Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason addressed historical points familiar to most fans in greater and fresher depth than usual during this New York City visit. Anecdotal items, including whether there could have been a Jeff Beck Pink Floyd mark, how shockingly close all surviving band members have come to a post-Live 8 reunion, and specifying recorded content that may finally see the light of day will cement this week’s interviews as robust resources for music historians. Mason’s quiet dignity, humour, wit, and warmth toward fans underscores the importance of his unofficial role as the band historian and archivist. His New York City interviews are a reminder that in the debate over the Barrett, Waters, and Gilmour eras the mytharc belongs to Mason.
This week Nick Mason participated in two public events in New York City: public television's 'Speakeasy' (reported on separately by BD contributor Jacqueline Bilello here), which was actually recorded for a 2017 broadcast, and AOL's 'Build Series' interview, which was broadcast via live stream on Wednesday and can now be watched here. Although the release of The Early Years anchored both events, the Build Series interview was more focused on that campaign and allowed for audience questions; the Speakeasy show cast a wider net that may fit its broadcast next year more topically.
Our latest report, below, encompasses both events, as a follow-up and companion to Jacqueline's article...
Speakeasy was filmed Monday evening at the Stanely H. Kaplan penthouse, a 10th floor studio at the Lincoln Center complex in Manhattan. A set of two elegant armchairs sat on a raised stage surrounded by audience seats and ceiling-to-floor windows with regal views of the Manhattan skyline. The production team gave the audience directions a few minutes before Mason and his moderator, Rolling Stone veteran David Fricke, walked on stage.
Fricke, who got his start as a music fan following Pink Floyd (Pink Floyd played the first concert Fricke ever went to as a kid) and is a historical figure in his own right as a music journalist, deployed straight into a set of questions for Mason that devout fans could appreciate with greater punch than casual fans might. Since the show will be airing next year, it will suffice to enumerate some topics that were covered in the interview and leave it up to you to catch the show and draw your own conclusions when it airs:
- As discussed in Mason's Inside Out: A Personal History of Pink Floyd, Mason talked about the band's interest in recruiting Jeff Beck as a member of the band in 1967; during the live interview with Fricke, Mason provides additional hue to this historical footnote.
- Although members of Pink Floyd have always entertained questions about Syd Barrett, Fricke's passion for the band's music and history teed up questions about the founding member of the group in a much more visceral way; this, combined with Mason's ripened role as the band's custodian, paved the way for unusually emotive responses. In this interview, it is clear that any reflection on the Barrett era has become palpably different (far more intense?) with age.
- The alarming speed of Barrett's decline and whether it was all about (or in larger proportion due to) LSD use; how cognisant Mason believes Barrett was of the band’s music and successes after his time in the band.
- Mason entertained Fricke's query on the trajectory the band may have followed had it been able to carry on with Barrett: the response was more counterintuitive than fans might expect.
- Mason added commentary on the band's structured nature, the origins of that structured approach, and how songs were visually plotted out prior to recording as a result.
- The A Momentary Lapse of Reason and The Division Bell tours stand out as the best Pink Floyd tours for Mason and he explains why.
- Mason discussed the presence of Interstellar Overdrive on the recent Doctor Strange film and why the band was well-suited for soundtracks.
- Production work: Mason’s work with The Damned and other bands was discussed, including some great anecdotes and at least one connection to the upcoming Pink Floyd exhibit in London.
- Fricke presented questions about the Montreal spitting incident… from Mason's stage perspective.
- Fricke discussed the difficulty he faced, both as a fan and music journalist, covering Pink Floyd's A Momentary Lapse of Reason Tour and Roger Waters' Radio K.A.O.S tour concurrently; he and Mason discuss the degree to which he, David Gilmour, and Richard Wright felt at war with Waters and adds particular focus on the intense ups and downs Mason has experienced as Waters' closest friend in the band.
- Mason discusses the degree to which each member of Pink Floyd had veto power in the band… and whether or not that was honoured.
- The interview includes a bit on Pink Floyd's choosing between demos for what would become each The Wall and (eventually) the Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking.
- Mason elaborates on why filming for The Wall on its initial run did not work.
