Cambridge Commemorates Syd Barrett

Carly Hilts 23 October 2008

A celebration commemorating the life of legendary Pink Floyd front man Syd Barrett was launched yesterday.

The programme of events, entitled ‘The City Wakes’, will run until November 1st, and is part of Cambridge University’s Festival of Ideas. It is the first official tribute to the Cambridge-born musician.

Barrett, who died two years ago, is widely hailed as a musical genius and pioneer of 1960s psychedelic scene.

Although he only spent two years with Pink Floyd, his contribution is considered central to the development of the group’s experimental sound.

After his death in 2006, a trust was set up in the songwriter’s name, to help people with mental illnesses.

The festival is also linked to the charity Escape Artists, which helps people with mental problems to harness their creativity as a form of therapy.

The celebration will raise money for both causes.

Festival spokeswoman Kelly Tarrant said:

” ‘The City Wakes’ focuses on Syd’s early life in Cambridge, providing a showcase for his remarkable talents and painting a picture of the explosive and vibrant early 1960s cultural scene in which he grew up.”

Various kinds of events make up the festival programme, from concerts and exhibitions to music workshops, guided tours and plays.

A concert at The Centre at St Paul’s, Hills Rd, will take place every night at 7.30pm from October 24-31st.

Featuring fresh interpretations of Syd Barrett’s songs and directed by award-winning musician and composer Simon Gunton, the performances will take place against the backdrop of a set based on early 1960s memorabilia and specially-created video art and ‘psychedelic lighting displays’.

The concerts will culminate in a one-off gala performance in Trinity College chapel.

There will also be two exhibitions.

One, running at the Grand Arcade until November 9th and called ‘Mind over Matter: the Images of Pink Floyd’, displays the work of Cambridge artist Storm Thorgerson, who designed many of Pink Floyd’s iconic album covers.

The other, ‘The Other Room: Syd Barrett’s Art and Life’, features the most comprehensive collection of Syd Barret’s paintings every to be shown in public.

Based in the Ruskin Gallery at ARU from October 24-November 2nd, the display comprises of Barrett’s work, as well as rare memorabilia including diaries, correspondence and furniture designs, and portraits taken by photo-biographer Mick Rock.

For the more creatively-inclined, music workshops for 20 people will be held by the ‘The City Wakes’ Musical Director on October 24th, 25th and 31st, where participants can use electronic and conventional instruments as well as their own bodies and voices to develop interpretations of Barrett’s songs.

From November 1st there will also be tours organised on foot, by minibus or motorbike, taking participants from Syd’s birthplace to his school and college, as well as venues he visited and played at, and to locations mentioned in his songs.

Finally, a play about ‘Syd, psychedelia and the Sixties’ is to be shown on October 30th.

‘The Madcap’, by Malcolm Boyle, is a ‘multi-media journey into the psychedelic ‘60s underground as seen through the distorted mental lens of Syd Barrett’.

The show combines ‘tragicomic performance, hallucinatory film and slide projections and 21st-century interpretations of Syd’s songs’.

Other events include talks and book signings by Barrett’s friends and colleagues at Borders bookshop.

The festival has the full support of many of Syd’s friends and family members.

His sister Rosemary Breen said:

“I am thrilled to be involved in this project. Syd, my brother, was someone for whom creativity was as necessary as breathing. His music and painting were such an integral part of his being that without them he couldn’t function.”

For more information about the festival or any of the events taking place, visit

Carly Hilts