The Making of "The Madcap Laughs"

     The first session was booked for Thursday, April 10th, in studio three. E.M.I.'s studio complex is still arguably one of the best in the world.  In 1969 it most certainly was. Studio One was the largest, and almost exclusively used for large orchestral recordings (when I had first seen it I was convinced a helicopter could fly in it!). Studio two was always fully booked, often by the Beatles, the Hollies, and other top E.M.I. artists and, of course, the Floyd often were using it for 'Ummagumma'. Studio Three was the smallest, 'though still large by studio standards, and more intimate than studio two (but less technically advanced; studio two had 8 track machines while studio three was still four track). Both Syd and I were familiar with Number 3 (I had produced Love Sculpture's first album there) so we settled for that one. Studio Two had a control room set at a higher level than the studio itself, which meant looking down on the musicians - and frankly I disliked that. It's easier for the producer to see what's happening but I felt it was harder for the musicians to see into the control booth, and Syd needed a relaxed atmosphere. Plus, three was easier to book at short notice!

     Syd and I spent the first session alone (7 p.m. to 12:30) investigating the old tapes made a year earlier to see if anything was usable. We first overdubbed guitar and vocal tracks onto 'Silas Lang' ('Swan Lee') and experimented with ideas for 'Clowns And Jugglers'. Neither of these was eventually used (Clowns And Jugglers, re-recorded as 'Octopus', was used in another version), and we both agreed that the new songs were far better than the old tracks. But at least we had checked each other out and we returned to Earls Court ready to start afresh the next evening.

     The next evening we got down to business proper. Syd was in a great mood and in fine form, a stark contrast to the rumours and stories I'd been fed with. In little over five hours we laid down vocal and guitar tracks (extra backings on most came later) for four new songs and two old.

     The first we made (the engineer was Peter Mew) was 'Opel', at Syd's request. We both felt at the time that it was one of his best new songs *(1) After Dave (Gilmour) and Roger (Waters) took over production, I left the final say to them and Syd as to which songs were included in the final album. I was nevertheless very sad that 'Opel' was left out, especially in the light of what I thought to be lesser songs being included. I assume it was Syd's decision.*  It took Syd nine runs at it to get a complete take, and even that was not perfect. Nevertheless it had a stark attraction to it, and most of the early takes were merely false starts. Anyone who has experience of studio techniques will appreciate that it takes several attempts to get the right feel and to feel totally relaxed. ('Hound Dog' took over 30 takes!) Many of the unsuccessful takes are merely lapses of memory, technical faults, popping the letter 'p' at the microphone, squeaky chairs, etc. Syd always had lyric sheets in front of him, and turning the pages was often caught on tape (it was left in on 'She Took A Long Cold Look'). Two complete takes were made, the rest were false starts similar to the ones Dave and Roger left in on 'If It's In You'.

     Most of the tracks on this were just with Syd and his guitar. I felt that, with his guitar alone we could put down some songs and overdub backings later as necessary (contrary to usual policy of making backings and adding vocals afterwards). Next we did 'Love You' - again just guitar and voice. We did
several takes of this. The first was fast, in fact VERY fast (faster than the issued one). The second was very slow!  Take three was a false start, and take four was the one we later overdubbed and issued. All three good takes were perfect, and in fact we weren't sure which take to use. The studio note says
'Best to be decided later'. All takes took less than twenty minutes to do. This was Syd at full tilt! At this session Syd was in great form, and very happy.  No matter what people may say to the contrary, Syd was very together, and this was his first session with the new songs. Although Opel needed 9 attempts, Love You needed only one re-take. The next track we did, 'It's No Good Trying' was much the same. The very first take, with Syd and his blue speckled Fender Telecaster, was good. Take two was a false start, and take three was the version we used (although at 5 minutes 14 seconds it needed a little shortening). I kept Syd on the move, refusing too many retakes. And it was working. In the two hours between 7.30 and 9.30 we had completed several successful takes of three songs.

