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Jamie Broad interview: “I’m not perfect and like anyone I’m trying to figure things out”

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Festive Songs: Top 10

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Full Force: In Conversation with Holy Sons’ Emil Amos – Part 2

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Albums Features

Sun 13’s Top 50 Albums of 2020

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Albums Features Singles

Sun 13’s Top Local Releases of 2020

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Bad Amputee interview: “trying to make something that works and does the music justice”

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John Witherspoon interview: “there’s something magic about the truth”

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Hellena interview: “I am extremely proud of this work”

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Bruxa Maria interview: “One should not have to like someone’s art before they can see or accept the value it has to others”

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Full Force: In Conversation with Holy Sons’ Emil Amos – Part 1

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Albums Features

PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea 20th anniversary

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Albums Features

The Charlatans’ Some Friendly 30th anniversary: “a close representation to the very idea of psychedelia”

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MJ Guider interview: “I didn’t set out with a specific inspiration for making the record other than my standard compulsion”

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Syd Barrett – Remember When You Were Young, You Shone Like the Sun

Sun 13’s Banjo looks at the life and troubled times of the Pink Floyd founder

April 6th saw the 50th anniversary of one of rock’s strangest and saddest chapters, when Syd Barrett was officially declared to be no longer a member of Pink Floyd, the band he had captained since their birth and the vehicle he used to give voice to his unique artistic vision.

Barrett formed Floyd with Roger WatersNick Mason and Rick Wright, moving them from R & B beginnings to their own psychedelic style. The Barrett-penned Arnold Layne was enough to get the band signed to EMI in 1967 and his See Emily Play gave them their first top ten hit.

Of their debut album Piper at the Gates of Dawn’s 11 tracks, 8 were solely credited to Barrett, while a further two tracks had him as co-writer. Barrett was Pink Floyd‘s chief songwriter, the man who gave them their direction and the reason they first found success.

But by the time Floyd’s second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, was released, it contained only one Barrett composition and his time in the band was almost at an end. The reasons for this are captivating, unsettling and, ultimately, very sad.

Barrett was creatively unique and a lot of the psychedelic movement’s bands owed a great deal to his vision. But he was also mentally quite fragile. As is the case with much of Barrett’s story, there are a lot of tales that have since become legendary, but many of the people close to him have contrasting accounts of his behavior and his mental well being.

What is certain is that Barrett developed a taste for the drugs that were fueling much of the psychedelic movement, drugs such as weed, mandrax and, most notably, LSD. Despite his prodigious drug intake though, it seems likely that these days there would be clearer diagnosis of Barrett‘s mental health, perhaps even one that was not recognised in the late 60s.  There would also be more help available, but back then this was sadly not the case.

My Morning Jacket: The Waterfall II – “A best-of without being just that”

Barrett’s family denied that he had suffered from any form of mental illness, but did allow that he had once spent time in a ‘home for lost souls’. Bandmate Roger Waters however believed that Barrett was ‘without a doubt’ suffering from schizophrenia. The huge amounts of LSD he was taking at the time may well have been a contributory factor, but David Gilmour stated ‘his nervous breakdown would have happened anyway. But I’ll say the psychedelic experience might well have acted as a catalyst’.

Whatever the cause, his behavior became increasingly strange and erratic.  Barrett reportedly went missing over a long weekend and came back irrevocably changed. Rick Wright believes that this was as a result of a massive overdose of LSD, as the change in him was so sudden. Following his return, Barrett was unable to recognise some of his friends and experienced hallucinations, confused speech and mood swings.

His performance on stage inevitably suffered. Sometimes he would play one chord for the entire evening, detune his guitar so that the strings went slack or he would simply not participate in the concert and refuse to play. This behavior extended to other promotional duties; during an interview on American TV, Barrett refused to answer any questions, fixing the interviewer with a dead eyed stare and total silence. Nick Mason commented that Barrett ‘wasn’t into moving his lips that day’.

As a result, David Gilmour was asked to join the band as a second guitarist, filling in when Barrett was unwilling or unable to perform. Sometimes, Barrett was simply not able to function as a live musician, to the extent of being unable to even hold a plectrum.

“The tyranny of collecting” – why I gave away my entire record collection

His performance on stage inevitably suffered. Sometimes he would play one chord for the entire evening, detune his guitar so that the strings went slack or he would simply not participate in the concert and refuse to play. This behavior extended to other promotional duties; during an interview on American TV, Barrett refused to answer any questions, fixing the interviewer with a dead eyed stare and total silence. Nick Mason commented that Barrett ‘wasn’t into moving his lips that day’.

As a result, David Gilmour was asked to join the band as a second guitarist, filling in when Barrett was unwilling or unable to perform. Sometimes, Barrett was simply not able to function as a live musician, to the extent of being unable to even hold a plectrum.

