Syd Barrett Interview in Melody Maker
March 27, 1971
"The madcap laughs"
Michael Watts talks to ex-Pink Floyd man SYD
Stories about Syd Barrett are legion. That he
became overbearingly egotistical, impossible to
That he was thrown out of The Pink Floyd. That he
suffered a psychological crack-up. That he once
went for an afternoon drive and ended up in
That he went back to live with his mother in
Cambridge as a part of a mental healing
That occasionally he goes to the house of Richard
Wright, The Floyd's organist, and sits there
silently for hours without speaking.
Some of the stories are true.
Roger Waters: "When he was still in the band in the
later stages, we got to the point where anyone of
us was likely to tear his throat out at any minute
because he was so impossible...
"When 'Emily' was a hit and we were third for three
weeks, we did Top Of The Pops, and the third week
we did it he didn't want to know. He got down there
in an incredible state and said he wasn't gonna do
it. We finally discovered the reason was that John
Lennon didn't have to do Top Of The Pops so he
In the past two years he has made a couple of
albums. One of them was called "Barrett." The other
was called "The Madcap Laughs." The cover of
"Madcap" has a picture of him crouching watchfully
on the bare floorboards of a naked room.
A nude girl stretches her body on the background.
The picture encapsulates the mood of his songs,
which are pared-down and unembellished,
unfashionably stripped of refined production
values, so that one is left to concentrate on the
words and the stream of consciousness effect. His
work engenders a sense of gentle, brooding
intimacy; a hesitant, but intense, awareness. Syd
Barrett came up to London last week and talked in
the office of his music publisher--his first press
interview for about a year. His hair is cut very
short now, almost like a skinhead.
Symbolic? Of what, then? He is very aware of what
is going on around him, but his conversation is
often obscure; it doesn't always progress in linear
fashion. He is painfully conscious of his
indeterminate role in the music world--"I've never
really proved myself wrong. I really need to prove
myself right," he says. Maybe he has it all
figured. As he says in "Octopus," "the madcap
laughed at the man on the water [sic]."
M.W.: What have you been doing since you left The
Floyd, apart from making your two albums?
S.B.: Well, I'm a painter, I was trained as a
painter...I seem to have spent a little less time
painting than I might've done...you know, it might
have been a tremendous release getting absorbed in
painting. Any way, I've been sitting about and
writing. The fine arts thing at college was always
too much for me to think about. What I was more
involved in was being successful at arts school.
But it didn't transcend the feeling of playing at
UFO and those sort of places with the lights and
that, the fact that the group was getting bigger
I've been at home in Cambridge with my mother. I've
got lots of, well, children in a sense. My
uncle...I've been getting used to a family
existence, generally. Pretty unexciting. I work in
a cellar, down in a cellar.
M.W.: What would you sooner be--a painter or a
S.B.: Well, I think of me being a painter
M.W.: Do you see the last two years as a process of
getting yourself together again?
S.B.: No. Perhaps it has something to do with what
I felt could be better as regards music, as far as
my job goes generally, because I did find I needed
a job. I wanted to do a job. I never admitted it
because I'm a person who doesn't admit it.
> M.W.: There were stories you were going to go
back to college, or get a job in a factory.
S.B.: Well, of course, living in Cambridge I have
to find something to do. I suppose I could've done
a job. I haven't been doing any work. I'm not
really used to doing quick jobs and then stopping,
but I'm sure it would be possible.
M.W.: Tell me about The Floyd--how did they
S.B.: Roger Waters is older than I am. He was at
the architecture school in London. I was studying
at Cambridge--I think it was before I had set up at
Camberwell (art college). I was really moving
backwards and forwards to London. I was living in
Highgate with him, we shared a place there, and got
a van and spent a lot of our grant on pubs and that
sort of thing. We were playing Stones numbers. I
suppose we were interested in playing guitars--I
picked up playing guitar quite quickly...I didn't
play much in Cambridge because I was from the art
school, you know. But I was soon playing on the
professional scene and began to write from
M.W.: Your writing has always been concerned purely
with songs rather than long instrumental pieces
like the rest of The Floyd, hasnUt it?
S.B.: Their choice of material was always very much
to do with what they were thinking as architecture
students. Rather unexciting people, I would've
thought, primarily. I mean, anybody walking into an
art school like that would've been tricked--maybe
they were working their entry into an art school.
But the choice of material was restricted, I
suppose, by the fact that both Roger and I wrote
different things. We wrote our own songs, played
our own music. They were older, by about two years,
I think. I was 18 or 19. I don't know that there
was really much conflict, except that perhaps the
way we started to play wasn't as impressive as it
was to us, even, wasn't as full of impact as it
might've been. I mean, it was done very well,
rather than considerably exciting. One thinks of it
all as a dream.
