Roger Keith ‘Syd’ Barrett, the co-founder of Pink Floyd, was a pioneering guitarist whose experimental techniques has inspired countless musicians to date. However, the singer’s penchant for progressive drugs would ultimately be his downfall.
The 1960s are synonymous with free-living, explicit drug-taking and rock stars forging the genre and living their lives to the maximum. The decade proved to be a particularly revolutionary in terms of popular music, the evolution of rock flourishing and Pink Floyd were a major part of that.
Barrett, a man responsible for writing the majority of early Pink Floyd material, pioneered guitar techniques such as feedback, dissonance and distortion all while living the rock and roll lifestyle to its maximum. However, after years of fraught tension between him and his bandmates, Barrett was eventually replaced in the band by David Gilmour.
The group had grown weary of Syd’s continued drug abuse, it had begun to affect his playing ability and, rather than expanding his mind, it had begun to envelop it. Barrett was soon hospitalised amid claims of serious mental illness. This situation arose after a notorious and very public display of excessive use of psychedelic drugs.
Having once been described as a joyful, friendly and extroverted character, reports began to emerge that Barrett had developed “a blank, dead-eyed stare” and would go missing for days on end amid heavily psychedelic binges. They would be his ultimate downfall.
Barrett’s antics had developed from intense mood swings and catatonic periods, right up to on-stage meltdowns and refusing to play in front of an audience, instead choosing to mime along and wander aimlessly around the stage. An urban myth says that prior to one performance in late 1967, Barrett reportedly crushed a Mandrax (also known as Quaalude’s) tranquilliser pill, smeared a tube of Brylcreem into his hair and around his face which, under the heat of the stage lighting, made him look like “a guttered candle” as he became more incoherent, staring darkly into the crowd.
While Barrett’s mental health began to deteriorate amid his heavy psychedelic usage, many fans argued that his experimentation at that time is what built Pink Floyd and their trailblazing sound.
Barrett’s reckless sense of freedom made him become somewhat of a cult legend within rock music with stories of his long and seemingly endless trips written into the archives. For Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon, a filmmaker who regularly enjoyed the company of Barrett, the subject matter for his next film was sitting right in front of him.
In his short film, simply titled Syd Barrett’s First Trip, Gordon split his 11-minute project into two sections which showed the musician’s transition. The film “just happened…. It is an unselfconscious film. It was not planned,” he said.
With some footage also filmed by Lesmoir-Gordon’s wife Jenny, the first part of the film shows Barrett and a group of friends during their first LSD trip, exploring ‘Gog Magog Hills’ before going on the search for mushrooms. This moment, Lesmoir-Gordon explains, was Barrett’s first furore into the psychedelic world.
The second part of the film fast-forwards a few years to 1967, Barrett and Pink Floyd have just signed their major contract with EMI are inside the iconic Abbey Road Studios laying down some new tracks. Describing the film on its official IMDB page, Lesmoir-Gordon explains: “I shared the flat with some close friends from Cambridge, including Syd Barrett, who was busy becoming a rock star with Pink Floyd. A few hundred yards down the street at 101 Cromwell Road, our preternaturally cool friend Nigel was running the hipster equivalent of an arty salon.”
He continued: “Between our place and his, there passed the cream of London alternative society–poets, painters, film-makers, charlatans, activists, bores and self-styled visionaries.”
Here it is, one of the self-styled visionaries: