Wearing the Inside Out
Nick Mason's Floyd biography is a fitting summary of the band's career
As a fan of books, especially non-fiction books, and a fan of Pink Floyd, all manner of Pink Floyd, it was with great anticipation that I eagerly awaited Inside Out, Nick Mason's personal history of his band. The wait was long (even long in Pink Floyd terms) with its fair share of hiccups, but the wait was also worth it. Worth it because in Inside Out we the fans have a history of the band we can be confident in and we can be comforted in. We can take with a good helping of honesty what it is Nick has written about instead of with a pinch of salt what some biographers write about. And please pardon the pun, but it makes a great bookend to the very fine career of Pink Floyd. A career that seems to be over in terms of new material or future tours. That in itself is not a bad thing--Pink Floyd, like the rest of us, are allowed to retire. And if they can't retire with music, then Nick has chosen on the band's behalf a definite triumph that will become a highlight for any fan of the band.
The obvious first thought when you pick up the book is that it is big enough and heavy enough to kill small animals. In keeping with the Floyd's scorched Earth policy, this fits in perfectly. It also excites the book fan as it is a decent-sized book. One you can sense is filled with all sorts of goodies and will be money well spent. Once handled, your eyes are instantly pleased by the cover. As memorable as past Thorgerson efforts? Well, maybe not. But definitely Floydian. Good earthy colours and enough puzzles and laws of nature broken to at first confuse and then bring comfort; that comfort you get when you hold a new Pink Floyd product. The only thing stopping the reader from pouring over the cover is Nick has stolen the show with what is on the inside.
The first and most obvious plus of the book is the photographs and diagrams. Not only is it full of them, but they are for the most part fresh, unseen, obviously well produced, and yet another insight into that world that most us have only seen from the audience floor. Some fans will highlight the picture of Syd from 1975, or early stage shots of the band from '66 or '67. But for me, apart from the band being the band, I was thrilled to see so many pictures of various members of the band simply being people... larking about be it on holidays, in their youth, or on tour as the world famous Pink Floyd. A treat indeed to see such humanity in people we think we know so well.
Once you've read even the first few pages, you suddenly realise that the pictures are not the best bit, as good as they are. The information about our heroes comes thick and fast from all points of view and all variants of good and bad. But all the while, the words flow from Nick himself. It is quite clear that the title "A Personal History of Pink Floyd" is true to its word. This is the writing of Nick Mason. It's not a ghost writer, or even Nick padding out his tale with copious quotes and interviews. Best of all, Nick Mason can write. His tales of the serious through to the not so serious are dealt with using honesty and humour. The typical rock star 'kiss and tell' is not in these pages, and the book is all the better for it. The obvious example being the demise and departure of Syd Barrett. The facts are spelled out--Syd lost his way and the band let him go--but the innuendo and accusations are skipped. And so they should be. Quite frankly it's none of our business what happened. On the positive side, the tales of Nick's childhood, gaining his driver's license, and the founding of the band that was to become Pink Floyd by himself and Roger Waters are a delight to read. Reading them again and again from cover to cover will be a pleasure.
For the future... well, Inside Out is to become a soft cover version, and recent reports state that it will also make it to audio, with Nick himself doing the reading. Long term, not only should the book itself become the first reference stop for information on Pink Floyd, but we can only hope that Nick manages to write some more. Actually, no. We can only hope that Nick writes an awful lot more. This Nick Mason fan will happily lap it all up, be it Pink Floyd, racing cars, or whatever.
The Camera Eye
A Collection of Great Film Clips
Pink Floyd Video Anthology 1966-1983 (HRVDVD005)
The legacy of Pink Floyd has now begun its fourth decade and with the release of the new band biography Inside Out from drummer Nick Mason, it's a great time to review what I feel is the best Pink Floyd video anthology collection available.
Harvested has made quite a name for itself in both the audio and video "bootleg" recording field and to me, Pink Floyd Video Anthology 1966-1983 is their crowning achievement. Harvested is known for producing very professional recordings, and this DVD could pass for a legitimate, big label release. It is really a shame that the big companies like Sony and Columbia don't release a DVD of this caliber to the legions of Pink Floyd fans who eagerly would buy up such a product. If they were to issue an anthology, be assured though that it would probably be severely edited down to a one- or perhaps two-disc set. But Harvested gives the band proper treatment with this awesome 3-DVD edition, covering the band in every phase from inception through The Final Cut.
Those who have been collecting Pink Floyd video through the years are well aware of the varying quality of available video performances. It is obvious that Harvested went to extreme lengths to track down the very best footage available. I would be willing to bet that if the major labels were to release a Pink Floyd Anthology video collection, they would be very hard pressed to exceed the quality that is available on this collection and that makes this a must-have DVD for any Pink Floyd fan's collection.
