The Octopus Ride
by Landslide and SavageEarthHeart
While revisiting Pink Floyd’s albums as preparation for the visit to the “Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains” at the V&A Museum, we kept asking ourselves a question, “Still, what about Syd?“ And, indeed, what about him? What was so great about Syd Barrett that the legacy overcame the human drama? How come he achieved that status of a cult figure to the level of a person who died young? He co-founded the band in 1965, named it Pink Floyd and only two years later stepped into madness. And until today, his fluid signature, his childish universe, his ethereal presence touched so many people, from his bandmates to so many other different artists. Of course we could not find the answer, as good mysteries are better left unsolved, but we have worked on a mix as eclectic and unusual as the great man himself. A Madcap tribute that features songs written by, played by, inspired by, reminiscent of or dedicated to Syd Barrett and his quirky but strangely influential musical style. So hop on board, close your eyes and take a trip to the octopus ride!
Captain Sensible – Octopus
There are two songs on this mix contributed by the marvellous Captain Sensible. This one is credited as a solo release rather than under the moniker of his “first love” The Damned (we’ll let you decide for yourselves later on whether you think The Damned track on this mix is actually just as much of a “solo” effort by The Captain!). Taking a signature Syd Barrett track, The Captain does a very nice job of recreating the song from the Madcap Laughs album, not too far from the original but at the same time with a definite “Captain” stamp upon it. Captain Sensible was clearly heavily influenced by Syd’s music and personality, despite the obvious contrast between psychedelic rambles and full-blown punk rock riffs! For those who were not around to experience Syd Barrett at the first time of asking and who had The Damned as the bread and butter of their musical learning, Captain Sensible has brought Syd’s style and substance into the “present” time and given it a rather beautiful reference and connection that was missing.
The Brian Jonestown Massacre – My Man Syd
“My Man Syd” is a musical dedication from one cult rock music figure to another. Too much of a crazy genius to be satisfied with just a cover, Anton Newcombe inserts smart references to Syd’s self-isolation and reclusiveness in a ’60s garage psychedelia sound merged with a ’90s style, for an original tribute to the controversial enigma that was Syd Barrett. There should be more to say about Anton Newcombe but, again, some mysteries should be left unrevealed.
Television Personalities – I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives
The song was written in 1981 while Syd was still alive but no longer present on the musical scene and hardly to be seen in public already at that time. The band was initially hired by David Gilmour to support his solo tour of 1984 but they were fired after they actually read Syd’s address on stage. Despite the unpleasant story attached to it, “I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives” is a silly childish little song remaking the Barrett-esque atmosphere and with a sort of unexpected ending.
Iordache – Earthworm
The track Earthworm comes from the album Garden Beast, a concept album inspired by the nearest natural habitat that urban life may have access to: the backyard. Listening to Garden Beast may recall Barrett’s favorite children’s book, “The Wind in the Willows”*, as it is evoking a world with weird but wonderful characters and revealing a sweet universe in continuous danger and change which calls for our care and devotion. You could listen to this track by the Romanian saxophonist Mihai lordache without ever making a comparison to the music of Syd Barrett but when you listen with this context in mind then it just seems to be a perfect fit for this particular project! Just as the title implies, the track is an underground creature, turning over the earth, breaking down the “soil” that psychedelic music is, so that it can produce something new and different…but with all of its essential nutrients and minerals intact! Definitely a “creature” we’d imagine Syd would welcome into his garden!
*“The Wind in the Willows” is a children’s novel by Kenneth Grahame from 1908. It is also among the literary influences of Syd Barrett being source of inspiration for Pink Floyd’s ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’. The album is actually titled after a chapter in this book.
Kevin Ayes & Syd Barrett – Religious Experience
Kevin Ayers was not only a contemporary of Syd Barrett during those “heady days” of the London psychedelic scene in the late 1960’s but also became a close friend. This particular track has significance to the mix as it features both artists, Syd “singing” through the strings of his guitar, whilst Ayers takes just two simple lines of lyric and a simple melody and creates one of the catchiest numbers of his whole back catalogue. Ayers continued to represent the ethos and sound of the “Barrett” era throughout his career and was perhaps one of only a few artists to capture the spirit of what Syd Barrett might have been had his life taken a different path back in the late 60’s.
Jennifer Gentle – If It’s in You
‘If it’s in you” may be the most erratic song on Syd’s Madcap Laughs album. This version was included in a compilation of covers of the Barrett album, brilliantly titled “The Madcap Laughs Again”. It has a very similar feeling to the original but differs in perhaps one major way. Whereas Barrett warbles his way through the song in his own unusual way, often sounding out of tune and as if he might not be fully focused on the song, Jennifer Gentle stick to a strict vocal tuning … and oddly seem to do a better job than the great man himself! We would never know if this is how the song sounded like if Syd had finished it properly, and maybe it is a bit controversial to favour a cover over the original but somehow this version seems to be the complete article of a delicate and gentle song … as if the band picked it because of their name association! Staunch Barrett aficionados will probably read this with horror but if you listen to both versions then perhaps they might agree just a little that Jennifer Gentle make a solid tribute and dedication to Barrett and that is why the song makes it into this mix.
Peter Sellers and The Hollywood Party – Spun Out Of A Mind
Thanks to the excellent research skills of our technical dept. guys, this song was suggested as a possible inclusion in the mix and after several listens it got the vote. This song was mentioned on a list of songs referencing Syd Barrett. Rare stuff and a left-field entry in terms of band and song. Peter Sellers and the Hollywood Party is an Italian folk psychedelic group active in the second half of the 1980s, reunited in 2013. The song was recorded on cassette in 1986 and again in 1987 on a 7”split called “What Exactly Is A Joke…”. Despite not really being Barrett (or Pink Floyd) in style, the song has a haunting quality and intriguing lyrics that fits the remit of this project even without the obvious Barrett references that we got used to so far in the playlist.
