Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd
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Friday, January 10, 2014

Norman Smith and Syd Barrett

Norman Smith
When Norman Smith, a former Royal Air Force glider pilot and failed jazz musician, saw an advertisement in The Times in 1959 stating that EMI were looking for apprentice engineers under the age of 28, the 35 year old decided to lie about his age. At the interview, his cheeky criticism of Cliff Richard, the label's rising star, chimed with his interlocutor's views and also made Smith stand out among the hundred or so applicants. He was one of the three apprentices hired on the spot and began work at EMI's Abbey Road Studios.

For the next six years, Smith worked closely with the producer George Martin, most famously as engineer on all of the Beatles' sessions, from their audition in June 1962 up to the Rubber Soul album at the end of 1965. Although he didn't take part in the Sgt Pepper sessions, Smith went on to produce several albums which helped define British psychedelia. Between 1967 and 1969 he produced Pink Floyd's The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, A Saucerful of Secrets and Ummagumma , and helped the band experiment as they sought a way out of the chaos following the departure of the founder member Syd Barrett.

In the Spring of 1967, the band was the toast of the London underground, famous for its freeform, freak-out style of instrumental improvisation and throbbing, hallucinogenic light shows. It was all a little overwhelming for Smith, who was one of the more senior staff members at Abbey Road. But he knew he was on to something.

“I’m an old jazz man myself,” he says, laughing. “I didn’t know anything about psychedelia. But I could see that Pink Floyd were extremely popular, so I thought, Well, it looks as though we can sell some records here.”

Although Smith was still able to dabble behind the console after moving into production, once he began working with an underground, London-based, psychedelic rock outfit known as the Pink Floyd in early 1967, he "had too many other things to worry about such as Syd Barrett". And, having first seen the band at London's UFO Club, he also had to get to grips with their material.

Recording began almost immediately after signing to EMI in March 1967 and continued during an intense touring schedule through June and early July. Though Syd was still lucid and maintained a strong artistic control, he was, by the end of the sessions, becoming more withdrawn and difficult to communicate with. Norman Smith, called 'Normal' by John Lennon, found Syd especially tiresome. Sceptical of the band's musical ability and inclined to dismiss Barrett's songs as infantile, the sessions were not an altogether happy affair for Smith.

Norman Smith

“I realized as time went on that Syd really and truly, in my opinion, didn’t get any pleasure out of recording,” Smith observes. “Syd’s thing was he would write these songs; he would go to an underground club, or something of that nature, and perform these songs. And that was really it for him.”

"When I look back I wonder how we ever managed to get anything done," Smith said. "It was sheer hell. There are no pleasant memories. I always left with a headache. Syd was undisciplined and would simply never sing the same thing twice. Trying to talk to him was like talking to a brick wall because the face was so expressionless. His lyrics were child-like and he was a child in many ways; up one minute, down the next."

Faced with the unreceptive Smith, Syd found another line of communication into the control room via Peter Bown. The eccentric Abbey Road engineer, then in his early forties, struck up an unlikely friendship with Barrett, resulting in some of the more unusual sounds on the album. "Bown was as loopy as they come," remembers King. "He'd sit at the mixing desk painting plastic skin on his fingers because he was worried they'd wear out through overuse."

"Syd's guitar was always a problem because he would not keep still and was always fiddling with his sound," says Bown, who retired in 1991. "He used to go and kick his echo box every now and then, just because he liked the sound it made. We wrecked four very expensive microphones that first night. They got louder and louder until everything was overloading and the mics just gave up the ghost. "With Syd you just never knew what was going to occue. We all knew he was taking drugs fairly heavily but, nevertheless, he was very creative. The fact that he didn't understand the recording process terribly well meant that he was less rigid about what could and couldn't be done. No-one really understood Pink Floyd, particularly Norman. Pink Floyd were different and they were meant to be different."

"I can't in all honesty say that the music meant anything at all to me," Smith confessed. "In fact, I could barely call it music, given my background as a jazz musician and the musical experience that I'd had with the Beatles. Still, there was something about Syd Barrett's songs that was indescribable — they were nondescript, but obviously had that Barrett magic for an awful lot of people. Nevertheless, I got along as well as anybody could with Syd Barrett. He really was in control. He was the only one doing any writing, he was the only one who I as a producer had to convince if I had any ideas, but the trouble with Syd was that he would agree with almost everything I said and then go back in and do exactly the same bloody thing again! I was really getting nowhere.

"I never actually saw Syd taking drugs in the studio, but he had the kind of character that, even if he hadn't taken any, you'd think he was on drugs. He was a peculiar person. You couldn't really hold a sensible conversation with him for longer than 30 seconds. Roger Waters had the best rapport with Syd, but even he found it difficult. I remember them being on [BBC TV's] Top Of The Pops with 'See Emily Play', and beforehand I took them into Number One Studio purely to rehearse what they would do on television for the first time. I was almost choreographing them, silly little old me, thinking they would actually stick with my choreography! Of course, that all went out of the window, thanks to Syd.

