Syd Barrett

Syd Barrett
Syd Barrett

Syd Barrett in 1969
Background information
Birth name Roger Keith Barrett
Born 6 January 1946(1946-01-06)
Cambridge, England
Died 7 July 2006(2006-07-07) (aged 60)
Cambridge, England
Genres Psychedelic rock, space rock, psychedelic folk, blues rock, experimental rock, psychedelic pop[1]
Occupations musician, songwriter, artist
Instruments Vocals, Guitar
Years active 1964–1975
Labels Harvest, EMI
Associated acts Pink Floyd, Stars
Notable instruments
Danelectro DC-59
Fender Esquire

Syd Barrett (6 January 1946 – 7 July 2006), born Roger Keith Barrett, was an English singer-songwriter, guitarist, and painter, best remembered as a founding member of the band Pink Floyd. He was the lead vocalist, guitarist and primary songwriter during the band's psychedelic years, providing major musical and stylistic direction in their early work, including their name. He left the group in 1968 amid speculations of mental illness exacerbated by drugs, and was briefly hospitalised.[2]

Besides being a pioneer in psychedelic rock with his expressive guitar playing and imaginative compositions, Barrett was also a pioneer in the space rock and psychedelic folk genres. He was active in music for only about seven years, recording four singles, two albums, and several unreleased songs with Pink Floyd; and a single and two albums, plus a third one of unreleased tracks/alternate takes, as a solo musician, before going into self-imposed seclusion lasting more than thirty years.

In his post-musician life, he continued with his painting and dedicated himself to gardening, never to return to the public eye. He died in 2006. A number of biographies have been written about him since the 1980s, and Pink Floyd wrote and recorded several tributes to him after he left, most notably the 1975 album Wish You Were Here.



Early years

Barrett was born as Roger Keith Barrett in the English city of Cambridge to a middle-class family. His father, Arthur Max Barrett, was a prominent pathologist, and both he and his wife, Winifred, encouraged the young Roger (as he was known then) in his music. When Barrett was three years old, his family moved to 183 Hills Road. After his brothers and sisters left home, his mother rented out rooms to lodgers, including a future Prime Minister of Japan.[3] One common tale of how Barrett acquired the nickname "Syd" at the age of 14, is of a reference to an old local Cambridge jazz double bassist, Sid 'the beat' Barrett, which claims Syd Barrett changed the spelling in order to differentiate himself from his namesake.[4] However, when he was 13, his schoolmates nicknamed him "Syd" after he showed up to a field day at Abington Scout site wearing a flat cap instead of his Scout beret; making reference to "Syd" being a "working-class" name.[5] He used both names interchangeably for several years and his sister Rosemary stated, "He was never Syd at home. He would never have allowed it".[5] He attended Cambridgeshire High School for Boys and Cambridge College of Arts and Technology.

His father died of cancer on 11 December 1961, less than a month before Barrett's 16th birthday. Eager to help her son recover from his grief, Barrett's mother encouraged the band he played in, Geoff Mott and the Mottoes, to perform in their front room. Roger Waters and Barrett were childhood friends, and Waters often visited such gigs.[6] Barrett enrolled in Camberwell Art School in South London in 1964 to study painting.[7]

Pink Floyd years (1965–68)

Starting in 1964, the band that would become Pink Floyd underwent various line-up and name changes such as "The Abdabs", "The Screaming Abdabs", "Sigma 6", and "The Meggadeaths". In 1965, Barrett joined them as The Tea Set, and when they found themselves playing a concert with a band of the same name, Barrett came up with the name "The Pink Floyd Sound" (later "The Pink Floyd"). He devised the name "Pink Floyd" by juxtaposing the first names of Pink Anderson and Floyd Council whom he had read about in a sleeve note by Paul Oliver for a 1962 Blind Boy Fuller LP (Philips BBL-7512): "Curley Weaver and Fred McMullen, (...) Pink Anderson or Floyd Council—these were a few amongst the many blues singers that were to be heard in the rolling hills of the Piedmont, or meandering with the streams through the wooded valleys".[8] Barrett also told the story that the name was transmitted to him by a flying saucer while he was sitting on Glastonbury Tor.[7]

