Barrett: The Definitive Visual Companion
From page 87 of Classic Rock Magazine June 2011
Russell Beecher and Will Shutes ESSENTIAL WORKS
A beautiful compendium of rare Syd-flavoured materials that is almost too perfect to be useful.
T hat the legend of Syd Barrett should exert power more than 40 years on is reason in itself to treat both the man and his myth with all seriousness. Syd stuck a chord somewhere in the British collective consciousness that continues to resonate. He might even be a more significant figure right now than he was back in his glory days. Certainly he appears to be more celebrated now than ever before. Where once he was just the subject of rumours, sightings, the odd intrusive photograph, dubious bootlegs, and lengthy retrospectives in rock magazines, the 21st century – especially since his death in 2006 – has seen the preservation of Syd Barrett’s legacy grow into a small but productive industry.
In 2001, the BBC aired the Omnibus documentary Crazy Diamond about Syd. Tom Stoppard’s 2006 play Rock F Roll used him as a central and symbolic character. In 2007, Nick LairdClowes of The Dream Academy, and Joe Boyd, the early Pink Floyd producer, staged a Barrett tribute at the Barbican Centre where the entire Floyd, plus Damon Albarn, Chrissie Hynde, Captain Sensible, and Robyn Hitchcock, performed the best of Syd’s songs. At the end of last year EMI re-released An Introduction To Syd Barrett , a definitive compilation CD, supervised and partially remixed by David Gilmour.
In March of this year, the Idea Generation Gallery in East London staged an exhibition of Barrett’s paintings, previously unseen photography from Syd’s days in the Floyd, plus letters and other ephemera. The exhibition goes hand in hand with the publication of this large format, hardcover book Barrett: The Definitive Visual Companion by Russell Beecher and Will Shutes, a deluxe labour of both love and great expense. Like the exhibition, it contains an extensive array of rare photographs, a comprehensive collection of his paintings, his letters and drawings, along with interviews, commentary, analysis of his work, and complete documentation. The printing, binding and full colour reproduction are sumptuous and immaculate, and the whole presentation subscribes to the concept of the book as a work of art in itself. Plainly Barrett is an essential object for the well-heeled Syd obsessive. Some of the photographs – especially those from the Roundhouse, rehearsals at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and a live show in Denmark – are truly outstanding, and his paintings fully answer the question as to what he did after he left Pink Floyd.
Unfortunately Barrett – by being such a luxury item – poses the question that increasingly needs to be answered as the Syd Barrett legend grows and expands. Isn’t romantic legend starting to eclipse the actual value of the artists work? Is Syd – like maybe Che Guevara, James Dean, or Arthur Rimbaud – becoming a figure whose image and mythology totally outstrip his real achievements? The gorgeously reproduced paintings catalogued here are little more than standard art-school abstracts and still lives by a painter who appears seriously depressed.
After his first magnificent flourish with the Floyd, Syd’s music exhibited a noticeable loss of energy. I don’t think I’m being too harsh in saying that the same applies to the majority of his paintings. The publication of Barrett would represent a lavish confirmation that Syd is now being glorified in a manner that is almost Arthurian. He is the golden psychedelic boy-king, admired and desired, fashionably tortured in a poet’s ruffled shirt, and with dark hair falling into already haunted eyes. His power peaks and he is sacrificed to drugs, a troubled mind, or splendid madness. He retreats into an exile of isolation. In this he is a modern-romance reprise of ancient pagan mythology. The sacrifice of the glorious young monarch is a core of legends almost as old as man, and perhaps Syd has graduated to a role in our popular culture that is more symbolic than actual. That would make Barrett a work of Syd Barrett iconography, which is maybe exactly what his contemporary followers are really seeking.
■■■■■■■■■■ Mick Farren