Robert Wyatt Talking About Syd

This is an extract from an interview of Robert Wyatt, drummer with The Soft Machine, talking about working with Syd. The interview is by Ritchie Unterberger, taken from the book: Unknown legends of Rock'n'Roll.

Q: I wanted to ask a question about someone else in the book who I won't be able to interview. You drummed on some of Syd Barrett's solo records.

Wyatt: I didn't see them (the Pink Floyd) perform very much. I liked him. He was shy, he was thoughtful, and he was definitely onto something.

Q: Did you find him difficult to work with?

Wyatt: Absolutely not, no. Very easy. Almost too easy. He was very, very easygoing. So easygoing that you didn't necessarily know what he wanted, or whether he was pleased with it or not, because he seemed quite pleased with what you did. I think possibly he may have suffered as well from moving into the world of commercial culture, as they did. I think it might have been very confusing for him. Being an artist, working in an attic, to us - this may be a silly illusion, it's just a silly romantic dream, just like being a pop star. But I don't his romantic dreams were anything to do with the responsibilities of commercial pop stardom.

It's not a snobbishness, this thing about commercial stuff. It's just the fact that it seems to have a momentum all its own, and there seems to be demands made on it. You know how it is with, for example, Hollywood films--they're really accountant-led. Being big and famous doesn't get you more freedom, it gets you less, you know what I mean? It happens in the music itself as well. All the machinery that starts to come into gear, from management and touring and the whole way it's done, the musician becomes a fairly small cog in a machine where all these sort of semi-comatose people in the industry certainly come alive, and they certainly know how to act. And suddenly, your whole life is being run by lawyers and accountants. And you're meant to be very pleased, because you've made it and so on. But in fact, you're just getting carried along in a flow where your own personal thing can get completely lost.

As I say, it's not a question of snobbery. Some wonderful stuff comes out of that. But if you did have your own little thing, maybe it can't survive being put through that kind of process. I have no idea, but I imagine that could easily have been what happened to Syd. That the actual success of the band just completely threw him off-balance, I can imagine.

Q: Is there truth to the stories that the musicians on his solo albums weren't told what key the song was in, or that they just had to settle on whatever takes were completed?

Wyatt: That's true, but I mean, that's not very... I was brought up, musically, in the '50s. If you want eccentricity, and that kind of non-verbal world and those kind of weird signals that you have to pick up, you can't beat jazz musicians, you know (laughs). I'm just reading the stories, as I say, about working with Mingus and all those people. Working with Syd Barrett's a piece of cake, I think. I found him courteous and friendly. I can't think of anything wrong with him. I really liked his songs. I liked them musically, I liked them lyrically, and I liked the way he sang them. I can't fault him, really. I don't think he did anything wrong that I know of. I just think that not everybody fits into the business. I know from personal experience, it's not that easy.

Syd Barrett: Scattered Needles

Jay Whitten: