“No Good Trying” is one of those very rare songs that I can remember the first time I heard it. In the early 1990s, I had moved to London from Brighton and managed to find myself a ridiculously cheap studio underneath the Museum Book Shop opposite the British Museum. Effectively the bookshop owner, Ashley Jones, was subletting storage space. It was no frills but a lick of gloss yellow paint around the fireplace and a brick-red floor soon made it more cheerful. That was in the room I shared with Jet Boy (Patrick Welch) who introduced me to a whole swathe of music I had previously only encountered from afar like the cool kids at the school disco seen across the floor of the church hall. Patrick had a patience and determination about him that allowed us to immerse ourselves in music that might, on the surface seem unrewarding to the casual listener. In order to keep the rent as cheap as possible, I had to find another artist or illustrator to take the space in the room next to ours. This was a tricky task as although the room was larger there was no natural light just buzzing strip lights. The windows were there but boarded up and had you un-boarded them the view would have been underneath the road of Great Russell Street. Enter Steve (Major Talent) Fishman a towering bass player from LA with a cv that included playing bass for Paul McCartney, Roy Orbison and as part of the house band on The Jonathan Ross Show. Steve loved English music and although I was still really planning to become an illustrator at this point he soon began to encourage me in my music making, which had found a new lease of life through a certain feeling of Englishness that permeated the air around the band I was in, David Devant and his Spirit Wife. I think Steve’s American otherness and enthusiasm for the lyrical absurdism in both my art and music, made me more aware of how important this specifically English way of creating was.

I’ve had hearing loss all my life and so to really hear music I need time and space. It was in Steve’s basement studio (pictured on the inside of the DD&HSW LP Power Words for better Living) that I managed to listen to The Madcap Laughs at sufficient volume for it to trigger felt intensities. Going into Steve’s room was a bit like going into your parents’ bedroom complete with stumbling across bumper packs of multi-coloured condoms under a desk. The floor was freshly carpeted with a giant roll of red paisley carpet Steve had salvaged from The Dominion Theatre around the corner and the walls were entirely covered with shiny silver mirror tape. It was in this underworld realm of grimy otherness that the rug was pulled from under my feet by “It’s No Good Trying“. Syd’s painted floorboards on the cover of the album entangled with the temporal substance of Steve’s customised and somewhat seedy chamber of wonder. Whilst this may all seem to be a rambling unnecessary digression I suppose this is the point. I have come to feel like Syd Barrett’s music helped me place myself in the realm of wonder that is a digression, which honours the specificity of real-life emergence. So my real experience of the music in an actual place is part of the song’s cosmic entanglement. Although taxonomies and ratified theories around music can be engaging there really is no truth other than the actual occasion. This is why I believe that album felt like a shudder from the realm of felt intensities. “No Good Trying” is perhaps the song I associate most strongly with my extra-embodied feeling of bafflement through encountering music that was instantly engaging but at the same time completely sidestepped the rules about what made something that one could judge as being of a good pop standard. Syd’s region of temporal substance is still the creative space I value above all others. It has taken me a lifetime to recognise how the separation of real-life encounters from the conceptual ideas of things is not where I want to place reality. A cut-up vernacular is what I associate with that peculiar Englishness Syd’s music transmitted. It’s not a jingoistic conceptualised idea of national identity but instead the real of an organism taking everything in the region and making it matter for expression. Syd’s use of childhood rhymes and snippets in his art and music has this sense of material agency that I crave. Rather than making a semiotic puzzle, it’s more like how a hoarder is attuned to the non-linguistic frequencies of objects. I can’t help but relate this entangled sense of material agency to Syd’s suggestion that he felt he didn’t need to paint because his neighbour was having success with painting. It’s a whole other discussion to speculate about how the music industry encourages a competing separation that requires confidence to survive if you wish to maintain creativity as something emergent and entangled.

