June Butler on Have You Got It Yet? The Story of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd.

Born in 1946, Roger Keith Barrett along with Roger Waters, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright, was one of the founding members of Pink Floyd. Forming part of the original launch in 1965, Barrett played guitar, wrote their early songs and was the band’s lead singer. In February 1968, guitarist and singer David Gilmour joined the group and became joint-lead vocals along with Barrett. Initial names for the band included Sigma 6, The T-Set, The Megadeaths, and The (Architectural or Screaming) Abdabs. Happily, Barrett settled on The Pink Floyd, (merging the names of Pink Anderson and Floyd Council); a spur of the moment decision as prior to this, another band had started to use The T-Set and copyright difficulties would have stalled continuing success of the group.  

Syd was a precocious talent – at the age of 16, he attended the Cambridgeshire College of Arts and Technology (1962 – 1964), and the Camberwell College of Art from 1964 to 1966. In perhaps a prophetic turn of events, indicating an early ability to split his identity, Barrett the artist was known as ‘Roger’. As a member of Pink Floyd, he evolved to become Syd.  

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was Pink Floyd’s debut studio album and the only album made while Syd was a full member of the band. Released on 4th August 1967, Barrett wrote all but three of the tracks with additional composition by Waters, Mason, and Wright. He also designed the rear sleeve using a silhouette outline of the group from an original photograph taken while posing in their local park.  

Known for a lyrical sense of whimsy most likely encouraged by a constant intake of nefarious substances, Barrett became synonymous with all the excesses of that era – by his late teens, he was consuming prodigious amounts of drugs daily, particularly LSD. At the time, less was known about the dangers of narcotic abuse; most of Barrett’s peers however, were casual and sporadic users. This was not the case for Syd – consumption of hallucinogenic drugs egged on by Barrett’s youth-induced sense of immortality ratcheted up to become an ever-increasing issue, certainly for those in his sphere of musicians and friends. While Barrett’s creativity was certainly enhanced by those activities, and his songwriting could be considered visionary and inspired, there was a dark, bestial side to Barrett, that slowly evolved over time – behavioural issues triggered by his habits started to descend into uncontrolled rages, bizarre actions, and compulsively unpleasant conduct. 

By late 1967, it became apparent that Barrett’s fragile mental state was starting to freefall. Pink Floyd appeared on the American Bandstand show where the host, Dick Clark, later recalled that Barrett’s mood was anything but co-operative. Syd appeared distant, declined Clark’s request to answer interview questions and refused to mime to the song Apples and Oranges thus forcing Clark to cut the interview short. Early 1968, things began to further unravel – when rehearsing, Barrett would detune his guitar, change the lyrics (or forget them), play random notes or not at all. One unforgettable episode saw Barrett arrive at the studio with a composition he titled Have You Got It Yet? Initially, the song seemed relatively simple – Waters, Mason, Wright, and Gilmour started to practise but eventually realised that while they were doing so, Barrett was roguishly changing the arrangement. Syd would then play the song with the amendments and chant ‘Have You Got It Yet’. The session ended in chaotic vitriol. In the days that followed, David Gilmour recalls “We were driving up Ladbroke Grove, and someone said, ‘Shall we go and pick up Syd?’ and somebody else, probably Roger [Waters], said ‘Nah, let’s not’. And we didn’t, and we drove off down to Southampton”. The remaining members of the group later expressed their regret at how they ended Barrett’s connection to the band.  

Roddy Bogawa is a Japanese/American filmmaker and artist with several experimental films and documentaries under his belt – one such documentary, Taken by Storm: The Art of Storm Thorgerson and Hipgnosis, investigates the exploits of Storm Thorgerson whose art featured on album covers for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and Muse. Given his connection to Thorgerson, it made sense for Bogawa to be involved in the making of Have You Got It Yet? Thorgerson, best known for the Dark Side of the Moon album cover (featuring the (now) iconic breached prism with white light entering the inky black triangle on one side, as colour spills from the darkness on the other), is interviewer in chief. 

It is difficult to fully understand the ‘60s zeitgeist – regardless of how closely aligned Storm Thorgerson was to the action. The documentary touches on Barrett’s genius but Thorgerson makes a sketchy interlocutor at best. In his finest drawl, Thorgerson asks one of Barrett’s ex-girlfriends why the relationship did not last the test of time. “He was a good lover” Thorgerson witters, all to blinking stunned silence from the lady in question; “So why did you leave him?” he continues without appearing to consider the inappropriateness of his question. There appears to be a touch of jealousy emanating from Thorgerson when talking about the man who literally had it all. The speculation as to whether Barrett was truly happy has been mooted time and again. The elfin curls and impish gaze were replaced by a degree of quiet intensity that others found unnerving – Barrett, however, could not have cared less. 

