Mark Simpson talks to a legendary drummer, often found behind the wheel of a large automobile. If you look further down you'll find Jools at the piano chatting to Nick about his classic car collection, book and new C.D. as well as an interview about the new Pink Floyd live album Is There Anybody Out There, but first here's a little information about his band... Nick Mason was born in Birmingham in 1945. His name is forever linked with that of one of the world's most successful and conceptual bands Pink Floyd.
Their story begins in Cambridge in 1955 when Roger Waters met Syd Barrett at primary school and then David Gilmour at secondary school. The band was created in 1965, when Roger Waters asked two fellow architecture students at the Regent Street Polytechnic (Nick Mason and Rick Wright) to join him and Syd Barrett (who was now enrolled at Camberwell art college). The name, like most of their early songs Arnold Layne, See Emily Play and Bike, came from Syd and his love of blues. His heroes included Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. He wanted to combine blues with free form and hallucinogenic lightning effects to give the flower power generation some truly 'psychedelic happenings'.
According to Nick "the hippies at Joe Boyd's UFO Club loved us. But outside London people hated it. They used to throw things. I think we were pretty terrible, but we didn't quite know it." Keyboard player Rick Wright remembers the early styles - "we started out like everyone else playing R'n'B classics, but with Syd the direction changed. It became more improvised" .
By the end of 1966 Pink Floyd were the darlings of the counter culture and had two singles in the charts. While the Beatles recorded Sgt. Pepper in Abbey Road, they recorded Piper at the Gates Of Dawn next door. During their first tour of America things began to go wrong. Syd's behaviour became increasingly erratic - refusing to speak to interviewers and simply playing one note vacantly on stage. The band realised he was losing his mind. In early 1968, Syd was replaced by Dave Gilmour, after the band briefly considered Jeff Beck for a place in the line up.
As Nick explains "the idea wasn't to kick Syd out of the band; we wanted something similar to what the Beach Boys were doing with Brian Wilson at the time, where we'd go out and play live and Syd would stay at home and write".
This didn't really happen and early seeds of dissent were sown as Nick admits "it soon became Roger's 'let's make a show' against Dave's 'let's make music' ".
For the rest of the 'sixties Pink Floyd released A Saucerful of Secrets and Ummagumma as well as contributing to the film soundtracks Zabriskie Point and More and the BBC coverage of the moon landing. Their shows became more like 'son et lumiere' spectaculars and they released Atom Heart Mother which had ignited their interest in complex special effects within the music studio. They shelved an album of 'music' made by dropping household objects in favour of the atmospheric Meddle which Nick feels was "the first real Pink Floyd album. It introduced the idea of a theme that can be returned to." This set the scene for the epic Dark Side of the Moon (28 million copies and rising), provisionally titled 'Eclipse' and played live before the band returned to Abbey road.
Nick remembers "it was initially about the pressures of real life - travel, money, madness - and then broadened out a bit".
Nick is the person we should thank for the question and answer recordings which permeate the music, including a comment from Gerry the doorman at Abbey road "there is no dark side of the moon really, as a matter of fact it's all dark". Roger suggested the themes and Nick wanted to pepper the album with real off-the-cuff comments, which came from all and sundry passing through the studios (including engineer Alan Parsons, Paul and Linda McCartney - although the latter were too polished in their responses and left off the final cut).
Pink Floyd now moved on to new levels of success in financial and fanbase terms. Animals and Wish You Were Here, released in the mid seventies, were a double edged sword. On the one hand they could mount expensive, theatrical shows but on the other they played to unappreciative audiences and lost their previously treasured anonymity. Near breaking point, Roger Waters spat into the face of a noisy fan during the Animals tour. Rick Wright also left as a band member 'proper' during this period.
This anger and frustration was challenged into their next mammoth project. Roger's autobiographical work The Wall became a film, tour, double studio album and live release (discussed below by Nick) and centred on the death of his father in the second world war and his loathing for the rock star lifestyle. The live show made this plain with a giant wall of cardboard bricks gradually dividing the artists and audience. Alumni of this project included the satirical cartoonist Gerald Scarfe, Mark Fisher (designer of the Millennium Dome show) and, via the film, Alan Parker and Bob Geldof.
As friendships became strained, all the band recorded solo albums during the '80s, reuniting for the release of The Final Cut, although "it was really Roger's solo album with the rest of us drifting into it" according to Nick.
In 1985 Roger announced he was leaving. Nick and Dave decided to continue with Rick and after some posturing things settled down. Nick comments "I would have liked it so much if we could have had the type of arrangement Genesis have with Peter Gabriel, where we supported each other; so that if Roger did come back and did, say Live Aid, we could play with him."