     During the tea break we discussed going back to some of the songs started the previous year, in particular 'Golden Hair', and perhaps 'Late Night' although the original version of that had been destroyed, it seemed. We returned to the studio and started work on another new song, 'Terrapin'. In one take Syd laid down a guitar and vocal track that was to be the master! At my suggestion Syd double tracked his vocal part, and that was it!  (He later overdubbed the solo).

     When we resumed Syd overdubbed slide guitar (using his cigarette lighter as a slide) on the backing track of 'Late Night', plus the vocal. The vocal took no time at all, and we swiftly moved on to 'Golden Hair' which we had transferred from the original 4 track to an 8 track master. I do not know who the musicians were on this track, but the instrumentation was identical to the re-made version that Dave and Roger were to produce later - vibes, bass, drums and guitar. The version I worked on with Syd was not the one used on the album, although the remake was a direct copy of mine. This first version featured Syd's guitar more prominently. In fact there were two versions made at this session, the second featuring an added harmony vocal line by Syd.  When I heard much later that Dave and Roger re-made 'Golden Hair' I was, to say the least, surprised. The issued recording, while technically better, is far less atmospheric than the original, and I still feel that a re-make was unnecessary.

     By midnight we felt we had done enough for one day. We had worked on seven titles in one way or another, and we both felt we had made great progress.  In the cab back to Earls Court we discussed our next session, and I was looking forward to a quiet and relaxing weekend. I told Syd I would pick him up the next Thursday as usual; Syd replied by saying he'd bring along some musicians to play on some of the tracks we were planning, and with that we parted company.

     The following Thursday, as planned, I called a cab and went to collect Syd.  We dropped in at Dave Gilmour's flat round the corner to borrow an amplifier, and set off for Abbey Road. At the studio we met up with Jerry Shirley and 'Willie' Wilson, the musicians Syd had invited along. The session was to be done 'live' i.e. everyone recording their parts at the same time, including Syd's vocal and guitar parts.  As usual, Syd played his blue Fender Telecaster, unamplified, as rhythm. *(1) Syd had maintained fairly constant contact with David Gilmour, who's amp we were using. When he delivered the tapes for the 'More' album to me, David quizzed me as to how the sessions were progressing, although he showed no interest at the time in producing Syd.  By April he had completed most of his solo contributions to 'Ummagumma', and had more time to spare.*  We started with 'No Man's Land', and Syd ran through the song several times with Jerry and Willie following to pick up the sequences. After a little rehearsal we tried for a take to let everyone hear how we were progressing (frequently a 'take' is attempted, not for a master, but simply to check that the equipment is working correctly and to let the performers hear how they sound in the control room). After several other run throughs we went for a master, and in all we completed three takes successfully, the last being the best. The bass was later re-recorded *(2) The original bass track showed room for improvement, which we did later on during the session, after Syd's guitar parts had been recorded.* Syd then recorded the guitar solo and the spoken part, which was as unintelligible then as it is now! The other guitar part was overdubbed later (see session lists). Syd's guitar playing could, at times, be extremely erratic. He would frequently switch from playing rhythm to lead at double the volume, setting the meters well into the red and requiring a re-take. It was a matter of having too many ideas and wanting to record them all at once!

     This April 17th session was the first that we did in Studio Two instead of Studio Three. Whereas the April 11th session had been mainly voice and guitar tracks, with no backings, this one was to employ Jerry Shirley and John 'Willie' Wilson (who also lived in Earls Court!). The greater scope afforded by the 8 track machine in No. 2 (Studio three was 4 track) would allow us to do more overdubs if necessary, particularly on 'No Man's Land'. No. 2 also had a much better drum sound (it is a larger studio) and it isn't hard to tell that Jerry Shirley plays extremely loudly in the studio, especially on 'Here I Go'.  Compare the drum sound on this to Ringo's Beatles work of the time. They are very similar.

