In Conversation with Jenny Spires by Michelle Coomber

Syd Barrett from Pinks Floyd’s ex talks to Eyeplug...

Michelle Coomber hosts a rare and exclusive interview with Jenny Spires, ex-girlfriend and lifelong friend of Syd Barrett. Jenny talks of her life with Syd and hanging out with Pink Floyd, her experiences with the in-crowd and watching the moon landing with Jerry Garcia! She shares her memories of those she holds dear and the iconic places she frequented during iconic times. Jennifer Gentle, the beautiful lady with a true rocking soul.

Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?

I was born in Jamaica but grew up in Cambridge. My childhood was very free, if a little solitary. I had two older brothers; one of them used to read all the time and the other was into sport and played a lot of football. Occasionally, I was allowed to tag along but not often. There were few girls of my age living nearby, but we all went to different schools, so we didn’t really get to know each other until I started to ride. This brought me into contact with local girls going to Pony Club camps and Gymkhanas.

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I was a restless child; I had a bike and was allowed to go out and about, so I would go off for the day. Turning right took me towards the village, I used love going to the Blacksmiths and often hung around there or I’d cross the railway tracks to the chalk hills of The Nine Wells and The Beech Woods. Turning left took me into Grantchester, past Byron’s Pool and on to the Grantchester Meadows. It was a fabulous playground for any child with very little traffic and open countryside to wander. I had started to take ballet classes on my arrival in England and continued with this until I left Cambridge at seventeen, so that was a big part of my life over the years, too.

Were you the archetype ‘Wild Child’?

I wasn’t at all. Having older brothers brought me into contact with some very cool music. Rock & Roll, Blues and Folk. But it took forever for my Mother to allow me to wear pedal pushers, for example, or jeans, come to that. Though, by the time I was eight, my brother had tuned me in to Elvis, The Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Richie Valens, Lonnie Donegan, Huddie Ledbetter, T-bone Walker, the Platters, Fats Domino, James Brown, Woody Guthrie, Jessie Fuller etc. Coming to Dylan and the sixties’ rock scene was a natural progression.

We had to write news books at school and I’d regularly write things like “Last night I listened to Bony Maronie”, or some such thing. Then my book would be returned with “See me” on the bottom of the page and I would have to explain all this to my teacher. I think she assumed I lived in a wild place, but it was a very regulated and orderly home. My father worked for The MRC and my parents were just normal, but I was getting turned on to Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekala. Later, when my brother was boarding at school, my dance studio was above the best and only record shop in town. After classes, I would head on down to the basement to the listening booths and get the Stones, the Kinks, Them, the Pretty Things, the Beatles, the Animals, The Who, Small Faces etc.

When did you start going to music venues?

Gradually, I began to go the youth club and local dances, but it was always about the music for me. I quickly learned the dance of the day, but I was totally disinterested in boys and found it disconcerting when they asked me to dance. I preferred to dance on my own because I thought they couldn’t dance. I found these kinds of dances didn’t give me the Drifters or Charles and Inez Foxx, though.

Cambridge had a few music venues. The Corn Exchange was a skating rink and sometimes put on local bands. There was a thriving bands scene in Cambridge.  The early sixties was a very creative time. Somehow, I had acquired a taste for Atlantic Soul and Motown, so I’d go to London to find this music. I started to try to and see these artists when they came to the UK, but I was still pretty young and they never came to Cambridge, so I would go with girlfriends to Stevenage Mecca, where I saw Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding etc and the mod boys could certainly dance there!

When I was fourteen, I saw the fourteen year old Stevie Wonder in Bishops Stortford performing ‘Finger Tips’, fabulous! These live performances really got to me. I started going to London clubs with a couple of girlfriends. We’d say we were staying over at each other’s homes but we went to London to hear Georgie Fame at The Flamingo or Long John Baldry at The Scene and take in The Yardbirds at the The Marquee. I did this for quite a time and my parents didn’t catch on at all. I wasn’t a wild child, though. Quite a lot of my friends were doing the same thing and more. 

