Live Reviews

Syd Barrett Tribute @ Barbican, London

10 May 2007


Organised with the co-operation of original Floyd producer Joe Boyd, and ex-Dream Academy geezer Nick Laird-Clowes, ‘Excerpts From An Uninterrupted Performance’ is a heartfelt homage to the short recording career of one Syd Barrett.

As the sexagenarians of the sixties rock boom face an inevitable mortality, tribute gigs may be something we become morbidly familiar with over the coming years. But then, the passing of Syd Barrett was never going to go unnoticed.

Before his death from pancreatic cancer last year, many thought Syd was a long time casualty anyway, a de-beautified symbol of acid folly, living in straightsville Cambridge where the civvy streets have no name.

His mind a rumour, his odd time signatures and bemused word-building scattered by winds of incomprehension, Syd lived out the bulk of his sixty years where the application of his talent was a hallucination of a bygone age.

But never let respect for the departed get in the way of good old-fashioned enmity. No Floyd follower myself, I have no idea why Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters won’t share a stage anymore. I also have no idea why those that knew Syd best (or even at all) are some of the least affecting performers of the evening.

Perhaps the memories are all too much. When the limited company of Gilmour, Mason and Wright grumble through Arnold Layne, Syd’s own tribute to a local knicker-sniffer, the sense of a missed opportunity is matched only by Waters himself, who unintentionally I’m sure, certainly brings tears to my eyes.

Though close enough to Syd to have gathered up his allegedly discarded marbles, Rog doesn’t bother covering any of Syd’s mind-on-his-sleeve anthems, but has one of his compositions of which he believes is ‘most apposite’. But if long-form cowboy sentimentality played on an out-of-tune guitar is appropriate at a wake, then much like Irene Cara, I think I’m gonna live forever.

Much more affecting in anecdote than song, it should be noted that Waters admirably retains his composure when one Syd fan unceremoniously bellows ‘shut your mouth’ and promptly leaves the Barbican alone.

No easy task, given its satnav-boggling dimensions, but he must have known what was coming from Rog. Needless to say though, all Floydsters were greeted as if the rapture were upon us like a flying pig. But it should be noted that the Floyd always made sure that Syd was never forgotten, not least by the accountants.

With a house band featuring Andy Bell, part of Oasis‘ indie-casual-from-central-casting modern period, a diverse gaggle of fans waiting to pay their respects include Mike Heron, Kevin Ayers, Robyn Hitchcock and Vashti Bunyan.

The diversity is matched by the audience, though many are festooned with significant folds of corduroy, from young hipsters to moneyed old hippies looking not so much Interstellar Overdrive as into-Stella Artois. But some of the best moments are those not on the program.

Thought King Creosote couldn’t make it (must’ve been treating himself to a night in) Nick Laird-Clowes leads the Sense Of Sound Choir into a celestial take on Chapter 24 and engages the childlike awe and wonder of the original, but top billing goes to the family McGarrigle.

Hanging tough with daughter Martha Wainwright and niece Lily Lanken, Kate McGarrigle‘s piano leads the trio through a ghostly Golden Hair and a supremely ramshackle and affectionate See Emily Play. Under-rehearsed perhaps, but somehow much closer to the spirit of Syd’s let-the-tape-just-roll solo records.

Elsewhere, Isle Of Wight’s finest The Bees rip through a funked-up Octopus but Chrissie Hynde makes Won’t You Miss Me sound an awful lot like I’ll Stand By You. Thankfully my leather shoes are more than a firebomb’s throw away, but she redeems herself with a glorious Late Night. But Damon Albarn probably steals the show by bringing on stage Syd’s nephew for a nervy tribute of his own.

Mr All-Bran of Blur and Gorillaz, all decked out in Simonon loaned Rudie-chic, invites all to join him through the tippy-toed noun-fest of Untitled Words. He even finds time to mention the resignation of Mr. Tony B. Liar. Blimey, you invite the bloke to Downing Street and this is the thanks you get. How is the scene, these days anyway, Damon?

After a faithful Astronomi Domine, Captain Sensible tells all how he named his own child after Syd. And perhaps this cosily domestic factoid is an indication of Syd’s impact as much as the fall-from-grace legend and the eccentricity of his art.

After Top Of The Pops, Abbey Road, LSD and the UFO club, Syd returned to a world of shopkeepers, bicycles, nephews and bad DIY.

Around the same time as Barrett’s star began to wane, an infamous British movie claimed that ‘the only performance that really makes it…is the one that achieves madness’.

Unembarrassed, unselfconscious, unseduced by fame, notoriety and renown, perhaps Roger Keith Barrett was never really crazy at all. Maybe that’s why his own performance never ‘made it’. In that, he may have thirty years headstart resting in peace…


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