Monday, September 1, 2014

Vegetable Man - Syd Barrett's last Floyd recordings

(NOTE: Since I wrote this, it has been announced that a new boxed set of early Floyd material is being made available, including Vegetable Man and Scream Thy Last Scream. All you need is a spare $550!)


In this age when any well-known artist's every last demo and throw-away has been dredged up for fans to pore over, it remains astonishing to me that there was never an official release, even as bonus tracks, of Syd Barrett's last recordings as the leader of Pink Floyd.

Many Floyd fans may have heard the names of the songs - 'Scream Thy Last Scream' and 'Vegetable Man'. Few will ever have heard them. Every attempt to load them on youtube over the years has resulted in the posts having their audio removed by the copyright holder. What the f...? After all this time, if you are not going to release them, why not let those fans who might be interested have a listen?

Well now you can. Try this:

OK, they are raw and somewhat unhinged, but so is 'I Am The Walrus'. Nonetheless they are an important part of the Pink Floyd story, because it was Syd's inability to play the pop music game that hastened his departure from the group, just as much as the acid psychosis. He was the leader of the band, the principal songwriter and they wanted to have more of the magic he had produced on their debut album The Piper At The Gates of Dawn.

The story goes that the band and management put a lot of pressure on Syd to come up with more 'hits' after the success of See Emily Play in 1967.  But Syd had a singular artistic vision and understandably rebelled against the idea of being a pop star turning out three minute singles. Even without the drugs, his was an idiosyncratic vision; songs formed out of nursery rhyme lyrics, the 'psychedelic' sounds of the time, odd noises, studio trickery and added bars where the lyrics didn't scan properly. But it worked, on that first album at least, because the band believed in Syd and forced the studio engineers and producer Norman Smith to deliver on his vision.

But his erratic behaviour became intolerable for the rest of the Floyd (refusing to move his mouth when they were taping a TV show) and when the record company declined to release Vegetable Man and Scream Thy Last Scream, it must have been clear to the band they could not carry on as they were, which is why they brought Dave Gilmour into the fold. They claim they didn't actually fire Syd and bringing Gilmour in wasn't an attempt to force him out. They just decided not to pick him up on the way to a gig one day, and that was the end of it.

And they moved on, so it's understandable that the other members of Pink Floyd did not want to see these songs released. They are a document of one very talented man's descent into madness - as Dave Gilmour said "never to return".

But if it's acceptable to dredge up those last desperate recordings of Nick Drake, to reveal the dark despair of a song like Black-Eyed Dog, then I think it's equally valid for the world to hear Syd's last recordings with the Floyd, tracks that reveal not just his mental state but the culmination of a musical journey.

And for me anyway, there's an artistic statement being made here, however perverse. The band must have been in on it too, because both these tracks are essentially finished items. Acetates were made, ready for the single's release. There's no mistaking the psychotic whimsy at work on Scream Thy Last Scream - it's the work of a demented genius; completely uncommercial and, obviously for those close to Syd, too raw to be released, ever.

That's the strangest thing for me. After all this time, when compilation after compilation was released (Relics, A Nice Pair, etc, right up to the Echoes best of CD) the release of these tracks was never considered. No history of Pink Floyd will be complete until they are given a proper official airing. So until such time as I can work out a way of embedding the videos, here they are as mp3 download links. Enjoy. And RIP Roger 'Syd' Barrett, you crazy diamond.

Vegetable Man:

Scream Thy Last Scream:

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