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CAMBRIDGE WAKES - A CELEBRATION OF SYD BARRETT
Write Dope on Pnuk part 66
As a tribute to the troubled life of Pink Floyd’s founding member Syd Barrett, Cambridge City hosted a series of events under the title of The City Wakes. The events were co-organised by The Syd Barrett Trust, established by his sister Rosemary and financed from the auction of his belongings to fund work in the area of arts and mental health; and Escape Artists, a UK-registered arts and mental health charity. The festival ran alongside the Cambridge University Festival of Ideas through October and into November 2008.
There were a number of events that I couldn’t get to and these included a recreation of a ’sixties Happening. The first Happening in Cambridge (intended as an event that combined poets, music, visual art and dancers) took place in 1964 and when it evolved into the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream in London in 1967, Pink Floyd headlined. Other events included a series of talks at Borders bookshop by contemporaries of and experts on Syd’s life. There were also a series of live performances of Syd’s music and a play inspired by Syd.
The first exhibition to open was Mind over Matter at the Grand Arcade shopping precinct (9 October – 10 November). This was an exhibition of the work of Storm Thorgerson, co-founder of the design studio Hipgnosis and childhood friend of the local members of Pink Floyd. Hipgnosis started designing the artwork for Pink Floyd (album covers, posters, etc.) in the late ’sixties, as well as other bands of the era, such as Led Zeppelin. One member of the Hipgnosis team was Throbbing Gristle and later Coil member Peter Christopherson. Even though Hipgnosis itself was dissolved in the early ’eighties, Storm continued to produce the visual imagery for Floyd as well as some of the members’ solo records. The exhibition had large prints from over fifty pieces of work.
The other exhibition I did manage to get to was The Other Room, held in the Ruskin Gallery of the Cambridge School of Art where Syd had been a pupil. Syd made the majority of pieces on display through his life. The earliest included paintings and a collage he had made while a pupil. Other work included landscapes, still life, and abstracts painted through the forty years since. Apparently he had a habit of when he had finished a painting, taking photographs of it and then destroying the original. In some instances we then only had the enlarged photograph to enjoy. One of the more personal items on display was a collection of letters that he wrote to a girlfriend in the mid-’sixties. Other work in the exhibition included photographs by Anthony Stern of Pink Floyd playing the UFO club, and portraits of Syd taken by Mick Rock. When I left the exhibition I realised why the building had seemed so familiar. Twenty-five years earlier I’d failed an interview to get into this art school.
One of the books on sale at the venues was 'A Pink Floyd Fan’s Illustrated Guide To Cambridge (by Mark Worden and Alfredo Marziano)'. This details many places associated with Syd, Roger Waters, Dave Gilmour and Storm. Sometimes this is a bit tenuous (the train station is included because Syd sometimes travelled by train between London and Cambridge), but at other times is very informative (the property where the cover shot for 'Ummagumma' was taken). We do incidentally learn how Syd lost his marbles; he gave them to Alison Barraclough when they parted from junior school. The book is available from B. Damned Publishing and costs £7.99.
In all, a good way to mark the life of one of rock’s characters, and hopefully it will be repeated.
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