Have You Got It Yet? has moments of greatness but equal levels of haphazard storytelling – in parts Thorgerson delves deep (or rather deepish), while in others, the narration appears to be cobbled together. Storm interviews several of Syd’s ex-girlfriends – June Child, Jenny Spires, Libby Gaudsen, Lindsay Korner, and Gayla Pinion. One such ex, real name Evelyn Rose (aka Iggy the Eskimo), briefly became Barrett’s companion and muse, posing nude on the solo album cover The Madcap Laughs, released in January 1970. It is significant that so many of Barrett’s previous romantic partners appeared in the documentary, and all retained the happiest of fond memories from their time together. Roger Waters, et al, were interviewed – as a line in I did it My Way goes, “Regrets, I’ve had a few”, it is apparent that Waters feels remorse when recalling the end of Barrett and Pink Floyd’s collaboration. Bear in mind, however, that the band members and entourage were young men, all in their early twenties. The decision-making process does not always seem to make sense at that age and Barrett’s actions truly were bringing the band to a catastrophic point of implosion. Had Barrett been allowed continue on his merry path without some sort of intervention, Pink Floyd may never have gone on to release Atom Heart Mother in 1970 with its wall of anthemic symphony – an album lauded both for groundbreaking sounds and a brave approach to experimentalism with input from Ron Geesin (a Scottish composer known for his innovative and radical approach to applications of composition). The title track of the album Atom Heart Mother was 23-minutes long (paving the way for Shine on You Crazy Diamond which was just shy of 26 minutes) and divided into six defined units. Each section could lay claim to its own aura of moodiness.  Could Pink Floyd have created other, equally transcendent albums brim full of mystical beauty had Barrett remained in the group? Perhaps. But the band would have turned a different corner and followed another vision. The dreamy, heart-stopping, spellbinding echoes in Dark Side of the Moon (1973) with its truth-freeing lyrics, would never have existed, (nor would the political, rebelliously punchy, The Wall, 1979), and that would have been a tragic loss indeed. In 2012 Canadian actress Sarah Polley directed a documentary based on her mother Diane, called Stories We Tell. Polley’s mother died when she was 11 years old and Polley went on to discover she was born as the result of an affair between her mother and a Montreal producer, Harry Gulkin. Unflinchingly, Polley tells the tale without bias towards other family members, siblings (now half-siblings), the man she called ‘Dad’ for most of her life, her biological father, and the mother she once revered. Polley’s point is that stories can mutate and grow, shift sideways, evolve, and change, when seen and heard through the lens of the narrator. It’s a case of history being written by the victor – or in this case, the last man (or woman) standing. Barrett’s story as told by Storm Thorgerson is essentially one person’s perspective being touted from the heavens and accepted as the only truth in town and it’s not. There are other versions, including Barrett’s own. 

Shine On You Crazy Diamond was written for and about Syd Barrett. If I had to pick one song above all that captures the blended genius of Pink Floyd, it is this one. Yet, it doesn’t feature in the documentary as much as it should. Parts of it are played but no lyrics from the track were sung, just the chords and a few of the segments. Bogawa and Thorgerson are seasoned media personalities and should have known better – to omit the one song that sums up Syd Barrett is baffling.  

Rosemary Breen, Barrett’s sister, and executor of his estate maintained that Syd was content and happy with the existence he ultimately made for himself. He enjoyed gardening and had made his peace with living in what appeared to be blissful solitude. 

What happened to Syd Barrett was inexplicably, unalterably sad. Utterly tragic doesn’t even come close to describing how the most luminous of early promise crash-landed into a seemingly meaningless cache of flatlining numbness. But still, the question must be asked – who exactly was Syd Barrett living for? Could it have been for the grief-stricken fans of Pink Floyd saturated with a well of ‘what-ifs?’ Or was the advent of flying so close to the sun, only to ignominiously tumble from the heavens in a hail of opprobrium, worth every second of Syd Barrett choosing to unapologetically live life on his own terms. Have any of us really got it yet?  


Write A Comment