     'Here I Go', the second song of the session, was also the second 'old-tymey' song Syd did on the album - that is using a music hall style chord structure. With its unusual introduction and overall theme, it shows Syd at his relaxed best. He wrote it, I seem to remember, in a matter of minutes. *(1) Syd nearly always had his lyrics in front of him on a stand, in case of the occasional lapse of memory. This song was the only one I remember him needing no cue sheet at all.* The whole recording was done absolutely 'live', with no overdubs at all. Syd changed from playing rhythm to lead guitar at the very end, and the change is noticeable. (Syd, however, would change like that often. Whereas it was accepted practice to record, say, the rhythm guitar for the whole duration of the song and then to go back later and overdub the solo. To Syd this was an unnecessary procedure!  He'd mix them together. That accounts for the 'drop' during the solo, as Syd's rhythm guitar is no longer there!)  The whole session lasted for just three hours (in the afternoon). At the end I casually asked Syd if he had any more songs for the next one in a week's time. 'Not really, but, er, I've got a weird idea I want to try out' was all he would say. 'Well,' I replied, 'does it need other musicians ? - because if so I'll need to book studio two again.'  'No' was his reply. A couple of days later I was none the wiser, and getting rather anxious. On the one hand I didn't want to book the wrong studio, and on the other I didn't want to hold valuable studio time with no real plans. Syd eventually said that he had no new songs but would quite like to see if there was anything we could do with one of Pete Jenner's old tracks, 'Rhamadan'. This was a long (even boring) track, lasting about 18 minutes, which Syd (or, at least, I have always presumed it was his playing) had made the previous May. It featured several conga drum overdubs, with no apparent theme or direction. Reluctantly I agreed to check it out, but said that we really didn't need a studio for that, we could use one of the mixing rooms. Just in case, I arranged for a stereo machine to be set up so we could mix it for reference later at home or in my office. On the morning of April 23rd., Syd and I again set out for Abbey Road.

     Syd was carrying a small, portable cassette player, which I assumed he was bringing so that we could make him a copy of 'Rhamadan'. I was very wrong. 'I'd like to overdub some motorbike sounds onto 'Rhamadan'', he said, 'so I've been out on the back of a friend's bike with the cassette player.  They are all ready to put onto the 'Rhamadan' four track.' When Syd played the cassette of the sound effects, it was terrible! Not only was it poor quality for casual listening, it was certainly no good for professional recording. Syd was quite insistent, so I said nothing more until we got to Abbey Road. I planned to let engineer (Peter Mew, I believe) reinforce my feelings. For almost an hour we struggled to wire Syd's machine into the 4 track master machine. The trouble with such an operation is that professional electrical fittings are bigger, better and more complex than those purchased over the counter of the average hi-fi shop. Someone in the workshop at Abbey Road had to actually make a connecting lead from Syd's cassette machine to the Studer 4 track. When we eventually wired the two together (cassette players are more common place in studios today with the increase in quality achieved over the last five years), it was apparent to all of us that the quality was not good enough. Even mixed into the conga drums at low level the tape hiss and extraneous noises were unacceptable.

     Fortunately, E.M.I. came to the rescue. One of the many advantages Abbey Road possessed over other studios of the time was its superior back-up facilities *(1) The workshop that made up the connecting lead for us was also responsible, as a matter of policy, for taking apart any equipment from outside sources and checking that it was up to E.M.I.'s technical standards. When the Beatles wanted to record in their newly opened Apple studios, it was E.M.I.'s equipment that was shipped out, in bulk, to Apple to do the recording. All Apple Studios started with was an empty room!  And it wasn't long before they were back recording in Abbey Road.* , including a large sound effects library. The next hour was spent selecting the right combination of starting up, revving, starting off and various gear changes, etc. for a thirty second tape, this time in stereo. Exactly what Syd intended to do I shall never know, because he later changed his mind and abandoned the project. Maybe it still lies, rejected, in the archives.

     The session we planned for two days later was almost abandoned due to illness on my part. I had suffered from colitis for some time, and a recurrence of the illness prevented me from attending the session. All that we planned to do was transfer all the tracks originally made on 4 track to 8 track for more overdubs, and I suggested to Syd that he might like to go ahead on his own and mix them down himself. Studio Three was now (just) able to cope with 8 track machines, although it still had the old 4 track mixing desk. Nevertheless it was an improvement which we wished to take advantage of, especially as we had decided to overdub backings onto 'It's No Good Trying', 'Clowns and Jugglers', 'Love You', and several others (see appendix). I noticed when preparing the appendix that 'Opel' was among them. Syd had obviously, at this stage, not decided to exclude it from the album. I still think, to this day, that this is one of his best and most haunting tracks, and it was tragic that, for reasons unknown to me, it was not included on the final album.

