A Saucerful Of Secrets

Syd contributed one full song, and contributed at least something in the way of instrumentation to the two Rick Wright numbers here, and possibly one of the Roger Waters songs as well. To compensate for a rapidly unpredictable and unreliable Syd Barrett, Pink Floyd hired Dave Gilmour, who’d been in a number of professional groups around the same Cambridge area that Pink Floyd had sprung from. He was a friend of Syd’s actually, a good guitar player with a mimics instinct which was a huge help in overcoming the lack of Syd, especially during live performances at the time. Given Syd’s decline and eventual ejection from Pink Floyd, ‘Saucerful’ perhaps necessarily comes across as an album that doesn’t quite know which direction to take. Rick Wright contributes a couple of songs that are semi-syd, really. Roger Waters picks up and tries to carry on from the likes of ‘Astronomy Domine’ from ‘Piper’ and the title track is an experimental extended group composition along the lines of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ but for the complete lack of structure. There are countless stories surrounding Syd Barrett of course, but one story that Roger Waters told has always amused me. Syd was playing a new song for the group to learn, titled ‘Have You Got It Yet?’. The group were having difficulty working out the song, Syd kept changing it everytime he replayed the opening sequence, the group genuinely unaware that Syd was having a great laugh at their expense. That’s a light-hearted example, the real problem was Syd live, often just sitting in the middle of the stage playing nothing at all, other times playing a completely different melody to the rest of the group that bore no relation to the song they were meant to be performing. Following ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’, Syd would play no further active part in Pink Floyd recordings or performances.

The Roger Waters song ‘Let There Be More Light’ opens this album, and whilst it’s absolutely not as thrilling or impressive as ‘Astronomy Domine’ for example, the repeating bass line does become hypnotic, the keyboards over the top of the songs introduction slightly free-form, and the vocals and lyrics suitably psychedelic. It’s a good song, and leads into another good song, the Rick Wright penned ‘Remember A Day’. The drum pattern here is fun and enjoyable, the vocals and lyrics, the entire song in fact reminding you of Barrett, although never scaling the same heights as the finest songs from ‘Piper’. I do love ‘Remember A Day’ though, love the feel of the song and the sound of the Piano and the effects. Roger writes another song around a simple bass riff, ‘Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun’, and so far, so good. A strong follow-up to ‘Piper’ if only they’d be able to maintain this quality throughout a ten track album, or so. But, ‘Corporal Clegg’ although containing some biting guitar has hideously cringe-inducing lyrics. Roger tries to ape the style of Syd here, with mixed results at best. The Kazoo sections are entertaining though. The title track is very free-form avant-garde, perhaps a response at one of the very few critiscms levelled at the ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’ record, that it didn’t accurately represent the live Pink Floyd experience. What can work well in a live setting though doesn’t always necessarily work as well on record, and this title track although displaying admiral attempts at sound manipulation and experimentation, is absolutely no kind of song or composition. The closing section of the track is the best part, the mellow Church Organ sound that comes through, with harmonies, is quite beautiful. ‘See-Saw’ contains the lyric “marigolds are very much in love” – another obvious Syd styled song from the pen of Rick Wright. Syd actually encouraged both Roger and Rick to write songs in the first place, and the songs of Rick Wright especially would have complimented Syd’s songs very well, with Roger contributing to the group compositions and adding a couple of spacey things like ‘Set The Controls To The Heart Of The Sun’. ‘See-Saw’ is a beautiful song, although let down by the vocals, or the mixing – quite hard to put a finger on, but these Rick Wright vocals are really not very strong, working much better when in harmony with the rest of the group.

The final song here was a Syd Barrett inspired piece of either genius of lunacy, depending on which way you look at it. The lyric is a masterful self-diagnosis by Syd into his own escalating mental illness and declining state of health. The music is courtesy of a Salvation Army band who were invited into the studio by Syd and told to play whatever they felt like. Syd plays acoustic guitar, strums and sings very simply, whilst brass instruments, effects and insanity swirl around this lonely and lost figure. The track fades outs to leave just Syd alone, with acoustic, and it’s beautiful, yet haunting and desolate. ‘Jugband Blues’ is the most striking track on the entire album. Two of the three Roger Waters compositions certainly have merit and are much improved from his efforts on ‘Piper’. The title track is more worthy and admirable than it is enjoyable and ‘Corporal Clegg’ just isn’t very good at all. So, ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’? It remains a strangely fascinating listen, even with several flaws. It’s absolutely no kind of ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’, but it was well enough received at the time to give Pink Floyd encouragement and something to build on, post Syd.

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