“Have You Got It Yet?”: Pink Floyd’s mad genius Syd Barrett goes “Under Review”

By on August 13, 2016

Syd Barrett: Under Review — released over ten years ago, just a few short months before Barrett died on July 7, 2006, and now streaming over on Night Flight Plus — documents the life of the mad genius who was the chief songwriter, lead vocalist and original lead guitarist for Pink Floyd, before he effectively disappeared from the music scene altogether, after completing two solo albums, to spend his life pottering around and living like a recluse in his hometown of Cambridge, England.

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The documentary — just over one hour in length, and subtitled “An Independent Critical Analysis” — is another in the British-made series from Prism Films, distributed by our partner, MVD.

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This Under Review features rare live and studio performances, rarely seen promo films, interview footage with Barrett and other Floyd members and TV clips, all of it interspersed with the independent review and criticism from a panel of esteemed experts: Chris Welch (Melody Maker contributor during the 1960s and early champion of Syd Barrett); David Parker (Barrett biographer and all-round expert); Nigel Williamson (Uncut Magazine‘s features editor); Hugh Hopper (former Soft Machine bassist who backed Barrett on Madcap Laughs); Malcolm Dome (Total Rock DJ and journalist) and many more.

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The interviews primarily concentrate around the background and meaning behind some of the early songs Barrett wrote, beginning with “Arnold Layne,” named for a character who stole ladies’ “knickers” from clotheslines.

In addition to that song, some of the other rare song performances included here are “See Emily Play,” “Bike,” “Interstellar Overdrive,” “Apples and Oranges,” “Jugband Blues,” “Octopus,” “Terrapin,” “Dominoes,” “Opel,” “Baby Lemonade,” in addition to many others.

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In a 2007 Rolling Stone article entitled “The Magic and Majesty of Pink Floyd: The ugly truths and bitter rivalries behind rock’s most visionary band,” celebrated rock scribe Mikal Gilmore wrote:

“Syd Barrett, a man who had been mysterious and lonely for decades, had been the heart of Pink Floyd in its earliest days — he wrote their songs, gave them their style, made them a force in the British music scene — but in 1968, Waters, Mason and Wright threw him out of the band after he slipped into mental disintegration.”

One of our favorite stories about Barrett concerned what happened during the band’s last rehearsal session, sometime in January 1968. It had recently been a difficult time for Barrett and the band, who had recently added Barrett’s childhood friend David Gilmour on lead guitar, as Barrett’s increasing LSD use and his hermetic lifestyle had started to become a problem that they still weren’t sure how to deal with.

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It had gotten to the point where Barrett might not even sing if he bothered to show up for one of their gigs. If he did show up, he might actually wander around the stage, and he might pick up a guitar, but his contribution was inconsequential and, although audiences loved the sideshow aspects of it, the band were becoming more and more annoyed.

It got so bad that Roger Waters — driving on the way to a show at Southhampton University — talked to the band and they decided not to pick Barrett up.

Up to that point, he’d been the primary composer of the band’s material, and they discussed keeping him the band as a non-touring member, as the Beach Boys had done with Brian Wilson, but that proved to be impractical.

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Barrett, the madcap, got the last laugh, though, when he showed up at that last rehearsal and offered to share a new song he’d written. He was calling it, “Have You Got It Yet?,” and the band ran through the song a few times, but each time they played it, Barrett was changing the song’s structure and its melody during each run-through, and it was proving to be difficult for the band to follow his lead.

He’d play it for them again, and once again it would change, until they realized that Barrett was changing the song each time he played it. The clue was right there in the title of the song: it was all an elaborate madcap prank.

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Eventually, they realized Barrett was having them on, and years later, Waters — during an interview he did for The Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett Story — said that he didn’t really enjoy Barrett’s little joke. He put down his bass, left the room, and never attempted to play with Barrett again.

He did, however, call what Barrett had done “a real act of mad genius.”

