I blame Syd, Proust and Jimi amongst others…

I’ve been wondering why I haven’t been able to summon up the creative energy to write a new blog in a couple of weeks (of course you have too, and that’s why I’ve been inundated with emails and tweets demanding some fresh words of wisdom – not).  Well, I think I’ve finally found the reason for my malaise:  I am, to a greater or lesser extent, affected emotionally by what I’m reading at the time (a bit like an actor being so immersed in a character he’s playing that his moods begin to be affected by the role) and the two books that combined to put me into an almost catatonic state were Swann’s Way, which I recorded about three weeks ago, and A Very Irregular Head: The Life of Syd Barrett, which I was deep into all last week.

Swann’s Way begins Proust’s journey ‘In Search of Lost Time’:  Every sense is heightened as they all contribute to triggering memories of the past, and there is much wallowing in nostalgia.  Now, I am very prone to be sent off into memories of my past – reading 20 hours of Proust simply sharpened that ability.

Cue Syd, and my own experiences growing up in the late sixties and early seventies.  I knew it might be a book I had a connection with even before I started, and by half way through the author’s introduction I was finding myself becoming emotional (in a not particularly emotional passage).  The sense of loss I felt in the story of Syd Barrett was palpable.  If you know nothing about him, let me tell you he co-founded Pink Floyd in the mid sixties and just as they were becoming famous in ’67/68 he had some form of psychological breakdown.  He was ‘edged’ out of the Floyd (one day they just didn’t pick him up for a gig) and after two solo albums and an aborted attempt at a third in ’74 he probably never picked up a guitar again.  Many people who knew him commented on the difference between the old Syd (pre-breakdown) and the later Syd; they appeared to be two very different people.  After years of obscurity living as normal, and anonymous, a life as possible (not very – unthinking ‘fans’ of his early work never stopped bothering him in some way or other) he died in 2006.

After completing Syd’s story I just had to go back and listen to all the recordings I had of early Pink Floyd, I listened to Syd’s solo stuff and I watched a lot of what was available on You Tube. Suddenly I was reliving my own introduction to the raw rock of the late 60’s /early 70’s…

The first concert I ever attended was on 19th February 1969 and it cost five shillings (at the time about 60 cents) – here’s the program cover on the left (part of my mammoth collection of Rock Concert programs).

On the right is a picture I took of my early favorite guitarist Paul Kossoff of Free (yet another victim of the times; he died in 1976 after falling victim to drug abuse, though he tried to clean up he died of drug related heart problems on a flight from LA to NY).  Free, you’ll note from the program cover, was first on the bill at my first gig.

Two weeks later my second live concert was… Pink Floyd!

I was thirteen at the time and I tried to go and see as many live concerts as I could.  By the time I finished Grammar School (1974) I could beat most fellow students with the list of live acts I had seen.  Perhaps the most memorable was Led Zeppelin on 20th December 1972 (see the pic on the right): After the concert was over and the house lights went up Robert Plant came out in response to the continuing cheers and demands of the audience members who had resolutely refused to leave. We had stayed clustered around the stage and he emerged from the wings and joined us in singing Christmas songs – without a microphone.

I mustn’t forget to mention ‘Rock at the Oval – 1971’, which took place a year to the day after the death of Jimi Hendrix (which was forty years ago this past weekend – another reason for my malaise… FORTY years? I can’t be that old… where did my life go…etc, etc.).  Top of the bill – The Who (Pete Townsed smashed his guitar and Keith Moon walked through his drum kit – quote from Roger Daltrey “As you see, we can’t do an encore”).  Also: Rod Stewart and the Faces, America, Mott the Hoople, The Greaseband and Quintessence, among others – what a day!  I went to a couple of the Crystal Palace Bowl concerts too and saw the likes of Elton John, Yes and Lindisfarne (one of my favourite bands of the time).

I chose my university partly based on the fact that The Who had a live album out called ‘Live at Leeds’ recorded in the refectory at Leeds University.  I wasn’t disappointed – I probably saw a great live band almost every weekend in my first year at Leeds.  After a year off I went back to Leeds at the end of 1976, but by then punk was gaining a hold and it was impossible to relax and enjoy the music sedately – it was all about getting up and jumping and pushing and… well, that’s when I first realized I was an old fogey at heart.

