A Trip Through Syd Barrett's The Madcap Laughs

by JoHarrington

The stories told about the making of The Madcap Laughs are nearly as legendary as the album itself. Here I go through it track by track.

So much rubbish is written about The Madcap Laughs. Of course there's no smoke without fire, but some of it took a wisp and created an inferno.

I'm a Syd Barrett fan and, as such, I wanted to take you by the hand and guide you through the background to each track.

What you do with that then is up to you. You may disagree with my thoughts and that's fine. My main remit here is to separate fact from fiction. Enjoy!

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Painting Himself into a Corner: Syd Barrett Cover Art

Naked ladies and paint fumes were the hallmarks of the famous images from The Madcap Laughs.

You are staring at an album cover, so let us start there. The internet leeches colors, but the original photograph shows the floorboards to be alternately bright orange and blue.

The paint was still drying.  Syd Barrett's apartment smelled toxic with the fumes of it.

Not captured was the spot in the corner showing bare floorboards. He'd been up all night, transforming his room in preparation for the photo shoot.  He just neglected to factor in a footpath back across wet boards.

Inside the sleeve notes are more photographs.  A naked woman dances and stretches artistically in the background.  This was Iggy the Eskimo (real name Evelyn and not an Eskimo at all. Her family were of Anglo-Pakistani descent, with her mother harking from close to the Himalayas). She had been helping him paint.

Nobody asked her to take her clothes off. This was the aftermath of the Summer of Love; and Iggy just did it in a hippy daze. She must have given her consent at the time, but it still took decades for her to discover that she was in The Madcap Laughs.

Iggy wasn't the only person practically naked at the beginning of this session.  When photographer Mick Rock turned up, he found Syd wearing just his under-pants carefully having kohl applied to his eyes by Iggy. There was some suggestion that he might get dressed.

Mick Rock is better known today for his famous images of David Bowie. Bowie was a massive Syd Barrett fan. Watching early Pink Floyd in concert is what convinced the teenage Bowie to become a singer. It was The Madcap Laughs cover which had Bowie seeking Mick Rock out for some photographs of his own.

Supervising it all was Storm Thorgerson. He was not only a celebrated artist in his own right, but importantly he was also a childhood friend of Syd.  He described the photo session as 'magical'.

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What is the Meaning Behind The Madcap Laughs Title?

It's lifted from a lyric in Octopus, one of the songs on the album. But it wasn't chosen by Syd.

The album was almost completed, when two members of Pink Floyd took over the production. Syd was the founding member of that band, but had been ousted when his wandering mind and erratic behavior threatened their success.

Octopus was the first solo song recorded while David Gilmour and Roger Waters were in the studio. It contained the following lyric:

The madcap laughed at the man on the border
Hey ho, huff the talbot

Syd hadn't named his album, so David Gilmour did it for him. It's tantalizing to speculate that, for a few minutes maybe, it might have been called The Madcap Laughed. But David altered the phrase into the present tense.

For more on the influence of Pink Floyd over The Madcap Laughs, please check out the link below. That Wizzley article also gives you the background to Syd's mental health and the internal politics behind the making of this album.

For the Pink Floyd context, they were putting the finishing touches to Ummagumma at the time and would be about to move onto Atom Heart Mother.

The Background and Politics of this Album

The Madcap Laughs was almost finished, when two of Syd's former band-members took over production. The direction instantly changed.

A Breakdown of The Madcap Laughs

Syd was ready to record again; and he had a fan in high places willing to take a chance on him. Syd's solo career could begin!

Recorded in Studio Three of London's famous Abbey Road Studios, the first session began with just Syd Barrett and producer Malcolm Jones, on April 10th 1969.

Malcolm Jones (pictured, second left, in 1971) had his own record label, Harvest Records, which had been bought out by E.M.I. 

He tended to sign up the more alternative bands and artists, who were big on the London underground scene at the time. He was also a big Syd Barrett fan.

It was this which had already seen him approaching his E.M.I. colleagues about bringing Syd back into the studio. They had been wary. While Syd was still under contract to them, his mental fragility had nearly cost them Pink Floyd. There was understandably some reluctance to risk unproductive and costly sessions on him.

Malcolm had let it drop, but then was prompted into rekindling the idea when he received a call from Syd himself. Fresh out of rehab, the artist seemed utterly together. The fan in Malcolm rose to the fore, desperate to hear another album. He contacted E.M.I. again offering to produce it.

There was a plan B too. If E.M.I. had said no, then Malcolm would have pointed out that they couldn't morally keep Syd bound to his Pink Floyd contract. Once freed, Malcolm would have simply signed him to Harvest Records and all risk would have been on his own head.

It never came to that. E.M.I. were willing to give their errant genius a chance. After the third session, with so many amazing tracks coming out, they were also willing to give him all of the time that he needed.  This is what Malcolm Jones knew, because he negotiated the deal.

It runs contrary to later stories that E.M.I. were frustrated with progress and had to call the remaining members of Pink Floyd in to save the day. That story didn't even surface until seven years later; and it's rumor retrospectively applied as fact.

