There was a king who ruled the land.
His majesty was in command.
With silver eyes, the scarlet eagle
Showered silver on the people.
Oh Mother, tell me more.
Why'd you have to leave me there
Hanging in my infant air, waiting?
You only have to read the lines
Of scribbly black and everything shines.
Across the stream with wooden shoes,
Bells to tell the King the news.
A thousand misty riders climb
Up higher once upon a time.
Wondering and dreaming.
The words have different meanings...
Yes they did...
For all the time spent in that room,
The doll's house, darkness, old perfume,
And fairy stories held me high
On clouds of sunlight floating by.
Oh Mother, tell me more.
Tell me more...
The album Pipers at the Gates of Dawn derives its title from Chapter 7 of a children’s book by Kenneth Grahame, titled Wind in the Willows. Psychedelic music of the classic period frequently cited children’s literature as if LSD returned the performers to an innocent state of mind: John Lennon and Grace Slick found psychedelic substance in Lewis Carroll’s stories; the Incredible String Band (and the Jefferson Airplane) drew from Winnie the Pooh; and Donovan would write a whole album of children’s tunes called For Little Ones. Though Pipers at the Gates of Dawn carries within it two overarching and separate metaphors, both space travel and childhood’s innocence, no other psychedelic album that I am aware of delves as deeply into the innocent (yet frightful) side of LSD as this one, through Syd Barrett’s compositions.
According to Julian Palacios (Syd Barrett & Pink Floyd: Dark Globe 2010), Syd Barrett was placed in a vocal isolation booth to sing his parts for Piper at the Gates of Dawn because of his quiet voice. Artificial double tracking (ADT) was used not only on vocals but also on some instruments, to add layers of echo. The album featured an unusually heavy use of echo and reverberation to give it its own unique sound. Much of the reverberation effect came from a set of Elektro-Mess-Technik (EMT) plate reverberators – customized EMT 140s containing thin metal plates under tension – and Abbey Road studio's tiled echo chamber built in 1931.
There is an article by Edward Paule, called Syd’s Fractured Fairy Tales, published online by a site called Spare Bricks, that asserts that much of the original lyric for Matilda Mother had been drawn directly from Cautionary Tales for Children: Designed for the Admonition of Children Between the Ages of Eight and Fourteen Years: Verses by Hilaire Belloc. When originally recorded in February 1967, the verses had drawn from Belloc’s poem Matilda, who told lies and was burned to death. The Belloc estate denied Barrett permission to use the lyric before release, and Barrett had to develop new verses for a re-recording in June 1967.
Barrett replaced the lyrics with a different tone altogether. Instead of poking ironic fun at Victorianism, which I imagine would have been the outcome of using the Belloc lyric, the moral instruction is completely lost on Barrett and his personal childhood memories are of sensual impressions that arose from “scribbly black” when his Mother read to him. There are bells and eagles and a king and wooden shoes, but no naughty girl telling lies. There’s a sharp picture of an infant confined to a high chair who much appreciates it when his Mother reads to him, relieves his loneliness, and calms his fears of abandonment. This attention seems to mean more to the child than the story that is actually read. The singer doesn’t want to learn morals from stories; he wants his Mother to stay and play with his imagination.
It is also reported on the Spare Bricks website that part of the odd construction of Matilda Mother is because a middle section was entirely cut out of it, taking out nearly a minute of the song’s development. Rather than verses and chorus following in consecutive order, the song structure is jumbled. The part that might have served as a chorus comes around three times, but each time is changed lyrically or melodically in some way. There are also two distinctive instrumental sections: the break drags and sighs as if a sultan wearily shambling across a desert on a camel, much like the Zombie’s Time of the Season released about a year later, with an Arabic-sounding organ improvisation throughout, while the coda slows down with vocal harmonies to suggest drifting off to sleep.