Syd Barrett -- The Madcap Laughs:
the Mick Rock Photo-Sessions
by Mick Rock
1993

[from
http://www.geocities.com/Vienna/Strasse/2724/mickrock.html ]


Syd Barrett - The Madcap Laughs

The Mick Rock Photo-Sessions

U.F.O. Books, 1993 ISBN 1-873884-14-1

(Note: This is the intro to a great book of photos by ace
photographer Mick Rock, mostly from the legendary 'Madcap
Laughs' photo session, a book that is now sadly out of
print.  But Mr. Rock is currently planning to re-publish it
in 2002, see www.mickrock.com for more details.  Many thanks
to the Eskimo Spy for typing this text!)

JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS, 1968 Syd Barrett was once more drawn
to London where he set about making a public comeback. His
first task was to find a flat and he eventually settled for
a three- room apartment in exclusive Earls Court Square
where he moved in with two flatmates. One left almost
immediately, the other was the now successful pop artist
Duggie Fields.

At the time Fields was a 23-year-old student at the Regent
Street Polytechnic who had been introduced into the Floyd
entourage by Rick Wrights's wife Juliette. After college,
Fields spent a year in America but on returning he quickly
renewed contact with former acquaintances in London and
towards the end of the year Syd wondered if he might like to
share a flat. Fields, then enduring a miserable existence in
a dank Holland Road basement, needed no second invitation,
though he was later to have second thoughts about the
decision.

Fields discovered the flat that would later feature on the
cover of "The Madcap Laughs", but it was the more affluent
Barrett who signed the lease. By chance, the new pad was
situated next to Gilmour's flat and Barrett's Floyd
successor could see right into The Madcap's kitchen.

Right from the start, the artist in Syd was in obvious
competition with Fields and to visitors it sometimes
appeared that the two were involved in some sort of bizarre
race. While Fields worked studiously on his latest painting,
Barrett toiled in the next room, conjuring up vivid
creations from his own mind but seemingly never able to
finish anything.

One semi-completed work was of a dark castle, another was a
curious wire, paper and silk model which hung from the
ceiling. Fields, who quickly sensed the ego clash, began to
doubt Syd's motivation: "You have to have some reason for
doing things - usually money - and his money problems were
taken care of by his earlier musical successes. The pressure
of having to produce something to earn money was taken off
him very early. When we moved in, I noted he'd changed from
the Syd I had known before moving to America. He was
definitely nuttier and had become more withdrawn and moody.
His deterioration was gradual until he reached the stage
where he'd just lie in bed because he couldn't decide what
to do. I did not rate him as an artist but perhaps he would
have made it if he hadn't switched to music. He was talented
but lacked direction and had no idea how to follow an idea
through. He never discussed the Floyd but he did have
identity problems about having been a pop star and now maybe
not being one. He saw Dave (Gilmour) quite a bit. He may
have been his replacement but David was the one he got on
with for the longest time afterwards.

"To do something in a group is fine to begin with, but
people change and move in different directions. The pressure
of having sudden success is difficult for anyone to cope
with. Things no longer seem pleasurable when you feel you
must carry on repeating them and all this added to his
withdrawal." During the first few weeks in the new flat,
Syd's overall state actually improved considerably and soon
after settling in he was talking about a return to
recording. After all, Barrett was still a respected and now
greatly missed part of the London Underground and he had
managed to write a handful of new songs since the spilt.
These, along with the unfinished recordings from the earlier
Pete Jenner sessions, would be the framework of his first
solo album. The first task was to book studio time at EMI
and he was lucky that his request reached the ears of
Malcolm Jones, a recent EMI recruit who had joined straight
from university.

Jones was the 23-year-old boss of Harvest, a new progressive
label set up by the parent company to compete with more
fashionable independent rivals. Pink Floyd would soon switch
from EMI's Columbia label to Harvest and other 'progressive'
rock bands signed to EMI, notably Deep Purple, would follow
suit.  Syd's approach was timely. Following Harvest's
successful launch, the enthusiastic Jones was planning more
releases to build up the label's catalogue and establish its
identity in a field that was rapidly becoming overcrowded.