The list of songs, as they appeared on The Madcap Laughs, is below. I'm going to introduce them chronologically, in the order that they were recorded. This is for narrative coherency, so I can tell the story through them.

This is slightly more difficult than it looks, because songs may be revisited in later sessions. Backing tracks and dubs are created to polish them for public listening. I've opted for when the master take was first made in discussing it here.

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The Madcap Laughs Track Listing

Please note that the 1993 re-release included several more tracks, but they were all out-takes of extant songs.
Terrapin                             Octopus
No Good Trying Golden Hair
Love You Long Gone
No Man's Land She Took a Long, Cold Look
Dark Globe Feel
Here I Go If It's In You
Late Night

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April 10th and 11th 1969 - Abbey Road Studio 3

Recording begins on a classic album, at one of the most famous studios in the world!

On the 10th, all that really happened was a discussion about what they were going to do. Only Syd Barrett and Malcolm Jones were present.

Syd had brought in some tapes of his demos and they sifted through to find the gems. By the time they went home, both men knew precisely what they would be recording the next day.

It had been a very relaxed meeting with Malcolm confident that Syd's troubles were in the past.

April 11th 1969 was when recording began in earnest.  Opel was the first track, but it never made the final cut, so I won't include it here. We'll pick up the story with Love You.

Love You

As the title suggests, it's a love song.

The recording of Love You makes a mockery of those tales of Syd being too disorganized and out of key to get tracks down. It was completed in just four attempts.

The first was too fast; the second too slow; the third was a false start; and the fourth was the one added to the album and released to the public.  No problem at all.

There's not much else to say about this. It's patently a love song, but Syd had so many girlfriends that it could have been about any one of them. It might even just be about love itself. It's poppy, upbeat and reminiscent of Pink Floyd era Syd.

I've heard of no anecdotes which would render this anything but a light-hearted homily to a lady. It might be someone in particular, or it might be about the condition of being in love itself.

No Good Trying

Love song or a snipe at Roger Waters? Or both of these things and neither of these things?

"There is no use trying," said Alice, "one can’t believe impossible things."
"I dare say you haven’t had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland

 After the aforementioned four takes of Love You, Syd and Malcolm moved straight onto No Good Trying.  This was also nailed very quickly with the third take being the one on the album.

So what was it all about?  We should all beware trying to read too much into Syd's lyrics at times. He didn't always write them to make sense.

One girlfriend told how she watched him creating lyrics on a beach in Formantera, Ibiza. Syd asked her to give him three letters. He then thought of three favorite words for each letter, wrote them on pieces of paper and threw them into the air.

One by one the nine words became, in the order that they fell, his lyrics.  There was no more meaning than that. Other times, the lyricism was word association or simply words which sounded good. Or free borrowing from classic literature, often children's stories and poems.

And sometimes the words had a deeper meaning. Often all of the above applied within the same song. But then Syd openly said that he liked songs to have multiple meanings.

Two themes ran through No Good Trying. There was some Alice in Wonderland imagery, which bounced off references to the fairground.

The words 'hand', 'love' and 'sequin fan' have led some people to interpret this as a love song too. There's a lady who is trying to break up with Syd, but he's patronizingly informing her that she's still in love with him.

However, there are many more who see Syd lashing at out his former bandmates, and Roger Waters in particular, in this song instead. It's all in the poetry.

The opening isn't 'it's no use trying', because that would create too much sibilance in the opening lines. Syd uses his sibilance with random precision.

With Syd Barrett at the helm, Pink Floyd had been the vanguard of the whole psychedelic movement in Britain. Now he was gone and four architecture students were attempting to lead that charge. They had lost the person who actually lived and breathed it.

Roger Waters has decided that he is going to lead the band into Wonderland. Syd subtly counters with 'you haven't had much practice'. 

Now use the fairground motif as an analogy of the whole psychedelic world.  And you're rocking me backwards - rock in the rock'n'roll sense, i.e. you kicked me out of the band. And you're rocking towards the red and yellow mane of a stallion horse - and your music is supposed to be psychedelic!  The stallion being the lead horse in a herd, but the coloring more evocative of a carousel. They can't catch him.

There was another fairground popular at the time called the Caterpillar Ride. People sat in cars with electric lights spinning very fast. After a few minutes, a hood came over and covered them in darkness, while the speed kicked up. It was blessed relief from the kaleidoscopic view, while also being an exhilarating ride.

But for those with a sequin fan (geisha, courtesan, someone who sells themselves for money), there will be no caterpillar hood.  Which is a bit of a shame, when they haven't a clue what to do in Wonderland. 

In short, 'go home to bed, child, you can't do what I did.'  A sneering retort to Roger Waters?  I think so.

"The caterpillar hood won't cover the head of you..." Watch at 2.22 mins to see it happen.

At this point, Syd and Malcolm called a tea break.  (Us Brits do have to have them!)  It had been a very productive couple of hours and they were both in high spirits.

Brews supped, they returned to record some more.


Another love song, but slightly deeper in psychedelic meaning this time.

