The first Pink Floyd album I bought was 'A Saucerful of Secrets'. Like the rest of my close circle of friends, I had 'The Wall' and 'The Dark Side of the Moon', both recorded on Ewan McGregor’s (not that Ewan McGregor) trusty tape-to-tape deck. I’m not sure what drove me to select 'A Saucerful of Secrets': perhaps someone had mentioned it as a “next step” in my Floyd adventure; perhaps it was simply the only Floyd LP in Woolworths on the day that I went in.

Released in June 1968, 'A Saucerful of Secrets' catches Pink Floyd in the midst of their first great power swing. For me, there have been three Pink Floyds: the Syd Barrett-led, trippy pop song quartet whose debut album and first two singles were pure English psychedelic whimsy; the Roger Waters-led Floyd, all snarling, angst and torment; and, latterly, David Gilmour’s Floyd, a great live act, but the least said about the two contributions to the Floyd studio canon the better. In 1968, Barrett’s tenure as group leader, vocalist, lead guitarist and primary songwriter was coming to an end.

Since the release of their debut album in August 1967, things had not been well in the Floyd camp. The story goes that Barrett had taken to LSD in a big way - some contemporaries say that he was, essentially, tripping all of the time. His playing and writing suffered dramatically as a result, as did his personality. According to those close to him, towards the end of 1967 he was virtually unrecognisable from the happy, if eccentric, character portrayed in the 'Arnold Layne' promotional film.

In crisis, the other three members of the group decided to bring Syd’s old school friend, David Gilmour, in to supplement Syd in the groups live shows. Gilmour could sing and, more importantly, he could play Syd’s bizarre and complicated guitar parts. Barrett’s behaviour continued to decline as his mental health became more and more perilous, and sometime between January 12 (Floyd’s first engagement as a five-piece) and April 6 1968 (the date of Syd’s “official” departure), it was decided that Syd should leave the band.
Syd’s absence meant that the other group members would be forced to write any material for any new albums. After a pretty poor single, 'It Would Be So Nice', the band recorded 'A Saucerful of Secrets'.

The album still stands up as one of my favourite Floyd records, but it is the final track, 'Jugband Blues', which makes it for me. The sole Barrett track on the album, it’s a wonderfully poignant crie de couer. The lyrics speak of Syd gradually being marginalised, and one gets the impression that he was none too happy about it. “It’s awfully considerate of you to think of me here,” Syd sings. “And I’m most obliged to you for making it clear that I’m not here.”

As an epitaph to a stellar career, they don’t come much better than 'Jugband Blues'. Its author would go on to record two more albums before walking, barefoot, home to Cambridge, where he reverted to his birth name of Roger, and lived a quiet life painting until his death in 2006.

But Floyd hadn’t finished with Syd. Following 1973’s multi-million selling 'The Dark Side of the Moon', Floyd returned to the studio to create a follow-up. What emerged in 1975 was 'Wish You Were Here', an album which spoke, overall, of loss. Bookended by the glorious 'Shine on You Crazy Diamond', itself a direct tribute to Syd, the album covers the Barrett’s life with a subtlety and compassion that was lacking from their subsequent work, most notably 'The Wall'.

The story goes that Syd visited the band – his band – in the studio while they were recording the very track that they had written about him. Sporting a shaved head, shaved eyebrows, and looking more like a paunchy man at C&A than the waif-like young man who had, only six years before, prowled Carnaby Street in the latest designer clothing, he went practically unrecognised by his former band-mates until prompted. Nick Mason describes Syd as “a large fat bloke with a shaven head, wearing a decrepit old tan mac…[and] carrying a plastic shopping bag.” Mason was alarmed by the physical change in his friend, not least the “benign, but vacant expression on his face.”

During his impromptu visit to Abbey Road, David Gilmour asked Syd what he was up to. “Well,” he replied, “I’ve got a colour telly and a fridge. I’ve got some pork chops in the fridge, but the chops keep going off and I need to buy more.” Whatever caused Syd’s breakdown, it had clearly been comprehensive.

This July will mark seven years since Syd’s passing, and there’s scarcely a week goes by when I don’t listen to that haunting last Floyd song of his. It is a truly glorious “Fuck You” of a song, but its beauty and fragility are to the fore more than anything that Floyd recorded before or since. When the song reaches its end, one can almost feel Syd’s inspiration drifting away from him.

“And the sea isn’t green/And I love the queen/And what exactly is a dream, And what exactly is a joke?”

Syd Barrett, the musical Icarus, will live forever through his music and there will always be a place in my heart for this most Shakespearian of rock stars. Syd, wherever you are, I hope you’re singing.

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Commenting On: J-Jugband Blues - AC's A-Z of Music

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21468 Posted By: brian (warsaw, poland)

what a disappointment! A whole genre of music reduced, literally, to one band's song. Is this what modern music has become? Never heard of this song before. I'm not interested in overhyped bands whose only interest is to make as much money as possible by exploiting those who listen to them so they can fund mansions and golf courses. Oh, and steal album titles, like they did from Medicine Head's Dark Side of the Moon. That's how much integrity they have.
But a feature on jug bands down the decades, now that would be worth reading.Or if we are on the subject of j: jade warrior, janus, jericho, jonesy, j geils band ... are something to be getting on with.
Your stuff on new rock and folk is great cheers

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