Jump forward a few years to 1985 and I remember seeing Bruce Springsteen for the first time at Wembley Stadium, and being so impressed I went back the next day and bought a ticket off a tout (first and only time) and saw him again. Saw Floyd again in 1988 (I’d seen them do The Wall at Earls Court in 1980 and 81).  Saw Genesis whenever I could (I’d seen them first when I was still in grammar school) and by now you’ll realize I really wasn’t a punk of any kind, I really enjoy good stadium rock (though I saw The Jam twice and survived!).

So, live rock makes up a large part of the landscape of my life – I could write for hours about my experiences at rock concerts, but we’ll save that for another time!  Since my sons have been old enough I have taken great pleasure in dragging them around to all the best concerts I could find (in my judgment, of course).  We saw the Genesis reunion gig in 2007 and I took my eldest (for his 14th birthday) to see the 35th anniversary tour of Yes and because I had met Rick Wakeman at the BBC he gave me backstage passes and my son met him, Jon Anderson, Chris Squire and Alan White.

But my favorite moment with my sons has to be getting tickets for The Rolling Stones, and when the moving stage came to within 20 feet of us my youngest son stood on a chair and put his arms round my neck (he was quite small then).  With my eldest  the other side of me and with Mick, Keith, et al just a few feet away I was the happiest dad in the world.

I’m taking the family to see Roger Waters perform The Wall in a couple of months – which kind of brings us round in full circle.

By the way, all the photos I took myself (the sliver of a pic at the top is of Zeppelin in ’72)!


Thankfully the ‘malaise’ has passed and I think I’ve found my mojo again  – but I’m going to have to watch it when I do any more of those rock biographies.  I’m getting too old for them….

Take Care

PS If you’re interested I have narrated Eric Clapton’s autobiography and a biography of Led Zeppelin. Click on the pictures below to take you to the Audible.com download page:

About Simon

Simon is an actor who found his way into audiobook narrating as a side-gig and seems to have made a success of it. With some training as an actor as a child (just a couple of hours a week, but it stuck) and 15 years working inside the BBC (ending up as one of the presenters/newsreaders on BBC Radio 4 in London) he found the ideal combination for an audiobook narrator. Found his way to California two decades ago and never left.

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13 Responses to I blame Syd, Proust and Jimi amongst others…

  1. Adam Bedore January 22, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

    This all makes me think of a beautiful song about Syd and his death by the Trashcan Sinatras called “Oranges and Apples”.

  2. Laurie Atwater December 21, 2010 at 5:58 am #

    Use the sherry as sense memory for Valens…

    Wow! Happy to be “Old Hundredth” (Praise God)

    And a Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  3. Laurie Atwater December 18, 2010 at 6:13 pm #

    Got the nicest note from Ruth Downie about Caveat Emptor, the new Ruso and Tilla mystery, saying you are doing it for Tantor! Very pleased. I know where those January Audible credits are going!

    Looking forward as well to Circle of Reason and The Year of the Hare.

    Must also let you know that I have been utterly entranced with your reading of Swann’s Way. It seeps into me, and I feel porous and vulnerable and incredibly human. Listening to it takes all of my attention — I must sit still and take it in. I am not even able to drive while listening. It’s extaordinary, a really unique experience as an audience. The material is, of course, brilliant; yet no other reading of it reaches past my brain and into my heart and soul as yours does. Thank you for that.

    • Simon December 19, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

      Dear Laurie, Thank you so much for your words about Swann’s Way – it was a ‘toughie’ at times but given your response I think it was worth the work (and I enjoyed reading it). I’m not sure about the release date for Caveat Emptor – I know I have to record it immediately after Christmas! I’d better keep the sherry intake to a minimum…
      By the way, yours is the 100th comment on my site – congratulations (no prizes, I’m sorry to say).
      – S.

  4. Jennifer December 15, 2010 at 10:01 pm #

    Hello Simon,

    You have conquered stage, screen, and the Internet, it is now time to conquer the universe. . . what I mean is . . . satellite radio. That’s right, Sirius XM has a station called Book Radio.

    On this station, the host interviews authors and narrators and also plays an Audible snipped from the author’s book. This is a perfect venue for you to discuss the art of narration and provide samples of your work.

