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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Syd Barrett 1974 Sessions Revealed

Syd Barrett 1974 Sessions
Syd Barrett 1974 Sessions
In August 1974, Peter Jenner convinced Syd Barrett to return to Abbey Road Studios in hope of rekindling his career. However, little became of the Syd Barrett 1974 sessions, which lasted three days and consisted of blues rhythm tracks with tentative and disjointed guitar overdubs (the only titled track is "If You Go, Don't Be Slow"). Unbelievably, the original plan was that over this period, Syd would make an album: do the guitars in one day, the bass the next, then the drums and keyboards, and on the final day he'd sing. However, it seems that nothing got any further than a few guitar and bass overdubs.

My understanding is that EMI wanted another album out of Syd. It had been a few years, the Floyd had made it big, the solo albums had been reissued, and there was interest. I think he was still under contract as well. Syd agreed to it but got bored once he was there. Pink Floyd was taking forever to produce a followup to "Dark Side" and the record company wanted to have another Syd album, or at least a few new tracks for a repackage, something, anything. Syd finally agreed to go into the studio, and so they booked a few days to lay down some tracks.

Syd Barrett's Last Recording Session - Abbey Road Studios 08-12-1974. One of the many biographies I have read about this session (arranged for three days, but only worked on for one) said that all they could produce from Syd is "a few unfocused licks". Well, it's a bit more than that. If I remember correctly again, he was using a stratocaster in these sessions.


Boogie #1
Boogie #2
Boogie #3
If You Go #1
Ballad (unfinished)
If You Go #2
Slow Boogie
John Lee Hooker
Fast Boogie

Source: Peter Jenner's Mixdown Reel

This was released a few years ago as: You Got It Now which is, obviously, a play on the Have You Got It Yet? set. While they tell a sad story, all the 1974 tracks have a certain something about them. I also thought it was interesting that "Boogie 2" seems to share a bit of a chord sequence with Word Song. My highlight, though, is at the end of "Ballad (unfinished)" where Syd can clearly be heard saying "Can you, um, have you got the chords?" and sounding no more or less together than he did in 1970.

The story behind the 11 tracks on this reel is that on the second day of recording, Syd didn't turn up. This meant that producer Peter Jenner and engineer John Leckie were at a loose end, and so they assembled a reel of 'highlights' from the previous day's recording - those highlights being the 11 tracks we have here. Jenner subsequently gave a cassette dub of this reel to Bernard White, and presumably that's how we have the tracks now. (The same day, Jenner and Leckie also did mixes of Scream Thy Last Scream, Vegetable Man and various then-unreleased solo outtakes, which also made their way, via Bernard, to a number of bootleg LPs in the '70s and '80s, and ultimately to HYGIY).

So, the tracks on the Jenner reel aren't quite Syd's last ever recordings - the sessions continued for a further two days before all concerned gave up the ghost. The results of these last two days of sessions have never left EMI's 16-track reels, but presumably they are in a similar vein to what we have.

The only person I know of who has heard more material from the '74 sessions than this 11-track 'highlights' tape is Phil Smee, who listened through a lot of this stuff when he was assembling the Crazy Diamond box set. He told me that there's a lot of silence, and most of what's on the tape sounds like what you'd get if you gave a small child a slide guitar for the first time. There are no vocals at all. Syd can be heard speaking occasionally, but in a very vague, indistinct sort of way - like "ummm... dunno, I'm not sure really...". Smee says that if there was any kind of worthwhile soundbite, even Syd saying "I can't cope with this, I'm going home" or whatever, then he would have included it as an unlisted track on Crazy Diamond. However, there wasn't even anything like that. There was one bit where Syd said something like "Was that enough, or shall we tape over it" which Smee considered using, but he decided against in the end.

Any lingering hope of a fruitful session disappeared when Syd arrived with a string-less guitar. A set of strings was eventually procured from Phil May of The Pretty Things but Pink Floyd Biographer, Barry Miles, described how the proceedings degenerated into a grim charade: "When everything seemed in order they began. Syd had asked someone to type his lyrics to his new songs for him. This they had done using the red ribbon of the typewriter. When the sheet was handed to Syd he thought it was a bill, grabbed the guy's hand and tried to bite his fingers off."

On the one hand, he wasn't very prepared--he had lyrics, but on the evidence of what we can hear (and these are what Jenner selected as the "best bits" from several hours of tape), he was still working out the music. The engineers couldn't quite figure out if he really even wanted to be there; still, he did seem to take it seriously. The original plan was that he would play all the instruments himself, and in fact he had a bass and drum kit. It never got that far, but that was the plan. He quickly lost interest, and that's where work on the third album stopped.


The material put down on tape was described as 'extremely weird' and had a 'strong hardly-begun feel to it.' Only the backing tracks were recorded, no vocal tracks at all, and there is some doubt as to whether Syd even bothered to turn up on the third day. The material never reached the stage where it could be mixed and consequently remains unissued except on bootleg. Once again, Barrett withdrew from the music industry. He sold the rights to his solo albums back to the record label and moved into a London hotel. The termination of Syd and the re-incarnation of Roger was not far away.

Jenner saw the sessions as a painful exercise in futility. He had tried to play the understanding, liberal, Producer but Barrett was unhappy even under Jenner's relaxed command and he frequently disappeared for brooding walks around the studio. According to Peter Jenner: "The engineer used to say that if he turned right he'd be back but if he went left he'd be gone for the day. He was never wrong."
It's just a shame that Jenner - or someone - wasn't able to guide Syd through these sessions in a way that might have helped nurture these half-finished ideas into something a little more complete. Turning up at Abbey Road with nothing prepared and trying to do a whole album, alone, in a week just seems like an absolutely crackpot scheme. If only someone had just gone up to Chelsea Cloisters with a 4-track or something.

Peter Barnes (on Syd's last recording session): "It was an abortion. He just kept over-dubbing guitar part on guitar part until it was just a total chaotic mess. He also wouldn't show anyone his lyrics - I fear actually because he hadn't written any."

Around the same time, one of Syd's old Cambridge friends was driving along Oxford Street when he suddenly spied him loping along the pavement. Braking to a halt, the friend leaped out and scurried after the retreating figure of Syd who stonily ignored his greeting. His forward gaze did not falter, nor did he slow down. Finally the perplexed friend asked Syd where he was walking to. Barrett stopped, turned, and fixed his piercing green eyes on the pursuer. "Far further than you could possibly imagine," he said before striding off purposefully.

Bryan Morrison once asked Syd if he'd written any new songs since the final, abortive November 1974 session and Syd replied: "No".

During this period, several attempts to employ him as a record producer (including one by Jamie Reid on behalf of the Sex Pistols, and another by The Damned, who wanted him to produce their second album), were all fruitless. In 1978, when the money ran out, he walked back to Cambridge to live in his mother's basement. Barrett returned to live in London again in 1981; however, this only lasted a few weeks, and he soon returned to Cambridge for good. Until his death, Barrett still received royalties from his work with Pink Floyd from each compilation and some of the live albums and singles that had featured his songs; Gilmour has commented that he (Gilmour) "Made sure the money got to him all right".

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

he couldn't have gone to live in his mother's basement in 1978 because she had already sold that house.

November 7, 2016 at 2:53 PM  

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