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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Untangling the Octopus Explained

Untangling the Octopus
Untangling the Octopus
Untangling the Octopus
Untangling the Octopus
Untangling the Octopus
Untangling the Octopus
Untangling the Octopus
Untangling the Octopus

Ever since Paul Belbin wrote Untangling the Octopus in 2005 there has been controversy. Who wrote it? Why? Who published it first? Now apparently, the Author of a well-known Syd Barrett biography cribbed it for his book without acknowledging Paul. Anyway, I wrote Paul recently for an explanation and here is his reply to me below.

Hi Kiloh,

Here we go again... you would be amazed how much controversy that essay has embroiled me in over the years (or maybe not given your experiences over Roky material) ! Is this happening on the Facebook group? As you know, I don’t Facebook.

For clarity, here's a potted history, feel free to quote me. It’s probably longer than you expected, but hopefully, you’ll see why.

I first wrote 'Untangling The Octopus' in 2005. At the end, I added – “Copyright: July 2005 by Percy The Ratcatcher a.k.a. For discussion on the Vegetable Friends and Madcapslaughing Yahoo ! Groups. Not for amendment, publication, reproduction or quotation without the author’s permission (you probably only have to ask though !)”

That's exactly what I wrote because I just copied and pasted it from the original essay. I extended and updated the essay in August 2006 and published Version 2 with the same copyright. The reason I added the copyright was not that I was precious about the essay - I knew there was more to discover, and wanted to encourage people to contribute ideas - but because I knew it would be easy pickings for a journalist / biographer to claim it for their own. After the amount of work I had put into it, I felt some acknowledgement was at least due. In turn, I acknowledged everyone who had contributed sources and suggestions.

Reactions and outcomes were mixed from the start. The owner of Vegetable Friends disapproved of the copyright to the extent of asking me to take the essay down. As a result, I no longer participate in that group. David Parker (author of 'Random Precision') gave the essay to the producers of the 'Syd Barrett: Under Review' DVD as evidence that Syd's writing was more than just acid-induced word salad. They used it, but didn't credit the source.

Julian Palacios earned my respect and gratitude by asking for my permission to publish - on the internet - an expanded essay mixing my observations with his own suggestions about influences and sources for 'Octopus'. I was happy to give him permission, and Julian wrote some kind words about the essay in 'Dark Globe', and referenced it in the bibliography. See the very last page of the book. Under online sources it says, Belbin, Paul ‘Untangling The Octopus’ Laughing Madcaps Group, 2004-6, That’s the right way to do it !

In May 2008 I received an email from Ian Barrett, saying that he knew Rob Chapman, who was writing a biography of Rog/Syd (as Ian put it). Ian said he had passed ‘Untangling The Octopus’ to Rob and “He is very interested in your work and is unaware of some of the references you have brought out. He told me he is very keen to speak to you about it and will be contacting you.”

That contact never happened. When I read Rob Chapman’s ‘A Very Irregular Head’, I found the section on Octopus not only  reproduced many of the sources identified in my essay, but took a very similar approach to setting out the case, sometimes even using the same words as me to make a point. I contacted Rob and congratulated him on a fine Barrett biography, but said I felt some acknowledgement was due. He disagreed, to the point of invoking the legal department of Faber and Faber and ‘strongly urging’ me to seek legal representation.

This is where Felix comes in. He had also read the ‘Octopus’ section in ‘A Very Irregular Head’, and he also thought that Rob Chapman could be accused of plagiarism. He wrote a review of the biography pointing out that the dissection of Octopus for which the author received much credit, actually wasn’t very original at all. That’s here:

I thanked Felix for making this public, and he replied asking if he could host the essay on his site, ‘The Holy Church of Iggy The Inuit’. So… yes, I gave Felix permission to host the essay. But not exclusive permission. The damn essay was never meant to be exclusive, not even to me. it was a labour of love and the starting point – I hoped – for some serious research and discussion. My ego is large enough to think I deserve some credit for it, but I’ve never sought to gain anything else from it.

Felix is welcome to host it. So are you. If it’s anyone’s to give away, it’s mine and I give it freely! All I ask is that the source is acknowledged. I know you understand this, as HYGIY was done in exactly the same spirit.

Let me know whether this settles the arguments. I will forward it to Felix with a covering note.

Meanwhile, take care, and if there are any exciting developments / HYGIY updates, etc… don’t forget to put them on the Yahoo Group too, I still get the digests!


Paul (Percy The Ratcatcher)
To read the Belbin/Palacios version of Untangling the Octopus go here:
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