The former Pink Floyd singer, songwriter and lead guitarist Syd Barrett was thought to have walked from London to his childhood home of Cambridge in 1978. Rob Chapman’s A Very Irregular Head attempts to separate fact from fiction on the life and times of Barrett. A Very Irregular Head is the fourth biography to be written about Barrett, however it is the first authorised biography and features new interviews with people from his past, such as Libby Gausden (Barrett’s boyhood sweetheart).
Chapman’s biography also looks at the NME feature “The Cracked Ballad of Syd Barrett.” The feature was written by Nick Kent in 1974 and is seen as the origin of many of the myths surrounding Barrett’s life. It was myths like one about an acid-addled Barrett locking his girlfriend in a cupboard, feeding her water and biscuits that turned out to be untrue but also went unquestioned for many years.
Barrett only spent two years in the band Pink Floyd, eventually being sacked in 1968, however it is this time that most people focus on in Barrett’s life but A Very Irregular Head looks at other times in his life including when he lived in seclusion for nearly thirty years after quitting music.
Barrett was ousted by his Pink Floyd band mates as he was rumoured to have become increasingly difficult to work with as his mental health declined and his drug intake increased. The other members of Pink Floyd also found him difficult to work with as he would write songs and constantly change the arrangement of them, making it impossible for them to be learned.
Barrett released two solo albums in 1970 and took part in his last recording session in 1974. After this in 1975, Barrett came face-to-face with the members of Pink Floyd for the last time, his former band mates were believed to have not recognised him as his appearance had drastically changed.
It was after this in 1978 that Barrett famously trekked to Cambridge from London. Barrett then lived a secluded life until his death, from pancreatic cancer, in 2006.
Barrett’s sister Rosemary was his nearest point of contact to the outside world and she spoke of how far detached he was from his former self when watching a BBC documentary Crazy Diamond in 2001. Rosemary said “He didn’t enjoy it. No. another life, another person.” Proving that Barrett had returned to a far more ‘normal’ life in Cambridge and had left his ties to music and Pink Floyd back in London.
Chapman, a music journalist and regular contributor to Mojo, said that the biography “Is not aimed at die-hard fans.” Which shows that Barrett was not simply a musician but had taken influence from people such as Lewis Carroll, as well as having a love of painting.
Many details of Barrett’s life remain a mystery despite Chapman’s attempt to crack into A Very Irregular Head.