Syd Barrett and The Beatles: 1966-1969
by John J. Olivar
The Pink Floyd appear at dawn, Syd Barrett on the right: ’14 Hour Technicolor Dream,’ 1967.
An often-debunked rumor has suggested that Syd Barrett participated in a version of the Beatles song “What’s the New Mary Jane.” While the chronology below does not attempt to prove that Barrett played on a Beatles track, it may show that the notion is not so far-fetched, and has a bit more to it than just bootleggers’ mislabelings.
I’ve tried to list all reliably documented instances of Barrett at a location simultaneously with the Beatles. Barrett and Beatles session information comes from Parker and Lewisohn, respectively (see Reference Materials). Songs are identified by their finished titles. All sessions (except those on 12 October, 1967) took place at EMI Studios, 3 Abbey Road, St. John’s Wood, London, NW8.
Gathering The Evidence
15 October, 1966 – The Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, London
The Pink Floyd headline a launch party for the International Times. Yoko Ono performs in the middle of a set by the Soft Machine (members of which would comprise Barrett’s studio group in 1969). Paul McCartney attends, “disguised as an Arab” (IT report), and soon becomes an outspoken supporter of Pink Floyd.
21 February, 1967
Pink Floyd, Studio 3, 11:00pm-6:00am
Beatles, Studio 2, 7:00pm-12:45am
“Fixing a Hole”
Barrett’s first-ever session at Abbey Road occurs along with one of the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’ dates. All of Syd’s recordings there with Pink Floyd (1967-1968) are produced by former Beatles engineer Norman Smith.
15 March, 1967
Pink Floyd, Studio 3, 2:30pm-5:30pm, 6:30pm-12:30am
Beatles, Studio 2, 7:00pm-1:30am
“Within You Without You”
Each session results in just a single take: the final version of “Chapter 24,” and the first of “Within You Without You.”
20 March, 1967
Pink Floyd, Studio 3, 2:30pm-6:30pm, 7:30pm-12:00am
“Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk,” “The Scarecrow”
Beatles, Studio 2, 7:00pm-3:30am
“Beatle Talk,” “She’s Leaving Home”
Entering the realm of conjecture: Pink Floyd’s break appears to coincide with the Beatles’ arrival.
21 March, 1967
Pink Floyd, Studio 3, 2:30pm-7:30pm, 8:30pm-1:00am
“Pow R Toc H”
Beatles, Studio 2, 7:00pm-2:45 am
“Getting Better,” “Lovely Rita”
Pink Floyd “officially” meet the Beatles–it’s well-documented that John Lennon was under the influence of LSD on this evening. Though speculative, it’s certainly not improbable that Barrett may have been as well. “Pow R Toc H” was recorded in its entirety on this day, Syd adding lead guitar overdubs after a one hour break. Pink Floyd entered Studio 2 to meet the Beatles “at around 11pm” (Lewisohn).
22 March, 1967
Pink Floyd, Studio 3, 7:00pm-2:15am
“The Scarecrow,” “Interstellar Overdrive”
Beatles, Studio 2, 7:00pm-2:15am
“Within You Without You”
Exactly the same starting/finishing times make some kind of post or pre-session encounter with George Harrison (perhaps the only Beatle present) seem plausible enough. The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia (First Edition) states that this was the night Pink Floyd met the Beatles.
25 March, 1967
“The Pink Floyd… have now completed five tracks of their first album. Beatle Paul McCartney has already dropped into several of the sessions…” (Melody Maker).
17 April, 1967
Pink Floyd, Studio 3, 2:30pm-7:00pm, 8:15pm-12:15am
“Lucifer Sam,” “Astronomy Dominé”
Beatles, Studio 2 Control Room, 7:00pm-10:30pm
“Getting Better,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Lovely Rita” (stereo mixing, all four titles)
Nicholas Schaffner’s Saucerful of Secrets relates a Barry Miles reminiscence of McCartney, Harrison, and Ringo Starr dropping in on a Pink Floyd session “towards the end of April… during one of the final ‘Pepper’ sessions.” If the description is accurate, this appears to be the only date when this could have taken place.
|Advert for the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream: Lennon and McCartney attend.|
29 April, 1967 – Alexandra Palace, Muswell Hill, London
Pink Floyd headline the “14 Hour Technicolor Dream.” John Lennon and Paul McCartney attend (Lennon captured on film); Yoko Ono presents a performance art happening.
7 June, 1967
Pink Floyd, Studio 3, 8:00pm-10:30pm
Beatles, Studio 2, 7:00pm-2:00am
“You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)”
Though it’s not clear what was done to “Matilda Mother” (perhaps just editing or mixing), the Beatles session became exploratory. After overdubs and varied experiments, about 20 minutes of largely improvised rhythm tracks were recorded, including performances on flute, guitar, drums, organ and tambourine.
In an interview with Jacques Allemant for French magazine ‘Les Rockers,’ Barrett names “The Cream and The Beatles” as his preferred bands.
12 October, 1967 – De Lane Lea Studios
Pink Floyd, 7:00pm-12:00pm
“Remember A Day,” “Vegetable Man”
“It’s All Too Much” (mono mixing)
It’s likely that Harrison was present for this mono remixing, a job apparently adjacent to the mixing of “Remember a Day” (Lennon, McCartney, and Starr were at Abbey Road, helping record “Shirley’s Wild Accordion,” incidental soundtrack music for ‘Magical Mystery Tour’). Pink Floyd’s work for the day included vocal overdubs onto “Vegetable Man.”