Terrapin was recorded in one take, thus proving the wonderful powers of a nice cup of tea.  Capturing the perfect rendition in one go is practically unheard of in a music studio, but it happened.

Malcolm immediately suggested that Syd do the double vocal, to dub onto it afterwards, seeing as he was on form. Syd agreed, sang it perfectly, and that was that.

Now for the meaning behind it. Terrapin is an aquatic turtle, which can live both in and out of the water. This can be linked with the evolutionary origins of human beings too. Syd's talking about a love which is very primal. Not in the brutal, wild sense, but as something stripped of worldly concerns.

It's worth noting, as Julian Palacios did in Lost in the Woods, that Syd's sister Rosemary lived on Terrapin Street, in Cambridge. He also pointed out that there's a lot of Edward Lear style wordplay in this song.

Any threatened turtle can withdraw into their shell, and terrapins are no different. Syd and his love have been hiding away from the world, just being in love somewhere. He's suggesting that they really should go out more (the sunlight is good for us).

In any altered state, be it sleep deprivation or, say, LSD, it's easy to see an aura around people. This is generally a vibrant, electric blue with a layer above that's a rich orange color. It looks like the life force of that individual. And if you don't think Syd saw that, then you haven't looked too closely at his floorboards.

It's referenced here twice in the luminous fins and the crystal, blue star.

Edward Lear on Wikipedia

Edward Lear was an English artist, illustrator, author, and poet, renowned today primarily for his literary nonsense, in poetry and prose, and especially his limericks, a form that he popularised.

Late Night

A poignant remembering of a lost love.

From Terrapin, Syd went straight into playing the slide guitar on Late Night. He did it by moving a Zippo lighter up and down the strings on his blue Fender Telecaster.

This is the glissando effect that ended up much copied by groups like Blur. It does produce a very erratic melody (particularly when Syd employs it), which flattens the voice over the top. This is why some have accused him of sounding a little monotone here. I don't agree. The melody is there in the singing too, when I hear it.

Late Night was one of the better tracks on his demo tapes, so the slide guitar was dubbed over the top of that version.  Then Syd sang the vocal.  In Malcolm's words, that 'took no time at all'.

There's no great mystery in the meaning of the song. She's gone and he's upset about it. There's a little bit of oblique imagery (like the medieval torture device of inserting a hook into a body and letting them swing on a chain attached to the ceiling; or the pathetic fallacy of it starting to rain, because someone mentioned her name), but this is all in line with the lost love theme.

He regrets losing her. It hurts. The end.

At this point, Syd recorded Golden Hair, but I'm not going to go into that here, because it ended up re-recorded later.

This surprised Malcolm Jones, because he saw nothing wrong with the master take completed on April 11th. In fact, he saw little difference between that and the one which ultimately ended up on The Madcap Laughs.

I can.  Obviously I've not heard what Malcolm heard that night, but the famous version has an arrangement which echoes Pink Floyd's Meddle era sound. That was recorded in 1971, but I can hear the conception right here.

But I'm ahead of myself.

Nevertheless, that's a good place to pause, as it was now midnight on April 11th 1969. Syd and Malcolm decided to call it a night after having six good tracks already recorded in just five hours. That was half of an album!

Malcolm was straight on the telephone the next morning, telling other E.M.I. executives that it was all good. They had Syd Barrett back.

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L-r: Nick Mason, Rick Wright, Syd Barrett and Roger Waters
Pink Floyd

April 17th 1969 - Abbey Road Studio 2

Round Two, but this time with a backing band in Abbey Road's most historic studio.

On April 17th 1969, exactly a week after the first, highly successful session, Syd and Malcolm reconvened. This time it was in the more spacious Abbey Road Studio Two; and they weren't alone.

At Syd's invitation, two members of the band Humble Pie were with them.  Jerry Shirley and 'Willie' Wilson were there to provide backing support, so this was the session with the heavier initial tracks.

While Syd was fundamentally fine, there was none of the laid-back, but productive air of the week before. Maybe it was the change of studios.  This one was much bigger and it was unfamiliar.

When Pink Floyd had recorded Piper at the Gates of the Dawn, they had been in Studio 3. At the same time, in Studio 2, The Beatles were working on Sergeant Pepper. The two bands had sent gifts of spliffs to each other.  Paul, George and Ringo had come to visit. Nick Mason referred to it as 'meeting royalty'.

So now Syd was in the studio in which The Beatles had made their monumental albums; and he had an audience.

Nothing particular dire happened, but Jerry and Willie did comment that he kept his back to them at all times. But the few times when they were able to gain his attention were quite disconcerting.

"Syd had a terrible habit of looking at you and laughing in a way that made you feel really stupid. He gave the impression he knew something you didn't."
Jerry Shirley, quoted in P des Barres, Rock Bottom: Dark Moments in Music Babylon (p6)

He also never gave any clear instructions. They were forced to listen to where he led, then follow just a beat behind.

It didn't help that Syd's trademark was to have irregular bars and beats. There could be no flourish on the drums to herald a new verse, when no-one but Syd was sure when the verse would appear.

