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Home arrow Reviews arrow Books arrow "Barrett" - Russell Beecher & Will Shutes
"Barrett" - Russell Beecher & Will Shutes Print E-mail
Written by Matt   
Friday, 18 February 2011

Barrett bookMany of you will recall that last year, we told you about Barrett, a new limited edition, high quality, large-format book that describes itself as the "definitive visual companion to the life of Syd Barrett". With the book being published in March 2011, we've taken an indepth look at both the "Classic" and the 500-copy "Signature" editions, to see what the difference is between them, and what the additional book with the Signature edition has to offer. Neither edition is particularly cheap (but it will quickly become apparent why), so many people will be somewhat circumspect before deciding whether or not to indulge. Both editions are selling at a fair pace now, so if you are considering a purchase, don't leave it too long to decide...

Barrett is the first book to have been made in conjunction with the Barrett family and the Syd Barrett Estate, and this has paid dividends with the material which has been uncovered and revealed for the first time. However, the publishers have cast their net far and wide, which has resulted in a wide variety of incredible, unpublished photos of the band, and Barrett, onstage and off. Despite our decades of research into the band, we enjoyed page after page of completely new pictures of them from their earliest days, coupled with family snapshots, personal letters, and Barrett's artwork through the years, from early pieces through to pictures done shortly before his sad passing.

Volume 1 (the sole book which makes up the Classic edition) splits into three sections:

  • Syd's life in photographs – from growing up through to working and performing with Pink Floyd and his life as a solo artist.
  • Unseen and unpublished illustrated letters sent to Libby Gausden-Chisman and Jenny Spires between 1962-1965, as Syd was finding himself as a painter and a musician.
  • All of Syd's existing work as a visual artist from 1962 until his death.

It contains over 250 images. These include:

  • Over 100 completely unseen images and many more reproduced in fine art quality for the first time.
  • Over 40 artworks including: paintings, drawings, mosaics, collages, and sculptures.
  • Over 50 unseen photographs taken by Syd of his artworks, including: images of his "destroyed" works seen for the first time, studies in preparation for his artworks, images of his work area.

The Art section also includes:

  • An extensive commentary on Syd's artworks by Barrett art expert Will Shutes.
  • Notes on Syd's diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks, and his History of Art project.
  • The Catalogue Raisonné of Syd's art – listing and dating all the artwork known to have existed.

The book introduction has the most personal pictures of all those collected here. A wonderful stroll through the family album, you get to see Syd as a toddler on the beach, sitting alongside Rosemary (his sister), as well as various holiday snaps, Christmas celebrations in the Barrett house, and so on.

It's from this early start that you see the "hidden" Syd - the affectionate, friendly man, an artistic soul who wanted to plow his own path. With the unprecedented access the authors clearly had, for the first time Syd's personal and artistic side is revealed in detail. His siblings reveal their collective musical and artistic backgrounds, the forces which shaped their futures accordingly. 

The 'Floyd Photo' section kicks off in style with a sequence of black and white shots of The Tea Set at a private party in Surrey, in Autumn 1964. This was the line-up of the band that included Chris Dennis and Bob Klose, and is possibly the first gig that Syd performed with his future Floyd bandmates. 1965 sees a handful of formal (and quite common) portraits, and it's not until 1966, and a pair of pictures from a London Free School concert, when a burst of their colourful light show shines out from the pages. These begin a run of stunning live shots from those early days - the Roundhouse, UFO, Hornsey College, the Architectural Association's Christmas Ball, and much more. There's also some very rare portraiture, particularly some great colour shots taken in Amsterdam.

The 'Solo Photo' section mainly consists of posed pictures, including outtakes from the Madcap cover sessions, and charmingly includes a very happy looking Syd sat on the painted floor of his flat - a far cry from the moody, serious Syd seen on the final cover.

