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New album from Men on the Border, a band which celebrates the music of Syd Barrett

Men on the Border (MOTB) are a Swedish group who seek to bring the music of Roger “Syd” Barrett, one of Cambridge’s favourite sons, to a wider audience.

Men on the Border. Picture: Anders Hannola
Men on the Border. Picture: Anders Hannola

Named after one of Syd Barrett’s solo songs and started in 2011, the five-piece band, who also write their own songs, released their debut album, Shine!, in 2012.

It featured interpretations of 10 of Syd Barrett’s songs and was well received internationally. This was followed up with an album of mostly band compositions in 2013.

Syd, a much-loved artist, poet and musician, lived a somewhat reclusive life in Cambridge for many years until his death from cancer in 2006. It followed his well-publicised mental health issues, exacerbated by drug abuse, and departure from Pink Floyd.

In 2016, MOTB played to a sold-out audience at the Cambridge Corn Exchange, together with the Sandviken Symphony Orchestra, when the venue unveiled a public art installation dedicated to Syd. The event was attended by members of his family, his friends, ex-girlfriends and celebrity fans, including Graham Coxon of Blur.

Last Friday (February 12), MOTB’s third studio album, Blackbirds, was released to streaming sites. The album includes a version of Pink Floyd’s first single, Arnold Layne, and a special interpretation of the oddball classic, Bike, complemented with the bizarre band composition, Ted Balding with the Weather.

Men on the Border's new album 'Blackbird'
Men on the Border's new album 'Blackbird'

One of the band’s founding members is Phil Etheridge, a London-born musician who has been living in Sweden – in Sandviken, about two hours north of Stockholm to be precise – for 44 years.

A multi-instrumentalist, he plays guitars, bass and keyboards and also handles vocal duties, along with fellow founding member, Göran Nyström.

Phil believes the ongoing fascination with the man who gave Pink Floyd their name and their early psychedelic sound comes down to the fact that he was a “true artist”, and because of “all that pain that came about in the late 60s after his problems with Pink Floyd”.

He added: “But there’s also a lot in the music and especially in the words. All that pain is still in there, and I think people find that fascinating – in fact so many young people do. We’ve met 20-year-olds who’ve come to concerts and just want to talk about Syd Barrett.”

Men on the Border. Picture: Anders Hannola
Men on the Border. Picture: Anders Hannola

Phil, who admits he stopped listening to Pink Floyd after 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon, feels that Syd Barrett’s music has been overshadowed by his eccentric behaviour and the ‘mystique’ that still surrounds his withdrawal from public life.

“Absolutely, without question,” he says. “I mean a lot of people do listen to his music but they’re a minority. I think that people are more fascinated with the events surrounding it, rather than his music itself.

“It’s not an easy listen, none of it really, and I guess that’s what the whole point [of the band] was – to make it not easy listening, but somewhat easier. But then I don’t think that anything that we do is radio fodder, never has been.”

Men on the Border
Men on the Border

The lack of lockdown in Sweden has made it possible for the band to rehearse, although they have not played a concert for almost a year. Phil says: “Life has mostly been normal. We are distancing, we don’t see people very often, we tend to go to shops where there aren’t many people.

“But I think we [Sweden] are in a good situation compared to a lot of Europe. It’s much more preferable to do it this way, even though there’s been a lot of criticism.

“There are some scientists and people over here who are very critical of the way the whole thing’s been handled, but even so, it’s not as bad here as it is in other places, like the UK for example.”

Upcoming MOTB concerts include a webcast to be broadcast on March 27 and further into the future, a concert with the Sandviken Symphony Orchestra, originally planned for November 2020 in Stockholm’s Berwaldhallen, is scheduled to take place at the same venue on February 26, 2022.

Blackbirds is available to stream now. For more information, visit menontheborder.com.

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Celebrating the life of Syd Barrett

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