The Second Session was in Abbey Road's Studio Two

It is bigger than Studio Three and the producer is above the artist in a booth. Greg Feo and his friend Kev take us on a tour here.

No Man's Land

Three decades before Grunge, Syd plays it in a screaming song contrasting the horrors of war with the hippy dream of the 1960s.

Syd Barret was born in 1946, a year after the end of the Second World War. He belonged to a generation whose fathers and grandfathers had been sacrificed to the battlefields of Europe. His generation got the Summer of Love instead.

Many of Syd's childhood friends, including Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, had grown up fatherless because of World War Two. His own father had made it through intact, only to die in 1961 of a heart-attack.

The stories, horrors and post-traumatic distress would have been in the background of anyone growing up then. People died to give them such freedom.

No Man's Land is a world war reference. It describes the area between two armies, lined with barbed wire rolls. Going 'over the top' of the trenches, especially in the First World War, would have meant entering a land exposed to gunfire and littered with bombs. An awful crawl indeed.

Syd's lyrics here invoke the bleak terror of that deathly wilderness, before muttering, in half-ashamed spoken verse, about the drug-fueled beauty of the Summer of Love.

Gracie do her song, heavily spaced
All the pink shine on war
Explodes from beneath

It was never meant to be as unintelligible as it turned out to be. Syd was just practicing his lines and it got captured on tape. He liked it so much, that it was dubbed on in place of clarity.

Much has been read into this. Some listeners think that it replicates the half-heard chatter in the head of a schizophrenic. It's a great theory lessened only by the fact that Syd wasn't schizophrenic.

Here I Go

Syd Barrett asking all former Pink Floyd fans to support him in his solo career. Or a love song.

Around about now, Syd paused to write a song. This is it.  Malcolm, Jerry and Willie watched him just pull it out of thin air!

They reported later that it took Syd 'just a few minutes' to work out the melody. Then he scribbled some lyrics, tried them out, changed a few of the lyrics and decided to record it without further ado.

The trio were astounded.  This was the legendary musician at his whimsical, genius best and they had been privy to the process.

Now all that they had to do was work out a back-beat to go with it.  That part was perhaps too heavy-handed with Jerry bashing the drums like it was a rock track.  It required no overdubs later, because Syd simply played rhythm guitar until the end, then switched to lead.

The song's meaning appears to be quite straight-forward. Syd's keen on a woman, who is very dismissive of him. He makes a play to get her anyway, but ultimately decides that her sister is much nicer anyway.

However, some fans have read between the lines here. It's about all of the groupies, who weren't interested in him once it was clear that he was no longer in Pink Floyd.

I hope that she will talk to me now and even allow me
To hold her hand and forget that old band

There's a moment of insecurity, before he bounces back with a solo career. The fickle Floyd fans might dismiss him, but there are other people who will embrace his talent.

She likes this song and my others too

Here I Go is fundamentally Syd sounding the starting gun on his own solo career.

April 23rd - May 6th 1969 - Abbey Road Studio 3

Five sessions, which were mostly dubbing overlays and editing.

Between April 23rd and May 6th, there was a hive of activity in Studio 3. Syd and Malcolm were quite happily looking over the tracks already completed and tidying them up for album release.

They did record some songs, but none of them made it to the final cut. Therefore I won't walk us through them now, other than to mention a delay during Rhamadan.

It seemed that Syd had been out with his tape recorder with a friend and his motorcycle. He'd captured various sounds of the bike taking off, returning, stopping and starting, which he wanted overlaid onto his song Rhamadan.

Unfortunately the quality wasn't up to scratch for a professional album. More to the point, his cassette recorder couldn't be easily hooked up to the E.M.I. equipment in the mixing booth. The whole episode resulted in four days of frustration for all concerned, before Syd simply gave up on the idea.

Malcolm Jones also brought in Mike Ratledge and Robert Wyatt, two members of The Soft Machine, to provide some backing support. Unfortunately, they found Syd as difficult to provide direction as Humble Pie had before them. Or maybe it was that they weren't speaking the same language.

'Perhaps we could make the middle darker and maybe the end a bit more middle-afternoonish (because) at the moment, it's too windy and icy.'
Syd instructing Soft Machine during The Madcap Laughs.
Robert Wyatt, quoted in T Willis, Madcap (p 109)

He also had a propensity to laugh at them, when they asked what key the song should be played in. The musicians didn't appreciate it and it showed in their half-hearted attempts to do their job.

Malcolm thinks that it was hearing one of the dismal tracks from this session, with The Soft Machine hopelessly out akimbo, which gave David Gilmour the opening to request his own intervention.

Roger Waters Poster

Roger Waters

Enter Pink Floyd

David Gilmour and Roger Waters took over The Madcap Laughs.

Since the beginning of recording, David Gilmour had shown a keen interest in proceedings on this album.

He was both Syd's childhood friend and his replacement in Pink Floyd. There had been some nastiness when Syd had realized the latter. He'd turned up at gigs and stood at the front of the audience glaring at David.

But one year on, they were now neighbors and their differences had been put behind them. It was an amplifier borrowed from David, which Syd had been using until now.