London Underground

While Pink Floyd began by playing cover versions of American R&B songs (in much the same vein as contemporaries The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, and The Kinks), by 1966 they had carved out their own style of improvised rock and roll, which drew as much from improvised jazz as it did from British pop-rock, such as that championed by The Beatles. In that year, a new rock concert venue, the UFO, opened in London and quickly became a haven for British psychedelic music. Pink Floyd, the house band,[9] was its most popular attraction and after making appearances at the rival Roundhouse, became the most popular musical group of the so-called "London Underground" psychedelic music scene.[10]

By the end of 1966, Pink Floyd had gained a reliable management team in Andrew King and Peter Jenner (who went on to manage new wave band Ian Dury & The Blockheads). The duo befriended American expatriate Joe Boyd, the promoter of the UFO Club, who was making a name for himself as one of the more important entrepreneurs on the British music scene.


Joe Boyd produced a recording session for the group in January 1967 at Sound Techniques in Chelsea, which resulted in a demo of the single "Arnold Layne". King and Jenner took the song to the recording behemoth EMI, who were impressed enough to offer the band a contract, under which they would be allowed to record an album; the band accepted. By the time the album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was released, "Arnold Layne" had reached number 20 on the British singles charts (despite a ban by Radio London) and the follow-up single, "See Emily Play", had done even better, peaking at number 6.[11]

Their first three singles, including their third ("Apples and Oranges"), were written by Barrett, who also was the principal visionary/author of their critically acclaimed 1967 debut album. Of the eleven songs on The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Barrett wrote eight and co-wrote another two.[12]

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was recorded intermittently between January and July 1967 in Studio 3 at Abbey Road Studios, and produced by former Beatles engineer Norman Smith. At the same time, The Beatles were recording Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in Studio 2 and the Pretty Things were recording S.F. Sorrow in Studio 1. When The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was released in August of that year it became a smash hit in the UK, hitting #6 on the British album charts (although it was not nearly so successful in the US). However, as the band began to attract a large fan base, the mounting pressures on Barrett are thought to have contributed to his escalating psychological problems.

Barrett's departure from Pink Floyd

Through late 1967 and early 1968, Barrett's behaviour became increasingly erratic and unpredictable, partly as a consequence of his reported heavy use of psychedelic drugs, most prominently LSD.[10] Many report having seen him on stage with the group, strumming on one chord through the entire concert, or not playing at all.[13] At a show at The Fillmore in San Francisco, during a performance of "Interstellar Overdrive", Barrett slowly detuned his guitar. The audience seemed to enjoy such antics, unaware of the rest of the band's consternation. Interviewed on Pat Boone's show during this tour, Syd's reply to Boone's questions was a "blank and totally mute stare"; according to Nick Mason, "Syd wasn't into moving his lips that day". Barrett exhibited similar behaviour during the band's first appearance on Dick Clark's popular TV show American Bandstand. When asked two questions by Clark, Barrett's answers were terse, almost to the point of rudeness (though, as Clark admitted, they had been flying non-stop from London to Los Angeles). Before a performance in late 1967, Barrett reportedly crushed Mandrax tranquilliser tablets and an entire tube of Brylcreem into his hair, which subsequently melted down his face under the heat of the stage lighting, making him look like "a guttered candle".[14] Nick Mason later disputed the Mandrax portion of this story, stating that "Syd would never waste good mandies".[15]