So when I heard the song loud enough to feel it through the large speakers in Steve’s basement studio, there was this sense that it felt completely other and yet completely of my world. This confused me and my cognitive brain started to ask questions like, is this cool to like? Is this deliberately weird? Is it the work of a madman as the title suggests? I mean, I knew “See Emily Play” and “Arnold Lane” and although there is a feeling of the weird within these songs, they have a much more easily located sense of pop. There was a disruption of normal ways of perceiving that some might connect to drug use but I prefer to experience it as an intuitive understanding of life as felt intensities. So whilst other avant-garde music may interrupt habitual cliché with a more strategic form of disruption and cut-up this only creates an opening onto the cosmos of feeling that Syd was operating inside. In this place, the pleasure of melody and word as vital matter is fully activated in much the same way that Bob Dylan, an artist Syd Barrett greatly admired, transmits the meaning inside the event of the song. I can’t think of any other music that has had this trance-formative effect on me. For a start, I could hear exactly what was happening in the record instrumentally but it still seemed to be from somewhere apart that was inside that basement room.

So even though Syd Barrett’s contingent approach to sound has become influential the wonder was not a technically innovative thing. Very soon after hearing the song, I wrote “I Think About You”. It seems strange that this found its way onto our first album because it was so different to how I had been making songs up until then. In the end, the swagger of “I Think About You” sounds a far cry from the gently unsettling swoon of “No Good Trying” but years later I read how Syd had been into Bo Diddley and this Diddley rhythm was always the reference point Foz, our guitarist, would use to keep us in time. Strangely enough, this elastic temporal approach in Syd’s music is something I enjoy but is not easily assimilated into “professional” ideas of making music. Quite a famous producer who is now sadly dead asked me if the demo I sent him was a joke because I had played the drum machine by hand in a fluctuating beat. The producer was from an esteemed avant-garde group and yet he wanted something in time – this schism in approaches stayed with me. Now I think I’m happy valuing the entangled experience of temporal substance* in specific personal experience above the convenience of communicated ideas. “No Good Trying” – I’m not even gonna try?

* temporal substance: a merging of memory, event, matter, location, time, space, potential and felt intensities in a cosmos of material agency.

 

BIOGRAPHY

Musician and artist Mikey Georgeson is perhaps best known for his time in the late ’90s and early ’00s as the frontman of art rock band David Devant & His Spirit Wife. Georgeson performs as The Vessel, through which English stage magician David Devant would supposedly express himself. The Vessel told Brighton’s Punter magazine: “It’s quite simple really, as a magician Devant didn’t really fulfil himself so he said ‘I shall walk down the corridors of contemporary music’, so he chose us. I am his vessel.” As The Vessel, Mikey was once sawn in half by spectral roadies and on another occasion fired from a cannon, appearing at the opposite end of the Duke of York’s cinema, clothes tattered, and face blackened from the explosion. Mikey is a Doctor in Fine art and has recently developed a line in performative keynote speeches as a mythopoeic figure Professor Kimey Peckpo. The latest David Devant and his Spirit Wife Lp is at www.cutoutandkeepme.com and his new solo LP is at www.mrmikey.net

 

 

Full of mystery and flickering intensity, “Astronomy Domine” is one of the finest moments of Syd Floyd. Arguably the first-ever space-rock song, the opening track of the band’s debut 1967 Piper At The Gates Of Dawn album pulled the listener into a darker place than the flower power visions of the time.

Some say that the song was the birth of space rock and, whilst it leaves some pretty upfront clues for this in its lyrics, it perhaps stretches out to a much higher state than that. The Latin title translates as ‘an astral chant to the Lord’ as it reaches out to the gods in one of those beautiful acid-drenched moments when nature, life, god and the mysteries of space all connect and make sense and the beauty of darkness and the emptiness of everything combine into one white heat whole.

Perhaps Syd was playing with many meanings – his playful songwriting was so full of shapeshifting levels that its brilliance captivates decades later. Any song that intros with band manager Pete Jenner intoning the moons of Uranus and a handful of planets down a megaphone is always going to be quite easily muddled up with being something about the beyond. The bleeping space-comm and the clipped descending guitar that travels through unconventional but brilliantly effective chord changes have always suggested the barren beauty and spectral mystery of space to me.