The 3-DVD set comes in standard NTSC 4:3 TV format with Dolby 5.1 audio. An attractive and professional looking DVD jacket art is available for download at a variety of Pink Floyd fan websites. An opening disclaimer screen explains about the fair use doctrine, and has a very special message for any potential auctioneers. A great introduction clip then starts the video off with scenes from numerous TV appearances shown in checkerboard pattern while the name Pink Floyd scrolls across the screen. (Only disc one has this introduction, so when the viewers want to enjoy discs two and three they don't have to sit through the disclaimer every time.) After the intro, a menu screen appears to the tune of "Arnold Layne", which only plays once rather than being looped. Each volume is organized by specific eras (like "The Syd Barrett Years") or by event (such as TV appearances). Clicking on each era will take you to a submenu which lists all songs for direct access. While the disc is playing you can use your FF/REW remote keys to chapter advance by individual song. Each volume offers a Database menu which has all the details of each video clip. Dates of performances and TV broadcasts are listed, as well as other pertinent information such as director, artist, and sources. Navigation of the disc is very easy and entertaining, with plenty of pictures for the menus, and if you play with your remote control long enough you can find a number of "Easter eggs" that were added in by the producers of the DVD. Overall, the DVD authoring was done well and becomes an integral part of the entire DVD package to make this a highlight of any Floyd video collection.
Nineteen performances are covered in this outstanding document of the Syd Barrett years. This collection of TV clips and promotional films gives you a comprehensive look at the Floyd during their psychedelic peak. A menu screen lets you choose between different groups of videos, and submenus let you access each song individually. Many of these early clips are black and white, but the quality is exceptional considering the age of the material and the number of format conversions the originals went through. Colors are preserved very well and all videos have good to excellent detail. This is a very thorough anthology of the early films, the Syd Barrett fans will certainly appreciate the quality and extensive discography of this volume.
The second disc covers the years 1968-1971 and marks the entrance of David Gilmour into the group. Once again this disc offers incredible quality considering the rarity of the footage. Only one selection from the 1970 KQED television broadcast is offered on this disc, as there was not enough space for the complete performance. If you don't already have the complete show, this anthology will whet your appetite enough to seek out the full version. During this volume we are also introduced to artist Ian Emes in a program called "French Windows", which is animation set to "One Of These Days". Emes also did the backdrop animation film for Dark Side of the Moon. The highlight of this volume would have to be the 22+ minute presentation of the epic masterpiece "Echoes" from the film Crystal Voyager, and while this video doesn't feature any members of Pink Floyd it is a mesmerizing journey above and below the sea, with incredible photography of ocean waves.
Disc three covers 1973-1983, wrapping up the "classic" Pink Floyd lineup, from filmed versions of "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun" and "Careful With That Axe, Eugene", and ending with the long out-of-print video EP for The Final Cut. I especially enjoyed the backdrop films to Dark Side and Wish You Were Here. But the highlight of this disc would have to be the Harvested-produced "Pigs On The Wing" film of the legendary Animals photo shoot where the giant inflatable pig floated blissfully above Battersea Power Station until its tethers snapped and the pig drifted off into the sky. The Spare Bricks section covers The Wall with the promo video for "Another Brick In The Wall" as well as a live version of "Comfortably Numb" from the Nassau and Earls Court Wall films. The Wall film is represented with a "When The Tigers Broke Free" clip.
In summary this is absolutely a must-have DVD anthology for any Pink Floyd fan. I wish the major record companies would follow what Led Zeppelin did last year with their massive multi disc offering, and that is to open up the vaults and give the fans access to this incredible footage. Today's technology can do an amazing job of cleaning and correcting old and damaged video. Release old television appearances, and use privately-shot videos and bootleg concert footage so that fans who never have been exposed to these views of a band can experience them and perhaps begin to seek out and collect such rare videos. I don't see how much more this anthology can be improved though. It is obvious that this collection represents many years of collecting by the people at Harvested, and they probably have traded for this material many times over in search of the very best quality available. Somehow I doubt that a big record label would take the time or effort to assemble these clips as Harvested did, let alone package them in such a professional, easy to navigate DVD that should be the centerpiece of any Pink Floyd fan's video collection. I cannot give enough appreciation to all those behind this production. It's a shame this couldn't be marketed in the stores. Though I would have eagerly paid for this anthology and felt I got my money's worth, it's even better knowing that I got it from a trade with another fellow fan.