You became Syd Barrett’s girlfriend in the sixties and remained a lifelong friend. How did you both meet?

My middle brother was at Cambridge Tech and friends with people from the art school and he was really good mates with Steve Pyle. They were ‘beats’ and drank in pubs a lot. One very cold December night in 1964, we went to The CSU Cellars to see an art school band called Those Without. Steve was drumming and Syd was playing bass. During sets, he sat down and introduced himself.  He told me he was at art school in London and played in a band which had just changed its name from the Tea Set to the Pink Floyd. An odd name, I thought, but he went on to tell me they were just making some demo tapes hoping this would get them a residency in London. I was fifteen and a half.

Those Without wasn’t great. Probably, a typical art school type of shuffle. Syd asked to meet up and go for coffee and he rang me a few days later and we arranged to meet at a cafe called The Guild but he was a little put out that I’d brought a friend along. She soon went off, however, and we walked back to his mum’s house in Hills Road where he was staying for the Christmas holidays. He showed me his paintings and I was fascinated by him. I saw him again before he went back to college. He played at the Victoria Ballroom and I was there with friends but I didn’t really speak to him.

Unbeknown to me, he’d sketched me at the Union Cellar, and a couple of days after New Year, this beautiful pink tissue-wrapped letter arrived with a sketch of me and his address in London, asking me to write to him. I did, and then he was home at the weekend. He came home every weekend except for when he was playing. And mostly, if he was playing, I went to London with him.

How did your life change after meeting Syd?

It was strange really, because suddenly my life changed from full on clubbing to having a boyfriend at art school in London who used to write to me all the time saying he loved me and telling me about his life at college and his band. My parents really liked him, and he could drive, and I saw him every weekend. He would phone and we’d chat and he’d come to get me and we’d do some cool stuff. He was lucky enough to have kept his room at home where he had canvasses, a guitar, amp and all his painting paraphernalia.

Occasionally, I wanted to go out with my friends and he was fine about that, but mostly we’d listen to music and chat about college and have fun going to the cinema and all those things, really. We were very close, he wanted photos of me and sent me photos of himself, but I soon realised that he’d had another girlfriend before me, he was nineteen and she was older and still living nearby. Libby and he were still friends and I gathered that she was quite upset that they’d split up, but she had another boyfriend by then. Well, things did pan out with Syd and I wasn’t bothered at all by their friendship. Syd and I carried on going out until just before the summer. It was very loving and very intense. We discussed all things in the universe and under the sun; marriage, children, love, sex, books, literature, the world, philosophy, art, music, poetry. It was a lovely, cosy time.

What were your personal thoughts on having a steady relationship at this particular time?

I was thinking about my situation and realised that having a steady boyfriend wasn’t best for me at the time and it was too intense, I had my O levels and it was all getting too much. I wanted to leave school and go to Lucie Clayton. I saw modelling as an extension of my dance training for some reason. I auditioned and got in but my father wouldn’t let me go. He said I was too young and I had to go back to school, it was difficult. I was going away in the holidays and decided I wanted to take some time out. Syd was upset but I was determined, so we just drifted apart but he was my first boyfriend and that always seemed to draw us back together over the years.

He played at my sixteenth birthday in July and when he went back at college he was still writing to me and phoning, he would say how he was missing me. We carried on writing right up to Easter of 1966 and we still went out but not all the time. He was very patient, when I think about it!

I think he was going out with Lindsay by now and they were moving into Earlham Street together. I was in London by the late summer of 1966, my father having relented and let me go to Lucie Clayton. I was visiting Syd and Lindsay and other friends from Cambridge and hanging out at 101. The Pink Floyd was gigging quite a lot and Syd was inviting me along to some of the shows. This continued to 1967, so I was around all the time until he left the band. During 1968, I didn’t see much of him on a regular basis until he took the lease on the flat at Wetherby Mansions.

Syd refers to you as “Jennifer Gentle” in his song ‘Lucifer Sam’, how did you feel when you first heard it and what is your favourite song by Syd?

