I heard you singing in the midnight air, my book is closed, I read no more, watching the fire dance, on the floor, I’ve left my book, I’ve left my room… – “Golden Hair,” Syd Barrett
Like many Pink Floyd fans, an introduction to Peter Jenner began when I put the needle down on the opening track on their first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. “Astronomy Dominé” features Jenner’s voice which starts off the number, and it is Jenner’s voice here which tells a fascinating tale of his involvement with Syd Barrett and the Floyd in their early days before his further success as a prominent manager of numerous acts in Blackhill Enterprises, and then, Sincere Management, over the last four decades, including T. Rex, Roy Harper, The Clash, Robyn Hitchcock, and Billy Bragg. Jenner is also the Emeritus President for IMMF (International Music Manager’s Forum), and an outspoken artist activist via his work with such organizations as AURA (Association of United Recording Artists), where he is a council member.
But that all followed a few years of conversion in the mid-1960s from assistant lecturer at the London School of Economics to his “baptism of fire” in the true spirit of DIY band management. Indeed, the old educational cliché is turned on its head: if one doesn’t care to teach, well, then, manage Pink Floyd in its earliest incarnation. Jambands.com caught up with Jenner in his England home on the occasion of the release of the new compilation, An Introduction to Syd Barrett. The package is significant because, for the first time, it includes not only Barrett’s work with the Floyd, but various remastered solo material, some re-mixed by Floyd guitarist David Gilmour, who also served as Executive Producer on the project. The album also contains a rather fascinating and improvised 20-minute instrumental, “Rhamadan,” as a bonus track. Indeed, the piece is reportedly produced by Peter Jenner, but like so many things one will encounter in this interview, the past is often a mysterious haze; although, we dwell in the unwritten future.
RR: Let’s begin with your tenure as Pink Floyd’s co-manager, along with Andrew King, during the Syd Barrett era, which led to your choice to manage Syd after his departure from the Floyd, while managing acts with King for Blackhill Enterprises.
PJ: Yeah. Well, where to start? Andrew and I got into management by mistake or by accident. I was a very junior university professor, an ‘assistant lecturer’ in English terms [London School of Economics]. I’d always been a music fan, and, also, I became involved with our own independent label, which was distributed by Elektra in the UK. That seemed interesting and fun. There were all sorts of stuff happening in the cultural world at the time in the UK, a lot of excitement, and all of it driven from the Beatles and the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” and Dylan, the Stones and The Who—a huge interest in what was happening in the music world and, suddenly, Britain was in the middle of it.
For a 23-year old, at that time, that was a very exciting time to be observing it. It seemed like “oh, look, the music biz” and then, there was this band and they didn’t want to be on the label, they wanted a manager, so Andrew and I said, “Let’s manage this band. Why not?” He had a bit of money and wasn’t working, and I was getting a bit bored with what I was doing at the university. I couldn’t really work out what I wanted to do any research on, which made any sense to me, and was worth doing—sort of general alienation. We ended up looking after The Pink Floyd and that seemed like a hobby. Before we knew where we were, the hobby had taken off and become an overnight sensation in the UK with all sorts of dodgy people trying to become our friends. We ended up getting a deal with EMI, the Beatles label, and my God, working at Abbey Road with Norman Smith who had been the Beatles engineer, and the Beatles were down the corridor, and we’re making records and “oh, wow—we’ve got a hit (laughs), a hit album, and we’ve got a hit single,” and…this is easy. This is easy. It was all just such a sort of whirl. It was an accident, a blessed accident.
Subsequently, it all exploded, it was fantastic, and it all went pear-shaped. I don’t think we got used to the idea that it was successful before it all started crashing and burning. “See Emily Play” was a hit, straightaway, and we tried to have another hit. We went to America. Bill Graham was phoning us up to come and do gigs at the Fillmore, and all this stuff was happening and the album was a hit and people wanted to see us in Europe, and “my God—this is fantastic,” but, then, it just all started getting difficult.
RR: It’s hard for some people to understand because they have an image of what Floyd became but, at that time, Syd Barrett was the complete focus of the band.
PJ: Absolutely. Absolutely. He was absolutely the heart of the band. He wrote the songs. He was the lead singer. He was the lead guitarist. He was the pretty one. He was the most handsome. He was the one that everybody wanted…well, no—Rick [Wright] was very handsome, as well. But [Barrett] was the one that people wanted to interview. If you’d wanted to interview The Pink Floyd back then, you’d had wanted to speak to Syd.
RR: Two things were going on at the same time, and one couldn’t just reference current societal trends that tell someone how to take care of someone else when they have certain issues: you are a young man managing a successful act—a huge explosion, this accidental thing—and your focal point, Syd Barrett, is deteriorating.
PJ: Yeah, starting to have, as you say in that wonderful American way, there were “certain issues,” indeed. (laughter) And, yes, absolutely, there was like a baptism of fire, I think for all of us, including, the other members of the band. It was an extraordinary sort of thing to go through, and to be discovering the music business from…I mean, I had never been in any business before. I had just been at school, I had been at university, and then I’d started teaching in the university. I didn’t know anything. I was an economist. And, you know, “WOW—look at all this stuff. Contracts? What are they? Gigs? What’s that? How do you do a gig? (laughter) Where do you hire a van? What’s a van? Equipment? What equipment?”
So the first thing we did when Andrew and I started managing the Floyd was that we bought them some equipment. In three or four days—maybe, it was a week—it was stolen, and we hadn’t insured it. Lesson one. (laughter)
RR: You also helped with the initial lighting design, which would become such a big fixture in Floyd shows, by getting some of that equipment, as well. Is it true that you were taking advantage of circumstances while you were so far removed from what was going down at the light shows at American gigs, specifically on the West Coast, and that actually helped the Floyd develop their own imagery?
PJ: Well, yes, but I think the thing was that what was going on was it was a bit like, you know, we thought that we were doing something like they were doing in California. But in fact, it was totally different. There was some overlap; some of the original lighting had come from the guys that had come to the first UFOs [a UK underground club; literally, as it occupied the basement of 31 Tottenham Court Road], and were doing some of those oil, blippy lights. We thought that was great, but we always thought, somehow, the band should be the whole multi-media thing, as they say now, but we were saying that back then. The idea was that we were creating an experience. That was all part of the bullshit.
As you say, my partner and I built some lights because we thought lights would be really important, and you could get some more drama, and have blippy lights, as well. That was all part of the show. Interestingly, one of the things, because we didn’t know anything about lighting, was that we just bought light fittings, from Woolworths or Wal-Mart or whatever. They were domestic light fittings and we stuck them on bits of wood, which we bought from the carpentry shop, you know. (laughs) These lights were fixed spots, spotlights, so they had a very short range. To get them to work, you had to have them very close to the band. We put them close to the band, and that, of course, meant that if you had a screen behind the band where we put on the blippy lights, the oil lights which we were trying to do from the word ‘go’, really, after we’d seen them at UFO, and we got to know how to do them and we learned how all that worked—but, these lights were so close that you got these huge shadows that, of course, were very dramatic. We thought, “Fantastic!” because you’d get these shadows of people moving, and you’d shift the lights, and the shadows moved because they were so close to them. It was a very interesting thing, but we didn’t know what we were doing. We had no idea. Pretty soon, we had someone that had a better idea, but it picked up from there—there’s no question. It set the idea that the Floyd would have lights, and that was part of the show from the word go. From the first thing that we wrote about them it was about a multi-media thing.