During their UK tour with Jimi Hendrix in November 1967, guitarist David O'List from The Nice was called in to substitute for Barrett on several occasions when he was unable to perform or failed to appear. And sometime around Christmas, David Gilmour (a school friend of Barrett's) was asked to join the band as a second guitarist to cover for Barrett, whose erratic behaviour prevented him from performing. For a handful of shows David played and sang while Barrett wandered around on stage, occasionally deciding to join in playing. The other band members soon grew tired of Barrett's antics and, on 26 January 1968, on the way to a show at Southampton University, the band elected not to pick Barrett up: one person in the car said, "Shall we pick Syd up?" and another said, "Let's not bother" (Gilmour interview in Guitar World, January 1995). The band's initial plan was to keep him in the group as a non-touring member— as Brian Wilson did for The Beach Boys, Barrett had, up until then, written the overwhelming bulk of their material, but this soon proved to be impractical.[16]

There are many stories about Barrett's bizarre and intermittently psychotic behaviour, some known to be true. According to Roger Waters, Barrett came into what was to be their last practice session with a new song he had dubbed "Have You Got It, Yet?". The song seemed simple enough when he first presented it to his bandmates, but it soon became impossibly difficult to learn and they eventually realised that while they were practising it, Barrett kept changing the arrangement. He would then play it again, with the arbitrary changes, and sing "Have you got it yet?". Eventually they realised they never would and that they were simply bearing the brunt of Barrett's idiosyncratic sense of humour.[17]

Barrett did not contribute material to the band after A Saucerful of Secrets was released in 1968. Of the songs he wrote for Pink Floyd after The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, only one ("Jugband Blues") made it to the band's second album; one ("Apples and Oranges") became a less-than-successful single, and two others ("Scream Thy Last Scream" and "Vegetable Man") were never officially released. Barrett supposedly spent time outside the recording studio, waiting to be invited in. He also showed up to a few gigs and glared at Gilmour. Barrett played slide guitar on "Remember a Day" (which had been first attempted during The Piper at the Gates of Dawn sessions), and also played on "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun".[18] On 6 April 1968, the group officially announced Barrett was no longer a member of Pink Floyd.

Solo years (1968–72)

After leaving Pink Floyd, Barrett distanced himself from the public eye. At the behest of EMI and Harvest Records, he embarked on a brief solo career, releasing two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett. Most of the compositions on both albums date from Barrett's most productive period of songwriting, late 1966 to mid-1967, and it is believed that he wrote few new songs after he left Pink Floyd.

The first album, The Madcap Laughs, was recorded in two sessions, both at Abbey Road Studios: a few tentative sessions took place between May and June 1968 (produced by Peter Jenner), while the bulk of the album was recorded between April and July 1969. The record was produced first by Malcolm Jones, a young EMI executive, and then by David Gilmour and Roger Waters. In his book The Making of the Madcap Laughs, Jones states that "when Dave came to me and said that Syd wanted him and Roger to do the remaining parts of the album, I acquiesced." A few tracks on the album feature overdubs by members of the band Soft Machine. Barrett also played guitar on the sessions for Soft Machine founder Kevin Ayers' debut LP Joy of a Toy, although his performance on "Religious Experience" was not released until the album was reissued in 2003.

The second album, Barrett, was recorded more sporadically than the first, with sessions taking place between February and July 1970. The album was produced by David Gilmour and Richard Wright, featured Gilmour on bass guitar, Wright on keyboard and Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley.

Despite the numerous recording dates for his two solo albums, Barrett undertook very little musical activity between 1968 and 1972 outside the studio. On 24 February 1970, he appeared on John Peel's BBC radio programme Top Gear playing five songs—only one of which had been previously released. Three would be re-recorded for the Barrett album, while the song "Two of a Kind" was a one-off performance (the song appears on the 2001 compilation The Best of Syd Barrett: Wouldn't You Miss Me?) with the lyrics and composition having since been credited to Richard Wright. Barrett was accompanied on this session by David Gilmour and Jerry Shirley who played bass and percussion, respectively.