     On May 3rd Mike Ratledge and Robert Wyatt of the Soft Machine overdubbed various parts onto the 8 track copies made the previous session. In contrast to their own recordings, Syd's tracks were very erratic and unpredictable. Although Syd booked them he wasn't very good at explaining to them what he wanted. 'Love You' was a simple overdub of jangle piano and drums, plus of course, Hugh Hopper on bass. Lack of adequate rehearsal gave the Soft's performances a rather ragged aspect, for which I must take responsibility. If I had been able to give them more studio time they would have delivered better backings, although I must add that over the years the erratic quality of these tracks has been what endeared them to Barrett fans. I can't help feeling, 'though, that the Soft Machine themselves were not very proud of their own contributions!

     We had done 'Love You' first because it was the easiest.  Next came 'It's No Good Trying'. This was not a particularly easy track to overdub.  Between lines, (or verses) Syd had varying passages of blank guitar chords with no regular form to them. At one moment there would be 8 bars between verses, at the next maybe 6 or seven, very hard for a musician other than the composer to follow! A drummer likes to be able to 'lead into' the next verse with either a roll or a pause, or anything to announce the arrival of another new verse. Without written parts (charts) it had to be done from memory, and given such a task they fared extremely well. If 'Love You' was a little irregular (Syd went into the next verse, occasionally, after 6 1/2 or 7 bars instead of 8) then 'It's No Good Trying' was positively impossible! Syd had, before the session, taken copy tapes of many of these tracks which I had presumed were to give to the musicians he was booking to learn ahead of the session. Unfortunately I was wrong. He kept them! Anyway, after a bit of a struggle, we overdubbed 'It's No Good Trying' and moved on to 'Clowns and Jugglers'. This was the version I had worked on with Syd, originally, on our first session together on 10/4/69, when we had overdubbed guitar and voice onto a rough guitar backing Syd had made alone the year previously. It was in a higher key (than the issued one) and Syd had to sing really forcefully to make it work, but it still rates as one of my favourite unissued Syd recordings, after 'Opel'. Unfortunately he wished to overdub bass and drums (as was done, in a further re-make, for the version Dave and Roger produced that eventually appeared on the album). I liked it as it was, with Syd's voice and several guitar tracks to back him up. It had some very effective sounds, made by Syd, by half speaking words and sounds, during the solo. Unfortunately, the contributions at this overdub session by the Soft Machine were, in all honesty, pretty dire, and it must have been THIS version that Dave Gilmour heard and which led him to persuade Syd to remake it later. Mike Ratledge was required to improvise long passages of organ chords which, frankly, didn't work, and Robert Wyatt ended up playing tambourine. It was easier than trying to follow Syd's erratic bar structures!

     The following day we had a further session and Syd overdubbed his backwards guitar track on 'It's No Good Trying', and the lead guitar line on 'Terrapin', and 'No Man's Land'.

     During most of the later sessions Dave Gilmour had been taking a casual interest in what Syd was doing in the studios. The Soundtrack for Barbet Schroeder's 'More' film had been completed (it was, out of interest, not made at Abbey Road as it was not a regular Pink Floyd album, being made as a commission for someone other than E.M.I. The royalty rate was consequently higher than usual as the recording costs were born by the film makers and the Floyd). With 'More' out of the way, Dave was back at Abbey Road with the rest of the Pink Floyd recording material for 'Ummagumma', their first major album without Syd at all (he does play on several tracks on 'A Saucerful Of Secrets', contrary to stories stating otherwise). Syd had been seeing Dave a lot, and had even been to see him backstage at a Floyd show in Croydon. It was only a short step to Dave (with Roger Waters) suggesting to Syd that he should produce some tracks as well as myself.

