Syd Barrett festival "The City Wakes", Cambridge Oct-November 2008
Written by Matt   
Sunday, 09 November 2008

city wakes cat and cockerelLast weekend (November 1st) saw the conclusion of The City Wakes, the ten-day, multi-activity celebration of Syd Barrett's life which had people travel from all over the world to attend.

Held in Cambridge, the town of Syd's birth, and, ultimately, where he spent his final days, the festival took in concert performances, a pair of exhibitions, talks, a happening, and guided tours of Cambridge and the surrounding area, and other, one-off performances, all in aid of Escape Artists, a mental health charity.

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The first and most easily accessible event to see for most visitors arriving in Cambridge (and clearly drawing in many non-Floyd fans) was Storm Thorgerson's Mind Over Matter exhibition, held on the top floor of the newly-opened enclosed shopping mall, Grand Arcade.

Running until November 10th, the exhibition is host to most of Storm's work for Pink Floyd, and offers all the pieces as top quality, personally signed prints. Ranging from the familiar album covers to images rarely if ever seen before, it is a transfixing journey through the band's history. One of the joys of seeing Storm's work in this setting is that you can see the artwork as it was meant to be seen, often much larger than a standard LP sleeve (and certainly a lot bigger than the constraints of a CD case!) revealing detail that was previously hidden.

As part of the final day of The City Wakes, Storm was in attendance to meet fans of his work, and was host of an auction of prints in the late afternoon to raise funds for Escape Artists. This managed to raise many hundreds of pounds for the charity, with delighted fans walking away with their own special piece of art.

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For those interested in some much more personal, and unique, artwork, the Ruskin Gallery at the Anglia Ruskin University was the place to head for. Host of "The Other Room: Syd Barrett's Art and Life", it showed works from very early days - schooldays, no less - right through to a painting completed a few days before he died in 2006. The pictures ranged from figurative through to abstract, and even took in a collage he had created.

Alongside these pictures of Syd's, there were a number of photos taken by Mick Rock of Syd, some of Iggy, Syd's girlfriend, taken by Anthony Stern, who had also provided some pictures of Pink Floyd playing at the UFO in 1967.

Completing things were a fascinating selection of personal letters, some illustrated, that Syd sent to Jenny Spires, another of his girlfriends. Included was one that talked about the recording session where they committed to tape the likes of King Bee. This had Syd drawing the various band members in the studio, and scribbling all over his own head, noting that "me, I can't draw me".

The exhibition is said to be moving to London at some point, and if it does, is not to be missed.

Borders bookshop in Cambridge was a willing partner in the staging of The City Wakes, giving a good push to the events, and being home to some of the illustrated talks held on upper floors of the store. Shoppers and passers by couldn't fail to notice the window full of City Wakes-related stuff, including flyers, books, a pair of white Telecaster guitars, and notices about the special discussions being held instore.

Amongst these were talks from Mick Rock about his friendship with Syd, that resulted in him taking the majority of photos of later period Syd before he turned his back on the music industry, and a rare talk from Storm Thorgerson about his life, growing up in Cambridge with future Floyd members as friends.

Excellent events, although slightly hamstrung by the limited seating available at Borders resulting in many fans being turned away from these one-off happenings.

Talking of happenings, a classic, 60s-style Happening was staged on October 28th. Some friends of Syd were the organisers and instigators of the All at Once Happening at the Centre at St Paul's. In their preview of the event, they said: "Our digipoems, mangled music & old wave films will remix prolix newkicks. Our simultaneity, multineity & spontaneity will loop back to yesterday, improvise today but furrow tomorrow. We insist you keep your mobile phones on, your children badly behaved and your antennae tuned to the chance of beauty. It's FREE to get in... Like life."

As the Centre at St Paul's website attests, the Happening was quite something. "Performers included William Pryor, Andrew Rawlinson, Nigel Lesmoir-Gordon and Lucy Raverat. Peter Wynne Wilson's light show was spectacular bathing and swathing the building and the performers in a succession of kaleidoscopic kolours spontaneously reflecting the experimental nature of the performance".

See pictures of the event here.