By late May 1969, David was able to hear some of the tunes coming from The Madcap Laughs sessions. He quietly persuaded Syd to let him produce them, instead of Malcolm Jones. There's a lot been said about the reasons for this, most of it incorrect.

The most pervasive is that E.M.I. were unhappy with an album taking three solid weeks in the studio without completion. Malcolm has denied that this was the case. Others say it was because Syd was losing it and guilt brought his old friends in to help him. There is no evidence, and much to the contrary, that this was the case.

Or it might be that they actually set out to save their own reputations by hobbling Syd's.

David Gilmour Poster

Pink Floyd

June 12th - 13th 1969 - Abbey Road Studio 3

Officially there was only David Gilmour and Syd Barrett in Studio 3 for these sessions. At least David was the only one credited on the recording notes and album sleeve.

However, Roger Waters was patently there too. He's captured speaking on one of the songs. Both he and David have spoken about his presence too. In the minds of many fans, the duo could almost be considered as good cop (David), bad cop (Roger), not merely for this session but their entire history with Syd.

It's in all of the anecdotal evidence. David Gilmour has always seemed to care more, while Roger Waters appeared at best cavalier with Syd's mental health. At worst, he's been consistently accused of exacerbating the issues.

David explained the set up, during recording of The Madcap Laughs, as placing Syd on a chair with two microphones in front of him. They'd say, "Syd, play this one; Syd, play that one."  Then record whatever came back.

From now on, Syd would have significantly more takes to get it right, probably due to feeling so rushed and under pressure.

NB: I have found some discrepancy with the recording dates here. Most sources, including the studio notes provided by Malcolm Jones, state that the two sessions were on June 12th and 13th. However, Julian Palacios, in Lost in the Woods (p232), states that they were also in Abbey Road on June 11th. If so, then only one song was done that day - Octopus - with the June 12th session beginning with Dark Globe.

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Is it about drugs or insanity? Neither. We're off to the fairground again!

Originally this song was entitled Clowns and Jugglers and a longer version had been recorded early on, when Malcolm Jones was in charge.

This was the first recording that was made with David Gilmour and Roger Waters behind the mixing desk. It took ten takes to find a shorter version, which satisfied them all,

Syd is exuberant, energetic and confident on this track. It is a song which he knows well and has rehearsed privately many times. It was later to become the only single from the album; and it's the song which is often played as an example of quintessential Syd.

A lyric from it named the entire album.

For all of that, you would have thought that fans could agree on what it's about. For the majority, it's obviously about an acid trip. For others, it's about going mad or standing upon the border between madness and sanity.

There may be credence in all interpretations, but given the childlike glee in which it's performed, then the fairground one tops them all for me.

The imagery is described extremely well by Paul Belbin (with additions by Julian Palacios) in Untangling the Octopus.  But basically we are looking at Syd touring through various fairgrounds and pleasure parks.

He describes the rides, as viewed through the eyes of a child. It's an exciting and carefree world, which he wishes he could still inhabit.

Though, of course, the dual meaning of 'trip' was probably not lost on him.

"Please leave us here. Close our eyes to the Octopus Ride!"

Dark Globe

Syd's most vitriolic musical attack on Pink Floyd. Now used by famous fans to equally batter his former bandmates.

Dark Globe was undoubtedly recorded on June 12th 1969. A slight question mark hangs over whether it was the first song of the day, or if Octopus preceded it. Only two takes were required to nail Dark Globe.

This is one of Syd's most famous and most covered songs. A quick YouTube search will reveal the sheer breadth and volume of artists and bands, who have played their versions. For many fans, this is their introduction to Syd Barrett, because of all of those covers.

Amongst the more notable names are Soundgarden, Placebo, Orbital, Chris Cornell, Gene Ween, Blur and, maybe as an act of contrition, David Gilmour.

Gilmour aside, the biggest of them all was R.E.M. Roger Waters told about being admitted backstage at one of their concerts. He found Michael Stipe to be very unwelcoming. With Roger watching from the wings, Michael then sang Dark Globe from the stage. Roger's reaction was that he felt amused.

It was a strange view to take. Though perhaps it was born of denial or self-defense. Dark Globe is unequivocally and universally recognized as Syd's response to his ousting by Pink Floyd. I decided to write this entire Wizzle after reading someone stating that it was a love song. Then there are people who want everything by Syd to be a love song.

Have you got it yet?  If not, then it might help to start with the title. It was Dark Globe when Malcolm Jones was discussing it previously with Syd.  It became Dark Globe later on too and was listed as such on the album. But either David or Roger abortively tried to rename it Wouldn't You Miss me? on the studio notes.

So what is the dark globe?  For that, let us turn to Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Gandalf has possession of the palantír of Orthanc. It's best described as a kind of crystal ball or a seeing stone. He has it wrapped up to stop Sauron using it to learn of the movements of the Fellowship. Worse still, Sauron could use it to attack the mind of the person using it.

Pippin is intrigued. He also suspects that Gandalf is trying to hide something from him. As all lie down to sleep, the hobbit is restless.