Syd Barrett, ousted from his role as leader of the underground’s favorite group, begins work on his first solo album.
John Lennon, disenchanted with his role as leader of the overground’s favorite group, begins work on his first solo album (‘Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins’) with Yoko Ono.
Lennon/Ono collaborations begin to infiltrate the Beatles’ sessions, causing friction among band members (note: the nearly unlistenable first side of ‘Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With the Lions’ would be recorded live in Syd’s native Cambridge on 2 March, 1969).
20 June, 1968
Syd Barrett, Studio 3, 7:00pm-10:30pm
“Swan Lee,” “Late Night,” “Golden Hair”
Beatles, Studios 1, 2, and 3, 7:00pm-3:30am
Identical starting times, and the fact that Lennon eventually took over all three studios, increases the likelihood that he encountered Barrett again on this night.
27 June, 1968
Syd Barrett, Studio 3, 2:30pm-10:00pm (Break 5:30pm-7:00pm)
“Swan Lee,” “Late Night,” “Golden Hair”
Beatles, Studio 2, 5:00pm-3:45am
“Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey”
Syd’s 90-minute break provides some intrigue, as do overdubs of a handbell and chocalho (Brazilian shaker) onto the Beatles song. A chocalho or similar shaker is audible as high-end percussion on Barrett’s “Lanky (Part 1),” made the previous month.
After his session of 20 July 1968, the nature of Barrett’s musical activities over the next 8 months is not known.
14 August, 1968
Beatles, Studio 2, 7:00pm-4:30am
“Yer Blues,” “What’s The New Mary Jane”
Four takes of the second title were taped, one a breakdown, the others timed at 2.35, 3.45, and 6.45. After acknowledging John and George as the only Beatles performing, Mark Lewisohn writes: “But Yoko and Mal Evans too–judging by the original session tape–were also joining in the fun.” The “judging by the original session tape” comment seems an admission that, although Yoko is identifiable vocally, the names of other participants are not known. Lewisohn further observes:
“…at the end of takes two and four someone vigorously shook a handbell and someone else hammered away at a xylophone. During take four someone deliberately rustled paper into a microphone…”
Without overstating the case, the same activities do appear on Barrett records. Vigorously shaken handbells are heard on “Flaming” and during the coda of “Scream Thy Last Scream.” Much vibraphone hammering resonates in Syd’s “Lanky (Part 1),” and rustled paper endears itself to fans of “She Took A Long Cold Look” and “Dolly Rocker” (note: I hear no xylophone on take four of “What’s the New Mary Jane” on ‘Anthology 3,’ though a sampling of vibraphone may be evident at 3.13-3.23).
25 July, 1969
Beatles, Studio 2, 2:30pm-2:30am
“Sun King,” “Mean Mr. Mustard,” “Come Together,” “Polythene Pam,” “She Came In Through the Bathroom Window”
26 July, 1969
Syd Barrett, Studio 2, 7:00am-12:30pm
“She Took A Long Cold Look,” “Long Gone,” “Wouldn’t You Miss Me,” “Feel,” “If It’s In You”
Barrett arrives at Studio 2 for a morning session–to be produced by his ex-bandmates David Gilmour and Roger Waters. In the wake of a marathon Beatles date, he hurriedly completes five titles unaccompanied, and thus ends the recording of his solo masterpiece ‘The Madcap Laughs.’
During the period of 1966-1969, Beatles records featured uncredited guest appearances by Brian Jones (“You Know My Name”), Eric Clapton (“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”), Tiny Tim (“The Beatles 1968 Christmas Record”), numerous unidentified Indian and classical musicians, and others.
If Syd Barrett took part in any Beatles recording (issued or not), it would likely be either “Revolution 9,” “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey” (he was actually “in house” and available when these took place), or “What’s the New Mary Jane,” a free-for-all with some of his musical motifs evident. The first and last titles are Lennon, Harrison, and Ono performances. Although The Beatles A to Z states that Harrison also participated in John and Yoko’s 1969 Cambridge concert, I’ve found no other source that confirms this.
- Allan, Jon II (editor). ‘Late Night’ Magazine, Number 3. Barrington, New Hampshire, 1999.
- Fitch, Vernon. The Pink Floyd Encyclopedia (First Edition). Collector’s Guide Publishing, Inc., Burlington, Ontario, 1998.
- Friede, Goldie et al. The Beatles A to Z. Methuen, New York, 1980.
- Hodges, Rick, and Priston, Ian. Embryo: A Pink Floyd Chronology. Cherry Red Books, London, 1998.
- Kelly, John, and Parker, David (editors). Chapter 24 – Issue 3. London, 1995.
- Lewisohn, Mark. The Beatles: Recording Sessions. Harmony Books, New York, 1988.
- Palacios, Julian. Lost In the Woods. Boxtree, London, 1998.
- Parker, David. Random Precision. Cherry Red Books Ltd., London, 2001.
- Schaffner, Nicholas. Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Odyssey. Harmony Books, New York, 1991.