Wish you were here

Jan 6th, 2011 | By | Category: Personal Columns

Syd Barrett would have been 65 today: a genius who was a founding member of Pink Floyd.

Pink Floyd were the musical accompaniment to the one term I really spent at university.  The following term, I moved out of the hall of residence to live with family, the term after that, I dropped out altogether.  When returning a year later, I turned up at lectures, wrote the essays and sat the exams, but never re-engaged with student life.

For one term only, I lived London student life: going to see the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Aldwych on Monday nights on student standby tickets that cost £1.10 each; going to concerts in places like the Tottenham Court Road; going to discos and parties.  Every experience seemed an intense contrast with an upbringing in rural England.

In 1979, London was at the point of transition from its old self to the new, brash self it was to become during the Thatcher years.  There was still a pie and mash shop in a street close to the student hall in Rosebery Avenue.  Clerkenwell Market still had market traders who could have told tales of the city in wartime.  Mount Pleasant sorting office was at the heart of the post office when writing letters was still a key means of communication.  At the tube station at The Angel, the platforms were still reached by lifts with folding gates.

There was an intensity about everything in those weeks, even the colours are bright in the memory: the reds and greens of the Underground trains in the days when carriages on some lines still had wooden floors: the blues and yellows of the British Rail locomotives; the whites and the purples of discos lit with ultra violet light.

All through those autumn months, Pink Floyd played.  My room mate seemed to have every album, including those from the days before Syd Barrett parted company with the band in 1968.  In 1979, 1968 seemed a different age.  When you are 18 going on 19, something eleven years before belongs to a different world.

Never taking as much as a puff of the cannabis joints that would be passed around at student gatherings ( the tobacco in the roll ups would have triggered an asthmatic attack), there was still something about  Pink Floyd’s music that conjured  thoughts and images that would find a place in a realm of magical realism.

Syd Barrett left Pink Floyd when he was barely older than the undergraduates who hung on the lyrics of his group.  Tonight on RTE radio, as a tribute to Barrett, John Creedon played Christy Moore singing ‘Shine on you crazy diamond’.  For a moment, it was 1979 again.

Leave a comment »

  1. I remember the wooden slatted floors of underground carriages – and the way they would channel towards you, and then divert, the wet sick of fellow late night travellers. Sure, it wasn’t all staring at sick on train floors, I went out a bit too.

  2. I used to be so frightened by The Jam’s ‘Down in the Tube Station at Midnight’, that I hardly ever travelled on the Tube after 9 o’clock.

Leave Comment