Last January, Syd Barrett would have been 70. On July 7, it was 10 years since Floyd’s madcap frontman died. Brought to us by arts charity Cambridge Live, this event has been a long time coming, and it wouldn’t be a tribute to Barrett without a dollop of eccentricity.
To start, there’s a gathering in the lobby as commemorative artwork Coda is unveiled. Watching are members of Barrett’s family, former girlfriends, colleagues and friends. It’s a magical, mechanical whirl of red and mirrored mosaic in an upright oblong with a guitar cut-out and a circular screen at the top, a rotating psychedelic bike wheel that flashes images of Barrett. It’s quirky and cool, setting the mood for what’s to come as hugs, fizz and stories are exchanged.
Inside, the venue’s buzzing with a charming mix of anticipation, sexagenarian confusion over seating arrangements and out-of-towners’ anxiety about getting the last train home (Prog’s one major complaint – why stage this on a Thursday and not the weekend?). The walls and ceiling are awash with a live liquid lightshow provided by UFO master Peter Wynne-Willson, plus oil-tray wielding assistants on a precarious plinth. There are 60-odd people onstage from Sweden’s Sandviken Symphony Orchestra, about to be joined by narrator/native playwright – and childhood friend of Barrett – David Gale, who’ll take us through Barrett’s life in four seasons.
An evening of two halves, it’s more Swedes, Men On The Border, plus their British guitarist Phil Etheridge who anchor the night (with Pünk Floyd jigging and reeling Floyd covers in the foyer during the interval). Visually, the event is stunning, from the pulsating rainbow around us to the films and animations projected ahead. Musically, the orchestral arrangements of Floyd and Barrett songs such as Astronomy Domine are breathtaking. Men On The Border are competent enough, but editing their four fairly twee, mid-tempo songs (enhanced by Etheridge’s blistering guitar playing) in favour of more Syd stuff would have made a more dynamic programme. However, we’ll embrace the eccentricity, this Octopus ride, for the performers, the organisers, and the joy and love in the room for a much-missed man. That’s what matters.