Well, when I heard ‘Lucifer Sam’, I didn’t really think much about it. Of course, I think it’s a wonderful song; I love it. It seems to have one foot in the past, musically, and one in the future.  I was so used to hearing him sing and write songs and he had sent me poems and written songs to me in his letters, previously.  Also, I knew the story of ‘Lucifer Sam’ and wasn’t surprised by it. He often said to me “You’re so gentle and I love talking to you”, so it seemed normal, really. It is such well-known song now.

You worked for the same model agency as Kari-Ann Muller, who was Roxy Music’s first LP cover model. Who did you model for and what fashion style appealed to you?

(*Jenny appears in the fashion images in this film)

After I worked for Lucie Clayton, I joined Ossie Clarke’s English Boy in early 1967 and ended up on the head sheet hanging in the shop. I’d been hanging out at Granny Takes A Trip as I loved their clothes and was going to the Speakeasy and UFO and their clothes were off the wall! If you were on the scene by mid-1967 you’d be hanging out at Ossie’s shop Quorum in Radnor Walk, too. Hendrix had just hooked up with us and he was this wonderful, larger than life, shy gentle person. He really cut it.

I can’t ever remember doing much with Ossie because I seemed to lose all interest in the fashion modelling thing. I did some film extra work, but was more interested in just hanging out. I only met Kari-Ann briefly at this time. She was living at Beaufort Street and lots of mutual friends lived there, too. I used to visit Jocq and Sue who lived upstairs and I met up with Syd there. Twink and others were all living downstairs, so it was quite a large social scene. This is probably where Kari-Ann and Syd met briefly. He and Lindsay had split up but they got back together before the tour. Later, Lindsay also worked for English Boy and often with Kari-Ann, so they were friends and they both carried on modelling in to the 1970s. I loved Kari-Ann’s Roxy cover, it’s a classic.

The sixties and seventies saw many changes on a political and social level, especially for women. Did you get involved with political activism? How would you define these decades from your own experiences?

For me, this point in the 1960s was a high point in our cultural development. I was wholeheartedly behind the challenge with the authority of the day. We may not have got far with it, but it was good to see that thread so overtly picked up again with punk later. The whole philosophy clicked with me. I was an anti-war campaigner, although I was never politically active as such, ineffectual really, it was the zeitgeist – I was part of that consciousness.

One could not avoid having the seeds of feminism in one’s psyche as a woman. The 1960s, especially in the music business, was dominated by the boys. Part of my decision to stop modelling was to do with this. I disliked the way girls around bands were traipsed and draped; I didn’t want any part of it.  I loathed the whole groupie thing that grew in the States and became so big there. I still had this On the Road stuff going on with me. I was a Tomboy and that’s what probably appealed about being an English Boy for a while. I didn’t want to wear see-through, floating, organza clothes.  I liked strong lines with the notion of uni-sexual androgyny.  This independence stayed with me throughout. I still wear Levis, boots and leather jackets most of the time.

Peter Whitehead made a film in 1994 dedicated to Syd Barrett which is on YouTube and includes various live Pink Floyd footage and a promo trailer for his 1967 documentary ‘Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London’. What are your thoughts on this tribute film and also his controversial documentary which featured ‘Interstellar Overdrive’?

Yeh, interesting! I first met Peter in late 1966, I was seventeen. He was such a fascinating man, I thought he was wonderful and we became close. I loved his basic philosophy and was naturally fascinated by his filmmaking. When he showed me the footage for his film ‘Tonite Let’s All Make Love in London’, I suggested he use ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ for the music and he heard them play, he agreed. He met Syd a few years previously in Cambridge and knew I had been his girlfriend.  At the time, Ant Stern was Peter’s assistant and they came to UFO to hear the Floyd. Peter spoke to Pete Jenner and arranged to take them into Sound Techniques to record. They hadn’t done any recording at this time, although they were about to record ‘Arnold Layne’ which Syd had played to me over the Christmas holiday in Cambridge.

