Even if Syd Barrett was still with us, although spiritually he is, he would have approved of this musical celebration of his under-appreciated music. Coinciding with his 75th birthday and commemorating 50 years since they were first recorded.
Release date: 6th January, 2021.
Label: Gonzo Multimedia
Format: 2 CD
When artists are approached by their labels to re-release, re-master or re-record work completed 50 years ago sometimes accompanied by a tour, many of them have moved on and have developed their music to be quite unlike their original style of playing. With the Syd Barrett album anniversary coinciding with what would have been his 75th birthday, focussing on his solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, a mish-mash of broadly unknown European artists have offered their versions in this two album tribute to work which in many ways has to be said was distinctly ahead of its time.
In 1971, I was an avid Floyd fan but Syd’s sad demise seemed to me magnified by the two albums and I couldn’t get my head around them. Yet on hearing them now with more experienced ears, I can appreciate his originality. Most of his post Floyd solo work is performed by loving contemporary followers. It is highly listenable and doesn’t seem dated in the least.
Having said that and I know we’re positive thinking writers At The Barrier, I have to conclude the results are variable. The insipid version of Astronomy Domine, meant to signify the end of his period with Pink Floyd is, in my opinion, pretty awful and doesn’t do the rest of the tributes or the original or Syd justice. Sorry, Boris and friends ( haven’t said that much recently!!) but honesty must prevail on this occasion as the majority of the tracks have clearly been sensitively and affectionately reproduced, especially when Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets versions of early Floyd and Syd’s songs blasts this one out of the water.
Of course, tributes to Syd are not uncommon. Red Hot Chilli Peppers also performed a quick burst of Astronomy Domine in 2006 on their British tour shortly after Syd died and Dave Gilmour, who replaced Syd in Pink Floyd and worked in close association with Syd on his solo career, has performed Terrapin in his live sets.
So with Terrapin I will start. Gilmour kept faith with the acoustic original version whereas Andrea Achill’s splendid version adds swirling keyboards, electronic effects and some echoing backing vocals. Another worthy cover is the tribute title track Love You which keeps the original upbeat rhythm but replaces the honky-tonk piano with more electronic swooshes and like many of the vocalists on the album, Eugene’s singing actually sounds like Syd too.
There are some examples where the tribute version excels the original. An example of this is Henrietta And The Fives’ version of If It’s In You in which the vocal skills of Henrietta vastly improve Syd’s strained efforts and the addition of sitar instrumental is an inspirational idea.
The 2nd CD opens with an intriguing version of Baby Lemonade by ST37 who brilliantly replicate the more manic Floyd sound we all came to love on their earlier material – the screaming, screeching and experimental guitars which in their early days left one mystified muso to ponder ’Why does it have to be so loud?’
Another Gilmour covered live version is Dominoes. His skiffle style rhythm and Syd’s original are in complete contrast to Sula Basana’s psychedelic version with echoing, shimmering vocals and an organ drone. Very brave of him to utterly revamp this song but this ‘trippy’ version works. Phosphene’s cover of Rats is another example of a completely reconstructed version, this is definitely more Syd with Floyd style than Syd without Floyd.
On occasion, the cover artists trim down the original. The drumbeat is much lighter on Waving My Arms In The Air/ I Never Lied To You although the guitar is much steelier apart from the rather strained vocals on the second part. However, the result from Luca Riao is very listenable.
The second disc concludes with Vegetable Man, another of Syd’s songs resurrected by Nick Mason and is included on this album again to pay tribute to his work with Floyd. Nick Bensen’s highly creditable version brings the whole tribute to a happy conclusion.
As well as covers from the original two albums there are plenty of bonus tracks some of which you may find you moving onto the next track pretty swiftly but there are some very worthy efforts. Standouts are Joss Cope’s Bob Dylan Blues, Quarto Stat Della Materia’s Word Song and in particular, Let’s Split by Michele Gentle.
You will make up your own mind on who covers your favourite Syd songs the best but if you want really weird then Swan Lee by Hibutshire and Birdie Hop by Trespasser W are definitely for you.
Many of the artists may be totally unfamiliar but there may be some familiar names amongst them like Dave Harris, former lead singer of Fashion, who has worked with Richard Wright. There is also a contribution from John Cavanagh, author of the book The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn about the making of the first Pink Floyd album, plus Men On The Border – a Swedish band devoted to Syd’s repertoire. In 2016 they took part in Syd Barrett – A Celebration Concert at the Corn Exchange in Cambridge. Artistically there are Syd connections, in particular from Ian Barrett, Syd’s nephew.
So basically, if you are looking to hear Syd’s song as they were written you’ll be disappointed as Gonzo’s aim with the project being: “to collect, for the first time, all the songs Syd Barrett recorded after his experience with Pink Floyd. To realise it we invited many artists from various parts of the world and asked them to choose one song and rearrange it in their own way.”
Meanwhile, here’s Syd doing Love You from The Madcap Laughs: