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on 21 September 2017
This, sadly, wasn't the sort of book for me. As I'm not a major fan of Syd's solo work, a lot of the content went over my head and I found myself skipping chunks of it to just find out about the man himself. I'm sure die-hard Barrett fans will just love the depth of research and information in it, but as I was after something that concentrated more on him as a person, then it didn't help me much. The style of writing didn't engage me, but don't let that put you off of a rated book that simply didn't work for me.
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on 20 October 2011
A weird one this. On the plus side the book is very well-researched and quotes new sources for some of the explantions it gives, even although it suffers from having the interview co-operation of none of the Floyd. It does shine a light on some of the 'crazy Syd' stories and offers explanations as to their source in some cases (in one case, the author himself!) and debunks a load of others. Perhaps most significantly it paints Barrett as an artist whose seeming withdrawal fom music at the tail end of his days with PF as being both an expression of artistic minimalism (eg, banging away on one string at gigs) and as his disenchantment with them 'music biz' (eg, his sightless staring on the Pat Boone show).

The problem with all this is that the author tries valiantly to say that Syd was *not* insane at this point, but also has to concede that he lost it at some point (even his own family accept that Roger/Syd "isn't right") but doesn't really say when or how or why. That unfortunately undermines much of what the book is about, in that it merely shift's Syd's psychosis to some later date. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter one way or the other.

An interesting book and better than others on the subject, giving Roger Barrett a better and more sympathetic press than many others.
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on 3 August 2017
Excellent quality and fast delivery.
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on 20 August 2012
This is the only biography of Roger "Syd" Barrett I've read and having finished it there feels little need to read any more. Chapman has thoroughly researched the rise and fall of the enigmatic and deeply troubled founding member of Pink Floyd and made a serious attempt to dispel the many myths that surround him as well as argue the case for his being one of the great songwriters of his generation.

One of the myths around Syd that Chapman deals with is the idea that Syd suddenly went "mad" in 1967 and everything that he did afterwards was essentially part of this "madness". Instead, Chapman convincingly pieces-together a picture of a highly talented but fragile young man who was deeply unhappy with the trappings and responsibilities of fame and pop music as a career and who slowly but surely unravelled amid a fug of LSD, mandrax and alcohol. We see a man who initially appears to rebel against the demands of the music industry and who slowly but surely becomes more and more unhappy and distant from those around him eventually, apparently, unable or completely unwilling to function as a pop star or even socially.

Chapman wisely does not attempt to diagnose Barrett - as many have - and instead just allows the (completely inconclusive) evidence speak. We hear a great deal about Syd's mental health problems and the effect they had on him and those close to him. Its worth noting that Chapman conclusively dispels another Barrett myth - that of the canny idealist who simply "walked away" from fame and lived happily, if silently, ever after. The truth is far sadder. After his return to Cambridge Barrett continued to live a quiet, withdrawn life and although he was far from the total casualty he was sometimes painted as (Chapman's quotes from members of Syd's family reveal that a little of the personality of the youth who fronted Pink Floyd carried into middle age) he was nonetheless a deeply troubled individual, never able to overcome his psychological problems.

A major part of the book is analysis of Syd's songs and this will be of particular interest to Syd fans with Chapman attempting to find Barrett's influences. Here, the author banishes the notion of Syd's music as mere "acid head" nonsense and instead reveals it as the product of a superb imagination and truly talented lyricist and wordsmith. This is what makes Barrett's ultimate withdrawal and psychological trouble so poignant, beyond the personal tragedy.

Overall this is one of the best biographies I've read; illuminating, sad and yet also uplifting. Well worth a read to any fan of Syd's.
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on 4 December 2014
As an avid collector of pop music history, autobiographies, records and pretty much everything else it’s always good to add another book to collection, reading them however is a different kettle of fish.

As a fan of the Pink Floyd Syd Barrett era but very little after its one of several books I have on Syd and agree with the bulk of reviewers that it is a well written and informative book covers in plenty of detail the Pink Floyd era and up to the final abortive recordings of 1974. The only minor criticism of the book is Rob Chapman waxes lyrically on Edward Lear, Lewis Carrol and Kenneth Grahame, which though an influence on Syd and his song writing and probably art to a degree, it slightly reflects away from what actually happened during the mid-60’s through to his ‘disappearance from the ‘scene’.

With such a dearth of information on Syd from the early 70’s to his death in 2006, I suppose it would be down to his remaining family members to cast new light on his withdrawal from society and put straight the occasional tabloid intrusions over the 30 or so years he was back in Cambridge, and to understand if he regained any direction in his life and ultimately if he had any kind of happiness or content after the mad psychedelic years.

Not being a particular fan of post Syd Pink Floyd and certainly not a fan of Dave Gilmour’s music, at least it was good to know the usurper of the Barrett tenancy, turned out to be the protector of him and at least made sure he got the money he so richly deserved.