On January 11th or 12th we went down to film and record them. It’s a fantastic piece of filming on Peter’s behalf and brilliant for his film. He was the first to capture them at a time when they were virtually unknown but looking and playing so well.

Syd lodged with Duggie Fields in Earls Court after leaving Pink Floyd and the British music scene was exploding. Did you stay in touch with the band and did you observe the changes in Syd’s musical direction as a solo artist?

It was Syd’s flat and Duggie shared with him. They had shared together before when we were all at 101; Duggie is such a lovely man and so prolific. He immediately set to work painting, which I think was very good for Syd at the time. Duggie was so reliable and he had a very stabilising effect on Syd. He was out of the band and was behaving very strangely all through 1968. It was good that he showed some signs of sorting himself out by now. They moved in just before Christmas in 1968. Syd painted his floor blue and orange and then I moved in, too. For a while it seemed Syd and I were back together again, but right then, he wasn’t terribly well.

It had been a roller coaster of a couple of years for him and I was convinced he was suffering from nervous exhaustion. Naturally, I felt very protective of him. He had been the most articulate and interesting person I’d known but by now he was quiet and withdrawn. He was just doing nothing; he’d smoke a few cigarettes, drink tea and lie around listening to music. For us, it was a kind of strange continuity, since we had so much history, so we didn’t need to talk.  He didn’t want to go anywhere or see anyone. It was comfortable and that was enough. He was playing guitar and sang songs which I’d heard before, somewhere along the line, and I understood he wanted to put them together for an album. I never thought of it in terms of Syd moving into a solo career but I suppose that’s what he was doing.

What else was happening in your life at this point?

I had my own plans. I’d been invited to America by friends who had visited London in the fall of 1968. Syd wasn’t too happy about my leaving and asked me not to go but my mind was set and I wanted to do some travelling. Not long before I left, I bumped into Iggy, who had nowhere to live, so I took her back to the flat where there were several other people, too. Rusty and Gretta were regular visitors and it seemed the best thing to do. She didn’t know who Syd was but it was better that she didn’t at that time. However, she did know Duggie from their clubbing days, when she used to go to the Orchid Ballrooms, I think. Anyway, when I left, she was still there and when Storm and Mick arrived to do the cover for “Madcap” a few days later, she was wandering around with no clothes on, so they asked her to be in the shot. The rest is history and the cover is wonderful. When I saw it later, I thought it couldn’t have been better.

You sang backing vocals for the cult psychedelic band Art and their stunning LP cover for “Supernatural Fairy Tale” was created by the designers of Granny Takes A Trip! Did you have aspirations of becoming a musician or singer and did you write any songs?

I was never aware of who all the musicians on that record were. I was on the first Hapshash single and, yes, later on I auditioned for a band which never really came to anything. Shame, because I’d have loved that. I should have tried to get into some backing vocals, perhaps.

 You mixed with very creative and experimental people and you must have lived in the fast lane during this time. Did you attend the ‘14 Hour Technicolour Dream’ and go to gigs on Eel Pie island? Which events or places stand out most for you?

I didn’t ever go to Eel Pie Island.  I would have loved to have gone to the Crawdaddy in Richmond when I was doing the mod thing, but it was so far from Cambridge to be honest. Lots of great things came out of all that, but I was just that bit too young.

I did mix with some fabulously talented people and, indeed, I lived in the fast lane on the underground scene. Of course, we all went to ‘The 14-Hour Technicolor Dream’. Before this, I was at the launch of IT at the Roundhouse in October 1966 and the launch of UFO in December. I knew about ‘Wholly Communion’ which had taken place in 1965. I was hip to it all and going with Syd to the Spontaneous Underground at the Marquee and their London Free School gigs, I was very aware of the changes happening and, this for me, culminated in ‘The 14-Hour Technicolor Dream’. I think we were all pretty worn out by this time and I felt it was time for me to drop out a bit after 1967, which I did.

You moved to the States during the late-sixties, why did you move and who did you associate with during this period? 

