It was 50 years ago this month (3rd January 1970) that a most unique rock album was released, The Madcap Laughs by Syd Barrett – an example of “art brut” in music. In a distinctly non-commercial move, the album missed the Christmas market, in spite of a final recording session as early as July 26, 1969. Some say it was held back not to compete with Ummagumma. Syd Barrett probably did not care.
The famous photo sessions with daffodils and a naked Iggy Rose took place in April. The less known but officially commissioned “yoga session” actually took place in October. Some of these so-called yoga photos by Storm Thorgerson ended up on the inside of the original gatefold cover – with the madcap theme in full bloom.
Storm shows us Syd Barrett with his head up in the clouds and beyond, and several creepy images that spawn almost like octopus tentacles from his torso. To remove any debate about the nature of the imagery there is also an image of Syd with a cracked head at the bottom of the gatefold. Top center, Syd seems to have his head stuck in a TV set and top left is an even more odd image and a bit of a mystery: A baby and some sort of tool against nasal congestion (?). Storm took weird to new levels with this inside cover! EMI probably did well in selecting among the April photos for the cover.
The cover art notwithstanding, The Madcap Laughs was actually created in a happy time window. Syd had in 1969 left behind him his annus horribilis and gained new hope, much thanks to Malcolm Jones, and new love with Gala Pinion. The spring and summer also included the build-up to the moon landing, the anticipation of the Woodstock concert and, more importantly for Syd, the return to stage by Bob Dylan after three long years away from the public eye.
When the album was released things had changed. The end of the year turned darker, much darker, and all too well showed that the 1960s were over. For the hippie generation, two serious blows were dealt when in December the link between the Manson family and their atrocities was fully uncovered and the tragic Altamont festival played out.
Therefore, The Madcap Laughs, in all its darkness, holds a special lighter place in time. Syd, in love again, had embarked in a daffodil-filled springtime on recordings that would go on to form an outstanding collection on one of rock music’s enduringly legendary albums.
Join us in wishing Happy Golden Anniversary to the magic Madcap album.
With thanks for text – Goran Nystrom. https://www.facebook.com/MenOnTheBorder/