The guitar holds the tension and whilst the song never explodes into a cliched frenzy it’s full of taut electricity, an electricity that would be the bedrock of much of punk rock a decade later. Many of the first wave bands of that scene embraced Syd’s idiosyncratic genius and his maverick nature and innate cheekbone dandy in the underworld cool was a prime influence. This multi-genre magnetism is all there boiled down into this one song. It’s psychedelic because the music creates the trip, it’s punk because it’s full of tension, it’s prog because it was progressive and it’s so beautifully English and full of wild innocence that only Syd could have dreamt it up.

It was late 66/early 67 when the song was written and recorded, the peak of pop optimism when it felt like song and dance could change the world and the only boundaries were out there in deep space. Young groups with strange names like Pink Floyd were fast becoming the new currency trading in the Beatles beatific glow and the summer of love was on the horizon. Syd was in his brief songwriting prime. The music was pouring out of him and he was at the epicentre of London cool. His songs were full of whimsical back to childhood visions conjured by the LSD or these darker visionary pieces that meant everything or anything you wanted.

Syd soon bailed out, leaving the tantalising vision of a genius who exited the stage far too soon. Songs like “Astronomy Domine” hint as one of the many different directions a Syd led Floyd could have taken, maybe they took that route anyway after their architect had floated away. It’s the ifs and buts of Syd that are part of the eternal fascination of the pied piper who danced away like Pan playing his pipes and back into the only world his brilliant yet jumbled mind could understand.

His withdrawing away from the razzmatazz of late sixties London and into his own inner world created an enigma that songs like “Astronomy Domine” just add to. Syd left few clues just a brilliant and brief flurry of songs and a tousled haired dark-eyed ghost-like presence over the pop scene. The mystery of Syd and the song are part and parcel of this intoxicating story.

John Robb

A bit about John…
He is the bassist and singer for post-punk mainstays The Membranes, author, journalist, DJ, publisher and talking head.
Check out The Membranes  (http://www.facebook.com/themembranes)
John’s music and culture website louderthanwar.com is currently one of the biggest music and culture sites in the UK and is also a nationally distributed magazine.
John Robb runs the leading music and culture website, Louder Than War   ( http://louderthanwar.com/watch-all-of-john-robbs-lush-interviews/#.Wi_rrjYSSt4.twitter).
In his writing, he has written many books (best sellers like ‘Punk Rock – an Oral History’ and The Stone Roses and the Resurrection of British Pop’ – he is currently finishing writing a new book on Goth and post punk called ’The Art Of Darkness’ and about to write a book about the leading Eco energy and green initiative boss Dale Vince and is writing his autobiography next year).
John is also a Ted talker and has spoken on TEDx on punk, zen and the universe and as well as veganism and punk rock called ‘The world accruing to John Robb’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89CQ-TVSxV8)

He also tours the world.

I Never Lied to You is by no means Syd Barrett’s best-known song, nor is it his most fully-developed. I’d even argue that the instrumentally fleshed-up ‘official’ album version of the track lacks the drama and affect of Syd’s first recorded pass at the piece. And it’s this first take – featuring only his audibly heartfelt vocal against a strummed acoustic guitar – that I’ll be discussing here.

Usually I find myself responding more to the sound of Syd – his voice, his melodies, the enveloping textures of his songs – rather than to his lyrics. But with I Never Lied to You, I’ve always felt he really wants the listener to be paying close attention, to be taking note of what he’s saying.

And what does he say, exactly? There are minor lyrical differences between the first take and the album version, and further discrepancies between what I hear myself and transcriptions of the lyric on the internet. For what it’s worth, the version on this page is my own take on Syd’s first take.

Now as a younger man, I guess I felt Syd had to be opening up his heart to a girl here, a lover who’d gone out of his life. (Been so hard to bear with you not there…) But as time went on, that reading came to seem less plausible.

I may then have gone through a phase when I wondered if Syd was perhaps addressing himself in the song; that this was a stark testimony to his own well-chronicled ambiguities, not to mention his ambivalence about his brief career in the public eye (Everything to you was never easy, so I went ahead around my world. I saw the things you do, arriving by your side to see you looking too…).