He had never met Syd, but Jones was familiar with his past
work and by chance had already quizzed the EMI management
over a possible colo career for the once prolific
songwriter. Dark references were made to chaos and general
disorder in studios, broken microphones and other prima
donna misdemeanours. Although EMI never actually accused Syd
of causing the damage, it was strongly implied that he was
persona non grata at Abbey Road. No one at EMI was falling
over themselves to welcome him back.

Undeterred, Jones was sufficiently intrigued to contact
Barrett who claimed he had a wealth of material waiting to
be recorded. The Harvest boss was impressed by Syd's
'togetherness' which was in stark contrast to the
groundswell of rumour, Syd said there was one song called
'Opel', another called 'Terrapin', a third about an Indian
girl called 'Swan Lee', and a final one with the title
'Clowns And Jugglers'. He had also started work on a James
Joyce poem, 'Golden Hair', which he was most anxious to
complete.  To Jones, whose imagination had been fixed by the
many 'crazy- Syd' tales, it all seemed too good to be true.

He talked the EMI bosses into letting Syd back into the
studio, pointing out that they could be missing out on a
lucrative career to run alongside that of his former Floyd
colleagues, presently entrenched in the recording of a
soundtrack for the Barbet Schroeder film More.

Barrett began work at EMI's Studio Three in early April with
Jones himself in the producer's chair. Although far smaller
than the main studio Pink Floyd were using only a drum beat
away, Jones considered it more intimate and felt Barrett
would appreciate the more relaxed atmosphere: "Syd was in
great mood and fine form, a stark contrast to the rumours
I'd been fed with. In little over five hours we'd laid down
vocal and guitar tracks for four new songs and two old ones.
At Syd's request, the first thing we did was 'Opel'. We both
felt at the time it was one of his best new songs. Syd took
nine runs at it to get a complete take, but nevertheless it
had a stark attraction to it."

By midnight Jones and Barrett had worked on seven titles and
felt they had done enough for one day. On the way home in a
cab Syd said he'd be bringing some backing musicians for the
next session. One of these was drummer Jerry Shirley. He had
arrived in London at the age of 16 after landing a job with
Steve Marriot's Humble Pie. He lived close to Barrett and
was keen to play on the album. Shirley frequently visited
Barrett's apartment, "It was your typical hippy-type hangout
- washing-up never done, dog shit in the corner, cat piss on
the floor and Sunday papers all over the place. In those
days most people's flats looked like that but Syd's was
particularly raunchy."

The teenage Shirley, new to London and somewhat over awed by
the whole scene, found Syd rather unnerving: "You could have
a perfectly normal conversation with him for half-an-hour
then he would suddenly switch off and his mind would go off
somewhere else. One night I went down to the Speakeasy with
him and on the way he was quite all right, chatty and
absolutely normal. We walked in and there was this instant
pressure of people looking at Syd - not that it would have
seemed like that to most people - and he absolutely froze,
wouldn't say a word.

"Syd had a terrible habit of looking at you and laughing in
a way that made you feel really stupid. He gave the
impression he knew something you didn't. He had this manic
sort of giggle which made 'The Madcap Laughs' such an
appropriate name for his album - he really did laugh at
you."

Shirley and Willie Wilson, the former Jokers Wild drummer,
were both drafted into the making of the LP midway through
April, helping in the recording of 'No Man's Land', with its
incoherent spoken piece, and 'Here I Go', the second 'old
timey' song on the album. Jones states categorically that
this latter track, with its unusual music hall structure,
was written in the studio in a matter of minutes, so
refuting Roger Waters' assertion that all Syd's material was
written prior to the split with Pink Floyd. The track was
recorded "live" with the freshly written lyrics in front of
Syd.