"He wasn't happy about doing Top Of The Pops; he didn't like singles — he only liked doing albums — and it was while waiting around for an appearance on [BBC Radio's] Saturday Club that he walked out of the door and went missing. That really was the first sign of his complete mental breakdown, and he never did come back into the studio any more after that, meaning that I had a hell of a hard time with the recordings."

Smith's input did help the band create an accessible album. As bootlegs of the rough mixes made by Syd attest, if Barrett had had his way the album would be full of phase-shifting and heavy reverb. One can only speculate how it might have sounded if Joe Boyd had produced it as originally planned.

Norman Smith

"As musicians, the Floyd were capable enough, but again Nick Mason would be the first to agree that he was no kind of technical drummer. In fact, I remember recording a number — I can't now recall which one — and there had to be a drum roll, and of course he didn't have a clue what to do. I had been a drummer, and so I had to do that. Nick was no threat to Buddy Rich! Roger Waters, on the other hand, was an adequate bass player for what they did, but to be honest he used to make more interesting noises with his mouth. He had a ridiculous repertoire of mouth noises, and we used that on one or two things."

"So, they were capable, but I had a great struggle with them after Syd Barrett went funny and left. They tried very hard to write material — I remember them writing a song about apples and oranges, which I dressed up and released as a single, and that sold about six copies. It was around the time of the Saucerful Of Secrets album, and I really did think that it was all over. We still had to keep the singles coming for the audience that they had established, but the songs that were being composed by the other three guys were, to say the least, lacking in commerciality. Their recording career was going down the drain fast, and then along came Dave Gilmour and things started to pick up again."

After producing 1970's Atom Heart Mother, Norman Smith was the executive producer of Meddle the following year, yet he was about to exit the Pink Floyd story.

Norman Smith

"These guys now knew what they wanted, and so it was silly for me to contribute any more," he explained. "I thought I'd done my bit with them and encouraged them to produce themselves — they were producing tape loops at home and bringing them in to me — as well as to be resourceful in the studio. Having done that, it was time for me to retire gracefully and offer to help them if they needed my advice at any time. However, they didn't, because Roger Waters — a bit like Paul McCartney — had the makings of being a good producer, and Dave Gilmour showed this ability as well, and I personally think that the two of them together were a greater force than Syd Barrett ever was. They were able to get back to what Pink Floyd was all about, and the rest is history."

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Making of the "Have You Got It Yet?" Series (1)

At the beginning of the nineties, a project from a Yahoo Group called Laughingmadcaps began. Fans and collectors got together in order to compile any unreleased piece of music of Pink Floyd’s founder member Syd Barrett. The man behind the curtain of this Project was Kiloh Smith: “We wanted to leave the listener wanting less not more”. Have You Got It Yet?, the name that was given to the collection, contains songs in which Syd Barrett participated with and without Pink Floyd: Studio outtakes, live recordings, homemade sound mixes, interviews, pictures, articles, essays, TV documentaries, song covers recorded by fans, design covers for the (so far) nineteen discs, all kinds of unreleased video material, songs dedicated to Syd Barrett, and even tracks in which his participation was put into question. No one earned a single penny; the fans traded bootlegs or just sent blank CDs in exchange… and sometimes they received them as presents from someone unknown from the other side of the world. The team who made this possible was interviewed for this article.

Kiloh Smith and Pschnob speak:

1. In order to begin a Project like this, you must love music. How was your first contact with Syd’s music?
Kiloh: My first contact was the live part of the Ummagumma album. Then, A Nice Pair. I came of age during the great progressive rock explosion of the seventies. Groups like Yes, ELP, UK, Gentle Giant and King Crimson were popular. King Crimson was already like... a legend because they had broken up and left all of this amazing music. However, in my neck of the woods, the people who really had the prog thing together listened to Syd Barrett. My friend, Robert Jewell, bought the double LP issued in the USA and I immediately fell in love. As with all artists who I REALLY like, I began collecting bootlegs and trying to learn about them as much as I could. Around 1985, I met Steve Czapla and we began trading bootleg tapes in earnest. This went on for over fifteen years. I still have all of my bootleg cassette tapes and recently purchased a Nakamichi tape deck to continue to enjoy them on. Analog!

Pschnob: I got a copy of piper as a teen and didn't care for it. I was more in a (hard) rock/alcohol phase and didn't sync with gnomes and fairies etc… until after I'd started to use drugs. Sometime in college (or late high school) I first heard Syd's solo work and quite liked it as the madness of it synched with the madness of my drug experiences :) I'm still a bit aberrant amongst Syd fans in that I prefer Syd solo and Pink Floyd post-Syd (before The Dark Side of the Moon), that said, of course I've come to love The Piper at the Gates of Dawn but it wasn't my first love. On a visit to a friend in Harvard I found my first Syd bootleg, the Vegetable Man LP in a Cambridge MA record store. When Opel came out it was my first CD purchase; I had to wait a few weeks until I could afford a player to listen to it.