But I kept coming back to those opening lines: the freighted way in which Syd sings – as I hear it – about a future reconciliation with someone. So what is going to happen then? There will be shoulder-pressing in the hall could be an image from an Anglo-Saxon epic poem. Wine and drinking in the yard sounds like it should be fun, yet why does the prospect sound quite so eerie?

The personal interpretation which I now find difficult to resist first suggested itself very early in this millennium, before Syd’s death in 2006, but around the time in 2003 when I lost my father. I believe something half-remembered from the Aeneid may then have resurfaced for me: the episode when Aeneas encounters his dead father among a host of other spirits in the underworld, and although they speak together they can no longer touch each other.

The poignancy of this scene returned to me whenever I listened to those mournful lines of Syd’s. And around that time, too, I belatedly began to read books about Syd’s life as well as listen to his music.

It was then that I learned what a challenge it had been for Syd in his mid-teens to adjust to losing his own father. I later dared to speculate upon his loss in my novel The Ballad of Syd & Morgan (Propolis, 2018), suggesting that Syd ‘went ahead’ into his musical world, at least initially, in the forlorn hope of somehow reconnecting with his musically-talented father. Been so hard to bear with you not there still sounds to me as frank as anything in Syd’s repertoire; but it’s the lines just beforehand – It’s been just like you’re gone for just one day for so long – which cut me to the quick: the way this wound remains fresh; somewhere up ahead there may be another girl, there won’t be another father.

I wouldn’t dream of claiming this to be the song’s ‘correct’ reading. I aim only to show how Syd the gifted songwriter in this instance overlays and underpins my personal experience, allowing me to turn what he says to my own emotional ends. It does interest me, however, that on the ‘Barrett’ album the song which segues into I Never Lied to You is Waving My Arms in the Air, another short opaque piece which peaks with the animated, twice-sung cry: You shouldn’t try to be what you can’t be!

On both these tracks Syd seems so intent on establishing his own credentials as a straight-dealer that I’ve often wondered why he felt so obliged to stress his integrity, and which person in particular he needed to convince. Sometimes my own fancy then nudges me into thinking of George Washington, who as a boy famously declared he ‘could not tell a lie’ when owning up to cutting down a cherry tree – and who did he say this to? Yes: his father. Or rather, the boy Washington might well have said it, had the tale not been entirely apocryphal!

But that’s the beauty of words, written or sung, when plucked with seemingly casual finesse out of the ether by an artist of Syd’s calibre: they can carry their own independent forms of truth and meaning. Whatever I Never Lied to You really is about (and only Syd could say), it speaks to me currently in the way I’ve just outlined, offering at its close a faint but real possibility of resolution, in which being both alone and still ‘with’ the lost loved one – albeit now only in spirit – can ultimately take its place within the natural order of things.

Haydn Middleton 4 January 2019

More about the author:

HAYDN MIDDLETON lives in rural Oxfordshire with his partner, Decca Warrington.  Between them they have six children.  For well over forty years he has loved and been lifted by the work of Syd Barrett and E. M. Forster.  For information on his work, please see www.haydnmiddleton.com.

For more featured songs, please visit our archive pages

As Bike closes The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, it also opens the door quite literally to a room full of musical tunes.

The song Bike did indeed stem from that room in Syd’s mind, where hundreds of tunes swam about and at one precious point in time could be pulled out, seemingly like rabbits from a magicians hat, effortlessly.

However, Bike is also the song that closes one chapter in the timeline of Pink Floyd recordings and opens the next. The opening of that door to “the other room” can be seen to signify the change in Syd’s creative genius, when one looks at what preceded it and what came after.

From the release of See Emily Play and the finishing touches to the debut album, including the segment known as Sunshine, in June of 1967, there is a world of difference to what followed on the shadow side in August and later that year. Merely a few days after the “Piper” release, in early August, Pink Floyd rush-recorded Syd’s Scream Thy Last Scream – with Syd in a bad state and not doing the vocals. This change is what lay on the other side of Bike. That room of noise entered in Bike, a foreboding of what can be found on “the dark side”. 