He soon tired of living in London and so gave away most of his possessions, including his guitars and master tapes, sold the rights to his solo records and returned to Cambridge. Obviously going through some sort of breakdown, he walked the 50 miles to his sister’s home and turned up unannounced on her doorstep in what would appear to be a very clear cry for help. His sister Rosemary remembered ‘he had some huge blisters on his feet that took a while to heal

Once here, he stopped calling himself Syd and reverted to his birth name of Roger.  He took up gardening and returned to painting, his retreat from music and fame earning him a reputation for being a recluse.  He survived on royalties from sales of the Pink Floyd songs he wrote, bolstered by the compilations the band released. David Gilmour was later to say that he ‘made sure that the money got to him’.

He had occasional contact with members of his old band. Roger Waters remembered bumping into him in Harrods where Barrett, on sighting his old friend, dropped the sweets he was buying and fled from the store. Waters, not wanting to add to his old friend’s distress any further, made no further attempts to contact Barrett.

One other meeting has since become the stuff of legend. Barrett somehow gained admission to the studio where Pink Floyd were recording Wish You Were Here and stood at the back of the room. The rest of the band failed to recognise him due to the fact that he had become quite overweight and had shaved off all his hair, including his eyebrows. This was the last time any member of Pink Floyd saw Syd Barrett.

Floyd were criticised by some quarters for the way they handle the situation, but with the band being so young it is hard to see what else they could have done, or how else they could have handled Barrett.

A few years later, Joy Division found themselves riddled with guilt after the death of Ian Curtis but, with the benefit of hindsight,  realised that they were ‘just kids’ and that they did not have the life skills, the knowledge or the experience to help their friend.  It is easy to see comparisons with Pink Floyd and the way they coped with Barrett‘s problems.

Following years away from fame and the music business, Barrett died of pancreatic cancer in 2006. His death certificate listed his occupation as ‘retired musician’

Syd Barrett’s influence cast a long shadow over British music for many years, whether in psychedelic music that he helped define or the articulate literacy of his lyrics, many people have found inspiration in his work. He was a one-off and an individual who had a creative drive and vision matched by few of his peers.

Although the band he helped become famous went on to huge success, they owe their journey to the crazy diamond that was Syd Barrett.

Despite their differences and awkwardness with each other over the years, it is perhaps Pink Floyd’s tribute to him,Shine on You Crazy Diamond, that sums him up best:  ‘Come on you raver, you seer of visions, come on you painter, you piper, you prisoner, and shine

https://open.spotify.com/embed/album/69jyJl6Lyo80nQae0X312i

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“The tyranny of collecting” – why I gave away my entire record collection

Those of us who have spent many years building up on our record collection may never dream of giving it all away, but that is exactly what our man Banjo did.

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In Defence of Madonna

Banjo leaps to the defence of the extraordinary career of Madonna.

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Land Trance interview: “Everything we do we feel sits in the broad continuum of psychedelic music”

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Polvo: a buyer’s guide and look into the bipolar world of the underground touchstone

We put one of Chapel Hill’s greatest exports under the microscope, assessing their era-defining body of work.

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Scott Walker’s Fire Escape in the Sky: “A voice that could inhabit a room.”

Scott Walker had a huge effect on post-punk Liverpool and David ‘Yorkie’ Palmer looks into the story behind Fire Escape in the Sky: The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker.

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Voodoo: Liverpool’s best dance club

Voodoo was Liverpool’s first and best techno night and has been running, on & off and at various venues, since 1993.  Starting at the Mardi Gras, this dark, sweaty cellar brought some of the biggest names in techno to the city; the Chemical Brothers, Carl Cox, Richie Hawtin and Jeff Mills are just some of the acts who were involved in making Voodoo famous across the country…along with the Voodoo crowd themselves.

My own first experience with Voodoo happened after a search for a proper dance club.  This was when both dance clubs and the Internet were in their infancy, pre-Google, so the only way to find somewhere really was word of mouth or just trying different places out and trusting to luck.  We tried a few places around Liverpool, Manchester and Lancashire with limited success, but they had an air of acid tourism about them, in that there seemed to be a lot of people wanting to look at the weirdos they’d read about in the papers.  Plus they were all still the old type of club, slightly done up for a new crowd, they didn’t seem right, or any different.

And then one Saturday night someone suggested we try Voodoo, so we piled into cars and headed off.  As soon as we walked down the stairs to the dark basement all thoughts of this club not being the real thing were banished.  A hot, loud club full of people really going for it on the dancefloor, no posers, no tourists and DJ Lewis (The Orb’s tour DJ) banging out the tunes. 

Minimal lights and no theatrics meant that the music and the crowd were allowed to be the main things in the club.  Everyone seemed into it, even the barstaff were jigging away whilst passing out free water and serving the occasional pint.  Our conversion to Voodoo wasn’t instant, but we had at least found a night we wanted to return to.  A couple of weekends later we were back and then, slowly but surely, Voodoo became our club. Later it became the centre of our life.