Gilmour and Shirley also backed Barrett for his one and only live concert during this period. The gig took place on 6 June 1970 at the Olympia Exhibition Hall, London, and was part of a Music and Fashion Festival. The trio performed four songs, playing for less than half an hour, and because of poor mixing, the vocals were inaudible until part-way through the last number. At the end of the fourth song, Barrett unexpectedly but politely put down his guitar and walked off the stage.

Barrett made one last appearance on BBC Radio, recording three songs at their studios on 16 February 1971. All three came from the Barrett album, and were presumably aired to encourage people to buy the record. After this session, he took a hiatus from his music career that lasted more than a year, although in an extensive interview with Mick Rock and Rolling Stone in December, he discussed himself at length, showed off his new 12-string guitar, talked about touring with Jimi Hendrix, and stated that he was frustrated in terms of his musical work because of his inability to find anyone good to play with.[19]

Later years (1972–2006)

Final recordings

In February 1972, after a few guest spots in Cambridge with ex–Pink Fairies member Twink on drums and Jack Monck on bass using the name The Last Minute Put Together Boogie Band (backing visiting blues musician Eddie "Guitar" Burns and also featuring Henry Cow guitarist Fred Frith), the trio formed a short-lived band called Stars. Though the band was initially well received at gigs in the Dandelion coffee bar and the town's Market Square, one of their gigs at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge with the MC5 proved to be disastrous. Monck described how disastrous it was in a 2001 TV interview for the BBC Omnibus series documentary 'Crazy Diamond'. A few days after this final show, Twink recalled that Barrett stopped him on the street, showed him a scathing review of the gig they had played, and quit on the spot despite having played at least one subsequent gig at the same venue supporting Nektar.[15] A tape of the Eddie "Guitar" Burns gig surfaced recently but has yet to see a commercial release though brief snippets have appeared on the internet. Similarly, all the Stars shows were recorded but the tapes are considered lost. The tenuous Pink Fairies connection is continued with the appearance of Barrett on at least one track, possibly more, on a posthumous release by founder Fairy and ex Tyrannosaurus Rex bongo player Steve Peregrine Took alongside assorted members of the Pink Fairies and Took's own band Shagrat.

Syd attended an informal jazz and poetry performance by Pete Brown and former Cream bassist Jack Bruce in October 1973. Brown arrived at the show late, and saw that Bruce was already onstage, along with "a guitarist I vaguely recognised", playing the Horace Silver tune "Doodlin'". Later in the show, Brown read out a poem, which he dedicated to Syd, because, "he's here in Cambridge, and he's one of the best songwriters in the country" when, to his surprise, the guitar player from earlier in the show stood up and said, "No I'm not."[20]

By the end of 1973, Syd had returned to live in London, staying at various hotels and, in December of that year, getting accommodation at Chelsea Cloisters. He had little contact with others, apart from his regular visits to his management's offices to collect his royalties, and the occasional visit from sister Rosemary. He was often seen out wandering London streets by former friends, including on one notable occasion when Syd was approached by someone who knew him (Usually reported as either Bernard White or Roy Harper), and he was asked "Where are you going?". Syd fixed the person with an icy stare and said "Far further than you could possibly imagine", before walking off.[citation needed]

In August 1974, Peter Jenner persuaded Barrett to return to Abbey Road Studios in hope of recording another album. According to John Leckie, who engineered these sessions, even at this point Syd still "looked like he did when he was younger..long haired".[21] Little became of the 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"). 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. 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.[22]

Withdrawal to Cambridge

In 1978, when the money ran out, he moved back to Cambridge to live with his mother. Barrett returned to live in London again in 1982, but this only lasted a few weeks, and he soon returned to Cambridge for good. Legend has it, and his sister confirms, that Syd walked the 50 miles from London to Cambridge. 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 featured his songs. Gilmour commented that he (Gilmour) "[made] sure the money [got] to him all right".