"He used to read his lyrics off a stand. If someone knew a
song well enough, I wouldn't have though it necessary to
start reading the words off a stand two years later," says
Jones.

Dave Gilmour also maintains that songs such as 'Rats' and
'Maisie' on the second album simply fell into place during
studio rehearsals. Barrett never had eye contact with fellow
musicians in the studio as everyone would face the control
room and watch him from behind. Syd rarely issued
instructions on how to play a song so the others simply
adopted a policy of trial and error - a situation that
proved murderously difficult but one that they handled quite
well in the circumstances.

Jones: "It was a case of following him, not playing with
him. There was no togetherness because they were always
backing musicians to Syd and not a group. They were seeing
and then playing so they were always a note behind."

As far as Jerry Shirley was concerned, Barrett's behaviour
in the studio was exactly the same as outside.

"He'd let everyone else get nowhere, then he would suddenly
come out with this crystal clear statement. When this
happened he seemed as normal as the next chap and I wondered
whether he was just testing us. He possibly knew something
was happening to him and used everyone around him to play
mind games."

Syd turned up at one session clutching a small portable
cassette player which Jones assumed he had brought to make a
copy of a long and tedious track called "Rhamadan', recorded
by Jenner the previous May. Instead, he said he wanted to
overdub some motorbike sounds onto the track and had been
out on the back of a friend's bike with the recorder. Jones
was dismayed when Syd played him the cassette. Not only was
the quality poor, but there was no starting or revving sound
- Syd had recorded just one long continuous note. Although
the producer dug up a motorbike tape from EMI's large sound
effects library, he never found out what Syd had planned as
he later changed his mind and abandoned the exercise.

The following month, various members of Soft Machine tackled
the difficult task of overdubbing on Syd's ragged and
unpredictable tracks. The group's Robert Wyatt thought the
sessions were merely rehearsals for the real thing. "We'd
say, 'What key is that in Syd ?' And he would simply reply:
'Yeah!' or 'That's funny'."

Ironically the quirky nature of 'The Madcap' songs is the
very thing that endears them to many Barrett fans.

When Syd transferred all the four tracks to eight-track for
the final mixing, Jones noticed that 'Opel' was among them:
"Syd obviously intended to include it on the album. I still
think to this day that it is one of his best tracks and it's
tragic that it wasn't included in the final album."

By now the Floyd had completed the soundtrack to More and
following a meeting with Syd at Waters' Shepherd's Bush
flat, they agreed to speed up production of 'Madcap' by
taking on the remaining tracks themselves. They supervised
the remaking of 'Clowns and Jugglers' - with the new title
'Octopus' - and 'Golden Hair', which had developed into one
of Syd's finest solo efforts, plus two new titles, 'Dark
Glove [sic]' and 'Long Gone'. Waters and Gilmour then
returned to complete on the third Floyd album 'Ummagumma'
which, coupled with a short tour of Holland, meant the final
touches to Syd's album were postponed until late July. Syd
was understandably frustrated by the delay and decided to
take a holiday, following a large crowd of Cambridge hippies
who had jetted off to the Mediterranean island of Ibiza.

Among them was Ian Moore: "One day we decided to go into San
Fernando on Ibiza and saw a strange figure across the square
who looked exactly like Syd. He was standing there smiling
at us in his bright satin shirt, velvet trousers and Gohills
boots. It could not have been anyone else - Syd often
visited our London flat and when he realised we'd left
without him he made a girlfriend book him a flight and drive
him to the airport."

Dealing with the inconvenience of check-in desks, customs
and ticket barriers was not high on the list of Barrett's
priorities. Late for his plane, he skipped the lot, ran
towards the runway and tried to flag down a passing jet as
if it were a cab. Syd, who'd told his flatmate he was merely
popping out "for an afternoon drive" duly arrived in the
Mediterranean a few hours later and crossed the square to
greet his amazed friends with a nonchalant: "Hi".