REM – Odd Fellows Local 151
In choosing this track for the mix, the main feature was the title, the obvious reference to the somewhat “different” personality and style that was Syd Barrett. But listen to it closely and you begin to find more than just a passing reference in the song. Yes, the music style is far removed from anything Barrett ever produced or was ever likely to produce, but in Michael Stipe’s unique vocal sounds and the discordant guitar licks that punctuate the song throughout one finds a song that actually is far from an “Odd Fellow” in its appreciation and reinterpretation of Barrett and his music. In one of his many interviews, Roger Waters tells a story about him going backstage at one of REM concerts to meet the band members and how Michael Stipe was the only who seemed to ignore him; when REM returned to the stage, Stipe played Dark Globe, a song of Syd Barrett, in acapella style. Waters was moved by the interpretation and he wondered whether Stipe did that on purpose as a message to him or was just part of their setlist. I guess we’ll never know but we could wonder, just like Roger Waters did, whether Michael Stipe is not among those who think that Pink Floyd is nothing without Syd Barrett. And listening to ‘Odd Fellows Local 151’ he most probably is.
Hawkwind – Cymbaline
Hawkwind have never been afraid or too self-important to “doff” their psychedelic “caps” to artists and bands that have influenced them or inspired them throughout their long winding journey into space and time! On Hawkwind debut’s album there is a song from the soundtrack of the movie More, commissioned to Pink Floyd in 1969, their first album without Syd Barrett. Various cover versions of Pink Floyd songs have been recorded but this particular track (despite it being a Roger Waters song) feels the closest tribute to the essence of early Floyd and the presence of Syd Barrett. The song itself holds no real clues to Syd or his music but the overall feel of the composition somehow conjures up a “Barrett-esque” sound and makes it a nice fit into this mix. Also, Hawkwind play a prominent part in the psychedelic sonic journey that inspired the origins of this mix so their presence was also kind of essential! Cymbaline was reissued on a compilation given away free with the October edition of MOJO magazine, “In Search of Syd”.
Orchidfoot – It’s Plain
Orchidfoot is not yet to be found anywhere on the internet except on their bandcamp and soundcloud and on independent stations such as Dandelion Radio. This song has no direct link to Syd Barrett but its suave and delicate signature evokes an ambience of sadness and fight against madness and imaginary (or not) dangers.
CFM – Desaturated
Charles Frances Moothart is an American multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter, best known for his collaborations with garage rock musicians. But he has been releasing solo albums under the moniker of CFM as well, and his second album, Dichotomy Desaturated, was promoted in Henry Rollins’ radio show as being ‘great from top to bottom’. Among other bluesy or heavy riffs on this album, this song in particular fits into a Syd Barrett’ imaginary universe.
Syd Barrett – Bob Dylan Blues
Well, the mix had to include at least one song with Syd actually singing! Not a track from either of the main solo albums Syd made nor from any of The Pink Floyd’s early output, this song was written in 1965, but it was unreleased until 2001 when it was included on “The Best of Syd Barrett”. Bob Dylan’s personality and eccentric behavior got a lot of ink and was always a contradictory subject, but in his song Syd shows a lot of insight musing upon a subject that might have captured his imagination at the time of writing the words, maybe just for that one particular day. It was enough to lead to a delightful lyric and satire that seems to seize a small piece of Syd’s lighter side, the humour and playfulness that went some way to making him such a charismatic and influential musician amongst his peers and for later generations also. It would also be nice indeed to know what was Mr Dylan’s reaction! Probably none.
Kevin Ayes – Oh! Wot a Dream
Kevin Ayers also makes two appearances in this mix. This time without Syd in attendance in the band but with Syd most definitely in mind. “Oh! Wot a Dream” is a song simply dedicated to Barrett. Ayers creates a whimsical tribute with quirky strange noises and a musical style and lyric that leaves the listener in no doubt of its connection to Barrett, even if you firstly arrived at the song with no context or prior information. Of all the songs in this mix it is probably the most obvious tribute the Syd and therefore left us in no doubt that it had to be included.
The Damned – Dark Asteroid
Part two of the Captain Sensible tribute to Mr Barrett, this time dragging along the members of The Damned to join him! One wonders if the rest of the band really wanted this track to be released on the 2008 album “So, Who’s Paranoid?” and maybe many loyal and long serving Damned fans would say the same! It is very a-typical of the bands usual output. But it is a “true” Damned track (of the later post-punk period) in the sense that Captain Sensible makes one of his usually telling contributions! The song is credited as being a tribute to Syd Barrett both in lyrics and in substance, even if the psychedelic freak-out guitar solo of the Captain’s may seem to some as rather excessive! But if you consider the reason for the song and the way the band have crafted it, then it seems to be an obvious choice for any self-respecting musical representation of Mr Barrett! Complaints in writing to the editor please!!!
Mystery Jets – Scarecrows in the Rain
Previous knowledge of the Mystery Jets music would perhaps leave one surprised to see the band included in any mix about the music and personality of Syd Barrett. Research showed that after Syd Barrett’s death in 2006, Mystery Jets recorded this song entirely for Syd and also organized a charity concert the same year. With “Scarecrows in the Rain” they have produced a little masterpiece. Although the band are not renowned for their connection to the world of psychedelia, they certainly pull out all the stops out to make this great song and it makes a worthy ending in this mix celebrating all things Syd Barrett and his wondrous life after death. ‘What did I believe in? / How did I behave?’
Quiz: There is a very long song in the list, have you discovered it?
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