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From Syd's birth place, school and college, to venues he attended and played at, to locations featured in his songs, Cambridge boasts many places that are full of significance for Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd fans. The specially organised City Wakes guided tours met the huge demand that there is for enthusiasts, and those who are simply curious, to make the most of this treasure trail, whilst also exploring Cambridge’s beautiful city centre. The recently published "A Pink Floyd Fan's Illustrated Guide To Cambridge" is a major help for the fan trying to track down and make sense of the city today, but guided tours have long been sought by fans from across the world.

Led by professional guides, and incorporating the anecdotes and memories of Syd's friends, the City Wakes tours took in key sites throughout the city in a lively, fun and informative way. They brought to life Cambridge in the late 50s and early 60s, revealing how different band members came together, how they socialised, and where they ended up playing in various bands together.

Three tours were made available to cover different areas and using different modes of transport. The walking tour took in all the central locations, in the heart of the city. For those who wanted to take in the surrounding area, such as Grantchester Meadows, the childhood homes (and schools) of each of the Floyd members and significant others, then the minibus tour was essential. And for those who were after something a little different, you could even sign up for a tour on the back of a Harley Davidson!

Fascinating, thought-provoking, and well-run, the tours provided new insights into the various band member's lives and careers. Let's hope it's not the last we've seen of the tours...

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A highlight of six nights of The City Wakes were the concert performances directed by the hugely enthusiastic, award-winning musician and composer Simon Gunton, and featuring Tor, a rap star who lent her unique style to some of Syd's best known pieces in spectacular style.

The concerts, held at The Centre at St Paul's, featured cutting-edge video art from celebrated choreographer and film artist Darren Johnston, stunning psychedelic lighting from Peter Wynne Wilson, Pink Floyd’s original designer, and a guest appearance by The Grasshopper's Green Herbarian Band. The production's set – based on early 1960s memorabilia – proved a fitting backdrop.

The final night of The City Wakes, Saturday, November 1st, saw the production move to a completely different, and quite unique, venue, for a special "Gala Performance". The day itself saw rain falling during the day, getting heavier as time went on. It was therefore quite something to approach Trinity College Chapel in the dark and rain, the comforting glow of Wynne-Wilson's lighting playing magically on the windows of the building that normally is the home of quiet reflection.

Shrugging off saturated coats inside, the breath-taking lighting playing over statues and walls set the scene for an evening celebrating Syd's music, in the company of many of his family and friends. Amongst the friends who made it along were John "Hoppy" Hopkins (who quietly stalked various locations to document the event with his camera), Storm Thorgerson, Mick Rock, and Syd's former girlfriends, Libby Gausen and Jenny Spires.

Despite the high ceilings, and sonically unfriendly construction, the acoustics of the show were incredible, showcasing Simon Gunton's radically different and inspired interpretations of familiar songs, which - in some instances - took some time to recognise. Jugband Blues, in particular, kept many guessing for ages as to the song's identity; a lovely, exuberant performance.

During The Grasshopper's Green Herbarian Band's spot (in reality, a subset of the larger, 25 or so piece collection of performers) High Hopes was performed as a tribute to Richard Wright. This featured an unexpected, but effective, juxtaposition of Tor's rapping with the choir backing her.

A personal highlight was the touching Dark Globe, a beautiful performance, complete with choral beginning, that was perfect in such a setting.

Rosemary Breen (Syd's sister) appeared at the conclusion. Clearly touched by the love and respect for her brother, she gave her thanks to all who had been involved in the events that had taken place over the previous days, but which had taken a year to organise and prepare for.

A fitting end to The City Wakes.

Our own congratulations to all at The City Wakes, and Escape Artists, and everyone else involved, for staging what was a wonderful, evocative and fun tribute to Syd Barrett. Our thanks, too, for the assistance the organisers have given us throughout.

Let's hope that the success of the various events enable a future revisit of The City Wakes for those unable to attend this year. There is certainly scope for the guided tours of Pink Floyd's Cambridge to have a regular audience, particularly in the summer months, so let's hope that the Cambridge Tourist Office agree!

The City Wakes website is host to much information about the events, those who participated, rare pictures of Syd, and much more. Merchandise from the event, designed by StormStudios, is still available to buy, benefitting the charity still further. Please visit for more information.