The 'Art' section provides the lion's share of the book, and as the authors state, presents every image known to exist - either the image itself, or from Syd's own photos of his artworks. These photos, taken by Barrett between 2002 and 2006, were done prior to him destroying the pieces.

His love and absorbsion into the world of art - throughout his life - is evidenced with the huge array of styles and subjects throughout, from delicate, detailed still life drawings, through mosaics and collages, abstracts, and three dimensional creations. It's clear how the people and places that surrounded him proved great inspiration.

The volume of work will surprise many, although at times he was known to painted up to ten pictures a day. The research done goes some way to uncover a number of the lost pieces, and the detailed analysis of his artwork is fascinating.

Continuing the theme, Syd's notebooks and scrapbooks are analysed, as are the rumours and stories about Syd's own History of Art book that he was working on for many years. Whilst most of his books cover his fascination with art, in all its variety, there's also material that Barrett clearly just found personally interesting - in particular, history itself which he seemed pretty keen on.

Finally, there's a delightful section devoted to some of his heavily illustrated letters. These are sweet, touching, funny and absorbing, if a little voyeuristic at times! Throughout his life he was an avid writer, and this section collects some of the letters and poems sent to his girlfriends Libby Gausden and Jenny Spires.

Syd clearly believed the phrase "a picture paints a thousand words" as his letters are peppered with them - things he'd done, little jokes, people he knew, and these gradually move on later to details about life in the band. In one, he draws a tiny black van to represent their new transport (the van is shown in Nick Mason's book) but notes "You can't see me because I'm in the back"! There's also a couple of drawings of the band's first recording session in West Hampstead, with Syd's description of the day, including the rest of the band in the control room laughing at him, and a drawing of the group in the studio with Syd's head scribbled out ("Me - I can't draw me").

As we mentioned before, there's also the Signature edition available. Apart from more elaborate packaging (suitably holding things together nicely in a hinged box, and the signatures of the authors along with one of Syd's siblings) this edition comes with a second volume. This 72-page, leather bound book, presents for the first time 30 newly restored large format photographic prints taken by Irene Winsby - her entire photo album of the band. Records have now been set straight with dates and the location for the two shoots - not, as previously thought, at Mike Leonard's house, but at the Blackhill Enterprizes office.

With the pictures taken a week prior to the band's debut single being recorded, it captures a young band keen to impress, but somewhat bashful or unsure at times in front of the camera lens - it wasn't until a month later when they turned pro, signing to EMI. In the pictures, you can even see Rick Wright playing his organ, sat in a very typically 60's wicker chair!

What helps elevate this volume is a foreword by Irene herself, who was a professional photographer at the time for the News of the World newspaper. Her insights into the sessions, and the band themselves, are quite fascinating.

We are certain that this will be an absolutely essential collection for all fans of Syd Barrett and the early Pink Floyd - whichever edition you consider. As you may have guess from the above, we found it a mesmerizing selection of pictures, not just Syd's artwork and letters (incredible in themselves), but rare photos including live, backstage, and portrait images, and endearing family snapshots – a collection the like of which has not been seen before. The sheer amount of "new" images is quite astonishing and it is no surprise that the authors have been working on this for some time. Russell Beecher started sourcing Syd/Floyd images over three years ago, and both him and Will Shutes have been working hard on the book for the last couple of years. Their efforts and research are clear to see.

They make it clear that they haven't attempted to relate the story of Syd and the Floyd - that has been covered comprehensively in other books - but that this collection aims to be the definitive visual guide to Barrett. There IS excellent coverage though of his artistic life, going into exhaustive detail.

So, yes, the collection (whichever edition you go for) is expensive, but the quality of the material and presentation justifies the asking price, in our opinion. Both books are on heavy, high quality matt art paper, in a nice large format (around 25cm x 28cm), making the most of each image. Original Syd Barrett items reach huge amounts at auction these days, so to get a decent alternative in the form of the artwork and other items in this book, at a real fraction of the price, has got to be worth consideration.

To place your order, and to find out more about the book, visit

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