Wednesday, February 23, 2011

'Barrett' book, an in depth preview at Late Night Syd Barrett


Dark Globe

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Late Night Syd Barrett Discussion Room
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Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to the offices of Essential Works to have a preview of their forthcoming large format book - 'Barrett'.

I have to say I wasn't disappointed - in fact I was blown away by a lot of what I saw. There is a lot of great material in there and so much of it is previously unseen. New Syd photos seem to turn up only very occasionally but this book has page after page of them. Not every photo in the book is new of course, there's some which I recognised, but even these are vastly improved versions of what we've seen before and are quite often reproduced much larger too.

The new pictures have been unearthed from photo archives and private collections and are often accompanied by quotes from the photographers. There has been meticulous research to provide accurate information with regard to when and where the photos were taken. I'm sure there will still be some debate over the locations and dates for a few pictures, but so much has been pinned down here for the first time. For example many photos previously assumed to have been taken at Stanhope Gardens are revealed to have actually been taken at the offices of Blackhill Enterprises in Maida Vale.

There's already a great review of the book at Brain Damage. So, instead of repeating much of what they have said, I'll go into some more detail about some of my favourite items in the book.

If you've already ordered a copy of the book and want to discover the contents for yourself, then a warning - this may contain spoilers. If you're curious about the new photos, or are still deciding on whether it's worth buying (I'll give you a hint: it is), then read on.

The book is divided into 5 sections


This has an introductory essay by Russell Beecher illustrated with many unseen Barrett photos. The first 'wow!' moment in a book which is full of them, is a striking black and white photo of a young mod-looking Syd from 1964. Standing in the back garden of Hills Road, Syd is pictured holding a tall canvas - an abstract work with cloth painted into it - which is almost the same height as he is. It sets the tone nicely for a book which positions Syd as a painter as much as a musician.

Other new photos in this section include photos of a very young Syd and Rosemary taken on family holidays in the fifties (one in fancy dress), a long-haired Syd enjoying a break from helping decorate a friends house in 1964 and Syd a year later at a party with Libby sitting on his lap.

The well known photo of Syd with his sister and mother from 1981 appears here in colour (I can only recall seeing it in black and white before).

Photos: Pink Floyd

Chronologically arranged, this section has much that is new and includes:

Full page / double page spreads of the Tea Set in Surrey 1964 (reproduced at a much larger scale and clarity than they have appeared previously elsewhere)

A great photo of Syd posing confidently with his Fender Esquire in Stanhope Gardens 1965, with a picture of Howling Wolf pinned to the wall in the background.

Lots of amazing colour photos from Pink Floyd gigs during '66 at the Roundhouse, All Saints Hall, The Architectural Association Christmas Ball and of course UFO. The colour shots from the latter are particularly striking and many have a trippy double exposure effect which enhances the atmosphere.

In a similar vein, Anthony Stern's colour photographs of Pink Floyd at UFO capture Syd lost in sound, his head bent over his guitar. Stern notes that what he admired about Syd was his ability to 'act without constraint'.

A rehearsal session at Blackhill Enterprises in January 67: Syd looks very similar to how he appears in Peter Whitehead's 'Tonight Lets All Make Love…' film. There is the same stripey top and the beginnings of a moustache.

A photo taken a couple of days later shows Syd, now clean shaven staring wide-eyed into the camera.

A new candid shot shows the band sitting round a table with a boxing glove on it.

A great colour PR shot by EMI with Syd in a green satin shirt and dark glasses.

Ruskin Park shots showing a playful Syd larking around showing off a bicep and doing a handstand.

Colour shots of the band appearing on the 'Fan Club' TV show in Amsterdam.

All the Games For May rehearsal shots reproduced as full page and double page spreads.

A great full page colour shot of the group in Piccadilly Circus. In this, the band are in their finest King's Road threads standing outside a cinema showing 'Funeral in Berlin'. By contrast the other pedestrians in the photo look very normal indeed as they walk past these four colourful freaks. Even in the Summer of Love in the heart of Swinging London, it seems that very few people dressed like they did.

Unseen photos of the band on their Scandinavian tour of September 67. In one of them taken at Aarhus, Denmark, Syd appears to be playing guitar wearing a slide on his finger (though it is difficult to tell under the light show projection)

The band listening to a playback of a BBC radio session at the Playhouse Theatre.

Backstage at the Saville Theatre - seen before but much larger here. It's the first time I've noticed a paint spatter on Syd's shoes.

Syd with pea coat and guitar - taken from the so called 'mullet session'. It's been seen before - but it does look great here and is finally given a date: April 68

Photos: Solo

This section starts with a brace of very rare photos from the 'Madcap Laughs' session taken by Storm Thorgerson. These were taken at the same session which is documented in Mick Rock's 'Psychedelic Renegades' book and most of them haven't been seen before. Perhaps the best of the lot is the one of Syd sitting on the painted floorboards and smiling broadly (perhaps at Iggy?)

There's also another very rare colour one of Syd outside Wetherby Mansions lounging over the bonnet of his blue Pontiac.