The cacophony in that room, half of the length of the song, is a rare piece of musique concrète in popular music. A collage of oscillators, clocks, gongs, bells, a violin, and other sounds. The piece fades out with a tape loop of the band members laughing reversed and played at double speed. A kind of madcap laughing, to return on Vegetable Man and in the naming of Syd’s solo debut and as a background on The Dark Side of the Moon.

The lyrics speak of showing a girl a borrowed bike, a damaged cloak, a homeless mouse that is called Gerald, and a clan of gingerbread men. All because she fits in with this world. Under it all, a love song. The origins of the song can be traced back to 1965 and it was his girlfriend Jenny Spires that was the inspiration. The letter in which it is mentioned opened the V&A exhibition on Pink Floyd. The song back in 1965 was not completed in its final form, but more of a little acoustic ditty. Syd’s friend Andrew Rawlinson also remembers Syd playing it in the back garden of Roger Waters’ house on Rock Road in Cambridge.

We only know of one live performance of the song. It was included in the pivotal concert Games For May on May 12, 1967. Possibly this was the only time. Disc & Music Echo heralded Pink Floyd as “the first pop group to appear at London’s swank new Queen Elizabeth Hall, which opened a couple of months ago beside the Festival Hall on the Thames South Bank”. Peter Jenner explained at the time that they “hoped to present a show of completely new material with tapes and films”. For Bike, Julian Palacios writes that a bicycle was “mounted with contact microphones to pick up the sounds of its rotating gears and ringing bell. Two mechanical toy ducks, mounted atop Plexiglas cabinets stage-front, quacked during the song’s coda”.

Soon thereafter, on May 21, the song was recorded for posterity and at 50 years old, it still stands out as a unique creation with very few others to match it.

Syd carried a love for bikes through his life. In his later years there are plenty of photos which document his shopping trips on bike. And there are stories of his early bikes, one which was a Pink Witch – a very popular bike for girls at one time. They were made in turquoise and bright pink, but according to his girlfriend Libby Gausden his was in turquoise. It is a fitting tribute to both Syd and his home town Cambridge that the art installation at the Cambridge Corn Exchange in October 2016 was centered around a sort of psychedelic bike wheel.

As it happens, the last known photo of Syd, from a series taken on a distance, shows him on a bike riding into a reflected sun. Although these kind of photos in general are not worthy of any attention, this particular one holds a certain relevance and strong sentimental value.

A bike borrowed. A life on borrowed time. True for us all.

Goran Nystrom

The song Bob Dylan Blues is a very early song by Syd Barrett, written early in 1965 but not recorded until during the February 1970 sessions for the album ‘Barrett’. It was thought lost until it turned up after 30 years in a tape collection at home by David Gilmour, and was released on ‘The Best of Syd Barrett’ in 2001. The song is similar to ‘Effervescing Elephant’ in that it reflects the creativity of a young Syd Barrett with its humour and word play.

Girl friend Libby Gausden remembers how, as a birthday present, she was taken to see Bob Dylan with Syd in May 1964, in London. ‘We arrived at the South Bank and he said, “Look, it’ s the me and you from every town.” Each town sent one Syd Barrett, the first time I’d seen people like him,’ recalled Libby. Three years later, this is the location where Syd would triumph in ‘Games for May’– little did he know…

‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’ was released in USA in May 1963, but in UK only in November. Soon Freewheelin’ sat at Number One in the charts, and during 1964 ‘The Times They Are A’ Changin’ followed with, in November that year, ‘Another Side of Bob Dylan’. That last album contains the song ‘ I Shall Be Free #10’ and the lyric, ‘ I’m a poet; I know it, hope I don’ t blow it.’ Syd, as always a clever collage artist, picked bits and pieces from all these albums to write a very personal parody of, and in the style of, Bob Dylan.

The music itself is in the style of waltz tempo ‘Chimes of Freedom’ featuring similar chords. The song title is akin to what was used on ‘Freewheelin’, with Dylan’ s own name in not one but two song titles of the album – quite an achievement for a new artist: ‘Bob Dylan’s Blues’and ‘Bob Dylan’s Dream.’ When Syd sings “the wind you can blow it” it is a common reference from several of Dylan’s songs, as are the shoes and the hat references. The rhyming of “dreams” and “seems” occurs in ‘Talking World War III Blues’ and “war in the cold” comes from ‘Masters Of War.’


