The story of Syd Barrett is one that is intrinsically linked with tragedy, it’s occasionally easy to forget that there was a real human being behind all the stories and, in turn, the reason why he founded Pink Floyd. Barrett was a deeply troubled character who, like so many of us, sought solace in music. Initially, the stage was his vice of preference but addiction would rear its ugly head and cripple his creativity. It left him a shell of the man who created The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
Barrett was a founding father of the Floyd. His life would take a dark turn, however, after he played his final ever show with the band in Hastings on January, 20th, 1968, one which all involved didn’t know at the time would be his final performance. It may have felt a big step for the group to take but the situation soon worsened just as his bandmates had foreseen. The year prior to this moment, the band had already drafted in old school friend Dave Gilmour to provide a helping hand on guitar, a necessity as Barrett’s mental health worsened and he could no longer fulfil the basic demands of playing live.
After the Hastings performance, they saw Barrett as more of a hindrance than anything else and, at that point, they all knew that they couldn’t carry on in this state any longer or Pink Floyd would be no more. Given the situation, the band members made the decision to simply not pick him for their next show and Syd would never perform in public again. His life would deteriorate further as the group became even more distant with him as the years went on and, eventually, becoming strangers within a matter of years. But in one of his final ever interviews in 1971, Barrett spoke extremely candidly about his influences and expressed his love for Jimi Hendrix.
The former Floyd man had released his second album, Barrett in late 1970 and a year later he gave his last-ever lengthy interview with Rolling Stone. Shortly after giving this interview, Syd would grow tired of music, which he had seemingly fallen out of love with, and never released anything ever again. Barrett would eventually move back to Cambridge and leave his life of a rockstar as a distant memory. However, this interview proves that there was still a glimmer of fight left in the old dog.
While the interview meanders through many subjects, the topic of conversation, at one point, turned to Jimi Hendrix with Barrett fondly sharing his memories of Hendrix, who had sadly passed away a few months prior. “I toured with him you know, Lindsay (an old girlfriend) and I used to sit on the back of the bus, with him upfront; he would film us,” Barrett recalled. “But we never spoke really. It was like this. Very polite. He was better than people really knew. But very self-conscious about his consciousness. He’d lock himself in the dressing room with a TV and wouldn’t let anyone in.”
He then handed Hendrix the ultimate praise: “Hendrix was a perfect guitarist and that’s all I wanted to do as a kid. Play the guitar properly and jump around. But too many people got in the way. It’s always been too slow for me. Playing. The pace of things. I mean, I’m a fast sprinter. The trouble was, after playing in the group for a few months, I couldn’t reach that point.”
The love that Barrett had for Hendrix was reciprocal and the guitar god waxed lyrical about his love for Floyd to Melody Maker in 1970: “The term blowing someone’s mind is valid. People like you to blow their minds, but then we are going to give them something that will blow their mind, and while it’s blown there will be something there to fill the gap.
“It’s going to be a complete form of music. It will be really druggy music. Yes, I agree it could be something on similar lines to what Pink Floyd are tackling. They don’t know it, you know, but people like Pink Floyd are the mad scientists of this day and age.”
Barrett and Hendrix remain two of rock’s great tragedies, they both had such cruelly short careers that are both undeniably underpinned by sadness. However, their respective legacies are ones that few people in music could ever compete with and, the pioneering landscape that they mined, immensely changed the world for the better.