This DVD provides an overview of the recording career of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd’s first main songwriter and lead guitarist, through the interviews of music journalists and critics. There is some great archival video footage of Barrett and the band, but there are only snippets of songs, which pique the listener’s interest. This can get frustrating if you don’t have easy access to listen to the tracks in their entirety, but you can get a sense of how the songs sound.
Pink Floyd played in the London underground music scene in the mid to late ‘60s. They released a couple of successful singles, “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”, both of which reached the UK Top 20, before they released their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, whose name is taken from a chapter in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. The album reached #6 on the UK charts and is a great example of the English psychedelic scene with its surreal yet playful lyrics and eclectic soundscapes.
Barrett showed a talent for creating psychedelic pop songs, but it was something he could not sustain. Whether through his prolific use of LSD or some mental health issues that he had, his erratic behavior took its toll on him and the band. It is reported that he would strum one note, detune his guitar, and sometimes just stare off into space while the band played. David Gilmour was brought in to play guitar, and there was hope that Barrett could stay in Pink Floyd and contribute creatively in the studio while the rest of the band went out and performed gigs, similar to an arrangement that Brain Wilson had with The Beach Boys; however, this didn’t work, and Barrett was dismissed from the band.
But Pink Floyd didn’t break its ties with Barrett completely. On their next album, A Saucerful of Secrets, his song “Jugband Blues”, which might provide clues to his awareness of his mental state at the time, was included. Roger Waters and Gilmour play on and produce part of his first solo album The Madcap Laughs and Richard Wright and Gilmour play on and produce his second album, Barrett. There are also references to Barrett in Pink Floyd’s work, most specifically “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” from Wish You Were Here.
DVD extras include a trivia quiz about Barrett, bios about the contributors, and information about a lost tape recently discovered that is considered to be Barrett’s last public appearance on stage in 1972.
A good biography is created from what the producers have to work with, but it never gets deeper than the surface of what is known about Syd because no one close to him is interviewed. It would have been great to hear from someone who had worked with him in Pink Floyd or from a friend or family member. Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper worked on The Madcap Laughs, but he has very little screen time. You can hear his influence in musicians like Robin Hitchcock and Love and Rockets so their thoughts would have been interesting as well. A more thorough biography of Syd is deserved, but this will serve until then.