From a later session also taken by Storm at Wetherby Mansions, there is a great shot of Syd leaning backwards with his canvases and paints visible in the background.

We now have a date for the so called 'ruffled dandy' photosession (no more trying to work out the date based on Syd's hair length!). Two great out takes are dated as October 1969.

From 1970, a large photo of the cropped-hair Syd sitting in the offices of the Bryan Morrison agency.

There's a great portrait of a longer haired and soulful eyed Syd from 1971. This would be the last year Syd Barrett would pose for any publicity material.


These come from the collections of Libby Gausden-Chisman and Jenny Spires. The letters to Libby date from circa 1962 and are full of wit, character and exuberance. Most of the pages reproduced in the book contain Syd's funny drawings and are punctuated with little details of his everyday life ('curry for supper'). In one letter, he has compiled a surreal illustrated quiz: 'Who is this man?' 'Who lives behind this door?' In another, he writes as a five year old - with suitably childlike handwriting to match. Throughout the letters to Libby, his obvious adoration shines through. A drawing of a tree trunk carved with 'R.B. L E.G.' is accompanied by the exclamation 'Hooray, I'm in love, HOORAY!'

The letters to Jenny date from a couple of years later while he was living in Mike Leonard's house in Highgate. They are fascinating in that they document Syd's burgeoning career as a musician. There are funny sketches of the recording sessions for 'King Bee', a doodle of the Pink Floyd van and a drawing of The Tridents who Syd had just seen live. The serious artist in him also comes through in an atmospheric pencil sketch of Jenny standing by a window.

Also in this section we get an excellent reproduction of the 'Little Twig' poem and drawing.


This section has been written by Will Shutes who has spent much of the last couple of years meticulously researching Barrett's art. During that time he has diligently tracked down every Barrett artwork still known to exist and along the way he has discovered many previously unknown works. The essay is illustrated with another great new find: a photo dating from February 1960, of a 14 year old Syd hard at work in the Homerton Painting Club.

Will has also gained access to the many photos which Syd himself took,

many of which are of paintings which he would subsequently destroy. Others are photographs of objects arranged for a still life (a fish shaped ashtray, a candleholder, a marble, flowers in a glass bottle).

There are also photographs which Syd took to use as the basis of paintings. This is a fascinating insight into one of his working methods. We're shown a photo which Barrett took on a trip to London circa 2003/4 - a seemingly random photograph of people on a busy street . We're then shown the preparatory sketch he makes based on the photo and finally we see his completed abstract painting.

Syd also took a photo of a boutique called 'Freak Naughty' Perhaps something about that name appealed to his sense of humour. (A quick search on Google reveals that the shop was within walking distance of Cromwell Road and Egerton Court in Barrett's old stomping ground of South Kensington).

Other previously unseen photos dating from 1963-65 show several of Syd's early paintings photographed outside the family's Hills Road home.

During this period, each year Syd would present Libby with a Christmas present of a painting and an object which related to it in some way (perhaps echoing the colours or shapes). These objects still exist and are shown in the book: a blue glass ball was given with a large blue abstract canvas, a kaleidoscope accompanied a self portrait, the 'Little Red Rooster' abstract arrived with a big red candle and a painting on cellophane was matched with a clay sculpture.

And of course in this section there are beautiful reproductions of all Barrett's paintings which are still in existence. Where possible they have been photographed especially for this book and are beautifully reproduced in very high quality.

Likewise 'Fart Enjoy' has been newly scanned at very high resolution and it appears here as full page reproductions. And yes - it includes that naughty page which was left out of the 'Piper' special edition booklet a few years ago.

The art section finishes with the Catalogue Raisonné - the complete catalogue of all the Barrett artworks known to have existed; over one hundred items.

At City Wakes a few years ago, I was disappointed that there was no proper catalogue to accompany the exhibition. In this book we finally get it (and so much more). The Art section alone could have been published as an expensive monograph. To have all the rare photos and letters as well justifies the price of this book in my opinion.

Signature Edition

For those with deeper pockets (or higher credit limits), there is a special 'Signature' edition also available. Whereas the 'Classic' edition is clothbound and presented in a slipcase (very nice in itself), the Signature edition comprises of two leather-bound volumes in a hinged box. The second volume (which is only available in this edition) includes two complete photo sessions of the fledgling Pink Floyd taken on separate dates at the offices of Blackhill Enterprises. Irene Winsby, who took the photos, relates the story behind the sessions in her foreword to this book.

The Signature edition will also be signed by the authors and one of Syd's siblings. It will be limited to 500 numbered copies and will surely become very collectable in future years.

So in conclusion, I think Russell Beecher and Will Shutes should be congratulated on a fantastic job. This is an amazing piece of work which has obviously been painstakingly and meticulously researched and compiled. It should become an essential purchase for the serious Barrett enthusiast.

"Barrett" is due to be published on March 18th to coincide with the major Barrett exhibition at the Idea Generation Gallery in London.

More info about the book including how to order it, can be found at

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