Moore: "He had a carrier bag of clothes that I could smell
from where I was standing. The bag was full of money - he
had gone to his London bank and taken out a load of cash but
had forgotten to change it when he arrived in Spain."

Syd's bright garb was no particular surprise to the plainly-
clothed locals that summer, as it seemed that the entire
Kings Road set had forsaken the grime of the city for sand,
sea and sex in the sun.

Moore: "We had all taken our Chelsea clothes with us but we
were totally out of place on Ibiza so we decided to move en
masse to Formentaire - the lesser-known island next door.
Syd was still great to be with and we had some amazing times
when he would play the guitar or come down to the beach with
us. He would be laughing and telling us a joke one minute
and then suddenly go back to his land of never-never.
Although the sun was extremely hot he didn't take much care
of his body. We continually told him to cover up but he
wouldn't take any notice and ended up suffering third degree
burns. Blisters came up all over his body and burst on his
chest and back making his shirts stick to his skin. In the
end we had to grab him, hold him down, and cover him from
head to toe in Nivea."

Back in London, work on the album moved into its final
phase. According to Gilmour, EMI was becoming increasingly
worried about a project it had spent a considerable amount
of money on without seeing any return. He believes the
record company was considering shelving the album when
Barrett approached him and Waters for help in finishing it.
The last 'Madcap' session took place on July 26 and included
the segued section 'She Took A Long Cold Look', 'Feel', and
'If It's In You'.

Gilmour: "EMI gave us two days' recording time. On one of
those days we had a gig and had to leave at 5.30 in the
afternoon. We recorded the rest of the album in a
day-and-a-half. I did all the mixing, trying to make sense
of it with varying degrees of success. At least we got the
album out - EMI had spent a lot of money on something it
thought wasn't going to happen."

The rushed final recording session reveals a very different
Syd from the one who had been sufficiently together to
record and mix the first 'Madcap' tracks in the spring. What
happened in the studio that day would lead one writer to
describe the album as "a portrait of a breakdown." Syd
falters during 'She Took A Long Cold Look' and the turning
of his lyrics pages can clearly be heard. Singing in a
tortured voice, he launches into 'Feel' with no
accompaniment from his guitar. During the closing 'If It's
In You' he finally breaks down and has to restart. Syd just
couldn't find the right key to the song which, more than any
other, prompted Melody Maker to describe the album as "the
mayhem and madness representing the Barrett mind unleashed."

Over the years, these anguished pieces have aroused
considerable controversy. Was it really necessary to include
them and why was the classic 'Opel' omitted, remaining
unreleased until the rarities album of 1988 ?

Jones: "When I first heard the finished product it came as a
shock, this wasn't the Syd of two or three months ago. I
felt angry. It's like dirty linen in public and very
unnecessary and unkind. Keeping conversation in is all very
well if it enhances the record but I fail to see how the
sound of pages being turned can do anything for Syd, I fail
to see the point."

Gilmour also regrets this part of the album which, given
another chance, he'd do differently. "It's very hard to say
whether one's decisions are the right ones or the wrong ones
but those are the decisions we made. We wanted to inject
some honesty into it to try and explain what was going on.
We didn't want to appear cruel but there is one bit I wish I
hadn't done in retrospect. Don't forget we were digging
around for stuff to put on the album. Syd wanted to do one
song called 'Two Of A Kind' which Rock (Wright) wrote. He
thought it was his."

Questioned about the exclusion of 'Opel', Gilmour cannot
remember the track and wrongly assumes it to be an
alternative title for one of the released songs. Sadly, it
appears that during the undignified scramble of the final
recording and mixing, this classic Barrett track was
overlooked.

The task of designing the album sleeve fell to Storm
Thorgeson and his partner Aubrey 'Po' at Hipgnosis. That
October Malcolm Jones dropped into Syd's flat to leave a
tape of the album and what he saw gave him a start: "In
anticipation of the photographic session Syd had painted the
floorboards of his room orange and purple. Up until then the
floor had been bare with Syd's possession mostly on the
floor - hi-fi, guitar, cushions, books and paintings. Syd
was well pleased with his day's work and I must say it made
a fine setting for the session due to take place."