- How shockingly close the surviving band members have come to a post-Live 8 reunion and the reason(s) it has not materialized.
- Whether he is still playing drums, how he decided to sit-in on shows with Gilmour or Waters on their solo tours… and whether that remains a possibility in the future.
- Although many of these subjects have been discussed in some ways in the past, something about Fricke's nature as an interviewer combined with Mason's ever-growing stature as the band's ambassador results in a much more compelling set of answers than usual.
The Build Series interview, an event sponsored by AOL and streamed live around the world was far more focused on The Early Years box set. While Easyspeak rooted its dialog with Mason around The Early Years release, the Build Series was far more focused on it.
During the Build Series interview, Alan Light – also a Rolling Stone veteran (in addition to Vibe and Spin) – focused on the box set and let Mason articulate and describe the content of the set, how it came together, and what fans should be taking away from it.
A lot of the discussion focused on the scale of the box set, on Nick's role in pulling it together, and on his evolving views on releasing outtakes and other versions of songs: how his cognisance of fan interest in these items is to some degree rooted in his own experience with artists he grew up listening to.
One of the more interesting parts of the discussion with White focused on bootlegs: Mason acknowledges an awareness of bootlegs but stressed how The Early Years pre-dates an era in which bootlegs were amply available or easy to record. He also tells White he was surprised at how much professionally recorded material was available when preparing The Early Years set, surprised at how much work the band was actually putting in over those years, and how well some material stands on its own in a very raw form (before the song evolves into more complex and layered pieces, e.g., he mentions how well Atom Heart Mother material can stand on its own, before being mixed into additional layers of instruments and effects).
White discussed Mason's length of time in the band and the often overlooked fact that he is the constant member in its entire history; the pair discussed how Mason feels that drumming for Pink Floyd is different from drumming for other bands; they also discussed his influences and other drummers he still listens to.
Given the nature of the box set, many of White's questions kept circling back to the possibility of more releasable material, whether there is much out there (live recordings included) and how any effort to release this stuff to the public might unfold. Mason did emphasize the band's next focus will be the London exhibit – but follow-up questions from audience members did point to a keen mutual interest to revisit the band's vaults for more sets like The Early Years, covering the rest of the band's history.
Fans asked a number of questions, ranging from the most interesting venue he ever played with Pink Floyd (Venice – the barge), to details about Nick's Boogie.
Brain Damage UK was able to toss a question in, to clarify something that struck us as more internet speculation than anything: we asked Mason whether A Momentary Lapse of Reason would ever be revisited and his drum parts added to it (drummers such as Carmine Appice and Jim Keltner filled in for Mason – but there are also a number of drum machines scattered throughout the album). It has long been floating out there in cyberspace that, in fact, this had already been done and just had not been released. Well, according to Mason, that's the case: there is, in fact, an unreleased version of A Momentary Lapse of Reason that may offer a more cohesive sense of Pink Floyd as a band in that early post-Waters stage – at least for fans that are curious (even troubled?) by that anomaly (all debates aside on how that album is analogous to The Final Cut in many ways – but especially in the way it reflects the individual, musical vision of a band member for the band's sound and direction in their respective eras.. and in such a pronounced manner – The Final Cut being Waters' and A Momentary Lapse of Reason being Gilmour's respective moments on that plane).
Additionally, we asked whether the Atlanta shows on the A Momentary Lapse of Reason tour, which were originally intended for the Delicate Sound of Thunder release but were ultimately scrapped in favour of the Nassau shows, will ever be released. At the moment they circulate quite heavily as the Calhoun Tapes. Mason's answer was that everything is on the table.
One thing is clear from the two interviews: Mason is steering the ship when it comes to sifting through all this unreleased work and all of this band history. It is his particular effort that seems to sustain the viability of something many fans have been itching for and that shows great potential – even beyond the spectacular release of material included in The Early Years.
As more material is released and Mason helps the brand project an amplified voice, it should help crystallize a recognition that there has, in fact, always been another Pink Floyd 'era' and it is actually the historically accurate and true root and thread that carries throughout the band's entire narrative and sound: the Nick Mason era of Pink Floyd.