According to a 2005 profile by biographer Tim Willis, Barrett, who had reverted to using his original name of Roger, continued to live in his late mother's semi-detached home in Cambridge, and had returned to his original art-form of painting, creating large abstract canvases. He was also said to have been an avid gardener. His main point of contact with the outside world was his sister, Rosemary, who lived nearby. He was reclusive, and his physical health declined, as he suffered from stomach ulcers and type 2 diabetes.[23]

Although Barrett had not appeared or spoken in public since the mid-1970s, time did little to diminish interest in his life and work. Reporters and fans still travelled to Cambridge to seek him out, despite his attempts to live a quiet life and public appeals from his family for people to leave him alone.[24] Many photos of Barrett being annoyed by paparazzi when walking or biking, from the 1980s until his death in 2006, have been published in various media.

Apparently, Barrett did not like being reminded about his past as a musician and the other members of Pink Floyd had no direct contact with him. He did go to his sister's house in November 2001 to watch the BBC Omnibus documentary made about him – reportedly he found some of it "a bit noisy", enjoyed seeing Mike Leonard of Leonard's Lodgers again, calling him his 'teacher', and enjoyed hearing "See Emily Play" again.[25]

Death and aftermath

After suffering from diabetes for several years, Barrett died at his home in Cambridge on 7 July 2006.[3] He was 60 years old. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer.[26][27] The occupation on his death certificate was given as "retired musician."[28] He was cremated, with his ashes given to a family member or friend.[29]

In 2006, his home in St. Margaret's Square was put on the market and reportedly attracted considerable interest.[30] After over 100 showings, many by fans, it was sold to a French couple who bought it simply because they liked it; reportedly they knew nothing about Barrett.[31] His other possessions were sold at an auction at Cheffins, with £120,000 being raised for charity.[32] NME produced a tribute issue to Barrett the week after with a photo of him on the cover. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Barrett's sister revealed that he had written a book: "He read very deeply about the history of art and actually wrote an unpublished book about it, which I’m too sad to read at the moment. But he found his own mind so absorbing that he didn’t want to be distracted."[33]

According to local newspapers, Barrett left approximately £1.7 million to his two brothers and two sisters.[34] This sum was apparently largely acquired from royalties from Pink Floyd compilations and live recordings featuring songs he had written while with the band.[35]

A tribute concert was held at the Barbican Centre, London on 10 May 2007 with Robyn Hitchcock, Captain Sensible, Damon Albarn, Chrissie Hynde, Kevin Ayers and his Pink Floyd bandmates performing (albeit not on stage at the same time).[36]


Wish You Were Here sessions

Syd Barrett, visiting Abbey Road Studios on 5 June 1975.

Barrett had one noted reunion with the members of Pink Floyd, which occurred in 1975 during the recording sessions for Wish You Were Here. He attended the Abbey Road session unannounced, and watched the band record "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" — a song that happened to be about Barrett. By that time, the 29-year-old Barrett had become quite overweight, had shaved off all of his hair (including his eyebrows), and his ex-bandmates did not at first recognise him. Eventually, they realised who he was. Barrett's behaviour at the session was erratic; he spent part of the session brushing his teeth while standing.[37] Roger finally managed to ask him what he thought of the song and he simply said "sounds a bit old". He briefly attended the reception for Gilmour's wedding immediately following, however he left early without saying goodbye. Apart from a brief encounter between Roger Waters and Syd in Harrods a couple of years later, this was the last time any member of Pink Floyd saw him. Waters is unsure of whether Syd recognised him during this encounter. There is a reflection on the day in Nick Mason's book Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd. A reference to this reunion also appears in the film The Wall, where the character Pink, played by Bob Geldof, shaves his body hair after having a mental breakdown, just as Barrett had.


In 1988, EMI Records released an album of Barrett's studio out-takes and previously unreleased material recorded from 1968 to 1970 under the title Opel. The disc was originally set to include the unreleased Barrett Pink Floyd songs "Scream Thy Last Scream" and "Vegetable Man", which had been remixed for the album by Malcolm Jones. However, the two songs were pulled (reportedly by the remaining members of Pink Floyd) before Opel was finalised.

