SEPTEMBER 1967 — having spent seven years in west London working as a clerk filing legal papers, I was back in Cork. At home one night in Gillabbey Street an ad in the Echo newspaper jumped off the page at me: “Pink Floyd at the Arcadia, Sunday 17 September!” I had to read it several times to believe it.
I had known Syd Barrett and the other members of the Floyd since their residency days at the old Marquee Club — as well as the London Free School activist centre in Powis Square when they played for practically nothing.
I’d turned up at various Floyd gigs and made myself familiar to the band. I engaged in conversation with them and, despite their initial wariness, I managed to prise from them that they were from Cambridge, had studied architecture at Regent Street Polytech and had parents who had communist leanings.
Yes, very hip. Except that wasn’t completely true. Roger Waters patiently explained one night that only he and Syd were actually from Cambridge... “not the other two”.
One night after their performance at the Marquee and whilst in the Ship bar (a few doors up from the club) I found myself alone with the man with the amazing eyes and the soft posh Cambridge accent, Syd Barrett.
Whatever we were talking about, I couldn’t believe I had him on my own away from the madding crowd and at some stage in the conversation he stunned me saying, “I’m Roger, actually.”
About a week later I was talking to Roger Waters and mentioned Syd taking the piss. Roger looked at me with an incredulous expression and said, “Jack, his name’s actually Roger. Syd’s his nickname.”
BADGE OF HONOUR
So when I heard they were coming to the Arcadia I volunteered myself into Eason’s in Patrick Street, bought 50 blank badges and went home to colour each one with what can be best described as badly drawn psychedelic-inspired art.
I didn’t stop there; I then made up a couple of equally badly drawn psychedelic posters and called in to Martin Bennett Gents Outfitters on North Main Street, persuading the purveyor of ‘crombies and cardigans’ that if he allowed me to sellotape the two posters on his window his premises would be thronged in no time with customers looking for psychedelic clobber.
The two posters bore the legend “Row R. Toc H and Interstellar Overdrive”. Mr Bennett wanted to know what did the strange message mean but I was at a loss to explain. I just thought the wording was hip.
I think I, and several members of my family, must have passed by the shop a dozen times that day glowing in wonderment at my handiwork let loose upon an unsuspecting public. No other form of postering was used in those days, apart from Dave, the boy who pushed the Arcadia barrow around town to let people know what was going on at the venue.
Then, Johnny Chisholm pushed our Echo through the letter box and there was the big 4x5-inch ad with the words ‘PINK FLOYD’ emblazoned across the frame. Eight shillings admission (40 new pence !), and patrons were strongly advised that admission was limited. Cork band Four-Plus-Two were to provide the support.
When my badges were completed I took them down to the Arcadoa manager and owner, Peter Prendergast. Genial entrepreneur that he was he was amazed that anyone would go to so much bother. He gave me two free tickets and handed me a fiver for my work.
I walked back into town in a daze to meet my girlfriend Maura outside the Saxone feeling like Brian Epstein. On Sunday tea-time before the gig I took her up Wellington Road to the Glenvera Bed & Breakfast to meet the band.
My girlfriend (now my wife) got as far as the hallway, took one look at Syd Barrett’s high hair-do and refused to enter their room. I just carried on.
They remembered me from a few months earlier and we sat down and chatted. David Gilmour would join for another few months, so the foursome in Cork were Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Rick Wright. I was half expecting a tab of acid but couldn’t believe it when Syd handed me a bottle of Club Orange saying in his posh Cambridge accent, “Sorry, Jack — afraid that’s all we’ve got.”
Meanwhile, down near the Arcadia by the city’s train station, Pink Floyd’s roadie was glued to a stool, in Handlebars pub, next to the venue.
My brother Pat had dropped down early to take a look at the gear and seeing that there was no one to empty the van, he set the gear up.
My brother was a roadie for a local band called The Martells and they had just the night before done a successful gig for Sullivans Quay past pupils.
The gig was great. The two preceding nights, the band had played Belfast and Ballymena, and the Cork gig was the only one they ever did in the Republic of Ireland. It must have been some 225-mile drive in a day.
I was familiar with nearly every song on their debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, which the group had released the previous month. In those days the visiting ‘pop’ band would only play for about 40-minutes, quite a contrast to the three-hour sets by the showbands of that era.
In between songs, Syd Barrett or Roger Waters would announce the title of the song in a posh Cambridge accent and play on. That night has come to attain almost biblical proportions in Cork, since thousands have claimed to be there, but there weren’t more than 200 people in the Arcadia.
What’s important to remember is that the Floyd were only booked to appear at the Arcadia because they were a band who had half an obscure hit with ‘Arnold Layne’ and, following that, a big hit with ‘See Emily Play’. In other words, they actually came to Cork as a pop-band with a hit record — it had nothing to do with their psychedelic ideals or their ethic of free-form jazz.
I remember at the Arcadia most of the sparse crowd just standing in small curious groups obviously fascinated by the band’s mystique and this “new type of music” so far only read about in magazines and likely heard by the few who had the album.
I certainly don’t remember anyone ‘idiot dancing’ like I had seen at gigs in London. And while the psychedelic scene and its related substance use was well under way in other cities, I never heard of anyone in Cork taking LSD in that era. There wouldn’t even have been a drinking culture among the people who went to gigs, and venues like the Arcadia and the Majorca didn’t serve alcohol.
The “psychedelic” lighting promised in the newspaper advertisement was impressive, and Peter Wynne Willson, the man responsible for that, has stayed in the business, working on rigs for everyone from U2 to Radiohead.
After the concert, we didn’t stay too long chatting to the band as Maura had to be at work next morning at the Lee Boot factory, and I had to be on duty at Capwell for my job as a bus conductor.
Many years later, I was walking down Oliver Plunkett Street and noticed an old hippy Volkswagen van parked and laden with the usual eco stickers... and there on the windscreen was one of my badly drawn Pink Floyd badges. ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ it said in my handwriting. I hung around for an hour to see who owned the van but nobody showed.
Nowadays I spend my free time accumulating diner sores on restaurant seats swapping yarns with my peers about the good old days, and every now and then someone brings up the subject of the 50 badges and the Pink Floyd’s drunken roadie.
- A version of this article appears in recently published book, Pink Floyd: I Was There, edited by Richard Houghton