    Also am listening to Dust and Shadow. You make a great Holmes and Watson. And thank you for posting my pic of you on the Literate Housewife. Very Professorial! Looking forward to the next Vlog too.

  5. Jennifer November 9, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

    Hello Simon,

    Thanks for the blog on music. Brings back memories of my high school days in Southern California. From 1968 to 1972, I saw Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, Yes, Rolling Stones, Moody Blues, Paul McCartney and Wings, Steeleye Span, Stevie Wonder, the Who, Peter Frampton, Linda Ronstadt, Eagles, David Bowie, and on and on. It was fun to hear of your experiences.

    Anyway, I just finished the Calcutta Chromosome. You have a real gift for accents — not to be outdone by your amazing voice.

    As an Audible subscriber, I download about two audio books a week and always check your latest releases. You have done so much! I looked around for a new sci-fi series and decided to start with the Temeraire Dragon books since you’ve recorded the entire series.

    For an upcoming Vlog, it would be interesting to see how you do a recording, the type of equipment and software you use, and the entire workflow from getting a new project to getting the recording out the door. I’m a geek so I found the techy stuff really interesting. Thank you and onward to the next book.

    • Simon November 11, 2010 at 8:44 am #

      Thanks for the comments Jennifer. I’ve been really slow in catching up on blogging and ‘vlogging’ – but I’ll see what I can do in the next couple of weeks. I just came back from a week’s break in the UK, so I should be somewhat revitalized!

  6. Haila Willliams September 30, 2010 at 2:43 pm #

    Hi Simon, Now that I’m on the East coast I don’t get to see you much. Miss you. I’ve never been on your blog site before and I enjoyed it very much. I wanted to let you know I read a wonderful comment on audible about your reading of Blasphemer, a book I really liked and thought I would say thanks.
    But on topic to your blog, I LOVED the movie IT MIGHT GET LOUD. Jimmie Page is fantastic. And he looks great–is heroin good for the complexion? Have you seen it?–it’s revitalizing. And it’s on Netflix instant download. I’m taking guitar lessons from a guy who played with Bonham’s son.
    Take care–keep on rockin’
    Love to you & C

  7. Jennifer September 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm #

    Hi Simon,

    Cool cutaway effects. Now you can add “filmaker” to your list of accomplishments. Sounds like you have had a very productive summer. I’m working my way through “Dance to the Music of Time” and lovin it. I am about to start “A Secret Kept.” This book was featured on Audible last week.

    Here is a suggestion for upcoming blogs. I think it would be interesting to hear about your BBC days. How you got your start, what you learned over time, and any interesting stories about your experiences there.

    Best, Jennifer

    • Simon September 22, 2010 at 4:53 pm #

      Great ideas, I’ll think about them for the next one.
      – S.

  8. Mary Burkey September 20, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

    Ah, Simon! This reminds me of the good old days of riding the Rapid Transit train into downtown Cleveland for every possible concert. But you totally have the best memory with sharing the Stones with your sons. I just remember the worst sunburn of my life at the 1972 Stevie Wonder / Rolling Stones concert on a blazing July day at the Akron Ohio Rubber Bowl. The music was completely worth it 😉

  9. Xe Sands September 20, 2010 at 10:21 am #

    At the risk of sounding naive, reckless, or both – I would say not to “watch it” when you do any additional biographies. They affect you, make you relive times in your life, bring those moments through to the present…but most importantly, you have a gift, Simon. You translate what you “feel” about the content you narrate into your performance. I don’t care that many say we shouldn’t do so…that we are akin to interpreters – merely the translation device. I believe it is the emotional connection that creates the most vivid translation, not the lack of it.

    Of course, all that said, I recognize that it takes a personal toll to feel that deeply and bring that through in the narration. But I resolve to remain reckless…to feel so deeply is a gift, one best shared.

    OK. Done rambling now. Be well, and as always, thanks so very much for sharing.


  10. Laurie Atwater September 20, 2010 at 6:57 am #

    Glad to hear that your mojo is back…

    But what a wonderful post. Yes, sometimes when we take that walk down memory lane into those powerful realms of music, it’s tough to get back. That power touched us deep.

    We _are_ getting old. I still get frustrated talking to those Children of the 80s who sort of look at you and say, “You mean Paul McCartney had a band before Wings?”

    Rock on,

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