By the time the artwork was completed it was too late to
have the album pressed and into the shops in time for
Christmas. Realising there was still a fair amount of money
around in January, Harvest delayed release until late that
month, selecting 'Octopus' backed with 'Golden Hair' as a
single to promote it. Initial reaction was favourable
although, apart from a live session on Top Gear, there was
precious little airplay for either single or album. EMI was
still half-hearted towards Harvest and the only person who
played Syd on the radio was John Peel. Radio was even more
chart-oriented than it is today but even so a sales figure
sheet at the end of February showed "The Madcap Laughs" had
sold over 6000 copies, mainly through word-of-mouth based on
Barrett's reputation.  Disc  announced that it was "an
excellent album to start 1970" while  Beat Instrumental 
labelled it a beautiful solo record, best played late at
night.

IN a professional career that has spanned nearly 25 years,
rock photographer Mick Rock believes he has never bettered
the pictures that appear on these pages.

The startling colour images were taken in a single two-hour
session in the autumn of 1969 in the spartan bedroom of Syd
Barrett's Earls Court flat in London.

Barrett's first solo LP The Madcap Laughs was released a few
months later in January 1970 and by then his mental
condition left much to be desired.

"I don't know that Syd necessarily took more drugs than a
lot of other people I knew in those days. It's just that,
like many other highly original artists over the centuries,
Syd's psyche was very fragile, and the drags broke it down.
Syd went way too fast, too soon, psychologically and
creatively."

The sleeve, showing the beleaguered "star" squatting
bird-like in a room devoid of all creature comforts save a
vase of flowers and a battered electric fire, perfectly
summed up the mood of the record which many have interpreted
as a scream for help.

And yet there was no high concept behind the shot.

"It wasn't like 'let's make Syd look like a complete lunatic
because the record's called The Madcap Laughs'," says Rock.
"At that stage the LP didn't even have a title. That came
later and I have no idea where it came from. I wasn't
involved in that stage of the process."

In fact Rock had no formal training as a photographer. He
had been studying modern languages in Cambridge and first
met Barrett at the Cambridge Arts College Christmas Party of
1966.

"Until I took LSD, I had no interest at all in cameras," he
recalls. The drug experience opened up a "whole new visual
world" to the young student.

"Prior to Madcap I hadn't really done anything significant.
I had taken some pictures of the Pretty Things and Eire
Apparent, who had just toured America with Hendrix (they had
the same manager, Chris Chandler), and a few other
musicians."

Over the years he had kept in contact with Syd and even
shared a communal flat with him for a couple of months
earlier that summer. As part of his film studies he had shot
a short experimental 16mm film (which he still has) of Syd
apparently jumping into a mirror.

Although Barrett had since moved out into the more spacious
Earls Court apartment, Mick and he saw each other
frequently.

"You have to remember that the times were very different,"
says Rock. "The music business was a lot more casual than it
is now.

"I think we had maybe talked about doing some pictures but
in the end Syd just called out of the blue and said he
needed an album cover.

"I tried to get round two or three times before the pictures
were actually taken but he was still in bed or whatever. His
new flat was only ten minutes walk along the Brompton Road
so eventually I just went round without warning."

And, although it was well into the afternoon before Rock
arrived, camera in hand, for the session, it was no surprise
that Barrett was still in bed that day too.

"There are at least a couple of shots of him just in his
underpants. He had answered the door and I took a few
pictures as he went back to the bed area."

Barrett was not alone. His enigmatic half-Eskimo girlfriend
Iggy was in bed with him and it is her striking figure that
is seen in the background of many of the Madcap pictures.

Again there was no grand design behind her involvement, no
pre- conceived idea to present Barrett as the decadent pop
star having his way with whichever beautiful woman took his
fancy.