This is a photo of his then girl friend Jenny Spires, taken by Syd himself. Jenny comments:“this pic Syd took of me in v. early 67.  the jacket was cool…  the satin trousers from Granny’s, where else? at that time.  But def.  The Bob Dylan Cut.”
The letter (right), from Syd to Jenny, documents the origins of Bob Dylan Blues:”I have written a song about Bob Dylan. Yeh! Yeh! Soul, God, etc. It starts off “I got the Bob Dylan blues and the Bob Dylan shoes and my hair an’ my clothes in a mess but you know I just couldn’t care less”. In fact a bit satirical and humorous. Ho! Ha! Hee! Tee! for Syd.”

Jenny tells us this fascinating story about the background and the letter:“By 1965 Syd or ‘Rog’, as he’d sign himself, was writing to me two or three times a week. He was at Camberwell Art School and now that he had settled into Stanhope Gardens, he wanted to take some of his paintings there. This letter came late January/early February 1965.

Before I knew Syd, I had been listening to Dylan and a range of folk, blues and rock which we discovered we were both into. So, when he sent me this verse it didn’t seem that unusual at the first. Typically, it just made me laugh.

Like him, it’s full of humour, ‘a bit satirical’ , he writes, ‘ Quiet while I make like cat’ , ‘ my gut and my wallet are fat’ , ‘ buy all my discs and a hat’ , hilarious. It’ s also a homage to ‘ Dylan’ , who Syd identifies himself with, ‘ Cause I’m Mr. Dylan the King’. It’ s ingenious. Syd, with his painterly eye, could always transcend. In the simplest terms we learn that Dylan the King sings ‘ bout God and my girl’ , ‘ bout what’ s right and what’ s wrong’ , about ‘ dreams’ and what ‘ seems’ . And, he could ‘ prophesy all kinds of things’.

For me, at this time, the song was about that ‘Freewheelin’, carefree concept we got into. It’ s a move towards a freer and better world away from the one we see in ‘ Song To Woody’ , ‘ A Man of Constant Sorrow’ , ‘Hard Rains’ and ‘ Don’ t Think Twice’ . Dylan was a huge influence on us all at the time. His songs were our protest.

So, that weekend, as we were driving to London, cruising down the A1, as much as one can in a blue Austin A30 with the indicator switch on the dashboard, I learnt the rest of the song. Syd had several little songs on the go that we sang to … and I was used to hearing him play acoustic guitar, but this song played with all its Dylanesque resonance, is beautiful.

At the time, seeing Syd full throttle in a band came as no surprise to me. He was good. The old T Set/Floyd blues band doing ‘King Bee’ and his songs ‘Lucy Leave’ and ‘Double O’ Bo’ was exciting. Syd’ s development as a song writer took hold rapidly. Within a year the band was moving into, what we called, ‘free’ improvisation, and with the free flow of Syd’ s lyrics, in songs like ‘Astonomy Domine’ and ‘Chapter 24’, he became a considerable influence.”

Bob Dylan was of course a phenomenal influence on many people. In the case of Pink Floyd, even though it is not obviously reflected in their music, Dylan was a hero for all their main three creative leaders. Syd wrote a song in his honour. Roger Waters often refers to Dylan as an inspiration and he has, in later days, become something of the protest singer Dylan started out as. David Gilmour received Dylan’s début album from his parents in the USA long before it was released in UK.

Two years after Syd’s song, Bob Dylan had grown in importance and after his motorcycle accident and disappearance in mid 1966, to almost mythical levels, affecting many parts of the culture. Roger Waters, in one of his songs on ‘The Wall’, sings of the “obligatory Hendrix perm”; something which Jimi Hendrix in fact had adopted from Bob Dylan in his admiration of him. So in reality it was a “Dylan perm” – and for some people more than others.
Jenny remembers:-“Over the Christmas holiday of 1966, Syd played me an acoustic version of his song Arnold Layne; deep down a protest song. The Floyd were to record and release it as a single in the New Year. In the meantime, Peter Whitehead had shown me the rushes for his film, ‘ Tonite Let’ s all Make Love in London’ but he was agonising over a soundtrack. I suggested he use the Floyd’ s ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ and luckily, after hearing them, he agreed. Within a week Peter booked Sound Techniques and we went in to film them just before the Arnold Layne sessions.

