Uncle Barrett

I am running around backstage at the Barbican with Damon Albarn – hunting for beer. You would think a reputable London arts venue would have plenty of beer, but you’d be wrong. Now, some of you may think this is a common thing to be doing; well it’s not normal for me, not at all. How did I get here? Syd Barrett; he led me to this point… by Ian Barrett
I grew up in a very ordinary, middle class family. When we went to Cambridge to visit my Grandmother, spending most of his time in the bedroom at the end of the landing was my Uncle Roger. He first moved [back] there from London when he was in his thirties and I was about 10.
I always thought there was only one person in that room, punctuating the repetition of existence with the occasional trip downstairs for a cup of tea. It took me a long time to realise that there was more than one person in there. The other person was ‘Syd’ Barrett. And he was a legend; the focus of adulation, myth and madness across the world. That came as a surprise, I must say! I am often asked questions: ‘What was he like?’ How mad was he?’ Did he play any songs for you?’ I sometimes reply, asking if they want to know the truth, or would they prefer to hear the romantic, mythical answer. If they knew the truth, they would probably be very disappointed. We would often meet with cousins at the house and scoot around on bikes. Cambridge is full of bikes. Roger would often potter around and have a chat with us. He had been through a lot at that point, and he wasn’t
as gregarious as most people. He was always friendly with us kids and as long as he lived keen to know what his nieces and nephews got up to. He didn’t return to painting until after my grandmother moved out and he had the house as his own. The only unusual aspect to his life, was that he had no need or interest in going out to work. I think the maddest thing about Roger/Syd was not him but the context in which he lived his life. Syd Barrett © Mick Rock 1969, 2011
“I met Ian a few years ago at the concert for his Uncle, Syd Barrett, at the Barbican. We got talking about things and it seems that the fascination with space which brought us ‘Astronomy
Domine’ runs in the family. As soon as I learned from Ian about what he does for a living I bought a few pieces. Jewellery made from ancient meteorites is a great idea and Ian’s interest in it
is infectious. I also make a living from recycling old space rock so we have a lot in common, ha ha!” Andy Bell
Yes, he was a working ‘pop star’ for some of it, but, really, only for a very small proportion. He spent the vast majority of his time in a truly ordinary way, in an ordinary semi-detached house. Yet, he was still famous. It was like being forced to wear a coat that you can never take
off. He was handed fame at a time when no-one really expected to get it. The ’60s was an era, when people didn’t really set out to be ‘famous’. The legendary folk singer Roy Harper (who knew my uncle) once told me that Roger was ‘It’ before anyone knew what ‘It’ was….” I have so much to admire my uncle for, in so many ways. The incredible art he created has inspired so many people, and continues to do so to this day. Even though Roger’s career was very short, he never lost his love of creativity. If there is one thing I share with him it’s his love of creativity.
As I got older, and learned more about his musical past I became intrigued by what he was as well as what could have been for him. His music and spirit inspired me in so many ways. It still does. I have always had a love of the magic and excitement of the natural world. As a small boy, I collected fossils, insects and rocks. Rather than the football ground, my church was the Natural History Museum in London, and still is. After many years of collecting fossils and meteorites, and a
profound love, as you can guess, of psychedelic music, I have managed to combine their spirits in creating jewellery and started up ‘Jurassic Jewellery’ – now a flourishing business. Forty years after Syd Barrett created the space-rock classic ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ I have created jewellery made with space rock! What could be more exciting than wearing something that has been flying around in space for billions of years? As well as iron and stone meteorites, I use a variety of materials
from fossilised shark’s teeth to fossil ammonites. I have created a beautiful range of silver jewellery – wrapped, embedded and studded with meteorites. I also use glass enamels in vivid colours to bring a psychedelic edge!
I have spent most of my time living an ordinary life, and it was amazing to meet so many people, famous and otherwise, who love the art of Roger/Syd Barrett and wanted to pay their respects after
his death in 2006. While I learned he had died a few days previously, on my way into work I walked into a newsagents and what I saw left me amazed. The announcement of his death was on the front page of several national newspapers. I had expected it to feature in a small paragraph on the music page, but never on the cover. This made me realise he had so many more fans than I or anyone in my family had ever imagined.
While he was revered across the world as a mythical rock legend, the reality was that he spent the best part of his time like all his fans: making tea, watching television, reading the newspaper. He was totally unlike the majority of celebrities who keep trying for fame even when it has passed. He never really wanted it and yet could never quite shake it off. There used to be a performer on television when I was young who did tricks with bubbles. In one trick he would create a square bubble inside a mass of normal round bubbles. That’s how I see Roger/Syd’s life. Magical, but the context was all wrong.

Uncle Barrett

Syd Barrett © Mick Rock 1969

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