Live Review: Syd Barrett: A Celebration at Cambridge Corn Exchange – 27th October 2016

By on Tuesday, 8th November 2016 at 2:00 pm

Cambridge is a town that is renowned for its academia and tradition. What is not often celebrated is its mark on popular music history, in particular, its troubled son Syd Barrett, original frontman for Pink Floyd. Ten years since his unfortunate death due to pancreatic cancer, Cambridge Live, a non-profit organisation who run the Cambridge Corn Exchange, amongst other endeavours. They have teamed up with Barrett’s family and Cambridge City Council to finally create a lasting memorial to one of the town’s favourite sons. For this writer, it was an event that was long overdue. Having been weaned and raised on a mixture of ‘60s rock, particularly Pink Floyd, being able to honour the founding component and one of the more mysterious figures of British rock was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

The evening at said Corn Exchange, also the site of Barrett’s final ever public performance in 1972, featured an unveiling of a memorial in the form of a metal box, adorned with an etching of Barrett’s favourite guitar – a mirrored Fender Esquire, in case you were wondering – and a spinning LED bicycle wheel that generates images of Barrett in psychedelic colours. Not quite a standard painting or plaque, but this memorial captures the essence of Barrett and his town. There is also currently a bench in the Cambridge University Botanical Gardens elsewhere in the town but this monument serves as the focal part of Barrett’s remembrance in his hometown.

The event itself, attended by Barrett’s family, was an affair deserved of such a talented mind. The main performance, and the entertainment all round, came courtesy of Sweden. More specifically, one of the only bands in the world to cover Barrett’s solo material, Men on the Border, backed by the Sandviken Symphony Orchestra. They were helped on occasion by prominent Pink Floyd covers band P-Floyd. If that wasn’t enough, in the Corn Exchange foyer, Pünk Floyd played, you guess it, Pink Floyd covers during the intermission and doors opening. Sweden loves ‘60s psychedelia too, apparently.

All of the performances were perfect renditions of Barrett’s back catalogue, cleverly constructed around the theme of seasons, starting in autumn and culminating in summer. Narrated by Barrett’s old classmate and playwright David Gale, it perfectly captured Barrett’s life. The personal touch of Gale’s storytelling allowed complete immersion into his life, aided by the ever present lighting of Pink Floyd’s former lighting man Peter Wynne Wilson, it was impossible to break free from those biographical moments. Taking us through the entire of Barrett’s life, including the separation from Pink Floyd and his more questionable moments, every part was produced to be true to his memory without painting a false picture.

Along the lines of imagery; the projections, twinned with the light show, were a powerful accompaniment. Ranging from family photographs of young Barrett, photographs of early Pink Floyd, and even purposefully created animations a la comic books and video footage.

Perhaps even more personal, in between performances from Men on the Border, frontman Goeran Nystroem added his own tales of how Barrett influenced his life. It was clear this was a moment he’d been waiting and preparing for, for a long time. The orchestral accompaniment to the tracks performed gave them a reinvigorated sound. Listening to the original Barrett recordings, there is an atmosphere of wonder and personality. But with such grand dynamics, a whole new aspect was born. It’s bittersweet Barrett never heard his arrangements with such grandiosity. However, once you hear tracks such as ‘Baby Lemonade’ and ‘Gigolo Aunt’ with string accompaniment, it’s hard to go back.

A wonderful celebration of an eclectic mind, it carried itself with complete grace and no self-indulgence, unlike much of the post-Barrett Pink Floyd material. The city of Cambridge finally honoured Barrett properly, with family, friends and guests all united under one roof to pay homage to one of music’s greatest lost minds.

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