There is a simple fact that both David Gilmour and Roger Waters overlooked in their loud, very public and rather undignified spat over the ownership of Pink Floyd and that was that the band had already undergone one titanic leadership change when they chose to unburden themselves of the drug-addled, creative, aloof, psychedelic genius that was Syd Barrett after just one album and replace him with Gilmour. True, the bulk of Floyd’s material written following ‘Piper…’ was at least guided by Roger, but the point is the band began with (and for some people ended with) Syd and it was his relentlessly creative streak that created the evergreen classic that is ‘Piper at the gates of dawn’ and his influence that led to the wilfully trippy ‘Saucerful of secrets’ and the epic, elegant ‘Wish you were here’; and while these days it is easy to forget that the Floyd began life as a very different band to the stadium-filling monsters they eventually became, this handy compilation traces Syd’s work from its playful beginnings through to the point where he retired from music altogether to become a recluse, carefully tending his garden just outside Cambridge.
Quite why David Gilmour has become the unofficial keeper of Syd’s flame is something of a mystery, but over the years the guitarist has referenced Syd many times via songs such as ‘wish…’ and through various faithful covers at his solo shows and so it seems right that he should be on board here as executive producer to a compilation that is never anything less than respectful to the original creator’s memory. A two disc effort, the tracks have been gloriously re-mastered, which certainly helps balance the sound, but the real bonus is that no fewer than five of the tracks have been carefully remixed with David Gilmour’s sensitive input and the guitarist has even added bass to ‘Here I go’, making sure that Syd’s erratic back-catalogue is presented in the pristine light that it deserves.
Opening with a selection of Syd’s finest Floyd moments, the first side is taken up with four songs, three of which are taken from singles (‘Arnold Lane’ and ‘See Emily Play’, both of which appeared on Relics, and ‘Apples and oranges’ which was unearthed on the 40th Anniversary edition of Piper…) and ‘Matilda mother’ which joins two further cuts from Piper… on side two. The songs sound remarkably strong to ears that haven’t heard them in a couple of years or so and the re-mastering job has worked wonders while the new mix of ‘Matilda Mother’ renders it a much stronger recording than the original. Side two is rounded out with three Syd solo tracks including one of my personal favourites – the glorious ‘Terrapin’ (covered by Gilmour on a number of occasions) and the carefully chosen mix allows a new listener to witness Syd at his very romantic best and at his most whimsical (the child-like ‘Bike’ is also here to bemuse a whole new generation of music lovers).
The second disc follows Syd as he explores his creativity strolling from the wonderful ‘Octopus’ through the bizarre and fairly unlistenable ‘if it’s in you’ which sees Syd struggle to hit any note at all to the mesmerising, stunning, beautiful ‘Dominoes’ (memorably covered by Gilmour at the Albert Hall) which, if it was the only song that Syd had ever written, would be enough to justify the respect with which he is held in the music world. Better still, the 2010 mix of ‘Dominoes’ is fantastically clear and it sounds as if it was recorded only yesterday as the bass thumps from the speakers and Syd’s voice, not always so strong, carries one of his most memorable melodies.
Syd wasn’t always this good. The rock and roll life took a heavy toll on a man who gave every last ounce of his personality to every song he wrote and so the full Syd back catalogue contains a huge mix of the great, the sublime, the bad and the mad and it is hard for anyone unfamiliar to wade in without help. This compilation is the ideal primer – a respectful, intelligently chosen selection that offers those who weren’t there or who missed out, the chance to discover a true, eccentric English genius. Released, especially for record store day 2011, on double vinyl with Storm’s typically astonishing artwork reproduced at a sensible size, this is the way to truly appreciate the man’s work and with a beautiful gatefold cover and printed inner sleeves bearing the lyrics and some wonderful pieces of artwork, this is a treasure indeed. If you have yet to discover Syd, or if you just want his finest moments condensed into one simple package, then this is a beautiful and timely release to get hold of.