Tim Willis Talks about Syd Barrett Last Days

Tim Willis is the author of Madcap - The half-life of Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd's lost genius", published by Short Books, 7.99
This book is the last work and probably the definitive one about the Floyd founder.
Thanks to his usual helpfulness, Tim gave his second interview to "Dolly Rocker", trying to clarify some questions for Syd's fans and giving us further bits of details about last Syd days.

Vittorio: Hi Tim, let me first congratulate you with the excellent work on Syd Barrett. I trust it got a good result in terms of sales, after all the positive reviews. Are you planning to have it translated in other languages?
Tim: It's out in French - called 'Syd Barrett' - with an extra little essay. I haven't heard of any other interest.

Vittorio: The death of Syd Barrett came as a hard blow to all the fans, since, no matter his diabetes, encouraging news has been recently circulating on his health. Any clue about how things worsened to the point of leading him to death?
Tim: Not really. I know he went into hospital about five weeks before his death, and was taken home 'to die in his own bed' about a week before the end.

Vittorio: Many fans were puzzled about the very meager comments of Waters and Gilmour after Syd's death. A Floyd fan wrote me he was at the 11 July Waters concert, soon after the rumors on Syd's death started: apparently neither Waters nor Mason felt like expressing any personal thought to the memory of their "fellow traveler". Your opinion?
Tim: Sorry, I really don't know.

Vittorio: Do you have any clue about Gilmour's actual state of mind? Did you happen to hear from him? We know well he always tried to ensure Syd a comfortable life, offering him new income through the Echoes album, which included several Syd's tracks.
Tim: I can't really speak for him, but I do know he was much harder hit by the news than he had expected to be. On the other hand, he also said to a mutual friend: 'I lost Syd 30 years ago.'

Vittorio: In a recent interview, Gilmour stated that time had probably come to meet Syd. Did you know if this did happen before his death?
Tim: I'm afraid not, and I think David is quite sad that he didn't risk it in the end.

Vittorio: Barrett's sister recently said that Syd was definitely not mentally ill, neither confined, and that his withdrawing into himself represented his way to overcome the Pink Floyd era. This seems to suggest that Syd showed a progressive and steady recovery from the well-known mental instability of the late Pink Floyd days. This would confirm my opinion that Syd Barrett deliberately resolved to make a clean break with the music biz: an unusual choice in a world where, sooner or later, everybody comes back. This probably made the curiosity and interest around him grow more and more.
Tim: I tend to agree!

Vittorio: Nick Mason, the only Pink Floyd member who seemed to comment Syd's departure, said: "I think, looking back on it now, what we should have probably done was just let him go much, much earlier instead of desperately trying to keep the thing going and to keep Syd on side, which did him no good at all."
Sounds somehow contradictory, since already in Dec. '67 the "mentally healthy" threesome were conspiring about his replacement. something which Syd was fully aware of, as shown by his provoking (when not totally insane) attitude.
Tim: Well, by December, Syd had been acting strangely for quite some time - so is there a contradiction?

Vittorio: Quoting Mason again: "Pink Floyd wouldn't exist without Syd. If ever there was a record that marks a period of music history, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, with Syd's songs, is absolutely part of it. It's something that we never discovered again, not with Rick's or Roger's or David's writing, that sort of whimsical English vein". Any comment?
Tim: I think that English whimsy was perfect for its time and Syd's age; but I doubt if he would have wanted to recapture it, either. He didn't like revisiting things.

Vittorio: Mick Rock, in a recent interview, states that the last time he met Syd in person was in the 70's. This confirms what you said in your former Dolly Rocker interview: Syd Barrett would sign the card enclosed with the book, knowing only he was going to get a lot of money. Do you believe he did not even give a look at Mick's lavish photo volume?
Tim: I don't know for sure, but I suspect he wouldn't have wanted to see it, and wouldn't have been interested if he had.

Vittorio: Looks like the fans' best-preferred sport was to periodically put in his mailbox some music present (the HYGIY compilation or any other composition dedicated to him). Any clue, even from the family, if this kind of correspondence ended directly in the bin, or if Syd showed any interest towards these things (like in the story of the park bench that you describe in your publication)?
Tim: Sorry, don't know. One day, I hope to talk to the family more. But they need time to mourn first.

Waiting for hot water to turn cold
Vittorio: After Syd's death, there were kind people like yourself with a nice article on TheFirstPost, an appreciated gift for all the fans of Syd. On the other side, unscrupulous speculations have started: there were cases of true looting and legal threats to the fan sites (fully ignored until then), whose widely-known content was abruptly claimed to have been published without the original author permission. We all agree the copyright is an untouchable right, but the copyright owners seem to systematically ignore the regulations on the "fair use": don't you think these represent just the latest examples of the human smallness about the smell of money?
Tim: It's always sad when people turn nasty and greedy, isn't it? But lets close our eyes to the octopus ride.

Vittorio: Do you think we're going to be flooded by a lot of profit-making efforts in memory of Syd Barrett?
Tim: Probably. I guess it depends if interest grows now, or dies off 'due to lack of Syd'.

Vittorio: Do you think Syd Barrett's family will put any of his paintings on sale? Any news about the art book he was told to be writing?
Tim: See three questions above!

Vittorio: What surprised me most about Syd is that, even if the recent commercial projects of the Floyd granted him a fair income, his way of life was absolutely plain. No excess, as confirmed by those people who, for different reasons, happened to visit him at home.
Tim: Yes, but I think he had everything he wanted - and there's a lot of peace of mind to be had if you stop aspiring to more. ('Please leave us here..')

Vittorio: Can we say, without exaggeration, that we lost a true music genius? At least because, even with a limited production, it's thanks to him if the Pink Floyd existed, and because he was the inspiration for the most renowned names of a psychedelia, which was immediate, intelligent and light-years far from the degenerations of progressive rock.
Tim: I couldn't have put it better myself - and certainly not in Italian.
One bit of unpublished news. Not Syd's last words - but still, some very interesting ones. When he was at home, in the last week of his life, his sister asked him what he thought about God and the after-life. "Do you know," Syd replied, "it never occurred to me."

Okay, ciao. T

Interview by Vittorio Moccia
(c) 30-Jul-2006 www.Pink-Floyd.org

    • After Syd death Tim Willis wrote for TheFirstPost "Lost sketches of a crazy diamond". This article comes with some drawings from Syd's letters, some of which belonging to Libby Gausden, his first - and probably most important - girlfriend, who gave Willis the permission to share them with the Syd fans.
    • The Time Rosemary's Interview.
    • Tim Willis first inteview to Dolly Rocker.
    • Extracts from "Madcap".
    • The HYGIY compilation.
    • You can buy Madcap at Amazon.co.uk