The thought of the dark globe seemed to grow stronger as all grew quiet. Pippin felt again its weight in his hands, and saw again the mysterious red depths into which he had looked for a moment. (p577)

So Pippin sneaks to where Gandalf is lying and finds that the palantír is clutched in the wizard's hand. Pippin finds a rock of similar weight and quickly substitutes it. Gandalf stirs in his sleep, but doesn't wake up. Pippin then looks into the dark globe.

At first the globe was dark, black as jet, with the moonlight gleaming on its surface Then there came a faint glow and stir in the heart of it, and it held his eyes, so that now he could  not look away. Soon all the inside seemed on fire; the ball was spinning, or the lights within were revolving. Suddenly the lights went out. (p578)

The palantír nearly destroys Pippin's mind, but Gandalf wakes and his swift intervention saves the day.

The incident summons a Nazgûl, a vast winged shape, which cuts off the moonlight. It is one of Sauron's messengers, a bird of war. (Think not of poppy bird as a color, nor even a hint at opium. Poppies for a post-war British generation meant war, as per the poppy fields of the Second World War.)

Previously, Pippin had been trapped inside the heart of Old Man Willow, who endeavored to send all of the hobbits to sleep. Samwise struggled to stay awake and they were saved when he alerted Tom Bombadil.

Beyond the Lord of the Rings imagery, you also have a couple of references to girlfriends. Viv Bain was nicknamed Twigs, and she used to revive Syd's stupors with cups of coffee. Evelyn was nicknamed Iggy the Eskimo, and tattooed heads is part of the Shamanic tradition of the Inuits.

Now can we see what a Pippin-esque Syd is telling Pink Floyd?  He looked into the dark globe (pressure of fame, drugs, mental health issues), but no Gandalf came to save him. He was losing himself (trapped inside the pussy willow tree), but no Samwise paid attention and no Tom Bombadil came. It was left to casual girlfriends like Viv to bring him around; or Evelyn to help him try to make sense of it.

Where were his actual friends? And didn't they miss him at all?

Golden Hair

A James Joyce poem put to music, when Syd was only a teenager.

In 1907, James Joyce wrote Poem V (often colloquially called Lean Out of Your Window) and published it in his collection Chamber Music. He was a little known poet at the time, and his foreword told us that these were 'meant to be set to music'.

At just sixteen years old, Syd Barrett took up the challenge and created this simple, but haunting melody. It then sat in the back of his memory gathering cerebral dust, until he brought it out for The Madcap Laughs.

The background mini-gong, which was hit by a small hammer, was David Gilmour's idea. It worked so well here that it was to be resurrected in Pink Floyd's Meddle album. That wasn't the only contribution from his former bandmates (production aside). Rick Wright is playing the keyboard too.

With David on percussion, Rick on keyboard and Syd fronting with vocal and guitar, this could practically be considered a coda as Syd in Pink Floyd!

Beyond the Elizabethan era courtship ritual described by James Joyce, this song would have invoked more innocent days for Syd and the Cambridge set. He first played it as a teenager, hanging out with his friends on Silver Street bridge and around the Mill Pond area of the River Cam.

It was probably not intentional to record this immediately after Dark Globe, but for David Gilmour listening it would have underscored the messages of the former. A very human Syd, a childhood friend, whom no-one came to help in his moment of need.

(It should also be noted that many friends and family members thought that Syd's mental health had stabilized by now. It's only in retrospect that public perception changed.)

Long Gone

Syd's heart-felt homage to Rainer Maria Rilke. An empathic nod to a creative drought.

His gaze, going past those bars, has got so misted
with tiredness, it can take in nothing more.

These are the opening lines from Rainer Maria Rilke's 1903 poem The Panther. He was one of Syd's favorite poets and a panther is simply a black big cat. Syd obviously pictured a leopard and so did Rilke. The poem was inspired by seeing a black leopard in a zoo in Paris.

There are fans who will always hear a love song, or a meaning dancing around drugs and mental health. In Long Gone, all of these are fair enough, but I don't think so. To me it's always been about losing your creative expression and that Rilke allusion is the key.

And I borrowed a page from 'A Leopard's Cage'

Understanding Syd frequently involves looking towards Rilke (and Lear, Shakespeare, Tolkien etc). The poet holds many similarities in outlook, two generations before, and I certainly get the impression that Syd fancied himself as a modern-day Rilke. But only the negatives.

Rilke wrote often about the difficulty in connecting with the great divine (not necessarily his own Catholic God, with whom he was increasingly estranged) in an age of cynicism and industry. All of the words later applied to Syd get attached to Rilke - whimsical, childlike, fragile, too sensitive for this world.

But there is another notable incident. In 1912, Rilke's prolific writing suddenly dried up. He had writers' block. This continued well into 1914, when the First World War erupted across Europe. The very notion of war terrified Rilke. He'd only been in Germany because he was visiting family. His home was now Paris. When his country-men occupied France, Rilke's apartment was seized and all of his belongings auctioned off.

Rilke was drafted into the German army in 1916. Influential friends immediately intervened. He was first given an office job in the War Records then, just a handful of months after receiving the draft, quietly discharged.