A Very Irregular Head is certainly worth a read and adding to your collection whether a Pink Floyd fan or just interested in music in general.
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on 8 June 2017
I would imagine that it is impossible to write a wholly unbiased biography of anyone; in order to write a biography one must have a connection with the subject matter, whether that connection is a positive or negative one, or else they will just write a chronology of events.

This book is, in itself, a wholly compelling collection of historical and anecdotal information that doesn't just provide the history of the man but also of the events that helped form him into who he became.

The author doesn't dismiss the negative or glorify the positive but places it in context so that the reader is provided with an a sympathetic yet balanced account of the life of one of England's most enigmatic and obscure musicians.

I enjoyed this book and found it far more engaging than others, mostly because the first-hand source material seemed more consistent than other books that do not seem to care how they present Syd Barrett... Mr Chapman is clearly closer to the man and wants us to know that, than he is of the myth.

This is a work of celebrity and of tragedy and it moved me for that reason.
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on 7 August 2010
If there were anyone qualified to write a biography on Syd Barrett, then a former writer for the Syd fanzine has to fit the bill. Of the five Syd books I have this is by far the most authoritative and insightful, but not necessarily the best read. If you're only going to buy one, though, this would be it. What's wonderful about it is that he traces many of Syd's songwriting influences and where he stole his lyrics from. What's bad about it is that he seems keen to put down some of his fellow biographers and almost pointedly ignore aspects they featured - Tim Willis's book on Syd features photos and stories from his trip to Butlin's Skegness camp with his first girlfriend, Libby. There's no mention of this. He hardly mentions 'Iggy', Syd's "eskimo chains", the naked girl on the Madcap album cover that used to share a flat with him. Girlfriends after Libby get tangential mentions, as though they are peripheral to the core of the book, which is tracing where the musical and literary styles emerged from.
So, you have to accept that this is a brilliant, but very right-on treatment of Syd, keen to dispel myths about him and undermine accepted Syd stories. For instance just because no-one can agree the date of the 'melting brylcreem face' story it doesn't mean to say it didn't happen.
What this, like all the Syd bios fails to answer is: if he was getting hundreds of thousands of pounds from royalties every year - and millions after Echoes came out in 2001 - why didn't his family move him from his house, where Chapman maintains Syd was subject to regular unwanted intrusions, to a more private location? Who had financial control of his affairs? Is that such a difficult question?
The book is great on the literary hooks, but 'Crazy Diamond' and 'Madcap' are still worth reading to get a sense of the timescale of his career. There is so much reference backward and forward with 'Irregular Head' that at times it's difficult to work out where you are in the story. And where Chapman goes into detailed, long-winded psycho-analysis of Syd's predicament, one of the other bios simply quotes Pete Townshend as saying he thought "Syd was a bit of a mummy's boy".
The only Syd story I can contribute is that before I discovered Syd's music I was working on a farm in Trumpington,on the outskirts of Cambridge and one of the local lads who also worked on the farm, a real jack-the-lad who seemed to be able to wangle free punts from two or three colleges was always trying to get us to go to a pub to get a glimpse of Syd, "because he's always in there drinking". This was quite a few years after he'd left Floyd. I wasn't interested and we didn't go. But this was the summer of 1979. The book says he returned to Cambridge in 1982 - that's how difficult Syd stories are to pin down even for the most dilligent of biographers.
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on 1 July 2010
This is one of the best book about Syd I have ever read. "A labour of love and deep-level research that strips away the layers of myth to recast Barrett as a musician, a poet and an English romantic", says the front page (Jon Savage's words), and I completely agree with this assessment. A must-read for anyone interested in learning about Syd as a real person, not as a nutty chap who once upon a time played in the band which he named Pink Floyd.