I didn’t move to the States, I only visited friends there. It was a lovely travelling period for me. I saw all the things I wanted to see over the years and had a great time doing it. Of course, music was all important and I saw some of the greatest bands. Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Quick Silver, Creedence Clearwater and I went across from California to the Woodstock Rock Festival. It meant that I had missed London, the Stones in Hyde Park and The Isle of Wight etc, but I was in America at an exciting time and  Santana were just out of this world. It was a fabulous festival of music.

You watched the first moon landing with Jerry Garcia which must have been pretty special! How did this friendship come about and what was he like?

Watching the moon landing with Jerry Garcia just came about through my having met some of the Grateful Dead when they were in London. I’m not sure why I happened to be at his place that day. It had been my birthday a couple of days before and I was on my way up to Oregon and stayed over there on my way. Jerry was a very generous host but he was quiet, really. He offered me drinks, but I don’t drink and I remember how he was surprised by that but we were so amazed at the moon landing and it was extraordinary for me hearing the Floyd play. I can’t really remember having any real meaningful or deep conversation with him. It was just very relaxed with just a few of us sitting around with food and wowing out on the moon landing.

There were many music venues in Cambridge including the Dandelion Cafe, Dolphin pub, Alley Cat and the existing Corn Exchange. It still has a thriving arts and music scene but what do you remember about the venues and people?

I never went to The Dolphin Pub because I was too young when it was active and I never really did pubs. I would meet friends in them or go in to play the juke box.  I often went to The Alley. Llater on, I would go there with Syd when he was in Cambridge or when he played there. The Corn Exchange had been a skating rink before it was a music venue and it was really exciting; A vault of a place with a wonderful wooden floor, so as you can imagine, the noise and the music was so loud, everyone was belting round the place which was great! I started to go to local bands’ gigs and when I came back from London, after I’d been in the States, a friend of ours called Steve Brink was putting on bands there including Hawkwind, the Pink Fairies and later, MC 5. It’s been refurbished over the years and I recently saw the Aussie Pink Floyd show which was amazing.

You were married to Jack Monck, bass player with the Pink Fairies, who formed the Stars with drummer Twink Alder and you were instrumental in persuading Syd to join them. However, his time with the band was short-lived. What was this period like for him?

I met Jack after I came back from the States. He was at Cambridge Tech when I went back to Cambridge for a while to take my A levels. I thought I’d go back to college and do something different in my life. I totally lost touch with the Floyd and other people. Jack ran a blues club called Juniper Blossom with his friend, the drummer Pip Pyle. When they moved to London, he and Pip were in the band Delivery with Carol Grimes.

In 1970, Jack left that band and we went back to Cambridge and lived near Huntingdon. Syd was at his mum’s home in Hills Road and I hooked up with him again. Jack wasn’t aware of who he was. He’d never really been on the London music scene. All he knew was that Syd was an old friend of mine and a musician, so there was no pressure. Syd had lost a lot of his wonderful, loquacious articulacy. He was a lot quieter but he’d giggle and beam at things that caught his attention and these moments lit the room. He was still very charismatic, his laughter was infectious and some of that remained.

He was relaxed whenever he came to see us, I was pregnant by now and he loved that. Anyway, he and Jack fell into a bit of jamming as we always had instruments at the cottage. I think Twink was also in Cambridge and, of course, I knew him from London. Somehow, we were going to the Kings Cellars to see Eddie ‘Guitar’ Burn play in early 1972. I think Jack was also playing, but that afternoon I was with Syd and asked him if he wanted to come long and I suggested that he bring his guitar because he might want to jam. So, we went to the gig and he jammed with Twink, Jack and others.

The next day, Jack and I went to see Twink where he was living above Steve Brink’s shop What’s In A Name, and I suggested that we go round and see Syd as he was living just up the road. I knew Syd was looking for people to play with and I thought here are two musicians; perhaps it would help him to play for a bit. So, I said it would be so nice for Syd to have someone to play with but I wasn’t particularly thinking of them actually forming a band, that idea seemed to evolve on its own as it were.

