Syd Barrett – The Radio One Sessions

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Considering Barrett’s fragile state of mind, it’s extraordinary that this precious little document exists at all. It seems a shame that one cannot comment on Syd’s artistic output without also remarking on the psychology behind it. Many a friend of his and scholar have argued that Syd had been in serious decline for some time, even as early as 1967. And while LSD isn’t necessarily harmful in itself (depending on who you talk to), I’m sure that if one took it nearly every day its effects would ultimately prove to be somewhat deleterious when it comes to one’s perception of reality. Barrett himself never really talked about, much less discussed at any great length what it was exactly he was experiencing at the time. But, though he was no longer in Pink Floyd, didn’t mean that he wasn’t continuing to write new material, songs that were as whimsical as they were often irregular.

Recorded on 24th February 1970 at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios and later broadcast by John Peel on his Top Gear radio show (Peel was an ardent supporter of Pink Floyd from day one, which might go some way to explain why Barrett may have agreed to perform in the first place), The Radio One Sessions captures, albeit briefly, Syd at his most ambling and folky best.

Opening with the somewhat languid and leisurely “Terrapin”, from The Madcap Laughs, his first solo record, Syd is surprisingly in fine form (by his standards), and manages to put in a solid performance. Barrett just manages to keep it together on the upbeat and ebullient “Gigolo Aunt”. Mind you there appears to be a number of overdubs going on here, courtesy of David Gilmour and Jerry Shirley. So it’s not what one could honestly describe as an entirely true live performance (unless Gilmour is able to play bass, organ and guitar simultaneously). Still, it’s a fun number all the same. Next is “Baby Lemonade”, a song that would be the opening track for his self-titled second LP. Gilmour augments the tune with some beautiful organ, while Syd strums along in rather tentative fashion. One point I should add, is that the presence of Shirley on bongos instead of drums, gives these recordings an almost loose shambolic feel suggestive of early T-Rex.

“Effervescing Elephant” is about the only track where Barrett seems to come to life, and actually enjoy what he’s playing. Animal imagery is everywhere amongst his solo songs, as if he was reaching back to his childhood, to a time when he was exposed heavily to Natural History through his parents, both of whom were extremely academic. The final track, the one off “Two of a Kind” is a pleasant enough ditty, but seems a little too straight lyric-wise when compared with Barrett’s other compositions. Nonetheless he puts in a decent vocal performance, to the extent that one has to wonder whether he was truly going mad or not. And there it ends.

Sometimes a candle’s flame will flicker and brighten before its last remaining moments, as if in defiance of the inevitable outcome which awaits it. Ultimately The Radio One Sessions preserves a mind at its own equivalent of an Event Horizon, before Barrett’s consciousness would alter completely and irreversibly into a universe all of its own. Yes it’s sad that he gave up music for a life of relative seclusion in the comfort of his beloved Cambridge. But perhaps our loss was his gain.

I shan’t bother delving into the last three tracks of the album, since the sound quality is dreadful. Recorded almost exactly one year later, in February 1971, for Bob Harris’s Sounds of the Seventies, true to BBC tradition the tapes were erased, stolen, or discarded with altogether. And so all we are left with is a primitive recording made by a fan from the original broadcast. A distant, almost ghostly reminder of the man as myth, whose creative output meant more to others than it did to Syd himself.