     At the time I never felt any sense of being ousted from my role as producer. I had fared pretty well, and I still feel that there was enough already made to complete an album.  Much of what David and Roger were to produce was little more than guitar and voice tracks which any of us could have supervised. I have referred to 'Opel' and the early versions of 'Clowns and Jugglers' and 'Golden Hair', both of which later were re-made, with minor improvements. But I had no objections at the time. My original ambition had been fulfilled - to get Syd back on record. How it was done was of no objection to me as long as it was done professionally, so when Dave came to me and said that Syd wanted him and Roger to do the remaining parts of the album, I acquiesced. In a sense I was a little apprehensive. Although I had my office duties (I was still, of course, head of Harvest and had not relinquished my post acquiring recordings for other E.M.I. labels), I felt that David in particular had a lot on his plate (He still had to record major parts for 'Ummagumma'). But I felt that it was very likely that he and Roger could produce more interesting tracks than I ever could.

     I think here I should correct a fallacy, recorded in Rick Sanders; excellent book, 'Pink Floyd' (Futura Publications, 1976). In it he states that E.M.I. called a halt to the album, saying: 'Barrett asked David Gilmour for help. Gilmour and Waters managed to talk EMI into allowing three more days in the
studio to finish the album.' In fact, EMI had agreed that the project should extend into an album after about the third session, after they had heard rough mixes of several tracks.

     Unknowingly, then, my last studio session with Syd was on May 4th. From then on, I would act in executive capacity only.

     The rest of the album was done in three sessions, on June 12th and 13th, and a month later, on July 26th.  The reason for the long gap, which Syd found very frustrating, was that both Dave and Roger were in the studio mixing 'Ummagumma' *(1) Putting all the sessions together they run thus:
  12 June 1969 : Syd Barrett (5 titles)
  13 June 1969 : Syd Barrett (1 title)
  17 June 1969 : Mixing Dave's part of 'Ummagumma'
  23 June 1969 : Mixing Roger's part of 'Ummagumma'
  26 July 1969 : Syd's last session for the album

The additional cause for the delay in the completion of the album was that the Floyd were on tour in Holland for much of July.*, so Rick Sanders contention that 'half of 'the Madcap Laughs' was recorded in a two-day sprint' is largely true.

     On June 12th, Dave and Roger supervised the re-making of 'Clowns and Jugglers' (now re-titled 'Octopus') and 'Golden Hair', plus two new titles 'Dark Globe' and 'Long Gone'. As I was not present on these sessions I cannot, of course, describe the atmosphere of the moment or describe how these tracks were made. But from my session sheet made by the engineer and producers at the time, this is approximately what went on.

     The first track to be tackled was 'Octopus'. Although this version was completed to Syd and Dave's satisfaction, it was shorter than the issued version, running for 2.49 as opposed to the issued 3.45 version. Only 4 tracks of the 8 were used, probably two voices and two guitar tracks, all by Syd.  'Octopus' was put to one side and 'Golden Hair' was started (again!). Syd did 5 takes before a satisfactory one was completed, and both takes 6 and 7 were more or less completed, although the files indicate that only take 6 was satisfactorily completed, running for 1 minute 44 seconds. Takes 8, 9 and 10 were all false starts, and eventually, after eleven takes, the master was done! After this, Syd overdubbed his vocal (the original takes were just his acoustic guitar) plus the vibes, organ and cymbals of Dave and Roger (although Roger does not appear on the engineer's list of producers: Syd and Dave are officially listed) and, possibly, Rick Wright?? This eleventh take of Golden Hair (not to mention the many early takes of the original version!), plus overdubs, is the one that was finally released. It had been a long time in the making, although I must say it was well worth the effort. It is one of Syd's best ever recordings, and I put it on the 'B' side of 'Octopus', later.

     The third recording was a second attempt (on that day, that is), to record a successful take of 'Octopus'. This time, after another 10 takes, it was the eleventh take of 'Octopus' (the re-make) that constituted the basic track for the issued version. The song had had a very chequered career, starting life, in its unissued form, in July, 1968, continuing with attempts by me to have The Soft Machine overdub it (3/5/69) and eventually being abandoned in preference to this remake of June 12th. The modus operandi, as far as I can tell, was, much as I had done, to have Syd record guitar and vocal only and to overdub the rest of the instruments later. Certainly, from the studio notes, it seems that this was what happened, as the session the next day (13/6/69) was devoted solely to overdubbing drums, vocal, bass and electric guitars.

