West Country writer Caroline Boucher remembers an uncomfortable interview with Syd Barrett.... The editor of my music paper in the Sixties was always adamant that all rock stars, no matter what, were available for interview. He was stony in the face of excuses. When Norman Greenbaum had a hit with Spirit in the Sky in 1969 Ray was unmoved to hear he was on some remote mountaintop in America; Greenbaum was ordered to descend the slope on his mule and ring the paper from a phone box. Amazingly, he did so.
So when I was assigned a Syd Barrett interview there was no getting out of it. Not that I wanted to. I loved Pink Floyd – particularly their early Syd-influenced albums. However, by 1970 we all knew he was in a pretty unpredictable condition. The band had kicked him out and he’d just finished his first solo album, The Madcap Laughs. Making small squeaks of doubt, I was dispatched to his record company offices to interview him. Oh, Syd was lovely. Dark curly hair, dark eyes, thin as a whippet, fabulous velvet trousers. Groupies loved him. He had recently decorated the floor of his flat in stripes and had painted himself into a corner. He’d made some terrible, drugged appearances that were excruciating. I really didn’t know what I’d find. Only a record company PR, desperate to promote a new album would usher a journalist into an office that contained a desk, two chairs and an unconscious musician on one of them. Syd was there all right, but completely out of it. “I hope it goes well, I’ll see you later,’ said the PR and scuttled off. I sat down. I said hello. Several times at increasing volume. Nothing. Syd was draped over the chair, his head resting on his arms, breathing gently. He looked gorgeous, if a little pale, however nothing, but nothing would rouse him. I gave him a little prod, a little shake. Hopeless. The spectre of the editor rose before me. Eventually I cobbled together a piece (long lost) that featured lots about his appearance, a few facts about his conscious self that had managed to get into the building gleaned from the PR and lots about the new album. When it was published the record company sent me a telegram and a bunch of flowers. Syd went on to become a recluse in his home town of Cambridge where he died in 2006. In the same year Tom Stoppard created an ethereal rock star clearly based on Syd in his play, Rock’n’Roll – the ultimate obituary.