Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Pink Floyd - The Shape of Questions to Heaven (Upgrade)

Pink Floyd – The Shape of Questions to Heaven
(a soniclovenoize re-imagining)

March 2017 UPGRADE

Side A:
1.  Vegetable Man
2.  Apples and Oranges
3.  Remember A Day
4.  a) Golden Hair
     b) Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun
5.  In The Beechwoods

Side B:
6.  John Latham
7.  Paintbox
8.  Scream Thy Last Scream
9.  Jugband Blues

Although I said I wouldn’t, the material spontaneously struck me one day recently and I was motivated to upgrade this original re-imagining from four years ago, which postulates “What if Syd Barrett hadn’t been fired from Pink Floyd?”  The Shape of Questions to Heaven is the theoretical 1968 follow up to 1967’s The Piper At The Gates of Dawn, and culls material from Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets sessions and Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs sessions to create a second album of Syd Barrett-led Pink Floyd, an album that most certainly never was.

The updates to this March 2017 edition are:

  • Revised tracklist that focuses more on actual Syd-led Pink Floyd sessions and less reliant on Syd’s solo work without the rest of the band—a true 2nd Pink Floyd album with Syd Barrett
  • “Late Night”, “Lanky Part One” and “Clowns and Jugglers” are dropped from the tracklist and replaced by “In The Beechwoods” and “John Latham” sourced from The Early Years boxset. 
  • More recent (and in my opinion) superior sources are used, including the 2011 remaster of A Saucerful of Secrets and the 2015 remaster of The Madcap Laughs

After a sequence of high-charting singles and the focused attention of the swinging London scene, Pink Floyd looked to broaden their horizon of success.  Their 1967 debut album The Piper at The Gates of Dawn seemed to accentuate the eccentricities of their front man Syd Barrett; it’s marriage of psychedelic pop and experimental space-rock seemed to encapsulate Barrett’s own spaciness.  But all was not well within the Pink Floyd camp…  Just as the album was released in August, Barrett began to show signs of a breakdown, probably due to his escalated use of LSD.  A few shows were canceled that summer due to Barrett’s erratic behavior and attempts to take him to a doctor had failed. 

Struggling through Syd’s antics, the band attempted to record a follow-up single to the newly-released album.  Two new compositions were recorded on August 7th and 8th, 1967 at De Lane Lea Studios: Barrett’s “Scream Thy Last Scream” b/w Roger Waters’ “Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun”; unfortunately they were rejected as a single by EMI.  After starting work on a new album proper at Sound Techniques Studios in September with an instrumental backing track for “In The Beechwoods” and two free-form jams “Reaction In G” and “No Title”, Pink Floyd returned to De Lane Lea in early October to record Barrett’s “Vegetable Man” b/w “Jugband Blues” as a prospected single, as well as adding overdubs to an unfinished outtake from The Piper sessions, Richard Wright’s “Remember A Day”.  With “Vegetable Man” also rejected by the record label, Pink Floyd reconvened in late October at De Lane Lea Studios for a third attempt at a single, Barrett’s “Apples and Oranges” b/w Wright’s “Paintbox”.  Even though this single was finally approved by EMI and released in November, it failed to chart.  Also recorded at this session was a 30-minute improvisational piece for John Latham’s experimental animated film Speak; it too was rejected and it has remained in the vaults for nearly 50 years!

Following a disastrous American taping of “Apples and Oranges” at The Pat Boone Show in which Barrett stood motionless instead of performing (as well as a similar spaced-out interview on American Band Stand) the other members of Pink Floyd decided that they needed a fifth member to backup Barrett’s unpredictability.  Drafting Barrett’s guitarist friend from art school, David Gilmour joined Pink Floyd at the end of 1967 as a second guitarist and the band functioned as an awkward quintet for a month in January.  As a five piece, rehearsals commenced for upcoming gigs and new songs were written, often with Barret not showing interest or not even showing up altogether!  Barrett’s madness climaxed during a rehearsal in which Barrett attempted to teach his bandmates a new song, allegedly entitled “Have You Got It Yet?”; after every run-through of the song, Barrett altered the structure so the band could not possibly follow along and then sung to the band members “Have you got it yet?”  With Gilmour on guitar and without Syd at all, the band entered Abbey Roads Studios on January 24th and 25th to record the newly written songs “See-Saw”, “Corporal Clegg” and “Let There Be More Light”.  The very next day, Waters decided not to pick up Barrett on the way to a gig; Syd was out of Pink Floyd, and the rest was history. 