2. How and when did the idea for Have You Got It Yet? started? How was the material gathered?
K: By the early nineties I had accumulated thousands of hours of bootleg cassettes. By the way, we only traded on metal particle, chrome dioxide, cassettes. Those were the best. Of that, I had a few hundred hours of Pink Floyd. Almost all of the Syd Barrett was filler on some tape or another. Filler was where the piece of music wasn't long enough to warrant its own cassette tape and so was tacked on as filler at the end of some other recording. All of my bootleg Syd Barrett was in my collection in this manner. I thought: "Wouldn't it be nice to record all of this Syd music onto its own tape(s) and then be able to enjoy it all at once?" And that's exactly what I did. I ended up with like... 3.5, 90 minute cassette tapes of Syd Barrett music in chronological order. I played the shit outta those tapes too.

After the Laughing Madcaps group was started (around 1998), and I had all of the fans and Sydiots under one roof, I began thinking back to those 3.5 cassettes of Syd. See... this was the dawn of being able to burn CDs on your computer. The discs had just gone to 80 minutes long and people were availing themselves of this wonderful new technology. Torrents were still years away. So, aaaaaaaanyway... the Roky CD Club was rolling along. That's where the original Roky Yahoo Group (then: Texas Psych) took rare recordings on tape and converted them to CD for free distribution. I thought: "Why not make a CD copy of my tapes and we will get people to all send in their recordings and then pick out the best quality?" I then pitched the idea on the group and... re-pitched it. And... re-pitched it. And... re-pitched it until I got this guy named Rick, with his own recording studio in Connecticut, interested in the idea. See, Syd Barrett fans are, basically, really, really lazy people unless it comes to fighting amongst themselves on some message board.

But anyway, I got Rick on board and then we had a place to mail submissions to. That went on for several months. And I even went to visit Rick in Connecticut. Rick is also Jefferson Starship's Webmaster. After awhile, it became clear that Rick wasn't into going through all the material and picking out the best quality. He had a different vision for the project which involved just putting everything out and letting the fans assemble their own collection. That wasn't going to work and so I removed the project from Rick, which had grown to almost a hundred discs of submissions. I took my toys and went home.

Then I began lobbying my old friend, Steve Czapla to join the project. I was like: "Dude! I have over a hundred discs of Syd Barrett material and we need to percolate it down to the best shit! Also, I am running this Syd Barrett group full of crazy motherfuckers! Join up and I will make you a Moderator!" Steve didn't want to join anything that was being pitched to him as owned by me and full of crazy motherfuckers. I had to really work on him to join the group. I guilt tripped him, everything... Finally, he joined up.

So... the hundred discs were sent to Steve who had a bootlegged copy of Sonic Solutions which was like... a $5000.00 sound editing program back then. The idea came about that, not only would we pick the best recordings, but we would run them through Sonic Solutions. Then, Pinnacle Pschnob joined up and he had his own professional recording studio in Massachusetts. Then ChrisM joined up and some other guy named Swan Lee. These people: Steve, Pschnob, ChrisM and Swan Lee were true Syd Barrett Experts. They made copies of all the discs for each other and then began the long, hard, work of picking out the best version of each piece of material. After awhile, Steve and Swan Lee didn't see eye to eye anymore. Steve didn't like Swan Lee; said he was a douche. Swan Lee told me that Steve had committed the unpardonable sin of messing with his "work" on the project. Adios, Swan Lee.So we began to get a running order of the discs and comfortable working together. Basically, ChrisM and Steve slogged through the tracks and found other stuff. Then Steve and Pschnob would process the results through Sonic Solutions. Then, we would all listen to the various results to pick a “best" version of the processing.

Then we began getting discs together to release to the fans. This was before torrents, so we traded the discs via a tree and leaf network. I am the one that set all that up and I ran the networks too. Basically, a trunk was given a lossless version of the disc. He made lossless copies for the branches who made copies for the leaves. I set this whole thing up by continents and I ran the distributions too. This is where I invented the word Sydiot. This was for all the people who signed up to be branches who should have just stayed home sucking on their bong. They'd be like: "PICK ME! PICK ME! PICK ME!" and I would and then I would hand them the ball and they would throw the thing right into the dirt. Basically, the distributions, of hundreds of discs by continent, were like running gun battles but everybody got their discs.

3. Why is there still so much material unreleased?
K: I don't know what's still unreleased. We put out everything that was floating around and shut down the Syd Barrett Bootleg Industry.