"We hadn't had any discussion about how the pictures were
going to be," says Rock. "I suppose the idea had always been
to do them in the flat because Syd had told me about the
floorboards and he was pretty excited about that.

"But there had been no talk of getting a model in. Iggy just
happened to be there. I have no idea where she came from or
where she went to. Everyone just knew her as Iggy the
Eskimo."

The model's nakedness and Barrett's dishevelled appearance
provided a perfect snapshot of the couple's lifestyle. She
routinely walked round the flat in the nude, must to the
embarrassment of Syd's flatmate, the avant garde artist
Duggie Fields.

The persona of the former Pink Floyd leader clearly demanded
a very hip and eccentric interpretation. Iggy's back
certainly helped.

The room was too was just as it appeared when Rock arrived.

"There were no curtains, just the bed, Syd's record player,
the vase, and maybe the stool. I can't remember if that was
because the floor had just been painted or because he didn't
like furniture."

Technically the shoot couldn't have been simpler. Rock used
the most basic of equipment. That was all he had.

He had bought the camera from Aubrey "Po" Powell, a long
time friend of the Floyd and a fellow student at the London
Film School.

"Po had a camera he wanted to get rid of and I bought it and
began messing around. That's how it all started really.

"It was a black Pentax and I used 28mm wide-angle Soligor
lens which was quite a cheap lens. Later on I sold it to
Roger Dean who did the Yes LP covers and lived upstairs
above my flat in Egerton Court."

It was Po and Storm Thorgeson, his partner at the design
company Hipgnosis, who eventually put together The Madcap
sleeve.

"The first pictures were done using just the light from the
window. Later on, as the light faded, I set up a couple of
basic photo-flood lights but that was all we used.

"They were long exposures because of the low light and they
were push-developed which means that you give the film more
time in the processing fluid. You can tell because the
colour changes and the film starts to break up which causes
that grainy effect.

"I think we did make a conscious decision not to have Iggy's
face in the pictures and we also decided that Syd would look
good with a bit of kohl make-up around his eyes. Iggy put
that on. "Syd was pretty passive about the whole thing and
he was never that interested in the pictures afterwards.
Until David Bowie came along people were not so obsessed
about image. Syd could be quite uncommunicative but I can
see from the pictures that he was relaxed that day."

A couple of hours later, Rock was satisfied with what he
had. In all he had used just two rolls of film, largely
because he couldn't afford to use much more.

"There had been no discussion about money at all. Later on I
did get a very minor payment but it couldn't have been more
than L50 and I don't know if it came from Syd or EMI."

And that is almost the end of the story of the pictures that
adorn The Madcap laughs. Almost but not quite...

"I actually went back a couple of weeks later. We still
didn't know what the LP was going to be called and we
thought we might need something different for the inner
sleeve or some publicity shots.

"It was late, maybe midnight or 1am, and we only had an
ordinary houselamp as lighting. I was using black and white
film because it is faster so you can use it in lower light
but I had only got halfway through the film when the camera
jammed. For whatever reason the camera got opened which is
why there is a bit of fogging on the pictures.

"I was going to go round again and take some more but I
never did and I forgot all about that roll of film for
years. Syd never saw the pictures. I didn't even have it
printed up because I knew it was fogged but for some reason
I kept it and only found them again recently. If you like it
is the great lost Syd Barrett photo session."

Today, Mick Rock recognises that neither set of pictures is
perfect in a technical sense, but he adds: "The truth is
they perfectly capture the spirit of the times. It always
amazes me how well they turned out. There's a certain
atmosphere about them.

"They were definitely intuitive rather than conceptual. Over
the years my understanding and direction of the psychology,
technique and preparation of the photographic process has
expanded. But while I have arguably equalled the Syd
sessions, I don't think I have ever bettered them. Of
course, Syd was such a unique subject..."

EOF


SONGS WORDS BARRETT HOP!