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Home arrow Interviews arrow Nick Mason interviews arrow April 2011 - Quattroruote (Italy)
April 2011 - Quattroruote (Italy) Print E-mail
Written by Matt   
Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Nick Mason - 
Italian interview pictureThe April 2011 issue of Italian motoring magazine Quattroruote featured an interesting interview with Nick Mason. Talking about music, motoring, and his educational achievements, the chat gives some interesting detail on his thoughts about cars (including motoring in the future).

With much thanks to an Italian friend of ours, we can bring you an English translation of the whole interview, exclusively here at Brain Damage. Read on for the full article...

Nick Mason - Sounds and Engines

For music fans, he is a Pink Floyd myth. For car enthusiasts, a big collector. He explains to us the liaison between music and machines.

Grey sky, low clouds, strong wind. London is London. A stone arcade, a metal stairway, a reinforced door. The smile of a blonde girl, the prim and friendly Nick Mason handshake. For music fans and experts the Pink Floyd drummer. For car enthusiasts, the owner of one of the most beautiful collections in the United Kingdom.

On the left side of the door, there's a red single-seater car, and the emblem of Cavallino (Ferrari). On the right, just opposite, a drum. Red. Again, the emblem of Cavallino.

Mr Mason, perhaps you can explain the common elements between music and cars?

I'm tempted to say the money. No money, no cars. Yes. I don't know how many other elements it is possible to find out. But, in my opinion, music and engines represent a perfect combination.

Otherwise, everything's against this. Experts say that the waveforms cannot be compared: in music (sound) it is nearly regular. In engines (noise) it's almost irregular. You have "played" (with the accelerator) a Bugatti while a pianist accompanied at a keyboard. How did this combination come about?

For the appreciation of the listeners. Technically, it's true, an engine produces noise, not music, although many have an evocative power. Because they make you recall in your mind your memories. The Maserati Birdcage engine note, for example, still makes me shiver: 15, 16 years ago I won a race, at Silverstone. On the last lap, the last turn, before the Grand Prix. Happy memories. It is the same with music. For me making music, or racing a car, has always been a pleasure. Happiness is the common denominator.

Where did your passion for cars come from?

It's my father's heritage. Due to his job (a documentary filmmaker), he had the occasion to film races. He brought me to Goodwood (a circuit on the English south coast, famous for its historical meetings) so that I could give him an helping hand when I was still a little boy.

And for music?

As for many others, it is something that I've discovered by myself. At that time, nobody could "teach" you rock'n'roll. No teachers: in the previous generation rock'n'roll didn't exist. I don't want to say that it has come out of nowhere, because music history is continuous, but the rock'n'roll version, loved and played by teenagers - it was something extraordinary and born in the fifties. At the end of the war, young people found themselves in a sort of independence: a job, some money in their pocket and the possibility of working out their own culture.

It's a little bit strange that a person like you that was part of the psychedelic movement, had at the same time the passion for old cars. Psychedelia and classic cars: so different...

Putting a "label" on someone or something is an action that's not very efficient. Or important. A part of Pink Floyd's music belongs to that kind of culture, but it has always been very technical. Never been wandering or improvising music. Nevertheless the first records have elements of spontaneity that I still like. But we've never been an hippy band, travelling the world in a caravan. We've never been that.

In Pink Floyd's music there are "machine" sounds, with a strong beat, very mechanical. Do they belong to a bigger project?

Not particularly. There are songs in which that is the path. Sometimes because the lyrics require it, as in Welcome to the Machine. But experimentation includes loops and cyclic paths that led to an impression of mechanism.

You realized very soon that music would have an important part in your life. When did you understand that cars would have as well?

Actually years before that: only when the band really started, in 1966, I really got interested in music. To be a rock star wasn't an ambition.

Why classic cars?

I've grown in an atmosphere that appreciates classic cars. My father drove a classic Bentley; I've breathed in air in which vintage cars were considered as marvellous objects. And precious. From a cultural point of view as well. My first car was an pre-war Austin Seven.

Did you consider the possibility of being a professional driver?

No. I've started racing, as an amateur, quite late in my life, in the early seventies. I won some trophies as well. I've never had the impression of throwing away a career. You must have a talent that I've really not got.

But you had enough talent to race in Le Mans. It's not that easy a race. It underlines your authentic passion.

Yes, there's no doubt: I love cars, I love Le Mans. But I do not see myself as a professional elbowing for victory.

You said: a car, for being a quality built one, must have Italian style, German mechanics, and a British driver. You do not hold the British car industry in high esteem...

(Mason laughs, and is it one of the exceptional moments in which opens the curtain of his expression otherwise set between severe and ironic) I believe the British motor industry has produced wonderful cars. But sometimes poor management, a bad relationship with manpower and the British has left little or nothing at all. Nevertheless England still has extraordinary engineers: Adrian Newey, Ross Brawn, John Barnard. Even Ferrari has its group of English collaborators.

Even this you evaluate, or perhaps you overestimate, the British drivers. You said: "I very much appreciate Michael Schumacher's qualities. But I prefer Damon Hill's personality".