By February 1968 the band realized that they were now absent a lead songwriter who could write pop hits; Wright contributed “It Would Be So Nice” and Waters offered “Julia Dream”, both an attempt to create a formula Syd Barrett psyche-pop single.  The results were dismal as the single failed and the band has since blacklisted the songs as rubbish.  By spring, Pink Floyd assessed what recorded material could make an album, and found they were quite short; they would have to find a new way to operate, without a Syd Barrett.  The answer was “A Saucerful of Secrets”, a 12-minute instrumental epic concerning the effects of war, composed as if it was an architectural design, which became the title track of the album.  By becoming a more conceptual and jam-based band, Pink Floyd were able to free themselves from the unreachable expectations of the ghost of Syd Barrett.  In the end, of Barrett's songs only “Jugband Blues” was used, as well as “Remember A Day” and “Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun” (the later which also featured overdubs from Gilmour, making it the only Pink Floyd track to feature all five members).  But is there a way to present this album how it could have been, before Pink Floyd lost their crazy diamond? 

Side A of my reconstruction of a second Barrett-led Pink Floyd album begins with “Vegetable Man”.  Here I am using the mix found on the bootleg The Syd Barrett Tapes, as I think the new 2010 remix found on The Early Years sounds anachronistic and too modern, definetly not fitting with the rest of the album!  This is followed by the stereo mix of “Apples and Oranges” from The Piper at The Gates of Dawn remaster and “Remember A Day” from A Saucerful of Secrets.  Next is my original crossfade of take 5 of “Golden Hair” from The Madcap Laughs and “Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun” from A Saucerful; although “Golden Hair” was tracked during the first sessions for Barrett’s first solo album on May 28th 1968, it still fits into the timeline of this reconstruction, but more importantly it sonically fits as Syd’s intro to “Set The Controls”.  Side A concludes with Syd’s (presumably) unfinished song “In The Beechwoods” from The Early Years. 

Side B begins with an abbreviated, nearly-12-minute edit of “John Latham” from The Early Years, effectively taking the place of “Saucerful” on the actual album.  Following is the stereo “Paintbox” from Relics and “Scream Thy Last Scream”, again taken from the bootleg The Barrett Tapes, avoiding the overly-polished 2010 mix from The Early Years.  The album ends just as Saucerful does, with “Jugband Blues”.  

 How does The Shape of Questions To Heaven compare with A Saucerful?  Quite bluntly, we can hear Syd's mind being undone, but at least in a focused and more cohesive manner than on A Madcap Laughs.  What was only suggested on "Jugband Blues" is fully explored on "Vegetable Man" and "Scream Thy Last Scream", songs Barrett wrote directly about his madness.  As for "In The Beechwoods", we can only imagine what the vocal melody and lyric would have been, but here it’s just an instrumental that closes Side A. With an interesting yet meandering improvisational piece to occupy half of side B, it's interesting to note that the other band members were already contributing supplemental material with "Paintbox", "Remember A Day" and "Set The Controls", as if they knew Syd was falling short.  Regardless, it is an enjoyable listen and an interesting alternative to A Saucerful of Secrets, and succeeds in creating an album that demonstrates just what Pink Floyd could have done with their lunatic on the grass.  

Sources used:
Pink Floyd – A Saucerful of Secrets (2011 remaster)
Pink Floyd – The Early Years (2016 box set)
Pink Floyd – The Piper at The Gates of Dawn (2007 Remaster)
Pink Floyd – Relics (1996 reissue)
Pink Floyd – The Syd Barrett Tapes (bootleg, 2008 Needledrop Records)
Syd Barrett – The Madcap Laughs (2015 Harvest remaster)

 flac --> wav --> editing in SONAR and Goldwave --> flac encoding via TLH lv8
*md5, artwork and tracknotes included