M.W.: Did you like what they were doing--the fact
that the music was gradually moving away from songs
like "See Emily Play"?
S.B.: Singles are always simple...all the equipment
was battered and worn--all the stuff we started out
with was our own, the guitars were our own
property. The electronic noises were probably
necessary. They were very exciting. That's all
really. The whole thing at the time was playing on
M.W.: Was it only you who wanted to make
S.B.: It was probably me alone, I think. Obviously,
being a pop group one wanted to have singles. I
think "Emily" was fourth in the hits.
M.W.: Why did you leave them?
> S.B.: It wasn't really a war. I suppose it was
really just a matter of being a little offhand
about things. We didn't feel there was one thing
which was gonna make the decision at the minute. I
mean, we did split up, and there was a lot of
trouble. I don't think The Pink Floyd had any
trouble, but I had an awful scene, probably
self-inflicted, having a mini and going all over
England and things. Still...
M.W.: Do you think the glamour went to your head at
S.B.: I dunno. Perhaps you could see it as
something went to one's head, but I don't know that
it was relevant.
M.W.: There were stories you had left because you
had been freaked out by acid trips.
S.B.: Well, I dunno, it don't seem to have much to
do with the job. I only know the thing of playing,
of being a musician, was very exciting. Obviously,
one was better off with a silver guitar with
mirrors and things all over it than people who
ended up on the floor or anywhere else in London.
The general concept, I didn't feel so conscious of
it as perhaps I should. I mean, one's position as a
member of London's young people's--I dunno what
you'd call it--underground wasn't it--wasn't
necessarily realised and felt, I don't think,
especially from the point of view of groups. I
remember at UFO--one week one group, then another
week another group, going in and out, making that
set-up, and I didn't think it was as active as it
could've been. I was really surprised that UFO
finished. I only read last week that itUs not
finished. Joe Boyd did all the work on it and I was
really amazed when he left. What we were doing was
a microcosm of the whole sort of philosophy and it
tended to be a little bit cheap. The fact that the
show had to be put together; the fact that we
weren't living in luxurious places with luxurious
things around us. I think I would always advocate
that sort of thing--the luxurious life. It's
probably because I donUt do much work.
M.W.: Were you not at all involved in acid, then,
during its heyday among rock bands?
S.B.: No. It was all, I suppose, related to living
in London. I was lucky enough...I've always thought
of going back to a place where you can drink tea
and sit on the carpet. I've been fortunate enough
to do that. All that time...you've just reminded me
of it. I thought it was good fun. I thought The
Soft Machine were good fun. They were playing on
"Madcap," except for Kevin Ayers.
M.W.: Are you trying to create a mood in your
songs, rather than tell a story?
S.B.: Yes, very much. It would be terrific to do
much more mood stuff. They're very pure, you know,
the words...I feel I'm jabbering. I really think
the whole thing is based on me being a guitarist
and having done the last thing about two or three
years ago in a group around England and Europe and
The States, and then coming back and hardly having
done anything, so I don't really know what to say.
I feel, perhaps, I could be claimed as being
redundant almost. I don't feel active, and that my
public conscience is fully satisfied.
M.W.: Don't you think that people still remember
S.B.: Yes, I should think so.
M.W.: Then why don't you get some musicians, go on
the road and do some gigs?
S.B.: I feel though the record would still be the
thing to do. And touring and playing might make
that impossible to do.
M.W.: Don't you fancy playing live again after two
S.B.: Yes, very much.
M.W.: What's the hang-up then? Is it getting the
right musicians around you?
> M.W.: What would be of primary
importance--whether they were brilliant musicians
or whether you could get on with them?
S.B.: I'm afraid I think I'd have to get on with
them. They'd have to be good musicians. I think
they'd be difficult to find. They'd have to be
M.W.: Would you say, therefore, you were a
difficult person to get on with?
S.B.: No. Probably my own impatience is the only
thing, because it has to be very easy. You can play
guitar in your canteen, you know, your hair might
be longer, but there's a lot more to playing than
travelling around universities and things.
M.W.: Why don't you go out on your own playing
acoustic? I think you might be very successful.
S.B.: Yeah...thatUs nice. Well, I've only got an
electric. I've got a black Fender which needs
replacing. I haven't got any blue jeans...I really
prefer electric music.
M.W.: What records do you listen to?
S.B.: Well, I haven't bought a lot. I've got things
like Ma Rainey recently. Terrific, really
M.W.: Are you going into the blues, then, in your
S.B.: I suppose so. Different groups do different
things...one feels that Slade would be an
interesting thing to hear, you know.
M.W.: Will there be a third solo album?
> S.B.: Yeah. I've got some songs in the studio,
still. And I've got a couple of tapes. It should be
12 singles, and jolly good singles. I think I shall
be able to produce this one myself. I think it was
always easier to do that.