Monday, November 22, 2010

In Review: An Introduction To Syd Barrett

(Octopus courtesy of M)

An In Introduction To Syd Barrett CD EMI/Capitol

We here at "Anorak Thing" are easily exited by remasters, mono mixes, new stereo mixes etc.  There have been a slew of these resissues in the past few years that sound brilliant: the Mono mix of Pink Floyd's 1st album, the Stereo reissue of The Move's debut LP, the Mono mix of the Small Faces second LP on Immediate, the recent Beatle's British Mono box set and the Mono/Stereo mixes two CD set of David Bowie's debut LP.  So it should be no surprise that we here at "Anorak Thing"  should be all hot an excited at the new EMI CD compilation of Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd material.  Lovingly remixed (on certain tracks) and fully remastered under the supervision of David Gilmour the results of this 18 track CD is stupendous to say the least (plus one bonus download tune available for those who have purchased the CD of the previously unreissued Syd solo track "Rhamadan").  And you even get the lyrics to every track included in a little booklet (another reason why you should buy the actual CD and not the download).  This made for one or two lyrical surprise I can tell you!  Being a total anorak I'm going to go through this one with a fine tooth comb.

1. "Arnold Layne"
I don't notice much different here from the mix that came out on a "bonus" CD E.P. of the first three Pink Floyd singles back in '97 when there was a 30th anniversary Mono edition of the 1st album issued with this 6 cut "mini CD".  There are faint differences, for instance Syd's guitar is a bit more up in the mix bringing to light his "Zippo lighter" technique before and during Rick's Farfisa solo.

2. "See Emily Play"
Again I'm not hearing much, Syd's vocals are a bit more up front but other than that....

3."Apples And Oranges"
This is the first time I've heard this number in Stereo.  I never had the privilege of owning the original UK 45 and my French copy was beyond unplayable and my previous airings were on the Dutch EMI LP "Masters Of Rock" that I bought in 1985 and the Mono mix on the above mentioned "First Three singles" CD E.P.  The first thing that's apparent to me is how much of the track is dominated by Syd's multi tracked guitar bits, quite amazing considering all those dreadful "Syd stories" had him "completely mad" by this point in time.  Rick's organ really soars during the break and I've realised for the first time that bar the wiggy guitar work how much this track resembles The Moody Blues.

4. "Matilda Mother"
This is the alternate version that featured lyrics nicked from a poem by Hilaire Belloc and alternate lyrics by Syd.  It's in actuality the "original version" as it was recorded first and intended for the first album but because the rights could not be secured from Belloc's estate at the time of it's release it did not see the light of day until the 40th anniversary Mono box set reissue of the LP in 2007.  How it differs from the that version is that it's longer, the vocals and guitar work are also a bit forward in the remix.  The extended ending goes on for about a minute longer resembling a Doors track from their debut LP with Syd just noodling around on the E and G strings before Rick throws in some churchy/Ray Manzarek style bits.

5. "Chapter 24"
This track bears little difference to my ears from previous versions, the vocals, as is the case with everything I've heard on this CD, are more up front and Rick's piano is a bit up in the mix as well giving it a "chamber music orchestra" feel.

Maybe it was the toxic air I breathed whilst driving to work when I first played this number (passing numerous sewage treatment plants, two to be exact) but I immediately noticed there is a slight delay in the double tracking in the vocals so that the Syd singing comes out of your right speaker is just ever so slightly followed by Syd's double tracked vocal from your left.  Trippy!  Rick's Johanna thumping is more easily discernible sounding like a piano lesson in a big empty Cambridge house added with the old pump organ, in fact I never realised how lost this track would be without his array of keyboard work!

7. "Terrapin"
One of Syd's most brilliant bits from his debut solo LP "The Madcaps Laughs", simple, unsure, awkward at times but nothing short of enjoyable.  I can't find much here different except maybe the guitar is a bit more "up" in the mix?

8. "Love You"
I've always viewed this as more of a throw away track, not unlistenable but not one I'd play all the time like "Octopus" or my all time Syd fave "Love Song" that seems to pre-empt Ronnie Lane's Slim Chance.  There's not much noticeably different here. It is however a typically Syd number in respect to it's completely out there lyrics.

9. "Dark Globe"
This one's always been a bit hard for me to hear sometimes.  It's sad and it's tragic especially if you read too much into the lyrics that seem to be a plea for help if you choose to interpret them in that way:

"Won't you miss me, wouldn't you miss me at all?"

10. "Here I Go"
Syd's Tele is way up in the mix on this remix.  You can really get a feel where Jerry Shirely was trying to desperately play along with Syd's ever changing-about-to stop-any-second delivery!  Truly a case of someone earning their "fee" to play on a session.  This number always reminded me of a drunk guy fronting a cheezy wedding band trio who aren't familiar with the song he wants to play and him making up the number as it went along. I was partly correct by all accounts I've read on the session(s).