The new Pink Floyd embarked on a successful run of long tours and album releases. These were A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Delicate Sound of Thunder, The Division Bell, Pulse and the recently released live version of The Wall - recorded 20 years ago - Is There Anybody Out There.
[You can hear more about Is There Anybody Out There from Nick in a moment, but he visited Jools this week to talk about his latest CD]
Nick inherited a life long love of cars from his father, a documentary film maker, and has been racing for over twenty years, including five Le Mans appearances.
The success of Pink Floyd has enabled Nick to collect a huge variety of extraordinary classic cars, from Panhards, through Ferraris, Jaguars and Maserati's to the Bugatti he drove into the Later studio.
Nick deliberately avoids the term "collection", as he feels this sounds "too deliberate, too passionless. These are not museum pieces - they were built to be driven hard". In his book Into the Red and accompanying CD (which features engine sounds), Nick has put his cars through the same rigorous test at Silverstone and the results are quite surprising.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Nick at the Later studios and after a quick spin in the Bugatti (!), we got down to matters Floyd.
As with Dark Side of the Moon, Nick says "what gripped me first about The Wall was the narrative idea. I often think that a thematic peg is the hardest thing to come up with for projects like our's. Yet for The Wall it was complete and powerful from the beginning".
So, was it a project they wanted to release for a long time?
The live double album Is There Anybody Out There comes from the band's Earls Court shows in 1980 and 1981. They were recorded on a 48 track mobile studio with the best equipment available at the time and were then left untouched until James Guthrie spent many months last year choosing the best shows for the remixing and remastering process. The album includes the original M.C. from the shows - Gary Yudman, musical guests including Snowy White and two unreleased tracks - What Shall We Do Now (which appeared in the feature film, although Hey You didn't) and The Last Few Bricks.
At the Piano
Jools Holland - JOOLS
Nick Mason - NM
JOOLS: Pink Floyd are one of the most popular groups of all time, one of
the most successful touring acts in the world ever and we’re very pleased
to have the drummer from Pink Floyd here with us this evening - Mr. Nick
Mason! Nick, thank you very much for coming and joining us. Now The Wall,
The Live Wall is here out now. Would you say you have very happy memories
of touring The Wall? Weren’t you in a cage when you played the drums?
NM: Yes, but I think not entirely because of the rest of the band. It was fun putting the show on.
JOOLS: There are two questions people really want to know... will there be
another Pink Floyd record?
NM: Well, we really don’t know - I should hope we’re all too young to retire. But there ought to be something possible to do yet.
JOOLS: Something up your sleeves, yes. And do you miss the touring, that
huge mammoth touring that Pink Floyd did?
NM: I don’t [miss] the huge amount of mammoth touring but I think it’d be fun to go out and do some more shows.
JOOLS: Well now you’ve also whilst taking time off from Pink Floyd a lot
of people put records together - you’ve put one together with lots of
different star performers, so to speak, but it’s a very unusual record and
I think it brings in the question what is music? For Michael Tippet, the
composer he said it was the sound of running water he loved when he was
very small. Now you’ve made a record and we have one of the stars of the
record here. Let’s have a big round of applause for a Bugati ladies and
gentleman. Tell us about the concept of the record you have made with
this and the other motor cars.
NM: I’d have to say that the concept really is that with every record you get a free book. That really came first, but we decided in the early days of it it’d be really nice if possible to do a CD with all the new technology of digital recording and use the actual sounds of all the cars that were being driven for the book.
JOOLS: And for the people that love the cars that is music to their ears?
NM: Apparently, yes. Apparently it’s been extremely popular, particularly at traffic lights.
JOOLS: So people have this in their cars and if their cars don’t make a
particularly nice noise they can hear a Bugatti or a Ferrari or the
fabulous D-type Jaguars. I would like now to suggest something that’s never
been done on British television, or international television or in music
anywhere in the world and that is combining the lovely noise of the racing
car engine - what exactly is the vehicle?
NM: It’s an eight cylinder Bugati type 35.
JOOLS: What year would that have been?
NM: About 1927.
JOOLS: Lovely. Mr Bugatti’s vehicle there to do a duet with the piano,
because I often accompany the artists who come on the show and you’ve
bought this particular artist in, and the harmonic sound of the Bugatti
engine which for some people will bring tears to their eyes. So Nick if
I could ask you to get into the car...
JOOLS: A musical first. For reasons of safety, and I like to be a safety officer at all times, I’ve placed a crash helmet on top of my piano. Right, if you’d like to fire her up, as they say....
[Jools accompanies the revving Bugatti with incidental music on the piano]
JOOLS:Thank you very much indeed. Thank you very much to Nick Mason.