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Speakers' corner
The Madcap Laughs

Following up our retroscope series of 2006 and 2007 - here's the New Speakers' corner! Luna Kafé's focused eye on great events, fantastic happenings, absolute milestones, or other curious incidents from the historic shelves/vaults of rock. This moonth we're setting the Lunar spotlight on a 40 year old, an old diamond, a crazy one. He could've been on top of the world with his former bandmates, but aSyd tripped into lunacy, and solitude.

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Syd Barrett
The Madcap Laughs
Harvest

The album was released on 3 January 1970, supposedly one of the very first of that decade. We've told a bit of the sad story of the crazy diamond earlier and won't repeat it here.

'Well the madcap laughed at the man on the border, hey ho, huff the talbot...'

Madcap was Syd's first solo effort and documents the acid casualty at his most confident, vulnerable and helpless. The songs span from small band backing productions to solo recordings only armed with an acoustic guitar and little preparations. The recordings of the album started at one of EMI's studios at Abbey Road in May 1968 supervised by Syd's manager Peter Jenner, but they were soon abandoned. Only one song was overdubbed a year later and made it to the original Madcap LP. The recordings didn't continue until April 1969 with Malcolm Jones in charge. Once again they were abandoned after a couple of sessions. In the end previous mates Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters took the responsibility to finish the album, hastily, in a few days during the summer.

The songs are far removed from Syd's instrumental excursions and childish and sometimes whimsical fairy-tale stuff of Pink Floyd's debut album The Piper At The Gates of Dawn. Now we are dealing with an erratic singer-songwriter that seems to write songs and perform them on intuition rather than putting them together systematically and calculated. The lyrics are mainly about found and lost love, but also some worries about his mental deterioration, it seems ('When I live I die!').

Songs like "Octopus" and "Here I Go" are mainly uplifting stuff. The false starts and long notes of "If It's In You" in particular demonstrate a frustrated mind. The outtakes later released on the Opel album and the Crazy Diamond triple CD box documents that the men who helped him out also had a hard time occasionally. Syd was backed by old friends from Soft Machine on "Love You" and "No Good Trying", whereas "Willie" Wilson (guitar, an old bandmate of Dave Gilmour) and Jerry Shirley (drummer of Humble Pie at the time) supported on "No Man's Land" and "Here I Go". As opposed to the usual way of recording drums and bass first, Syd's guitar and vocals came first and the others had to follow him as best they could. And there are the stories about the musicians asking Syd what key he was playing in and him answering 'Yeah' or 'That's funny'...

Never mind, The Madcap Laughs is filled with sincere songs. I've been living with them for 30-something years by now and still get the thrills when listening to them. Sometimes I want to ramble around, sing and shout along to them, sometimes sit silently in a corner feeling pity for the guy.

Isn't it good to be lost in the wood
Isn't it bad so quiet there, in the wood...

Copyright © 2010 JP e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Syd Barrett article/review: Wouldn't You Miss Me?.

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  • Kinks: Something Else By The Kinks (2xLP 1967/Re 2012 LTD 500)
  • Mary Jane: Tacit (LP 2002 LTD 400)
  • Opium Cartel: Night Blooms (LP 2009 LTD 100)
  • Psychic TV: Dreams Less Sweet (LP+CD 1983/Re 2012 LTD 320)
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  • Walflower Complextion: S/T (2xLP 199? LTD 450)

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