Is there a more compelling tale than that of Syd Barrett, the Pink Floyd wunderkind who was ejected from his band following an apparent breakdown and retreated into self-imposed exile in Cambridge until his death? It’s a story that’s been told and retold countless times, often by bedazzled fans who never actually encountered their subject in person, projecting their particular interpretation of events onto an enigmatic figure who always, tantalisingly, held his peace.
Have You Got It Yet?, a documentary initiated by the late Hipgnosis co-founder Storm Thorgerson (who went to school with Syd and Roger Waters), unravels Barrett’s complex, unknowable enigma better than ever before. Thorgerson’s voice is at its epicentre, both artistically (the film is laced with vignettes of Hipgnosis-echoing visual imagery) and literally: he conducts interviews with people he’s known all his life, jogs memories, dismantles aloof public personas, challenges opinions. It’s an intimate personal journey for Thorgerson, who was fully aware his own time was short.
But this is Syd’s story told definitively by those that knew him best and, crucially, loved him most. Family, friends, lovers, art school associates (artist Maggi Hambling), band-mates (Waters, Gilmour) and fans (Pete Townshend, Blur’s Graham Coxon) offer unguarded insight. The photographic archive mined is often unseen and quite astonishing, while clips of early Floyd indicate how enormous a talent the effortlessly influential Barrett, the most English of rock artists who invariably made the most English of rock music (echoing music hall tropes and pastoral silver band nostalgia), actually was.
So what do we, the audience, actually learn from those closest to Barrett? Was he the irretrievably damaged madcap of legend, a pioneering high-profile acid casualty who sacrificed his talent on the altar of indulgence? Ultimately, young Syd was handsome, arty, cool, “fiercely intelligent”, happy and popular, with a magnetic personality, “a flair way beyond his years”, who walked with a bounce and even “smelt nice”. He’d a natural talent for music, but rapidly tired of the commercial constraints of the business. Loath to actually leave his band, he engineered a situation whereby they had to chuck him out. And none of them ever got over it. It’s all so English, so 20th century, so repressed.
At the end of the documentary, super-fan Noel Fielding reveals he’d have liked to have given Syd a hug. Maybe that’s all he ever needed.
Have You Got It Yet? The Story Of Syd Barrett And Pink Floyd by Storm Thorgerson And Roddy Bogawa is out now on Mercury Studios. For more info visit the official site for the film