PMT remembers Pink Floyd's legendary frontman Syd Barrett, who passed away ten years ago on this date, and who remains one of rock music's most enigmatic and influential figures. Plus, a look at Syd's gear and how to sound like him!
Roger "Syd" Barrett died on 7th July 2006, but it'd be wrong to say we lost a musical legend on that day - in fact, the world lost Syd decades ago when the ex-Pink Floyd frontman retired from music in 1972, after a couple of ill-fated gigs in his hometown, Cambridge. He was just 26 and never played a single note in public again, but his reputation grew as one of the brightest talents to emerge from the Sixties' music scene in Britain: he was one of the most original songwriters of the era, and a very innovative guitarist.
Some of the people who've praised or were inspired by Barrett include Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Jimmy Page, Ray Davies, David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Blur, R.E.M., Flaming Lips and The Jesus And Mary Chain. Even though Pink Floyd went on to sell many more albums without Barrett, he remained an inspiration which could be noticed on albums such as 'Wish You Were Here', 'Dark Side Of The Moon' and 'The Wall'.
"Syd was a major inspiration for me. The few times I saw him perform in London at UFO and the Marquee clubs during the ’60s will forever be etched in my mind. He was so charismatic and such a startlingly original songwriter." David Bowie, 2006
Pink Floyd Years (1966-67) & Syd's Guitar Technique
Syd Barrett was the main singer and songwriter for Pink Floyd, and during his brief period with the band made one of the landmark albums of the psychedelic era, 'The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn', recorded at Abbey Road studios next door to where The Beatles were recording 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.'
Barrett was a visionary songwriter who wrote quintessentially "English" songs such as 'Arnold Lane', 'See Emily Play', 'Mathilda's Mother' and others. As a guitarist, Barrett pushed the boundaries like few others did at the time - instead of playing blues-inspired guitar like Clapton or Jimmy Page, Syd would experiment with dissonance, distortion and feedback, and was one of the first to make extensive use of delay effects using a Binson Echorec, besides often using a zippo lighter as a slide!
Perhaps his best-realised moment as a guitarist was in early hit 'See Emily Play', where all the key elements of Syd's guitar style are present, including slide, the use of fuzz & delay and controlled feedback:
But one of his most anarchic moments remains 'Interstellar Overdrive':
Syd was a great, original talent, but one senses he never became the psychedelic guitar hero he could've become. Sadly, one (or a few) acid trips too many and the pressures of touring meant that by the end of 1967 Syd Barrett's was too unreliable and by 1968 he was replaced by David Gilmour.
Syd Barrett's Solo Years & Retirement
Barrett still managed to record a couple of solo albums, post-Pink Floyd, with the help of David Gilmour and Roger Waters. After a few radio sessions for the BBC, and some disastrous gigs later, Barrett left the music scene never to return again, settling for an ordinary life in Cambridge away from the public gaze.
By the time Syd Barrett died in 2006, he had become a legendary cult figure whom people knew little about, apart from occasional sightings in Cambridge.
Syd Barrett is certainly regarded as more influential and "cool" in the eyes of younger, alternative musicians, than post-Syd Pink Floyd. A tribute Syd Barrett concert is taking place at the Cambridge Corn Exchange (where he played his last ever gig) on 27th October, and unseen footage of Syd Barrett will be included in new documentary to be shown at Cambridge Film Festival later this year.
The crazy diamond still shines on...
Listen To... Syd Barett Compilation
Syd Barrett Gear Guide & How To Sound... Psychedelic
No, you don't need to take any illegal substances to become a true psychedelic guitarist... just get some gear similar to Syd's, and you'll be on the right track!
1) SINGLE COIL ELECTRIC GUITAR
The sharp, trebly sound of single coil guitars is perfect for this type of music, so it's no wonder that most modern psych bands prefer these models (Fender Jaguars are also a good choice).
2) VINTAGE, ANALOGUE-STYLE DELAY / TAPE ECHO
Perhaps the main ingredient for a psychedelic guitar setup is to experiment with lots of delays! Syd used a Binson Echorec, which was also used by Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright and also by David Gilmour when he joined the band. In other words... the Echorec is *the* ultimate Pink Floyd delay!
Unfortunately, original Echorecs are very rare and extremely expensive, going for over £3k on Ebay! But if you want that particular delay sound, the best choice is to get yourself a TC Electronic Alter Ego delay, which features an Echorec mode, for that same, warm vintage delay. Another great choices for vintage-style delays are the Boss RE-20 Space Echo or the new Boss DM-2W Waza Craft Delay.
3) FUZZ PEDAL
Syd was also an early adopter of fuzz pedals, and there's photo evidence of him using a Vox Tone Bender in May 1967.
There are lots of great fuzz pedals out there, but if you want to get a similar tone, you'd better get one that sounds more vintage, such as the Electro-Harmonix Satisfaction (based on the Maestro FZ-1, which inspired the Tone Bender) or the Way Huge Havalina Germanium Fuzz, which is able to provide some pretty good vintage tones, and sounds a bit like a Tone Bender. Alternatively, a Fuzz Face is a great choice, too.
4) WAH PEDAL
Syd was one of the first British guitarists to use a wah pedal, which is great if you want to create some interesting psychedelic sounds. For instance, try wah sweeps with lots of delay - amazing!
5) SYD BARRETT'S AMP
Syd used a British-made Selmer Treble'n'Bass and a Watkins Dominator, both long discontinued now. Basically, having an amp that's clean at loud volumes is essential. David Gilmour had the same approach (but using Hiwatt heads, to be clean at even louder volumes.)