True. But in this case the matter is quite complex. Schumacher is probably the most complete driver ever born. He has Alain Prost's reasoning ability in any situation, good or bad, and the same ability as Lewis Hamilton of finding, when necessary, that little bit of speed needed. But, he is "driven" too much, focused too much. He is able of taking decisions that in my opinion are not exactly sporting ones.

Damon Hill is a guitar player. Have you ever played together?

Yes. It is not a common fact that a driver has a musical talent. But when he has... Francois Cevert, for example. A good pianist. Nearly a professional one.

You do not really like the word "collection" to describe the cars you own (you think that cars must be used), but it's difficult to find other words for this. But, when did buying cars turn into collecting cars?

At the beginning, I simply sold a car to buy a new one. As many others have done. Then it happened that I could have a second one without giving up the previous. When you are in this condition, assuming you have enough space, you hold onto it. But I've really never bought a car just for the fact that there was room enough. I've always chosen cars that I yearn for driving. Bought foretasting what I could do with it. With cars there is no added value of collecting a whole set, as it happens, for example, with stamps.

How many cars do you own?

Nearly forty. I've reached the total of fifty in the past.

The eldest is very old: a 1901 Panhard.

Exactly, and it's a car I will hold on to for a long time. It's a very interesting object that when it works, it does it very well.

Forty, and you use to drive all of them. You love all of them. Let's suppose that for saving mankind, all cars have to be auctioned apart for one of them. Which one you would keep?

The Ferrari 250 GTO. You can race - and I mean really race - or drive in a regular race. Or, simply, take a "walk". Then, it has a very important in my life because I've used it for my daughter's wedding.

Which is your daily vehicle?

For going to work I use a motorbike; you know London... I have an Audi RS6 because it has sports car performance but if necessary I put the dog in the back seat and the drum in the boot.

You own property in Wiltshire (between London and Cornwall), a house formerly owned by Camilla Parker Bowles, Prince Charles's wife. Do you share a passion for cars?

No, it is purely by chance.

You have a degree in architecture. It's by chance too?

No. I was really interested in the subject. Somewhere I should have that piece of paper. It could have been my job if it wasn't for the band!

Some of your cars are on display in museums.

Yes, I have lent them to Beaulieu National Motor Museum: I am a counsellor too for this museum. There is one in Donnington's museum too. A couple of them have been recently sent to Spain for a Ferrari exhibition.

When did you have the idea to turn your collection into a profitable business and set up the Ten Tenth's Team (a company that rent, mostly for commercials, cars: some 3000 cars)?

Twenty years ago. Most classic car owners and lovers are always looking for a solution that ties between income and expenditure accounts. Some friends in advertising fields suggested me this path and business has been good for a long time. Nowadays profits have decreased. Commercial budgets have been lowered everywhere; and, you can easily find a peculiar car on the internet. Then, in commercials the communication must be done in a time quota. So very simple messages. An exotic car - an Hispano Suiza for example - is not needed. A girl in a red D-Type or a couple in a Morris 1000 define the situation in one fell swoop. To tell a story in 30 seconds means that every screenshot must achieve its goal. But, even with this, we are here.

Do you still see classic cars in your future?

For sure. There are modern cars that to be appreciated must be taken to their limit. This means to go fast, very fast. On the opposite side a classic car could reach the fun zone within legal limits. Charm aside, I have to take account of my 67 years.

You wrote a couple of books (most recently, "A Passion For Speed"). They tell us about your cars and there is a CD with the engine sound recorded while on track. To underline that the car is the leading actor, you say that readers would pay for the CD and have the book for free. What has motivated you to spend time on this?

Writing a book means a lot of hard work and so there must been more than one single reason for plunging into it. But, above all, I realised that it could be interesting to tell why I love so much the cars that I own and that other people couldn't ever buy. I discovered then that each man collects cars for many, many different reasons. Some are interested in driving, some in history, some on design, some on technique.

Do you listen to music while driving?

Usually not. I listen to Radio4 (BBC: news, debates, commentaries on current issues). I do not like music on in the background. I do not suggest to listen to music during lunch.

What kind of driving licence do you have?

I've got the normal licence for cars. The motorbike one, and the pilot's licence for the helicopter.

In "Learning To Fly" you can be heard in the background, there's some dialogue between you, the pilot, and the Air Traffic Control tower...

Oh yes, it was recorded during my first flight without a flight instructor.

Again, music and mechanics. Considering you as a classic car lover, how do you foresee the future of cars?

Living in London I hope they will be small. If still powered with petrol/gasoline, to be able of making 200 miles with one gallon. If powered with electrical batteries they do not produce sound at all: someone must take care of this.

A CD with different cars' sounds?

With the possibility of choosing the most favourite engine? I've already thought of this!

You have defined Bob Dylan as "God Dylan" because of his role in music.

Yes, mostly for his lyrics...

Could you give someone a similar role in motoring history?

For mankind I think this could be given to Ford's Model T. For myself, it would be Ferrari and Bugatti who have always had great technical features. For some points of view there's even McLaren that, as for Ferrari and Bugatti, represents the dream of a visionary man: Ron Dennis.

Last Updated ( Friday, 09 September 2011 )
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