Mick Rock captured these seminal shots of Pink Floyd founding member Syd Barrett outside his flat in Earl’s Court during the Madcap Sessions. The photos are some of the best the late-great legendary snapper shot, and considered to be Rock’s first renowned images.
Heavily immersed in the heady and dissolute hippie lifestyle culture of the time, Barrett was 23 and renting a three-room flat in Wetherby Mansions at 310 Earl’s Ct Square. It was April 1969 and Syd had his massive American car parked right in front of the building when his friend the 19-year-old British photographer with a good eye Mick Rock, saw the incredible prop that was too good to pass up. He began shooting what Rock later described as “a beautifully burnt-out rocker” reclining on the bonnet of Barrett’s abandoned 1959 convertible midnight blue Pontiac Parisienne, wearing a pair of Gohil Boots – which Roger Waters would allude to 10 years later in the lyrics to Nobody Home off The Wall* – released on this day 42 years ago.
The seductively dishevelled Barrett was the hippest thing in London at the time. Having recently extracted himself from Pink Floyd, he was in the throes of exploring his inner landscape on his debut solo comeback LP, The Madcap Laughs. He had become a reclusive figure following a protracted, LSD-fuelled mental breakdown, but had recently signed to EMI and commenced recording at Abbey Road Studios with the assistance from ex-bandmates David Gilmour and Waters. As for the photo shoot, there was no stylist, no hair and make-up, just jet black eyeliner and untouchable cool. The Pontiac must have looked incredibly out of place on the streets of London in 1969.
It was then upstairs and into the mysterious Wetherby Mansions flat. The task of designing the album sleeve fell to Floyd stalwarts Storm Thorgeson and Aubrey “Po” Powell, but Syd had painted some interesting orange and turquois stripes on the slats, a fine setting for the final images and the Hipgnosis album cover concept. His female acquaintance at the time, the model ‘Iggy the Eskimo’, cuts a striking figure visible in the background on the compelling and unsettling album sleeve.
The startling and iconic images are both intriguing and terrifying, particularly in the context of what happened to Syd Barrett, and were taken in a single two-hour session. The shambling and intimate The Madcap Laughs was released a few months later in January 1970 and was well received by critics and fans.
Mick Rock was an exceptional talent visually, he also had luck with timing in his career. He shared a friendship with Syd that began in the acid haze of the sixties and endured until the early seventies. He was the right photographer for the right subjects and in a professional career that spanned over 50 years, Mick Rock believed he never bettered these pictures. One of the truly iconic rock photographers of all time.
*Syd’s mental state worsened so much, that he stopped lacing his Gohil boots and used elastic bands to keep them on.
Nobody Home – Pink Floyd
I’ve got a little black book with my poems in
Got a bag with a toothbrush and a comb in
When I’m a good dog, they sometimes throw me a bone in
I got elastic bands keepin’ my shoes on
Got those swollen-hand blues
I got thirteen channels of shit on the T.V. to choose from
I’ve got electric light
And I’ve got second sight
I got amazing powers of observation
And that is how I know
When I try to get through
On the telephone to you
There’ll be nobody home
I’ve got the obligatory Hendrix perm
And the inevitable pinhole burns
All down the front of my favorite satin shirt
I’ve got nicotine stains on my fingers
I’ve got a silver spoon on a chain
Got a grand piano to prop up my mortal remains
I’ve got wild staring eyes
And I’ve got a strong urge to fly
But I got nowhere to fly to
Ooh, babe when I pick up the phone
there’s still nobody home
I’ve got a pair of Gohills boots
But I got fading roots
Interesting article. You are such an excellent writer.
Thanks for checking in Jeff and for the kind words.
Agree with the comment above. Love the albums from this time.
Thanks CB, and for the kind words. The two solo Barret albums are both wondrous, quirky, genius and completely mad. Love that early Floyd stuff too. I had to mention the Gohil boots.
I have those two albums on a “Twofer” i got back when. The whole Syd thing just reminds me of the wonderful world of drugs and alcohol. Some survive and some dont.