The near miss to the front line left Rilke utterly traumatized. He didn't write another word until 1922, when it suddenly poured out of him again.

Long Gone is Syd identifying with the caged leopard of Rilke's Der Panther. He's lost his muse. He can't write. He has become Rilke himself, frightened for his lost friends in Paris. He is himself, frightened for the friends who melted away after Pink Floyd. It petrified them both.

July 26th 1969 - Abbey Road Studio 3

A lot of controversy is attached to this final session.

The final recording session took place a month and a half after the previous one, because Pink Floyd had been busy with Ummagamma and a short tour of the Netherlands. That was undoubtedly frustrating for Syd, who was anxious to have his album finished and restless until he did it.

Unable to keep still while he waited, he'd spontaneously gone on holiday to Formantera. A group of friends were already vacationing there, so he merely turned up and waved at them on the beach.

There had been some incidents in the airport (he'd rushed past customs and check-in, then tried to flag down a passing plane like it was a taxi-cab), but on the whole Syd appeared calm and together.

Finally finding a spot in David Gilmour and Roger Waters's schedule to record, they reconvened. But it was clear that this was going to be the final day. It was rushed with the Pink Floyd duo demanding perfect take after perfect take.

Syd panicked, faltered and at times couldn't find the key in which to sing. It was all recorded and put on the album. It was these tracks which would be seized upon as shambling Syd, too far gone to be professional. Or, as the Melody Maker put it, 'the mayhem and madness representing the Barrett mind unleashed.'

Malcolm Jones was not impressed. He called it a 'shock' and countered that 'this wasn't the Syd of two or three months ago!'.  He accused David and Roger of being 'unkind' and airing 'dirty linen in public'. 

In later years, David at least was to accept the accusation. He admitted that they wanted to 'explain what was going on' with Syd's mental state; and perhaps to 'punish' him for leaving their group with so much baggage. Roger remained unrepentant, still passing it off as 'full of feeling'.

She Took a Long Cold Look

A groupie is no longer interested in Syd, now that he's not in Pink Floyd. Even if he has got some great artwork to show her.

Syd sounds strained at times in this song. He's in tune, just about, but it's not right. There are a couple of occasions when he fluffs the timing. In the middle he mutters, 'no', then there's an audible turning of the lyric sheet page on the stand before him. He finishes with the observation, "That short." The page gets turned to the beginning ready for a retake.

To anyone else, this would be a rehearsal. To David Gilmour and Roger Waters, it was the finished take.

He was rushed from this straight into a recording of Feel. This wasn't the first time that he'd performed She Took a Long Cold Look that day.  The earlier version had been much longer and he'd been advised to cut it down, hence the 'that short' comment.

He wasn't really given time to do that, as David and Roger had also requested another go at Dark Globe. Whatever their reasoning there isn't clear, as it's the second take from June 12th which made it onto the album.

So let's recap.  David and Roger sat in the mixing booth and told Syd that this would be the last session. There was no time for more. The album got finished today, ahead of post-production, or not at all.

Under that sort of pressure, he completed two songs, the first of which was rewritten on the hoof. She Took a Long Cold Look couldn't have been his preferred version to put out. But it was 'full of feeling'. It made him sound not quite right. It left Malcolm Jones feeling furious.

The meaning isn't so shrouded in mystery. A girlfriend is no longer interested now that he's not in Pink Floyd. He's tried to interest her again by showing her his art. She's still not interested and leaves him.  Yay! A love song...


Disbelief at the end of a romance, which Syd thought should have ended in marriage. The 'crowd' take her side.

It begins with David Gilmour saying, "Feel, take one."  There's a pause before Syd begins, with his vocal and accompanying guitar given a trademark Floyd echo from the mixing booth.

The whole thing finishes with Syd stating, "The last one was Diamond actually."  He's referring to this song, which we know as Feel. The jagged edit before shows that Syd corrected this after recording If It's in You, then was stuck on the end here later. It obviously got renamed by David and Roger. But not now. David replies, "Ok."

Perhaps the Pink Floyd producers put it there as a note to themselves. If they did, then they neither acted on it nor removed the edit. We're left with Syd being ignored, as he tries to tell us the name of his own song. It feels symbolic.

Diamond is obviously another love song, possibly about the same person who walked out on him in She Took a Long Cold Look. He was really in love. She could have been his bride, but no-one's blaming her for leaving him. All of their mutual friends have taken her side.

Their courtship is framed in poetical terms of a halcyon landscape. There's a river (which sounds more like the Cam than the Thames) and she looks like an angel beside it.

There were no more takes. The duo hurried him immediately into If It's In You.

If It's In You

Syd's homage to The Beatles, which didn't go well but was left in anyway. It appeared to demonstrate Syd's lack of professionalism.

There were several takes of If It's In You, none in the public domain are particularly brilliant.This is most infuriatingly true of the 'master' version, which was released on The Madcap Laughs.

Syd struggles hard to find his key, strains his voice and finally loses his place. Roger Waters is heard suggesting that Syd tune his guitar down.