Before my return to London after the holiday, I had my hair bubbled. When Syd saw it his eyes literally shone. There were several people on the scene who had this wonderful, if strange, ‘Aubrey Beardsley’ hair style. Some of them naturally, and others following, but initially it was done in that image of Dylan on the cover of ‘Blonde on Blonde’, which we had endlessly listened to, and identified with, the previous year. Quite soon, that hairstyle also became associated with Hendrix too. There was a buzz growing about him in London and, in the event, I did meet him before I saw him play at The Saville Theatre for the first time.”

For Jenny then, this is certainly a very special song, close to her heart. When the song was rediscovered and released in 2001, it was a surprise and a gift to many of us.
Jenny remembers:-“When I heard ‘The Bob Dylan Blues’ again, after all those years, I was amazed and marvelled at it all over again. It took me right back to the time when Syd was joyful about everything. I really think people love that song now. I hope Dylan does too. I won’t forget it again and am so grateful to Malcolm Jones and David Gilmour for having recorded it and kept it safe and unadulterated over the years because it’s quintessentially, impeccable Barrett.” 

David Gilmour commented about the song, which must have been dear to him also: “Bob Dylan Blues is a bit of fun. He was quite a Dylan fan, though there was a bit of jealousy there, too. If a tribute, then a mocking one!”

(Very many thanks to Jenny for permission to publish these personal mementos and her reminiscences)

The first single by Syd Barrett as a solo artist was released on 14 November 1969, two months before the release of ‘The Madcap Laughs’. It remains a remarkable song in so many dimensions. The lyrics and imagery. The inspiration it borrows. The rhythm.

Syd was pleased with his song: “I carried that about in my head for about six months before I actually wrote it so maybe that’s why it came out so well. The idea was like those number songs like ‘Green Grow the Rushes O’, where you have, say, twelve lines each related to the next and an overall theme. It’s like a fool-proof combination of lyrics, really, and then the chorus comes in and changes the tempo but holds the whole thing together.”

With a first studio recording made on July 20 1968, under the name ‘Clowns and Jugglers’, it seems that those ‘six months before’ refers to the first half of 1968  – possibly even including late 1967, since a first recording may have been attempted in May 1968. This means that the song was written during the period of parting with Pink Floyd, including the brief ‘five man Floyd’ experiment and also the time when Syd waited on the band outside the studio and even took to following them around England in his car to gigs they played: A desperate time which may well have inspired some of the lyrics.

Thematically the song seems connected with fairgrounds and different rides. The Octopus was indeed the name of a ride which was popular in Cambridge at the fair on Midsummer Common. What we can learn is that the lyrics of the song had inspiration from many places. Syd was indeed something of a collage artist, and Octopus is probably the best example in his music, among several others.

The Octopus lyrics in turn are widely quoted and used. His début album was named after a line in this song, possibly misheard as he seems to sing ‘the mad cat laughs’. Julian Palacios’ book ‘Lost In The Wood’ and Swedish tribute band Men On The Border are two other examples.

The first recorded version, from 1968, was revived the following year and fellow UFO musicians Soft Machine were asked to provide full band instrumentation on top of Syd’s demo recording. This version is available on the album ‘Opel’.

On June 12-13, 1969, Syd started his collaboration with David Gilmour to complete his first solo album. Takes 1 and 2 are available as bonus tracks, while take 11 is the one finally used for the album. A new 2010 mix was included on ‘An Introduction To Syd Barrett’. Lots to choose from then! And to add to the menu there is also the world of bootlegs. David Gilmour and Jerry Shirley played the song live with Syd at a one off gig in June 1970. Octopus was the fourth and final song of a surprisingly short set, which ended when Syd abruptly put down his guitar and walked off stage even before the song was finished.

Octopus. A song of no compromises.