In 1993 EMI issued another release, Crazy Diamond, a box set of all three albums, each with further out-takes from his solo sessions that illustrated Barrett's inability or refusal to play a song the same way twice.

EMI also released The Best of Syd Barrett: Wouldn't You Miss Me? in the UK on 16 April 2001, and in the US on 11 September 2001. This was the first time his song "Bob Dylan Blues" was ever officially released, taken from a demo tape that David Gilmour had kept after an early 1970s recording session. Gilmour still has the tape, which also contains the unreleased "Living Alone" from the Barrett sessions.[38] The 2010 compilation An Introduction to Syd Barrett includes the downloadable bonus track "Rhamadan", a 20 minute track recorded at one of Syd's earliest solo sessions, in May 1968.

A number of bootleg LPs, CDs and other recordings of Barrett's live and solo material exist.

For years the "off air" recordings of the BBC sessions with Barrett's Pink Floyd circulated, until an engineer who had taken a tape of the early Pink Floyd gave it back to the BBC—which played it during a tribute to John Peel on their website. During this tribute, the first Peel programme (Top Gear) was aired in its entirety. This show featured 1967 live versions of "Flaming", "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun", and a brief 90-second snippet of the instrumental "Reaction in G".

In October 2010 Harvest/EMI and Capitol Records released An Introduction to Syd Barrett—a collection of both his Pink Floyd and remastered solo work. In 2011, it was announced that a vinyl double album version would be issued for Record Store Day.[39]

Creative impact and technical innovation

Barrett's first acoustic guitar
Mirrored Fender Esquire

Barrett wrote most of Pink Floyd's early material. He was also an innovative guitarist, using extended techniques and exploring the musical and sonic possibilities of dissonance, distortion, feedback, the echo machine, tapes and other effects; his experimentation was partly inspired by free improvisation guitarist Keith Rowe[citation needed]. One of Barrett's trademarks was playing his guitar through an old echo box while sliding a Zippo lighter up and down the fret-board to create the mysterious, otherworldly sounds that became associated with the group. Barrett was known to have used Binson delay units to achieve his trademark echo sounds. Daevid Allen, founding member of Soft Machine and Gong has cited Barrett's use of slide guitar with echo as a key inspiration for his own "glissando guitar" style.[40]

Barrett's free-form sequences of sonic carpets pioneered a new way to play the rock guitar.[41] He played several different guitars during his tenure with Pink Floyd, including an old Harmony hollowbody electric, a Harmony acoustic, a Fender acoustic, a single-coil Danelectro 59 DC,[42] several different Fender Telecasters, and a white Fender Stratocaster used in late 1967. A silver Fender Esquire with mirrored discs glued to the body was the guitar he was most often associated with and the guitar he "felt most close to."[19]

Musical and pop culture influence

Many artists have acknowledged Barrett's influence on their work. Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Jon Fishman, Marc Bolan, and David Bowie were early fans; Jimmy Page, Brian Eno, and The Damned all expressed interest in working with him at some point during the 1970s. Bowie recorded a cover of "See Emily Play" on his 1973 album Pin Ups. Townshend called Barrett "legendary".

Barrett's decline had a profound effect on Roger Waters' songwriting, and the theme of mental illness would permeate Pink Floyd's later albums, particularly 1973's The Dark Side of the Moon and 1975's Wish You Were Here which was a deliberate and affectionate tribute to Barrett, the songs "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and the title track being specifically about him. The title track borrows imagery of a "steel rail" from Barrett's solo song, "If It's In You," from The Madcap Laughs album.

In 1987, an album of Barrett cover songs called Beyond the Wildwood was released. The album collected songs from Barrett's Pink Floyd albums and his solo albums. Artists appearing were UK and US indie bands including The Shamen, Opal, The Soup Dragons, and Plasticland.

