DVD Review: The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett Story

A look at the early years of Pink Floyd and its original leader, Syd Barrett
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In 1967, the psychedelic movement was in full swing. The acid scene radically altered the sound and look of rock and roll with bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones releasing Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Their Satanic Majesties Request respectively. One group, which became one of the biggest bands in the world in their own right during the 1970s (albeit in a radically different state), released one of the crowning achievements of this era. The band was Pink Floyd and its leader at the time was Syd Barrett. Barrett's star rose as quickly as it fell. Mental illness, too many drugs and a too much too soon situation in general led to the talented, but troubled songwriter only completing one full album with the Floyd. His story has taken on a legendary status and is told in the documentary The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett Story.

The documentary is short -- not quite an hour -- but manages to give a nice overview of this very different period in Pink Floyd's history. The band started as many British groups of the day did, playing old R&B and rock and roll covers. Bob Klose, who is interviewed here, played lead guitar during this period. It wasn't until Klose left, however, that the band really began to take form. Under Barrett's leadership, the group shifted gears musically, adopting a psychedelic sound and becoming a popular band in the UK underground scene.

The band signed with EMI, released the singles "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play" and, later, their debut album, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn. Some footage from this period is shown and, while great, none of it is complete, including the promo for the unreleased song "Vegetable Man," a song with lyrics that might have reflected Barrett's thoughts on his own mental state, which by 1967 was not in a good way.

Pink Floyd briefly attempted to carry on as a five piece, with David Gilmour joining on guitar and vocals, but that didn't work out. Next they thought they could carry on with Barrett as a non-touring member, ala the Beach Boys with Brian Wilson, but that quickly proved impossible. The band cut ties with Barrett, but that wasn't the end of his musical career just yet. He released two solo albums, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, both with involvement from Pink Floyd members, but really he didn't want much part of the music business anymore and, aside from a brief stint with The Stars and a chilling visit to the studio while Floyd was recording the Wish You Were Here album where the band did not recognize him, disappeared from the public eye for pretty much the rest of his life.

Originally released in 2001, the documentary has been rereleased with uncut interviews with Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason as well as songwriter Robyn Hitchcock, who offers up a heartfelt cover of Barrett's "Dominoes." The film is made all the more poignant by the fact that since it was made, both Barrett and Wright have passed away. The DVD also interviews Humble Pie drummer Jerry Shirley, who played on both of Barrett's solo albums and who offers the suggestion that Barrett might have played up his madness for effect. It's an interesting thought, but seems to contradict not only the Pink Floyd band members, but also Jack Monck of The Stars, all of who say something was definitely wrong and that he didn't want to be there anymore.

Of course, all this mystery only adds to Barrett's legacy. His career, while brief, was very influential and his status as an important figure in rock history remains undiminished. While it would have been nice to have complete clips and while the documentary could have been a bit longer, The Pink Floyd & Syd Barrett Story does a nice job of telling this enigma's story.