The Making of "The Madcap Laughs"


Scarcely a year goes by than the rock press, rather like the
Times and the first cuckoo of spring, report a 'sighting' of Syd
Barrett, usually in Cambridge or in London.  Whether these
reports are accurate is uncertain, but ever since the early
seventies the myth surrounding the man seems to have mushroomed.
There is a growing army of admirers who would see him as some
sort of living legend, even though his total recorded output
consists of little more than three albums.  Legend or otherwise,
I was able, in a modest way, to be able to assist Syd in
recording some of his best remembered solo recordings (I produced
the first 'Madcap Laughs' sessions amounting to half of the
album).  With the exception of the excellent 'Terrapin'
publications there has been remarkably little written about Syd,
so this is my attempt to remedy this in some small way.  This
publication is a straight, factual account of the making of the
album, 'the Madcap Laughs'.  As I kept all my studio production
notes and files what follows is an accurate account of events in
those few months of 1969.

     I had joined E.M.I. Records from Manchester University as a
management trainee, although my main passion in life was music.
Raised on rock & roll (I was 23 at the time, just a little older,
I think, than Syd), I played in amateur groups in my native
Southport, and even played on the stage of the Cavern Club (an
unpaid, failed, audition in case you want to know!).  After a
month on the E.M.I. training course, I was, in late 1967, offered
the responsibility of acquiring finished recordings from outside,
independent producers.  This included talents such as Mickie Most
and Denny Cordell, who had just signed Procol Harum and the Move
to E.M.I., and I naturally accepted.  My first signing was 'River
To Another Day' by Dave Edmunds' Love Sculpture.  Deep Purple,
Barclay James Harvest and Tyrannosaurus Rex soon followed.

     This was the time when the British 'underground' movement
was flourishing, and E.M.I.'s corporate image could make
acquiring masters difficult in face of the competition from
progressive companies such as Island Records.  In view of this I
campaigned within E.M.I. for the establishment of a label with a
more contemporary image than Parlophone and Columbia.  I
eventually had my way, and was given the task of establishing and
running the new label, which I called Harvest, in addition to my
other duties.  After a successful launch in June of 1969, I was
ready to plan more releases.......

     One day, late in March, 1969, I received a message that Syd
Barrett had 'phoned EMI's studio booking office to ask if he
could go back into the studios and start recording again.  It was
over a year since Syd had parted company with Pink Floyd and, as
head of Harvest, the request was referred to me.

     I had never met Syd, although he had apparently been in the
studio with Peter Jenner a year previously, just after I joined
EMI.  Needless to say I was familiar with his past successes with
the Floyd, and I knew as much as anyone about the circumstances
surrounding his leaving.  It had occurred to me on several
occasions to ask what had become of Syd's own solo career.  Peter
Jenner and Andrew King, the original Floyd management team,
managed many artists on Harvest.  Dark references were made to
'broken microphones in the studios and general disorder' by EMI
management, and this had resulted in a period when, if not
actually banned, Syd's presence at Abbey Road was not
particularly encouraged.  None of Peter Jenner's recordings of
Syd had turned out releasable, and no-one in EMI's A&R department
had gone out of his way to encourage Syd back.  Now that I had
A&R responsibility for Harvest, I was determined to make the most
of this contact with Syd and I rang him back immediately.

     Syd explained that he had lots more material for a new
album, and since he had not recorded for more or less two years
there was no reason to doubt him.  He was also keen to try and
salvage some of Peter Jenner's sessions (see session Appendices),
and in all he seemed very together - in contrast to all the
rumours circulating at the time.  There was, he said, a song
called Opel, another called Terrapin, a song about an Indian girl
called Swan Lee, and one called Clowns And Jugglers.  Plus he had
started work at Abbey Road on a James Joyce poem, 'Golden Hair'
which he was most anxious to complete.  It all sounded too good
for words!

     The next day I approached Roy Featherstone, my immediate
boss at the time, with the line 'Syd's ready to record again',
explaining the conversation I'd had with Syd and pushing hard for
his restoration to favour.  Roy was very positive, but said he'd
also have to check with his boss, Ron White, who authorised all
recordings.  In all honesty it wasn't very hard persuading them
both to let Syd record again.  Both Roy and Ron were well aware
of Syd's successes and potential capabilities.  The Pink Floyd
had already said that they did not wish to release any more
singles; 'Point Me At The Sky' and 'It Would Be So Nice' before
it had been flops and were no longer indicative of the style that
the new line-up was developing.  Work had already begun on what
was to become "Ummagumma" the previous November (with 'Embryo';
more about that later!!).  It is likely that they felt that, if
EMI could have the 'new' Floyd and the creative genius behind the
'old' both recording, then all the better.  I furthermore had a
powerful argument in reserve should they deny Syd this chance to
resume his career.  If they would not consent, I privately
argued, then they could not morally hold Syd to his contract,
although legally it would have been possible.  Fortunately, it
never came to that, and Ron and Roy gave me their permission and
support to let Syd record.

     Contrary to what was later printed, E.M.I. never stipulated
that Syd could only cut singles.  What was decided was to see
what was the strength of Syd's new material, and plan
accordingly.  If it worked, then, O.K. we'd do an album.  If not,
we'd call it a day.

