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When enigmatic Pink Floyd founding member Syd Barrett
died in July 2006, his sister Rosemary could not believe the reaction the news
received all over the world. She is now involved in an official tribute to the
life and work of the 60’s icon, who sowed the seeds of the sixties psychedelic
musical revolution, with the mental health charity Escape Artists. The City
Wakes takes place in Cambridge between October 22nd
– November 1st – for more information visit www.thecitywakes.org.uk
Here she shares memories of her brother and her hopes
for ‘The City Wakes’ with Ben Titchmarsh.
“My brother was almost two people in his life.
‘Roger’ when we were children, ‘Syd’ as most people knew him which was a
nickname for just a very few years and then ‘Roger’ again for the rest of his
life. So if I’m talking about the child I knew or the man I looked after I say
‘Roger’ and the person that everybody is interested in I prefer to refer to as
‘Syd’– it’s easier that way.
People have so many ideas of what he was like but he didn’t have a dark side.
He was just lovely and unique because he was so attractive in every way. They
say that some people walk into a room and you know they are there and he was
always like that. Looking back now when he came in things would change – they
became more interesting and livelier. There was a lot more happening if he was
there and I suppose that is what you call charisma.
My earliest memory of Roger is of him on a seaside holiday running in front of
me, turning and looking back at me from between his legs and just giggling. His
letters, which will be on display as part of ‘The City Wakes’, show just how
funny a guy he was and he always had everybody in stitches – a real clown. My
mother’s friends would come to the house just to see him. He was a very witty,
very bright, very attractive child who was always making people laugh and
everybody loved him. He had enormous presence and he was always going to be
something special. He had that sparkle.
I suppose people first realised there was something a bit special about him
when they saw his paintings as a child. He would do pencil drawings that were
just exceptional and he just had what it took to draw what he saw. He was born
with it. Music was also always being played in our house because our father
loved it and our older brother had a jazz band. As children we would play piano
duets together and Roger would pay a banjo or a ukulele and later a guitar.
But for him music always went alongside art and if anything he was probably
moved off a more obvious path by music. He always considered himself an artist
not a musician. Music was a fun thing but art was where his real love was. The
music came to the fore because of Pink Floyd but without that he would have
carried on the art and I think would have had a much more fulfilling life.
He started his first band Joker’s Wild when he was about sixteen and on Sunday
afternoons there were always Cambridge chaps and girls coming over and having a jamming session. The
members of Pink Floyd were just
people I knew.
Roger Waters for example was a boy who lived around the corner and Dave Gilmour
went to school over the road.
The first time I saw them perform was a gig at Homerton College which
was great fun but he seemed to think it was all a bit of a joke and didn’t take
it very seriously – we had a giggle about it.
He never enjoyed The Beatles in any way at all. Jazz was his love and also a
certain amount of classical like Stravinsky but Thelonious Monk and Charlie
Parker were the people that he always admired. They were the only people that
mattered to him – the whole psychedelia thing was just his version of it I
think. It’s all much the same thing if you break it down.
The first time I heard Pink Floyd on the radio I was out with a boyfriend, in a
very flashy car as I remember, and ‘Arnold Layne’ came on so we stopped the car
and listened which was very exciting. Another time I was on a late shift at the
hospital and Top of the Pops came on so I told a patient “that’s my brother”
she said “No it isn’t dear.”
But Syd still saw music in a light-hearted way. It was still fun, and it never
was serious until it all went wrong and then it was very serious. Fame was the
last thing he wanted and he never understood it. He never needed it because
from the moment he was a child he was surrounded by people who adored him.
He was always reading children’s books and was always fascinated by the magical
‘Alice In Wonderland’ side of things. The childish make believe world was one
that he lived in always so he just made lyrics out of that. Lyrics such as
Arnold Layne, which were a little bit risque and not quite so nice, were a
surprise to me really as it wasn’t his way and he never really went back to it.
Something like ‘See Emily Play’ which is a lot more fairy tale-like – that was
him. Fantasy was always more interesting to him than reality . Reality was
always a bit tricky and a bit boring. He hadn’t got a lot of time for reality!
I was doing my nurses training in Tooting when the group really took off and
Syd was travelling all over the place. That first year they worked so hard
travelling every night and performing - it was a killer. I think it contributed
a lot to his trouble because they were all so exhausted, physically and
People ask me why Syd withdrew and I think it was a combination of too much LSD
and a very eccentric creative brain. If you’re very tired and put a load of
acid into the mix you’ve got chaos haven’t you? It was all very nasty but it was
inevitable. When you put those three factors together you are going to have an
explosion aren’t you?
I think he was exhausted and confused about where he was going with Pink Floyd
as perhaps he wasn`t really enjoying it.
I think he took rather a lot of drugs for the same reason as a lot of people,
in search of the alternative and with an element of experimentation. He never
understood why people wanted to be friends with him simply because he was in
Pink Floyd. He was just having fun and he wanted to stay like that but it just
took off. I think he probably did have a nervous breakdown although it was
never diagnosed as such. I think he just mentally collapsed.
After leaving Pink Floyd he lived in Chelsea cloisters
for a while and he did come home occasionally but he was still chaotic and they
were not good times.
Then he came home in 1981 and that was forever. He lived with our mother for
about a year but she found it a bit much so she moved in with my husband and me
and he stayed on in the house and did so until he died.
In the years after he came back to Cambridge he could
still sometimes be very amusing with me but he could also be very shy and
reclusive because he’d withdrawn. Very
occasionally, if he was in a good mood, he would be funny again but it would be
After returning to Cambridge he showed no interest in Pink Floyd at all. He just tried to put that whole thing away.
