There used to be a record store at the junction of Church St and Bold St, it was up a narrow set of stairs and inside were racks of cut out albums. I have no idea what is there now but in the 80’s when the pubs closed in the afternoon this is where we used to go while we waited for opening time to come back around. This was in the days when the pubs closed around 3p.m. for a couple of hours so you could eat or in my case buy records.
In that dingy store smelling of bitter, whisky and fish and chips my friend Dave and myself managed to stagger our way through albums by The Seeds, Country Joe and the Fish The Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Ten Years After and one fateful afternoon on a whim and based entirely on the cover I picked up a copy of The Madcap Laughs.
Now if I had gone on to form a groundbreaking Liverpool band that had hit singles and albums and groupies I would say this was the afternoon that my life changed. Instead we went back to Dave’s flat on Kensington and tried to understand why this album didn’t sound like Piper At The Gates of Dawn.
This was in the days before the internet and so most of our information about rock stars was gleaned from vibrant conversations in The Swan on Wood Street as we attempted to gain the attention of Shirley behind the bar. After several attempts at understanding what was going on we simply gave up filed the record with Oar by Skip Spence and went to a gig.
This is probably why I have not gone on to international stardom or cult status. My lack of musical ability may have more to with this than I like to admit.
Of course as life moved on and experience matured me I have been able to understand the naive genius of Barrett and his two solo albums. It is something that clicked in my brain one afternoon as I played the Madcap Laughs during Dark Globe. Since that time I have had a deep affection for the music of Syd. I don’t necessarily think that he was the genius some do but he definitely even at his worst was able to touch a deep chord that resonates to this day.
Daevid Allen and Kevin Ayers are two other musicians that like Barrett were able to touch something very deep with their whimsy and at times silliness. They also like Barrett never got sentimental no matter how silly their songwriting seemed.
This afternoon I stumbled upon a copy of An Introduction to Syd Barrett. If things had been collected this way when I first started listening to Barrett I may have understood sooner. As it is, it does exactly what it says on the cover introduces you to the work of Syd in a way that is respectful and not sentimental.
It sports a nice cover by Storm Thorgeson and does not rehash the usual tragic Syd pictures instead having one happy looking picture of Syd and his cat inside and a nice performance picture on the back. The whole thing concentrates on the music and not the legend, no sleeve notes just the music.
It is well produced by David Gilmour who has made sure it seems that the whole album sounds as well as it could. Gilmour has always kept Barrett’s music alive, performing songs on his solo tours and making sure he is seen as he should be a songwriter, he never seems to sign off on the idea of the iconic nature Barrett has taken on. One of the most affecting things I have ever seen was Gilmour performing Dark Globe after Barrett’s death.