     My next task was to find a producer who Syd would feel
comfortable with and of whom EMI would approve, as they were
adamant that Syd should not record unaided in view of previous
events. *(1) I never did ask Syd if the rumours of studio damage
were true.  I suspect if there was any truth in the stories then
it was probably exaggerated.  None of the engineers ever made
reference to them.*  The obvious first choice was Norman Smith,
an EMI staff producer and then still producer for the Floyd.
Norman was one of the finest producers of the time, and certainly
the best of those affiliated as staff producer.  Norman
engineered many of the early Beatles classics, and was a fine
musician.  Unfortunately his commitment to the Floyd ('Ummagumma'
was in the early stages) and his reluctance to have a conflict of
interests with the Floyd and Syd made him decline the job.  Peter
Jenner similarly thought it wise to stay out, especially in view
of his increasing responsibility to the growing roster of acts he
managed with Andrew King (including Edgar Broughton Band,
Tyrannosaurus Rex, Pete Brown, and soon, Kevin Ayers).  The other
obvious choice, in retrospect, would have been to offer Joe Boyd
the chance to work with Syd again as he produced 'Arnold Layne';
regrettably, it didn't occur to me at the time.  Although I had
met Joe a couple of times, I don't recall knowing that he'd done
'Arnold Layne'.  I certainly didn't remember his name from my
copy of the record, so I didn't think of him.  I still regret
that.  E.M.I. had no other staff producers capable of handling
Syd's style as Norman could have done, and when I talked it over
with Syd his response was stark and simple... 'You do it'.  Syd
knew I was a musician (of sorts), and as he saw me as his ally at
EMI (& I had produced 'Love Sculpture''s first album) I probably
was a logical choice to him.  I was also acceptable to EMI's
bosses who wanted someone they knew and trusted present on the
sessions.  If this seems naive in 1982, in 1969 no-one produced
their own records, not even the Beatles.

     At Syd's suggestion, then, and almost by default, I became
Syd's producer.

     I called him immediately to say we were in business, and
suggested a meeting to go over his new material.  As I was
unfamiliar with Peter Jenner's productions of the previous
year, I asked Syd to play me tapes he had of rough mixes of a
song called Silas Lang (re-titled 'Swan Lee') *(2) "Silas Lang"
is the original title on the EMI files, and this was later
changed to "Swan Lee".  Syd never referred to it as Silas Lang,
and this may be a mistake on the part of the engineer on the
original session.  Part of the lyric goes 'the land in silence
stands', which sounds, in part, rather like 'Silas Lang'.* ,'Late
Night'. (The master at EMI of this original was probably erased
and re-made later), 'Ramadan' (or 'Rhamadan'), Lanky parts one
and two (the last two were long instrumentals) and 'Golden Hair',
which Syd had referred to many times.  'Silas Lang' or 'Swan Lee'
was a long and rambling tale about an Indian maiden, reminiscent
in many ways of the story of Hiawatha.  It had no vocal when I
heard it, but had promise.  The version of 'Late Night' was not
the one finally released, but it too had a certain charm so we
agreed to re-make that.  'Lanky' and 'Rhamadan' were very long
and rambling percussion instrumentals.  Engineer Peter Bown's
announcement on the tape of 'Lanky Part One' is, rather wearily,
"Five minutes of drums!".  It wasn't very good!  "Rhamadan"
lasted for almost twenty minutes, and in its unfinished state was
also pretty boring.  Syd too was not satisfied with it (he'd
overdubbed several conga drums in random improvisation) and we
agreed to abandon that.  But in contrast, 'Golden Hair' was
great, although it needed a little cleaning up (eventually, Syd
re-made it with Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters).  After Syd had
played me these tapes and we had discussed which to continue
with, he played me the new songs.  One of the most exciting was a
song in 3/4 (waltz) tempo, which was the best I had heard so far.
Part of the lyric is reprinted overleaf.

OPEL (Syd Barrett)  Copyright All rights reserved. (excerpt)

On a distant shore, miles from land
Stands the ebony totem in ebony sand
The dream in a mist of gray
  On a far distant shore

A pebble that stood alone
Driftwood lies half buried
Warm shallow water sweeps shells
So the cockles shine

A bare winding carcass stark
Shimmers as flies scoop up meat
An empty way and dry tears

I'm trying to find you
I'm living, I'm giving
  To find you
  To find you
    I'm drowning ......

It was an extremely haunting song; very stark and poignant.  We
would certainly record that one.  Next came a song called 'Clowns
and Jugglers'.  Fans will know it under its eventual title,
'Octopus', again, another 'yes'.  Next Syd played snatches of
another song, 'Terrapin' which was similar in feel to 'Opel',
though less desolate.  And finally he played an old tymey song
'Love You' which I liked a little, but as Syd was pretty keen on
it, largely because it was uptempo, I agreed on that too.
Already we seemed to have enough for 3/4 of an album and
certainly several sessions.  I left Syd's flat totally elated,
determined next day to book studio time immediately and to get
started.  *(1) By coincidence I lived in the same square as Syd -
Earls Court Square.  By a further coincidence, Dave Gilmour was
living at the time in the block backing onto Syd's in the
adjacent Old Brompton Road.*