Other artists who have written tributes to Barrett include his contemporary Kevin Ayers, who wrote "Oh Wot a Dream" in his honour (Barrett provided guitar to an early version of Ayers' song "Religious Experience: Singing a Song in the Morning"). Robyn Hitchcock has covered many of his songs live and on record, and has paid homage to his forebear with the songs "The Man Who Invented Himself" and "(Feels Like) 1974". Phish has covered Bike, No Good Trying, Love You, Baby Lemonade, and Terrapin. The Television Personalities' track "I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives" from their 1981 album And Don't the Kids Love It is another tribute. (The Television Personalities became the subject of controversy and derision when, as they had been selected as the opening act on David Gilmour's About Face tour in the early 1980s, lead singer Dan Treacy decided to read aloud Barrett's real home address to the audience of thousands. Gilmour removed them from the tour immediately afterwards.)[43] In 2008, The Trash Can Sinatras released a single in tribute to the life and work of Syd Barrett called "Oranges and Apples", from their 2009 album In The Music. Proceeds from the single go to the Syd Barrett Trust in support of arts in mental health.[44]

Johnny Depp has shown interest in a biographical film based on Barrett's life.[45]

Barrett is also portrayed briefly in the opening scene of Tom Stoppard's play Rock 'n' Roll (2006), performing "Golden Hair". His life and music, including the disastrous Cambridge Corn Exchange concert and his later reclusive lifestyle, are a recurring motif in the work. Barrett died during the play's run in London.

Mental state

There has been much speculation concerning Barrett's psychological well-being. Many believe he suffered from schizophrenia.[17][46][47] A diagnosis of bipolar disorder has also been considered.[48] Some have also suggested that Barrett might have had Asperger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.[49]

Barrett's use of psychedelic drugs, especially LSD, during the 1960s is well documented. In an article published in 2006, in response to notions that Barrett's problems were the result of such, Gilmour was quoted as saying: "In my opinion, his nervous breakdown would have happened anyway. It was a deep-rooted thing. But I'll say the psychedelic experience might well have acted as a catalyst. Still, I just don't think he could deal with the vision of success and all the things that went with it."[50]

Many stories of Barrett's erratic behaviour off stage as well as on are also well-documented. In Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey, author Nicholas Schaffner interviewed a number of people who knew Barrett before and during his Pink Floyd days. These included friends Peter and Susan Wynne-Wilson, artist Duggie Fields (with whom Barrett shared a flat during the late 1960s), June Bolan and Storm Thorgerson, among others.

"For June Bolan, the alarm bells began to sound only when Syd kept his girlfriend under lock and key for three days, occasionally shoving a ration of biscuits under the door."[51] A claim of cruelty against Barrett committed by the groupies and hangers-on who frequented his apartment during this period was described by writer and critic Jonathan Meades. "I went [to Barrett's flat] to see Harry and there was this terrible noise. It sounded like heating pipes shaking. I said, 'What's up?' and he sort of giggled and said, 'That's Syd having a bad trip. We put him in the linen cupboard.'"[52] Storm Thorgerson responded to this claim by stating "I do not remember locking Syd up in a cupboard. It sounds to me like pure fantasy, like Jonathan Meades was on dope himself."[52]

In the book Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett and the Dawn of Pink Floyd, authors Mike Watkinson and Pete Anderson included quotes from a story told to them by Thorgerson that underscored how volatile Barrett could be. "On one occasion, I had to pull him off Lindsay (Barrett's girlfriend at the time) because he was beating her over the head with a mandolin."[53]

According to Gilmour in an interview with Nick Kent, the other members of Pink Floyd approached psychiatrist R. D. Laing with the 'Barrett problem'. After hearing a tape of a Barrett conversation, Laing declared him "incurable".[54][55]