Utterly flustered now, he remonstrates with his friends behind the mixing desk. "It's just the fact of going through it, if we could just cut..."  We don't know what he wanted to cut, as the dialogue is abruptly stopped.

The song is not going well. Now his vocal is out of tune. His timing is completely off. He's going Hell for leather, but this is not a good take. It's not working. They rightly call a tea break immediately afterwards.

But that was it. They didn't attempt to re-record If It's in You after the break. It was left in and Opel was left out.

Maybe it was Roger and David's immediate response to Dark Globe. They'd had just over a month to let that song fester in their psyche and they must have known what the public perception of it would be.

At the time, Roger merely defended it as being 'honest', while David talked about them scrabbling for stuff to go onto the album. It was a case of this or have nothing with which to complete it. Fans have been throwing Opel into his face ever since.

Roger talked about laughing through The Madcap Laughs sessions, because they were so dire that some detachment of humor was needed to make it through.  David called them 'hell' and 'nightmarish'. 

He also told journalists that Malcolm Jones had struggled for six months with Syd, before Pink Floyd were asked to take over. He added that it had taken him and Roger only two and a half days to coerce their friend in to finishing half of the album.

The latter was certainly true, but not the former. Syd and Malcolm had worked for only three weeks. The two month delays afterwards were all due to Pink Floyd's own schedule. But the mythology remained and that's how casual listeners recall The Madcap Laughs.

Years later, David recanted all that he'd said back then. The sessions, he said, were 'difficult, but inspired'. 

July 26th was Syd's last day in the studio. Thereafter it was all down to David and Roger to mix and edit the album.  It took them months to do, thus missing the Christmas sales. The Madcap Laughs was finally released just after New Year's Day 1970.

Syd Barrett's Opel

Taken from a recording session on April 11th 1969, with Malcolm Jones. This was removed from The Madcap Laughs to make way for If It's In You.

Buy Syd Barrett's Solo Albums

Opel was later released in an album of the same name. It was a collection of out-takes and unreleased songs.

The Reception of The Madcap Laughs

The public, the press and E.M.I. loved it. Syd was immediately allowed to do another album!

After several months in post-production, The Madcap Laughs was finally released on January 3rd 1970. It was preceded by a single of Octopus, with Golden Hair as the B-Side.

The reviews were good and it sold 6,000 copies within a month. But radio was all and the DJs didn't seem willing to play it. Except one.

John Peel had yet to achieve his own legendary status as THE barometer of up and coming bands, but he was getting there. He was the sole radio disc jockey to rave about The Madcap Laughs.

He was so enthusiastic, in fact, that Syd was invited onto his show to play some songs. David Gilmour went with him to play bass, while Jerry Shirley joining them on drums. The session was a great success.

E.M.I. were pleased enough to give the go ahead for Syd to get straight back into the studio for a follow up album.  The result was Barrett.

More Wizzley Articles about Syd Barrett

The Madcap Laughs was almost finished, when two of Syd's former band-members took over production. The direction instantly changed.
Syd Barrett was the founder of Pink Floyd. He famously lost his mind then retreated to his home city of Cambridge. I found some of his haunts.

Syd Barrett on John Peel's Radio One Show

Buy Syd Barrett Memorabilia on eBay

Updated: 07/26/2014, JoHarrington
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Danielle on 12/25/2016

Very interesting article. It was a pleasure to read it. Thanks for your work! :-)) And Merry Christmas

Melanie on 10/20/2016

'Perhaps we could make the middle darker and maybe the end a bit more middle-afternoonish (because) at the moment, it's too windy and icy.' I love this. Syd experienced the phenomenon of synesthesia. It's a condition where someone spontaneously perceives sounds, letters and numbers as colours. His sister Rosemary once said that when he was little, Syd used to always tell her what colour a song was to him. That person can also relate certain types of music to times of the day, the weather and seasons of the year. For example, when I hear "Games People Play" by Alan Parsons Project or "Why Me?" by Planet P Project, I spontaneously connect both songs as driving on a cool starry night with windows down. A fascinating man our Roger was.

JoHarrington on 03/05/2014

I would love a remix by Malcolm Jones. That would be amazing.

Jones was really trying to get the best out of Syd though, while it was in the interests of Pink Floyd to fluster him.

Chris on 03/05/2014

A very touching review... my wife and I discussed (and still do!) for years over "the madcap". And we always conclude in favor of the Malcolm Jones sessions. The 'Have you got it yet' box makes it ever so painfully clear, these sessions were quite simply superior. A remix by Malcolm Jones would be something to look forward to :)

JoHarrington on 02/21/2014

Not only on the list, but moving higher up it as we speak.

JoHarrington on 02/19/2014

It's now on my To Do list. :)

JoHarrington on 01/27/2014

I certainly would. I meant to do it back when I was writing this one, but got side-tracked and never made it back.

JoHarrington on 01/27/2014

Thank you very much. It's a brilliant album to have written about, so not quite as much labour as love.

JoHarrington on 07/16/2013


IMPLOSION on 07/16/2013


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