily Play’, the transvestism of ‘Arnold Layne’ and the science fiction and fairy tale fantasy of ‘Astronomy Domie’ and ‘The Gnome’.

But it’s the clever poetry and ingenious use of creative language that is most unique in his songwriting. How those unusual words fit the melody in a loose kind of tightness or a tight kind of looseness in a way that previously only the greatest Jazz players could do with notes. Syd did it with words and mental pictures. Click here to read the words of ‘Octopus’ from his solo LP, ‘The Madcap Laughs’.

There’s an excellent review here of Syd’s life and music (thanks to Alan Stevens)

“Oh where are you now, pussy willow that smiled on this leaf? When I was alone you promised the stone from your heart. My head kissed the ground, I was half the way down, treading the sand, please lift a hand…. won’t you miss me at all?” from ‘Dark Globe’

And now you know why my name is spelt with a ‘y’.

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