To celebrate what would have been Syd Barrett’s 75th birthday this Wednesday, here are my takes on three songs from his second album “Barrett”. Recorded in 1970, when Syd was 24, to me these capture his exit from the world of human relationships in three moods: exuberant (‘Gigolo Aunt’) resigned (‘Wined And Dined’) and psychotic (‘Wolfpack’).
My recordings of these songs were overseen by our cat Tubby, who brings a Zen eye to the recording process: we have three candles lit on the console here at Studio C (which also doubles as the kitchen table) but the room is otherwise dark. Tubby gives a discreet, almost imperceptible nod, and the tape starts to roll. The candlelight gleams in his eye, which blinks when I’ve done a take that he’s happy with. In the case of guitar overdubs this can be a lengthy process, but Tubby’s serenity beams calmness into my anxious fingers. Good boy, Tubs!
Tubby’s production techniques remind me slightly of working with Joe Boyd (Barrett’s first producer in the Pink Floyd days), who brings a similar feline insouciance to recording sessions; although Joe tends not to climb into your lap for the mix-down.
Hearing these songs at the age of 18 they quickly became voices in my head - templates, mantras and more, much more. Barrett etched himself deep into my psyche. Up in Cambridge in the early 1970s, Syd was leaving his host body, Roger, and it almost felt like his spirit had moved in with mine. After all, I was young and looking for an identity. After a while I couldn’t tell which of us was me. Eventually I developed a few more sub-personalities - Lou Reed, John Lennon, Bryan Ferry and that serpent at the gates of Eden, Bob Dylan, among others - and I came to accept them all corralled in with Syd as my psychic family. I was the last one to hatch out, I suppose. We’re all made of other people to some extent: step forward, Peter Sellers...
These days I don’t feel as engulfed by Syd Barrett as I once was, but I know he is an integral part of me as a musician. 50 years on, I still love hearing his songs, and singing them too. Thank you, Mr Barrett, whoever you are now...
Wined and Dined:
RH, Studio C, January 3 2021
Guitars and voices - Robyn Hitchcock
Produced by Tubby Vincent
Mixed by Emma Swift