This one's tasty, starts out with Syd's bare, single tracked acoustic guitar before the take dissolves and then it's starts up "proper".  Gilmour has done a fantastic job making these solo LP tracks breathe new air and this track is a shining example bringing Syd's gobbledygook lyrics to the fore (they're actually a William Burrough's style cut up of multiple pieces of poetry and children's story bits as pieced together brilliantly by Rob Chapman in his thoroughly essential book "Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head"). There's a completely different vocal take of Syd's brief "spoken word" part in the middle where he recites "isn't it good to be lost in the wood.." sounding almost like he's reading an official testimony here instead of the sing-song manner on the original take.

12. "She Took A Long Cool Look"
I'm going to own up, I never liked this track.  It's one of, sadly, a preponderance of examples where Syd's solo album "genius" is merely a fine line between "cutting room floor crap".  No remixing can shape this up.

13. "If It's In You"
As I mentioned above, some tracks just don't cut it from "solo Syd".  For the past 26 years this number has made me cringe the same as the very first time every time I hear this. The dreadful attempts at Syd trying to hit the opening vocal notes are both embarrassing and painful to hear every time.  Are they a record of how out there Syd was and how musically useless he was becoming?  Possibly. For completists only.

14. "Baby Lemonade"
Not much difference to be noted here other than that there's some more noticeable bass work/organ on the parts preceding the vocals.  More nonsensical lyrics from Syd only this time they're wrapped up in easily listenable vocals from the lad and as usual Jerry Shirely's workman-like drumming holds the whole balloon down.

15. "Dominoes"
This remix sounds vastly different from what I'm used to, the organ is more pronounced, the backwards bits in the background seem to come in earlier and Syd's vocals sound more downtrodden (if that's at all possible?!).  I've always enjoyed this track and it's even better now!

16. "Gigolo Aunt"
This track was one of my faves when I first bought the Harvest double packaging of Syd's two solo LP's back in 1984, I always thought it went on a bit too much but by then Syd was, by all accounts, coming close to the end of his musical AND mental tether. I was dismayed to discover y reading the lyrics he sang "thunderbird shale", for the past 26 years I'd always thought he was singing "thunderbirch ale" which I've long thought would've made a great name for birch beer flavored, high alcohol content mircobrew!!

17. "Effervescing Elephant"
Trivia time here kids, this is the earliest known Syd Barret composition (it was written in his mid teens) AND it's the only Syd solo track that features a "session musician" (outside Jerry Shirely and his ex-band mates) in the form of a tuba player.  Syd's child friendly lyrics and the night time "jungle" sound affects never fail to tickle me.

18. "Bob Dylan Blues"
Another Syd solo track that's composition dates from his pre-Pink Floyd days this number lay in the archives till discovered by David Gilmour a few years back.  Jealously written about Dylan who was then taking 1965 Britain by storm it's perfectly tongue firmly in cheek.  Why it was never used on his solo LP cringe worthy bits like "If It's In You", "She Took A Long Cool Look" or "Masie" were is beyond me.

The bonus point!!:
Long discussed in writing and never heard on the bootleg circuit (to my knowledge anyway, though for quite some time "Lanky Pt. 1" was being circulated  around as "Rhamadan" till 1988's "Opel" came out with "Lanky.." and put all that business to rest) comes this download only track that you can get if you purchased the CD (if you get it via download from iTunes it's only available if you buy the whole bloody album!).  It took me a bit to figure out how because it's written in tiny teeny print on the back of the CD case that pretty much requires a microscope.  Anyway to get it, place your purchased CD in your drive, bring up your web browser and type in:

They're ask you a few questions which you fill out and BAM then Syd's your uncle, for free!

The track itself is more of a long percussive jam that wouldn't have been at all out of place in a groovy early 70's horror film or soft core Euro porn flick(VERY reminiscent of "Vampryos Lesbos").  It's not as unlistenable as many have described it but I can also see why it never made it onto either of Syd's solo LP's, though I do find it unusual that it didn't make it on the Syd box set from way back because, well did we really need another version of "If It's in You"?  I rest my case.  Anyway at a staggering 20:18 it's pretty much bass, drums, percussion and organ/piano/Mellotron in a "free form jam" with the sound affects of a motorcycle tearing off .  Odd thing though, there's no guitar or vocals on it which leads me to ask: how is this a "Syd" track?

1 comment:

EXPO67 said...

Very comprehensive eview. It's on my 'wants list' for Christmas... I just wished they compiled my fave raves 'Scarecrow' and 'Lucifer Sam'