After Barrett died, his sister, Rosemary Breen, spoke to biographer Tim Willis for The Sunday Times. She insisted that Barrett neither suffered from mental illness nor received treatment for it at any time since they resumed regular contact in the 1980s.[56] She allowed that he did spend some time in a private "home for lost souls" — Greenwoods in Essex—but claimed there was no formal therapy programme there. Some years later, Barrett apparently agreed to sessions with a psychiatrist at Fulbourn psychiatric hospital in Cambridge, but Breen claimed that neither medication nor therapy was considered appropriate in her brother's case.[56]

His sister denied he was a recluse or that he was vague about his past: "Roger may have been a bit selfish — or rather self-absorbed — but when people called him a recluse they were really only projecting their own disappointment. He knew what they wanted, but he wasn't willing to give it to them." Barrett, she said, took up photography and sometimes they went to the seaside together. "Quite often he took the train on his own to London to look at the major art collections — and he loved flowers. He made regular trips to the Botanic Gardens and to the dahlias at Anglesey Abbey, near Lode. But of course, his passion was his painting", she said.[56][57]

Commemoration and recent events

An auction of Barrett's house contents at Cheffins auction house in Cambridge on 28 November 2006 raised £119,000 for charity. Items sold included paintings, scrapbooks and everyday items that Barrett had decorated.[58]

A series of events called The City Wakes[59] was held in Cambridge in October 2008 to celebrate Barrett's life, art and music. Barrett's sister, Rosemary Breen, supported this, the first-ever series of official events in memory of her brother.[60]

After the success of The City Wakes festival in 2008, arts charity Escape Artists announced plans to create a centre in Cambridge, using art to help people suffering from mental health problems. The charity has set up a trust to raise money for the centre and has started fundraising by auctioning a mosaic designed by Syd while he was a teenager growing up in Cambridge. The glass mosaic of two warriors was donated by Rosemary Breen, who was keen to help others affected by the problems that plagued her brother until his death in 2006.[61]

Barrett also is featured as a character in Tom Stoppard's 2006 play "Rock 'N' Roll." He is referred to as "The Piper." Barrett died during the initial run of the play in London.

The Idea Generation Gallery in London announced on 28 January 2011 that an exhibition of the original art and letters of Syd Barrett would be held from 18 March to 10 April 2011.[62]


Singles with Pink Floyd

Albums with Pink Floyd

Compilations with Pink Floyd (featuring his work)

Solo single

  • "Octopus" (Barrett) /"Golden Hair" (Barrett/Joyce) (15 November 1969)

Solo albums

Solo compilations

  • Syd Barrett (November 1974) #163 U.S.: The Madcap Laughs and Barrett packaged together
  • Opel – (17 October 1988)
  • Octopus: The Best of Syd Barrett (29 May 1992): Greatest hits album issued on the Cleopatra label.
  • Crazy Diamond (April 1993): Boxed set with all three studio albums with bonus tracks
  • The Best of Syd Barrett: Wouldn't You Miss Me? (16 April 2001): Contains one previously unreleased track ("Bob Dylan Blues")
  • An Introduction to Syd Barrett (October 2010): A collection of Barrett tracks including Pink Floyd and his solo work (2010 remixes) - #104 UK


  • Melk Weg (1970): tracks recorded by Syd Barrett and various members of Pink Floyd. The title refers to the Dutch venue Melkweg.

Solo radio session recordings

  • The Peel Session (25 January 1987): Recorded for John Peel's BBC radio show "Top Gear" with David Gilmour and Jerry Shirley backing. Contains the otherwise unrecorded "Two of a Kind".
  • The Radio One Sessions (March 2004): The album contains the five songs of from The Peel Session and bootleg-quality recordings of three songs broadcast on the Bob Harris radio show in 1971.[64]


  • Joy of a Toy by Kevin Ayers (November 1969) Plays guitar on "Religious Experience: Singing a Song in the Morning" – bonus track on remastered 2003 CD.



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