Voodoo had echoes of my first clubbing phase when, as a wee lad, I went to the Eric’s matinee shows.  Again there was the chance to wander into a grimy basement and see acts who had been in the newspapers or on Top of the pops just days before and a sense of being involved in something that was about to go overground.  Sometimes the planets seem to just line up right and everything seems to click into place, this was one of those times – we were in on the ground floor and those coming after would regret missing what was going on.

I once read an article in the NME, where Julie Burchill reviewed the week’s singles and slagged each of them off for not being by The Sex Pistols or Patti Smith.  She went on to say that the reasons she loved the Pistols so much was that they were so total – you couldn’t love them without realizing how shallow, feeble and inconsequential every other artist was.  Voodoo operated in a similar way, once the place had got under your skin, all other clubs didn’t even come close. 

One night a lad came in with a brand new Cream tattoo only to curse his luck that the week he’d had the logo tattooed on his chest he’d found somewhere better.  Compared to the rising ‘Super Clubs’  it was a no frills experience, but the techno scene was always about the music, the crowd and the shared experience, and this is where Voodoo won out over the likes of the Creams and Gatecrashers of the day.

New Year’s Eve at Voodoo was pretty much the high water mark of my clubbing experience, as well as the reason I no longer like going out on New Year’s Eve; nothing comes close to matching that time, that complete abandon – people on shoulders, hands in the air, like every gig you’ve ever seen on TV or seen a picture of and wished you were at.

As further evidence of Voodoo’s no nonsense approach to clubbing, one New Year’s Eve techno legend Robert Hood was booked to play, but was late arriving as he was in his hotel room waiting for the club to send a car to pick him up.  The car, of course, was never sent, so an angry Hood turned up at the club and tried to create a scene.  Hood was told, in no uncertain terms, to leave and the party carried on without him.

As a happy end to the story, he was recognized by some Voodoo goers who had failed to get tickets and was taken to a house party where he DJ’d into the early hours, apparently having a great night.

The turning point for me, the day where Voodoo became more of a way of life than just a club, was when a coach trip was arranged for 42 Voodoo goers to get to the Tribal Gathering festival in Luton Hoo – perhaps the first proper Dance music festival, precursor to the likes of Creamfields

I desperately wanted to go, but none of my crowd did, so I decided to go on my own; I knew a few of the Voodoo folk to say hello to so I thought ‘what the hell’.  I may have gone on my own, but I came back with 41 new best friends.  From here on in Voodoo became an essential part of our lives.  For the next two years I only missed out on four Voodoo weekends, and I regretted those.

Other coach trips were arranged and the Voodoo crowd invaded other clubs for a night, such as the Orbit in Leeds when our own Andy Nic was invited to play alongside techno pioneer Joey Beltram or Sankey’s Soap in Manchester for the great Jeff Mills Lost Weekends.

What these clubs must have thought when 42 up for it scousers landed on their doorstep is another matter, but I can only assume they didn’t mind too much as the favour was returned and they came to visit us.  The coach trips themselves have become the stuff of legend amongst those who attended, with tales of mass shoplifting from service stations, 60-odd year old coach drivers trying their fist spliffs and long, hazy journeys back to Liverpool from far flung parts of the country.

Voodoo also invaded the Big Love and other Tribal Gathering festivals and we partied and danced our way around the country.  Some of the friends we made came to Voodoo to see what the fuss was about and our own social networks were formed.  And all the talk of club friendships not lasting or drug friendships not being real is just so much media bullshit, as my Voodoo family and I have grown up together, been on holidays and attended each other’s weddings.  Those friendships forged in the white hot Voodoo heat will be with me for the rest of my life.

Voodoo’s spiritual home was unquestionably at Le Bateau.  It may have moved to bigger, even better venues over the years, but Le Bateau is where it started and where its heart was – the right setting for the right crowd at the right time.  Le Bateau closed at 2.00, so after people had left a crowd would gather on the pavement and the question of where the party was would go round the still buzzing group.

Taxis would be hailed and the night was carried on at a flat, in a basement or god knows where.  The cliché about living for the weekend was completely true here, as sometimes we would leave our beds on the Friday morning and not see them again until Sunday night or beyond, recovering through the week and Blue Tuesday before readying ourselves for another Voodoo weekend.

In some respects the parties that followed Voodoo were an extension of the club rather than something separate; the same faces, the same music and everywhere you looked were Voodoo flyers and posters blu-tacked to walls, doors, ceilings and windows.  Voodoo became a tribe, something that identified us as a group of people.

Who were we? What did we do?  We were Voodoo.

Voodoo’s success meant it had to move to larger premises and the 051 club years had their charms and many further adventures were had, but whenever I think of Voodoo, whenever I hear an old Voodoo classic being played, it’s the sweaty Le Bateau basement that I return to in my mind.