“Have You Got It Yet?” was never recorded by Pink Floyd or by Syd Barrett.

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Barrett began writing and playing writing songs since the early 60s, occasionally playing acoustic gigs with his friend and future bandmate David Gilmour, who he’d met in the Cambridge Technical College art department.

In the summer of ’64, Barrett decided to pursue both music and art, applying at the Camberwell College of Arts in London in order to study painting.

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In Under Review we learn about his joining a band who were originally called The Tea Set (sometimes T-Set), who ran into a problem when they ended up playing at a gig with another band called the Tea Set.

It was Barrett who came up with their new name, taking the names of two blues artists, Pink Anderson and The Floyd Council, and coming up with variants on the name Pink Floyd (sometimes The Pink Floyd Blues Band, or The Pink Floyd Sound, or just The Pink Floyd, before the final shortened version).

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The band would enter the studio in 1965, the same year that Barrett — along with a few of his friends, including future cover designer Storm Thorgeson — took acid for the first time.

Barrett’s songs thereafter began to show the influence of his frequent acid trips — check out this film, made in 1966, somewhat erroneously called Syd’s First Trip — as well as his taste in fantasy literature, including Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Carlos Castaneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan, and The I-Ching.

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Within another year they were the house band for a new rock concert venue, the UFO (pronounced as “you-foe”), which had opened in London and quickly become a hangout for British psychedelic music, with Pink Floyd becoming the leaders of the the “London Underground” psychedelic music scene.

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After they appeared in Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London, they were soon signed to EMI, who released the band’s first studio album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, recorded at Abbey Road studios at the very same time the Beatles were tracking songs for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Barrett wrote eight and co-wrote another two of the debut album’s eleven songs, but while the album’s success brought them more and more exposure, the band’s chief songwriter’s use of psychedelic drugs, particularly acid, became less consistent.

His on and off-stage behavior became increasingly more erratic and unpredictable, leading to the band to bring on Gilmour as a second guitarist in order to cover for Barret, who was often so zonked on LSD that he couldn’t perform.

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After the “Have You Got It Yet?” episode, Barrett did not contribute material to the band, and only one of the songs he’d written after Piper — “Jugband Blues” — appeared on the band’s second album, A Saucerful of Secrets.

Barrett and Pink Floyd parted ways in March 1968, although his management company kept him signed under contract, and he would, over the course of the next year, end up recording songs for EMI’s new Harvest imprint, which ended up being released as his first solo album, The Madcap Laughs (after a line in the song “Octopus”), which didn’t come out until January 1970.

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The album’s back cover photo — by photographer Mick Rock — captured the lively and charming Syd Barrett cavorting in Holland Park with two dark brunette models, an unknown girl and another, a real flower child of the Sixties, who was well-known as Iggy the Eskimo.

Iggy’s real name was Evelyn, but she’d become rather enigmatic figure herself on the Swinging London before she mysteriously disappeared.

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The album’s front cover was taken by Barret’s friend Storm Thorgerson, and showed Barrett lounging in his apartment, with that famous painted floor in orange and mauve stripes, which Barrett and Iggy the Eskimo had painted the same day that Thorgeson had taken the photo.

You can read more about Iggy here.

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In February — within a month of his debut’s release, and after an appearance on the BBC’s John Peel’s “Top Gear” radio show, where he played five songs — Barrett commenced working on his sophomore album, Barrett, which appeared in the bins in November 1970.

He continued to have a difficult time of it during the rest of the 1970s, and in 1978, when his Pink Floyd money ran out, he moved back to Cambridge, to live with his mother; he briefly moved to London again, in 1982, for a few weeks before deciding to walk the fifty miles back to his hometown of Cambridge again.

Barrett continued to live with his mother in Cambridge for the rest of his life, painting and pottering around keeping a relatively quiet profile until his death, at age 60, on July 7, 2006.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • brubeck71

    it was mick rock that took the album cover photo.