If anyone called him ‘Syd’ he wouldn’t answer. He wasn’t Syd because Syd was
Pink Floyd. He wasn’t being clever by
being reclusive, he was just being himself. It wasn’t contrived and he tried
very hard to disappear, succeeding to some extent, but that just made some fans
want to know about him even more. It’s human nature.
Roger was never mentally ill. He was assessed by quite a few psychiatrists over
the years and they always said he’s unusual but there is no illness. There was
no cure because there was no illness. He
never fitted into the norm but that`s what made him so special.
Perhaps these days somebody would have tried to label him with something or
other but it wouldn’t have made any difference would it? He would see and hear
things that no one else ever did. Colours were the thing. I wouldn’t be at all
surprised if he had a condition like synaesthesia because he would say that a
sound was a colour to him. If something was really loud he would say it was
black and I knew what he meant because I’d grown up with him and was so close
to him. Thinking about it now to describe sounds as colours is unusual but I understood.
I would like people to remember him as a clown. He just loved laughing, making
people laugh and entertaining them.
People would ask him to do paintings and he just couldn’t understand it. He
couldn’t do anything to order. If he did something it was because he wanted to
do it but if someone told him to and he wasn’t in the mood he just wouldn’t. He
could never do a commission – and really when you think about it performing on
stage is a bit like being commissioned and doing what you’re told to creatively.
He found that extremely difficult.
He also had an obsession with the new so everything had to be replaced all the
time. I’d say “You’ve only had this mattress six months but he’d say “it’s old,
it’s old” and get rid of it. The bin men must have loved collecting from his
house because there would be brand new Hi-Fis
and stereos and stuff chucked out on a regular basis.
I became protective of him because I could see how much people coming to the
door upset him and he’d say to me “what do they want?” Some more extreme fans
would stalk him and one even wrote to all his neighbours in an effort to get in
contact with him. In the end he just disconnected his door bell.
For him a typical day would consist of him getting up late and trundling
downstairs for breakfast, which was always bacon and eggs. Then he’d get on his
bike and go to Sainsbury’s where he would buy a lot of things that he didn’t
need, if they had nice colours or were sparkly or something, and he might even
chat with the check out girls who were always very kind with him. Then he’d
have his lunch on his lap and in the
afternoon if I came we’d go to B & Q and he’d buy endless amounts of
plywood, nails and paint for his painting. He never watched television because
he had enough going on in his head but he’d do a bit of gardening. A pretty
mundane life really!
He also had the idea that he was putting together a book on Byzantine art as it
was an enormous interest of his and he said it was going to be a book but it
was really just a collection of dates and facts that interested him. It could
never be published.
Roger had a rather unusual habit of making paintings, taking a picture of them
and then destroying the canvas and we still have thirty or so photographs of
his art, which will be shown in ‘The City Wakes’ exhibition. The use of colour
in them is really interesting.
When he was in hospital, shortly before he
died, forms would ask for his
occupation and he would say “artist”. Of course he meant painting, not
anything to do with music. He was always an artist to himself.
When he died I thought there would be no reaction because I had no idea of
the level of interest and believed everybody had moved on. However when news of
his death was published there was an enormous reaction and when Cheffins came
to value the house they suggested an auction, an idea which seemed great as it
would enable me to help others with the monies raised.
I think, however, that he would have found the idea of a tribute really
funny and he would have just laughed. I can picture him sitting in his
armchair reading the paper and giggling. He would drop the paper on the
floor and laugh.
I was told recently that Johnny Depp was interested in making a film of
Syd`s life. However they would probably sensationalise the difficult years and
that would make a somewhat depressing film as far as I am concerned. I will
always remember my brother as clown who attracted people and in many ways this
has never stopped. He was just a magnet and everybody could feel it.
The prospect of “The City Wakes” really excites me. I`m looking forward to
all of his old friends getting together, having a good laugh and a lot of
fun while raising money for the mental health charity Escape Artists who are
absolutely wonderful. There`s so much going on and it will be great that Syd
will be in the background of it all.”
Additional Info About The City Wakes -
Tickets for the
series of events can be purchased from www.thecitywakes.org.uk
Premiering in Syd’s hometown of Cambridge,
before a planned transfer to London, The
City Wakes is an ambitious insight into Syd’s early life, organised by arts
and mental health charity and professional production house Escape Artists,
which will celebrate the creative mind of this fascinating figure.
series of exciting events incorporated in The
City Wakes has the full support of Syd’s family and friends. Highlights
An exhibition of Syd Barrett
paintings including many never seen before works, displayed alongside extremely
rare Syd Barrett-related memorabilia and archival photos from world-famous
photographer Mick Rock
Legendary pop artist Storm
Thorgerson’s first ever solo exhibition in Cambridge. Mind Over
Matter: Images of Pink Floyd will contain photographs of over 60 of
Storm’s Pink Floyd/Syd Barrett related works
Concert performances presenting
fresh interpretations of Syd’s greatest songs. Directed by award-winning
musician and composer, Simon Gunton, the production will showcase specially-created
video art and stunning Floyd-esque lighting displays and will culminate in a
one-off gala performance of the concert
new book of interviews and memorabilia, based on the memories and collections
of Syd's friends and family. Focussing on Syd's early life and the exciting
Cambridge cultural scene in which he was such a key figure, the book includes
interviews, photos, drawings and letters that have never been seen in print
Special guided tours for fans of
all the major Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd-related historic sites in
Music workshops under the expert
eye of The City Wakes Musical
Director, Simon Gunton offering members of the public the opportunity to
explore the surreal genius behind Syd’s wonderfully unorthodox music and lyrics
A recreation of a 1960s-style
‘happening’ – directed and hosted by a group of Syd’s former friends http://cambridgehappening.wordpress.com/