In my opinion, reading this book is almost as satisfying as getting into "Random Precision: Recording the Music of Syd Barrett, 1965-1974" by David Parker (for which I'll write a review soon). While David Parker's research is focused on studio works of Syd, there's little wonder that there is less info about this particular (but very important) area in Rob Chapman's work. I'd recommend buying these books in pair, to get a real, demystified picture about Syd's life, art, and music, and to learn about the attempts he made to resume his career as musician before his former bandmates started to call him Crazy Diamond.
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on 6 June 2010
This is the fourth Syd biography I have read having been a devotee since my teens and in some ways this is the best book written about him. The main flaw is also the main advantage of the book - by avoiding extensive input from the other band members, it allows the author to veer off into relatively fresh territory regarding the literary influences on Syd work - the unravelling of "Octopus" being particularly impressive research. The section exploding myths is also a highly interesting piece of work though those of us who have been Sydologists for yonks always thought of them as apocrhypal at best. The weaknesses of the book are in the analysis of the music itself and this is amplified by the absemce of commentary from the other musical players in the scenario - especially when considering the recording sessions of 1967, none of the books have given us a proper flavour of what the sessions were like and what the players themselves felt about the strengths and direction of the music. The absence is also noticeable in the analysis of later recording sessions. This is again a lost opportunity as even Nick Mason failed to go into any real detail in his own book and so we are still left with no real feel for how Piper and the later BBC sessions were conducted. To balance this there is plenty of analysis of the lyrics and I suppose that is always the flaw in a journalist rather than a miusician wiritng books about music, the musical analysis rarely rises above generalised assessments of technique. Shame. However, this is not a fatal blow to the book which overall is a good read and given the rabid intensity of Syd fans will no doubt be gratefully received. Somewhat reassuringly Syd and his music remains largely an enigma and this book leaves many questions unanswered which is hardly a bad thing as Syd himself said, "I'm not what you think I am anyway". Worthy but not definitive, give it a read. Three.
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VINE VOICEon 17 July 2010
Syd Barrett was a kind of solitary genius,even when he was surrounded by people in his hey day in a group.He had a choice as did his Pink Floyd bandmates,he could choose art and painting,which would have suited his solitary instincts more or he could take the musical option.He took the latter,the others in Pink Floyd chose not to go back to architecture,carving long careers out of being Pink Floyd.Of course he led the group creatively to begin with,the light-show events in the early days,which he reacted to instinctively,creating an intuitive kind of music.He had no plans or agendas or motivation to go on the road touring,ploughing the furrows for an industrial harvest. Syd was private in himself while still playing creatively as a group member.One can't blame the others in Pink Floyd when his mercurial talents became so unpredictable and unproductive,for replacing him with another(friend)of the Cambridge elite.The book brings out well this temperamental moodiness and need to create out of inspiration.Syd's waywardness is explained by Chapman as indifference to the music industry,fame,egotistical introversion,the discipline of riding the wave of popularity,the hard work, dealing with money people, interviews. This sweet and charming boy took drugs in different combinations,Syd was a full-on sonic explorer and sound painter. His fast intuitions fed into a machine,rebelled.Syd was happy in a small group when he had no ambitions, he liked to be around the Cambrigensians from his own town.They shared good memories and times,ending up in each other's houses back in Cambridge,learning to play,having meals,taking dope.Things were easy,he was good-looking, pulled the girls,dressed like a bohemian romantic poet.Ended up in London doing art, playing music.

However it is suggested late on in the book of his life he copied from Freud that if you do not pass a vital phase in childhood,the `depressive position',(being confident that even if a child has been angry,that his mother will return),the child will develop regressive tendencies,developing depression later in life.The book skirts his mental illness for a long time saying that Syd functioned often quite well,played good music even until late on in 1967.He was surrounded by creative people whose business was to be cool,too cool to acknowledge his extreme problems,behavioural,psychotic,emotional.Helping someone in need was not in their vocabulary,so instead of facing up to it,they chose to ignore it,shut the door on it.Some did try and book an appointment for him to see RD Laing, but he refused to get out of the car that took him.However as good as The Madcap Laughs is and some of Barrett,the well was drying up,he was becoming odd,floundering for months in a psychological limbo,becoming perverse,cruel and strange.Duggie,the painter who he lived with after leaving the group,admits he didn't pull him up or challenge him when he became reckless,finding it hard to do this to someone he was fond of.Creatively too, stasis overcame momentum in his lyrics,he resorted to a very basic monotonous strumming.Dave Gilmour helped him out creatively but found it more and more draining until unable any more.Robert Wyatt wanted to form a group with him but he lay around all day.He had helped him on some of The Madcap Laughs album.

Chapman is good on his lyrical gifts(as opposed to musical)and gives the sources of several of the songs in the last two albums.However I think he fancifully compares him at times to poets like Hopkins,although like him Syd concentrated the essence of his meanings into a few,simple words.He is closer to the analogy with Clare who also did a lot of walking home and ended up in an asylum.He stuttered into vacancy and a vagrant silence, making the long walk home to his mother's in Cambridge.His mother found a complete stranger to the boy who'd set out.Syd just opted out,not challenging any myths,or pursuing another career in painting, although he did paint,he burned his work after a while.Syd stopped communicating or sharing his gifts with anyone,instead doing gardening,shopping and do-it-yourself.There is an epigraph to each chapter from The Wind in the Willows and a songline.Syd had a caring, supportive family.His sister Rosemary gives an amazing account of his last 30 years.His 1st girlfriend too reveals the letters he sent when he was her 1st love.He was always troubled by being stalked and photographed by fans and the media as he went out on his bike shopping,but his neighbours looked out for him.A touch ofJDSalinger. Drugs had taken their toll of his mental and physical health over the years.Medical treatment failed to reclaim his mental health,he was admitted to Greenwoods mission for the treatment of enduring mental health problems for a year.There he appeared very lost,inarticulate,with little control of his own affairs.'The fire had gone out, nothing could rekindle it.'In the last years he still had humour and got on with his hobbies quite well. Chapman, although he seems removed from Syd's personality,has given him dignified biography without removing the ultimate mystery of his meteoric talent. B/w and colour plates,Cambridge people,the Floyd,mother,paintings,home.
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