At this time, Syd was living in the basement at his mum’s house and she answered the door and invited us in. We went down into the tiny cellar with Syd and his usual stack of canvasses, guitars and music. The ceiling was so low that Jack and Twink sat on the bed. I had been looking at the canvasses with Syd and then I suggested it would be nice for them to play together. Everyone agreed and that’s how Stars came about, really. Syd loved it, he was never quite himself after his breakdown in London, but he was still up for doing things and seeing people.

What current artists do you enjoy and what are your favourite albums from your collection?

This is difficult. I love live music and my tastes are quite eclectic,but I’m more of a rocker. Recently, I was given Bob Dylan’s ‘Tempest’ which I love. I listen to all kinds of things from Bob Marley to Blur, I love Graham’s voice and guitar. I’m just setting some goal posts here and they take in an inordinate amount of music, the Incredible String Band, Soft Machine, Love, Peter Green, The Clash, Dr Feelgood, the Pretenders, the Cars, Cure, the Stones, Pink Floyd. The list is endless really!  I love some opera and what is generally termed as classical music, too. These days, there are some  really brilliant female vocalists around and that even includes some of the girl bands.

Tell us about your involvement in film production, are there any projects that you would like to plug?

I haven’t really had any involvement in film production as such, just yet. There is something in the pipeline at the moment, but I’m not really up for talking about it right now.

I attended the exhibition of Syd’s paintings, personal letters and writings at the former Idea Generation Gallery; it was both a fascinating and moving insight in parts of his life and thought processes. How do you think Syd would be living his life, if he was still with us today?

Well, those Exhibitions would not have taken place if he was still here. He’d have been quietly living his life, as he was. I truly believe he reached a level of contentment in his later life, though.

I sometimes wonder how he would have been if any of us had interrupted his flow. It was because we understood he didn’t want us to do that, therefore none of us did. It just shows how much we all loved and cared for him, that we didn’t. We’ll never know how it would have been, if we had. And that’s a sad thing for me, sometimes. All any of us wanted was the best for him. I still have a huge amount of respect for him.

What would you say to the sixteen year old Jenny Spires?

What a question! Well, I’d have to say have a good time and stay true.

How do you think Syd would like to be remembered?

I know he would love to be remembered for his wonderful songs. I think he would have loved to know how, deep down, he was really loved by all his friends from that time, too.

Thank you to Jenny Spires and also to Mike Herbage for his help in arranging this interview. 


Michelle Coomber

A child of the 50s, remembers the 60s, partied in the 70s and was hung-over in the 80s. Used to sit in David Bowie’s garden, Biba’s shop window and leaned on the jukebox in SEX, stood up occasionally. Raised in Fulham by very cool parents and a stone’s throw from The Nashville, The Greyhound, Hammersmith Odeon and Kings Road. Still mourns the Speakeasy and Wardour Street’s Marquee plus other deceased London music venues and greasy spoons. Worked for Mary Quant in the 70s and enjoyed the social scene that went with it. Was surrounded by punk squats in the mid-70s and hung out at Beggar’s Banquet basement studio watching bands drink and rehearse while avoiding electrocution. Went to Lindsay Kemp’s mime classes with punk goddess Jordan, we were both rubbish. Grew up with Paul Cook and got hit over the head by Sid’s guitar at the Speakeasy. Saw many iconic gigs back in the day including New York Dolls at Biba’s Rainbow Room and Ziggy Stardust’s farewell show at Hammersmith. Lived in NY & LA in ’79, mainly went to gigs and posed in a leather jacket. Worked in live events production for The Hippodrome in the 80s and produced and directed fringe theatre while working in film and TV in the 90s. Still dabbles in publicity work and writes scripts which gather dust. Works at Ealing Studios and recently formed a film production company. Always listening to music and reads constantly, re-learning guitar and loves all things creative. Still writes with pen and paper. Started to talk to people at bus stops.

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Originally posted 2012-11-26 11:36:32. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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