Syd Barrett’s life was drenched in tragedy, but what he did in his short career can still be felt today. The Pink Floyd founder’s influence can’t be understated, but the pioneer’s magic touch had dissipated by the time of his final recording session in 1974.
Six years before this recording, Barrett left Pink Floyd after becoming a burden on his bandmates, and for the good of their future, they felt as though there was no choice but to remove him from the line-up. The year prior to his departure, Pink Floyd 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.
“We were so blinkered,” drummer Nick Mason later reflected to Uncut. “I maintain that we looked after Syd very badly – but we didn’t know any better. There’s still the belief that it was LSD damage, but it could have been perfectly straightforward, that he wanted to be an artist and not a pop star. And actually, that could break you and certainly not do you any good at all to be forced down a road you didn’t want to go.”
His bandmates tried to look out for him after their split, but unfortunately, his use of psychedelic drugs had caused irreversible damage, and Syd no longer was the same talent that founded the group all those years prior.
In 1970, Barrett released two solo albums but then took a hiatus from music and never quite snapped back into life as a working musician. In fact, he’d enjoyed falling back into civilian life. Still, his manager Peter Jenner persuaded Barrett to record at Abbey Road Studios in August 1974, but the three day session was far from perfect and marked the last time Syd would ever record.
Syd arrived at the studio armed with just a stringless guitar. Thankfully, a set of strings would arrive from Phil May of The Pretty Things, but that would set the tone for the whole session. Floyd biographer Barry Miles wrote: “When everything seemed in order they began. Syd had asked someone to type his lyrics to his new songs for him.”
Adding: “This they had done using the red ribbon of the typewriter. When the sheet was handed to Syd he thought it was a bill, grabbed the guy’s hand and tried to bite his fingers off. Syd was in the studio for three days. The material put down on tape was described as ‘extremely weird’ and had a ‘strong hardly-begun feel to it.’ Only the backing tracks were recorded, no vocal tracks at all, and there is some doubt as to whether Syd even bothered to turn up on the third day. The material never reached the stage where it could be mixed and consequently remains unissued.”
Barrett no longer cared about being an artist and only attended the sessions as a goodwill gesture to Jenner. He thought that there was still some genius left in the tank that could shoot out of Barrett under the right circumstances, but alas, it wasn’t to be.
Syd would often disappear for walks during the sessions and was barely working in the studio. Jenner later said, “The engineer used to say that if he turned right he’d be back but if he went left he’d be gone for the day. He was never wrong.”
If these three days in the studio went differently, who knows whether Barrett’s career could have got back on track, but sadly it seems like that train had already long departed the platform. Barrett would move back to Cambridge in 1978 and live a reclusive life until he passed away in 2006.