Though he eventually disappeared from the public eye, Syd Barrett did not fade into obscurity all at once after his “erratic behavior,” as Andy Kahn writes at JamBase, “led to his leaving” Pink Floyd in 1968. The founding singer/songwriter/guitarist went on in the following few years to write, record, and even sporadically perform new solo material, appearing on John Peel’s BBC show in 1970 and giving a long Rolling Stone interview the following year. He even started, briefly, a new band in 1972 and worked on new recordings in the studio until 1974.
Barrett released two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, in 1970. Like the solo work of Roky Erickson and Skip Spence—two other tragic psychedelic-era geniuses with mental health struggles—Barrett’s later compositions are frustratingly rough-cut gems: quirky, sinister, meandering folk-psych adventures that provide an alternate look into what Pink Floyd might have sounded like if their original intentions of keeping him on as a non-performing songwriter had worked out.
Assisting him during his studio sessions were former bandmates Roger Waters, Richard Wright, and David Gilmour. The band still admired his singular talent, but they found working, and even speaking, with him difficult in the extreme.
As Gilmour has described those years in interviews, they carried a considerable amount of guilt over Barrett’s ouster. In addition to the heartbreaking tribute “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” Gilmour has often performed Syd’s solo songs onstage in affecting, often solo acoustic, renditions that became all the more poignant after Barrett’s death in 2006.
In the videos at the top, you can see Gilmour play two songs from Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs—“Terrapin” and “Dark Globe”—and further up, see him play “Dominoes” from Barrett, with Richard Wright on Keyboards. Gilmour has also revisited onstage Pink Floyd’s earliest, Barrett-fronted, days. Just above, we have the rare treat of seeing him play the band’s first single, “Arnold Layne,” with special guest David Bowie on lead vocals. And below, see Gilmour and Wright play a version of the early Floyd classic “Astronomy Domine,” live at Abbey Road studios.
It was, sadly, at Abbey Road where the band last saw Barrett, when he entered the studio in 1975 during the final mixes of Wish You Were Here. Overweight and with shaved head and eyebrows, Barrett was at first unrecognizable. After this last public appearance, he felt the need, as Waters put it, to “withdraw completely” from “modern life.” But the tragic final months with Pink Floyd and few sightings afterward should hardly be the way we remember Syd Barrett. He may have lost the ability to communicate with his former friends and bandmates, but for a time he continued to speak in hauntingly strange, thoroughly original songs.
This collection of videos comes to us via JamBase.