I’ve got a bike. You can ride it if you like
It’s got a basket, a bell that rings and
Things to make it look good.
I’d give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it.*
Despite painful learning as to the aptness of the name ‘stinging nettles’, it was one of the best days ever spent in England. Reasonably early start, strap the one-year-old onto the back of my borrowed bicycle while Ms Connection loads the supplies onto hers, sunscreen (how delightful, needing sunscreen), helmets clipped one, two, three, go.
Easy warm-up peddle into Cambridge, skirting the south-western edge of that beautiful city, pick up Driftway. What a street name; wouldn’t you love it? ‘Yes, I live on Driftway, the River Cam end’. Of course everyone would mutter ‘Wanker’ as you turned away, but you wouldn’t care and certainly wouldn’t reveal the end of the lane is a car park where you currently reside in a rusting 1984 Volvo Estate.
Left into Grantchester Street; there was doubtless a quicker way but it’s all so picturesque you don’t care. Past Lamas Field and Owlstone Road (check the map, this is real) then right turn into Grantchester Meadows. The thoroughfare, not the place. Named, we hope, because it leads there.
Houses give way to playing fields, then to grass; long, green, untended. Pause to tighten the harness on the boy. Those are stinging nettles warns Ms C, brimming with local knowledge, but balancing bike, boy and bruce brings on brush with bracken. Ouch. Ouch-bloody-ouch. It’ll wear off, comforts Ms C. Good, is all I can grind out in the moment.
A hundred meters later, a glimpse of the river thrusting a bent elbow towards the path. Tilled fields on the right, meadows on the left, Grantchester up ahead. Impossible not to love this bucolic paradise. Heaven on a stick for a Pink Floyd fan, peddling a leisurely course towards the promise of a cream tea and humming along to my favourite song from Ummagumma.
Hear the lark and harken to the barking of the dog fox
Gone to ground
See the splashing of the kingfisher flashing to the water
And a river of green is sliding unseen beneath the trees
Laughing as it passes through the endless summer, making for the sea
Did Syd and Roger cycle along this path? Easy to imagine an idyllic mid-sixties summer afternoon. Surely it is compulsory for those with artistic aspirations to picnic at Grantchester within sight of the clocktower? And mandatory to recite the closing lines of Rupert Brooke’s poem.
WATERS: Can’t help noticing, Stands the Church clock at ten to three, Syd.
BARRETT: And is there honey still for tea?
WATERS: No, you finished it at breakfast you greedy sod.
BARRETT: There’s this grass, though.
WATERS: It doesn’t scan, does it? That final pair of lines.
BARRETT: Poetry, Rog.
BARRETT: I’ve written another song.
WATERS: Me too. Mine’s called “Take Up Thy Stethoscope and Walk”. What’s yours?
BARRETT: “Let’s Roll Another One” **
WATERS: Sure, but what’s the song called?
Change of location. Cambridge natives Syd Barrett and Roger Waters meet Richard Wright and drummer Nick Mason and find a trickle of low-paying gigs around their new patch, London. It’s 1966 and more by accident than design, The Pink Floyd find themselves supporting Soft Machine at the ramshackle UFO club, playground of the counter culture.
Cambridge graduate Peter Whitehead, now also in the capital and making a film of the ‘now’ scene called Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London, was told to check out The Pink Floyd as potential music providers for his groovy film. Liking what he saw and heard, in early 1967 he “stumped up £85 for two hours of recording time at Rye Muse studios… and filmed the group’s performance of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’”***.
Having signed with EMI for the confidence-building sum of £5000, the band repaired to Abbey Road studios where staff producer Norman Smith (who had worked on a number of Beatles productions) set the controls.# The piece they recorded was an odd pop song indeed. A catchy but slightly creepy Syd Barrett ditty about a purloiner of women’s undergarments named “Arnold Layne”. Opening with the protagonist’s name and a punchy percussive strike, the story unfolds into a tale of cross-dressing and, ultimately, incarceration. Unsurprisingly, there was controversy around the subject matter and even hip pirate station Radio London banned it. Syd and Roger shrugged, insisting the song was based on real events from their Cambridge childhood. Flip side of the single was “Candy and a Currant Bun”, a summer-of-love ditty with odd stops and starts and a lyric that falls a little below profundity. Ice-cream tastes good in the afternoon. Still, it was a strong debut release that scraped into the British Top 20.
The follow-up didn’t fare so well commercially, but is a great little song that absolutely demonstrates Barrett’s unique song-writing skills. Originally titled “Games for May” in honour of an event Pink Floyd were headlining (note the definite article has disappeared from their name), it was re-named “See Emily Play”, backed with “Scarecrow”—a piece of Syd whimsy—and released in June 1967. It’s a terrific slice of psychedelia, even without the darker edge of its predecessor.
“See Emily Play” was recorded during sessions for the debut album, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn.^ After the album release, a tour of the USA was hastily arranged and a new single demanded. The psych-by-numbers “Apples and Oranges” was recorded and did very little on the charts, anywhere. It’s OK, but less interesting than the B-side, Richard Wright’s “Paint Box”, a keyboard driven song full of quirky invention.
All three singles are enjoyable and worthy of a listen, not least because they were amongst the earliest songs (along with a couple by The Who and The Kinks) to inject quirky Englishness directly into pop music. Not everyone’s cup of tea and a bun, but idiosyncratic in content and unusual in structure.
When EMI released Relics, a worthwhile compilation of early Floyd material, they included “Paint Box” but omitted the A-side. “Candy And A Currant Bun” was overlooked too. Makes you wonder. Did Candy have her currant bun for tea? Was there honey? Or did she have jam and cream, sitting in an English garden at Grantchester Meadows?
Mark Blake (2007) Pigs Might Fly: The Inside Story of Pink Floyd. Aurum Press, London UK.
Nicholas Schaffner (1991) Saucerful of Secrets: The Pink Floyd Story. Sidgwick & Jackson, London UK.
Pink Floyd — From Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London [Mini promo CD, See For Miles 1991]
Pink Floyd — The First 3 Singles [EMI 1997]
Pink Floyd — Relics [Harvest 1971 / EMI Digital Remaster 1995]
* Pink Floyd “Bike” from The Piper At The Gates of Dawn
** Later re-titled “Candy and a Currant Bun” and released as the B-side of “Arnold Layne”
*** Blake, p. 72
# Schaffner, p. 56
^ The subject of a Vinyl Connection post in the not too distant future.