P: That seems like a question better directed to the record company. I can only presume if Syd's solo records or Opel were big successes they'd have released much more… but we did get a lot of extra takes on Fish Out of Water... and “Bob Dylan Blues” and “Rhamadan”, so...there are trickles anyway...

4. Some volumes are being updated. Any plan on sight?
K: We are going to update everything. Ever since we put out HYGIY? that established us as THE Syd Barrett Audio People. So... we have gotten LOTS of upgrades and even some new shit. Yes, I want to put it out. It's up to Steve Czapla and ChrisM because they have the tapes and the track listings and all the upgrades. It's up to them. I want it to come out. The fans want it to come out.

P: Steve has some long term plans; I don't really; I've been working on Roky material for some time now but getting very slow...approaching retirement...

5. Is there an ultimate HYGIY goal?
K: To put the best stuff into all the fan's hands.

6. Was it easy to make fans cooperate?
K: No, they were a bunch of idiots but I ended up assembling a good team.

7. Did everything follow the same path with the Roky Erickson material?
K: HYGIY? was more organized than the Roky initiative. Also, the Syd fans don't think that I am Satan for doing it.

8. Who decided the title Have You Got It Yet?
K: We had a contest on the Laughing Madcaps Group and some woman thought it up. She won the big NO PRIZE.

9. What do you think is EMI’s opinion about it?*
K: I think EMI put out more Syd material because of HYGIY?

10. Ewgeni Reingold made a superb DVD with every visual Syd/Floyd material. Are you in contact with him for future collaborations?
K: We were going to do a HYGIY? video collection and assembled a LOT of video. Steve Czapla is a perfectionist. Sometimes I think that he thinks that this Syd Barrett material is like fine wine or something. Like... it needs to be aged more or something. JUST PUT THE SHIT OUT!!! Anyway, Pinnacle Pschnob got tired of waiting around for Steve to decide something so he gave copies of all of our video work to this Weenie guy. He did a bit of his own work and then put it out as his project.

P: I sent Eugene a lot of that material, the first version contained a lot of flv/mpg1 sourced material but subsequent versions have been upgraded from more mpg2 sources; yes we communicate. Due to a lack of motivation and unique material (no point in duplicating releases others have already done) there are currently no plans to release a HYGIY? DVD (as you know there were several VCDs); that actually was what I was hoping Eugene would do but Kiloh and he got into some dispute so…

11. What was the biggest surprise among the material?

P: Yes, I suppose getting uncirculated material like the “Vegetable Man” and “Beechwoods” sessions recording with Nick [Mason],

About the finding of this particular track, designer Jean-Luke Epstein has first-hand information. He saw a projected tracklist for HYGIY, and noticed that he had something unique.

Jean-Luke: I went to the French Lycée in South Kensington in London. As a big Floyd fan, I'd often notice Nick driving around in his yellow Lotus Elan and Syd was also occasionally spotted too because he lived in 3-4 locations nearby as well ... The interview came about when I approached Nick after a very strange poorly-attended gig the Floyd did in February (1969). Suffice to say, that Nick was very amenable - we had friends in common - and he was up to giving an interview for my school magazine. He was living nearby in Sydney Street at the time. The meeting was very agreeable: he's a very pleasant individual - I met him again 5 years later, when he was living in Camden: he had no memory whatsoever of our '69 encounter but was still just agreeable to give you a sense of how fairly easy-going he is. The only pressure we had was that Nick was going to have to start recording that night - on what was to be the first of the recordings we now know as the More soundtrack. Though the film was still called The Last Drop then. I had a Philips cassette recorder for the interview and brought a friend called Nico Preston (who had first turned me onto Arnold Layne ...) So the recorder was just running when we talked, during which Nick played us some of his parts for Ummagumma which he'd recorder with his girlfriend / fiancée, Lindy, whom he shared the flat with. His recordings were played on an Akai 4-track he had. It was from that that he also played the Vegetable Man backing track - which I recognised from John Peel's broadcasts - and “Beechwoods” that little gem which it still amazes me we haven't heard more examples of ... And it's something of a miracle that the piece you know survived because: My original copy of that recording was stolen - with a few other rarities of that period - a few weeks later. If Nico, who was something of scientific whizz-kid, hadn't made a copy for himself, we wouldn't have had that copy of a copy we're talking about today. 

For my part, it was in 1997 that I was working on my Syd tribute album (Dream Divers: In My Infant Air), and, on its release, got to start exchanges with Steve Czapla and, in due course, Kiloh and their Laughing Madcaps project. Shortly after, David Parker published his Random Precision book. We got to exchanging too and, in the process; Steve produced a lot of clever strokes in extracting remarkable audio, in the circumstances, from the recording which Nico had, by now, digitized to preserve from his dub copy.

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The Making of the "Have You Got It Yet?" Series SOON!

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