     NOTE: I hope that the reader is not, at this point, lost in the welter of takes, re-takes, re-makes, etc. I suggest that you refer to the session appendix later in the book and to the run down of the album and when each track was recorded, also in the appendix.

     Having completed successful takes of 'Golden Hair' and 'Octopus', the next track tackled was a new song, 'Dark Globe'. Syd obviously was best at ease with songs that he had not attempted to record too many times, as he completed this one on the second take. It is, admittedly, only guitar and voice, but so too were the basic takes for 'Golden Hair' and 'Octopus' which both took eleven takes to get the same basic track. I can draw no assumptions from this other than the general one which - I had always adopted with Syd, namely not to keep on with too many attempts at the same song with no break. 'Long Gone', the next title attempted by Syd and Dave, didn't work after two takes, and was later replaced by another attempt. The last song on the session was another take of 'Dark Globe', probably to see if they could come up with a better take than the one already accepted. Strangely, the issued version runs for only 1.57 minutes, while the later, unissued one was as long as 3.15! *(1) For the observant, the album states the time of the issued version of 'Dark Globe' as 2.10!  Time it for yourself! Maybe there was a false start from take one intended for use and excluded at the last moment by Syd, Dave and Roger, which would have added extra time. As I was not responsible, of course, for this title, this is only supposition.  But it certainly was the first version, not the second, used.*  I have never heard it but it would be good to compare it with the short, issued version. Anyway, it was decided not to use this re-make and to use the one made earlier in the session.

     As stated earlier, the session the next day was a short one, devoted solely to the overdubbing, onto the previous day's master of 'Octopus', the bass, drums, lead voice and electric guitar that completed the issued master. Again, Syd and Dave are listed as producers, with no mention of Roger Waters.

     The session of June 13th was the last Syd would have for over a month, as the Floyd had work to do of their own and, in particular, a tour, during most of July, of Holland. His final session for the album took place on July 16th, and was completed pretty much in a hurry! Titles completed during that session were 'She Took A Long Cold Look', 'Long Gone' (the remade, issued version), an attempted re-make of 'Dark Globe' (Called 'Wouldn't You Miss Me' on the session sheet!) and the continuous run of 'She Took A Long Cold Look (at me)' / 'Feel' / 'If It's In You'. Again, I do not know how the first version on this session of 'She Took A Long Cold Look' went, but my original reaction, (which I still hold) was one of disappointment. False starts are O.K. if they give an insight into the musicianship / artistry of those present, or even if they present the odd mistake which everyone is capable of. But when I first heard the false starts to 'If It's In You' my reaction then, (as now) was first one of anger that they were left in, and, secondly, boredom! Now I hate to wind people up, but the false starts to the tracks that I had personally supervised were far more interesting than those left in the final album. They certainly would have been more of a candid insight to the atmosphere on the sessions and less detrimental to Syd's abilities than the ones left in. Those left in show Syd, at best, as out of tune (which he rarely was) and, at worst, as out of control (which again, he never was). They are still my least favourite tracks on the record, in direct contrast to my favourites which also were Gilmour/Waters productions ('Octopus', 'Golden Hair'). Apart from the overdubbing of organ onto 'Long Gone', the whole of this session was just Syd alone, a rather desolate ending to the recording of an album that took over a year to make, with as much ending up on the cutting room floor as on the issued album.

     It is possibly an indication (contrary to reports) as to the freedom that Dave, Roger and Syd had, that the album was completed and mixed with no-one (including myself) knowing so! So when Syd rang and told me that Dave and Roger had mixed the tracks they had produced and that they intended to mix mine too, I knew we finally had an album. The album was finally assembled into its final running order by Syd and Dave on October 6th (it had taken over two months to mix, and Syd was a bit pissed off with the delay, as I was!), and the next task was to schedule the release date........at last!!!