Into the Red is a simple book, really. Rich rock star owns fancy cars, has them track tested, writes a book about the results. What makes it a bit more complicated than this, however, and far more entertaining than just a rich rock star's fantasy, is the scope of the cars, the passion of the rock star, and the connections both bring to the track. For anyone to replicate this piece of Floydian history, all you need is twenty-one racing cars from different eras, the cash to buy them, the ability to drive them or a mate who can, and the cash or contacts to take over a major race track for a few days. Easy really. Makes you realise why so many Floyd fans emulate their heroes by taking up music instead. Even putting together a covers band and touring The Wall would be easier!
The book itself is big. 176 pages, hard cover, and beautifully done. As with all things Floyd, the quality is exceptional with superb photo reproduction on good quality glossy paper. Aside to the chapters themselves, there are also interesting bits and pieces such as the charts at the end of the book giving a good, easy access comparison for each car on one page. A map of Silverstone raceway is there as well, with convenient tips on how to handle certain parts of it (note to editor: shall drive the company car with extra care in these parts). Lastly (or firstly, as it is found in the first few pages), there is also a detailed description and listing of the equipment (and problems overcome) needed to record and photograph the cars for the book and CD. A nice start to help the Floyd fans settle in for what is basically a non-Floyd experience at face value.
There are the briefest of mentions of Pink Floyd, or at least references to them, and certainly enough to entertain. Such as the trials and tribulations Nick and Steve O'Rourke went through while in France for The Wall sessions (preparing for Le Mans) and the seriously dangerous trials and tribulations Nick and David Gilmour went through driving their respective F40s home to England from Italy, purchased straight off the factory floor.
The main structure of the book is a description of how each of the twenty-one cars tested handles under the same conditions; starting, accelerating, doing a number of laps and stopping. These parts are done by and described by Mark Hales, a noted driver and journalist. Accompanying this is a description by Nick Mason about the 'how's and 'why's each car came into his possession. And it's this part written by Nick Mason that makes the book a great read. You have to read the car racing part to fully appreciate the other, and appreciate it you do. I say this with the utmost respect for Mark and what he does, and does well. But I came to this as a Pink Floyd fan and not a fan of cars, especially ones I'll never drive or own; I didn't care, and in all honesty, don't care that much more, but I am now at least mildly interested, and no doubt due to the fine work of Mark.
To quote the inside back cover, "Mark Hales is a professional motor journalist and driver with nearly 25 years experience of racing and testing virtually every type of racing car, and has driven most of the world's fastest road cars on track and road. He currently writes for a range of publications including Classic & Sports Car, Top Gear Magazine, Autosport, and the Daily Telegraph." So who am I to question anything to do with anything when it comes to this part of the book? I am happy to sit and wonder.
And wonder I do. Some of the descriptions beggar belief. The take off momentum of the F40--a street car--frightens me, quite simply. Likening it to the taking off of jets, a thrill I have enjoyed, positively chills me. The idiot in me thinks "yeah, I want to drive one" but every other part of me knows better. So I can read Nick's and Mark's words with appreciation knowing my limbs are safe.
My limbs are also safe listening to the CD, but my ears aren't. A stunning collection of noise it is indeed. The first track, the Panhard B1 lulls you into a false sense of security as it is quiet, almost cheerful in it's putting along. It also introduces the listener to the brilliant recording ability of the team and the full use of stereo effects. However, by the 1930s and the very next track, the cars have become serious in their noise making. I could basically write the same description for all of them. They are loud, fast, noisy, fast, loud, fast. and noisy... all in that order. My sad ear can certainly pick up the differences in pitch, so I at least know they are different cars, but that is all. I also notice that the cars get faster and faster as they scream from my left to right speaker in fractions of seconds, a stunning effect that thrills the bejeebees out of my two-year-old as well.
Interestingly, when I was a DJ doing a weekly all-Floyd radio show a few years back, to celebrate Nick's work and play around the time of his birthday, not only did I play a lot of Floyd songs written or co-written by him, I played various tracks of the car CD between songs. Towards the end of the show I was phoned by one of the local pubs that played my radio show through their speakers in the bars just to say thanks for the show and that because of the car tracks, this had been my best show so far. I still smile at that thought.
To finish, I see no problems with this book at all. I don't like cars that much, but I thoroughly enjoy reading this book about these cars. Maybe that's just the blind folly of a Pink Floyd fan, but I can live with that. The one problem that I see others may have with this book is the instant dismissal of it as a rich man's folly. The irony is thick, of course, when you think about it. The world over, thousands upon thousands of fans get together and endlessly (and mostly pointlessly as poor man's folly) discuss their heroes in some vain attempt to understand them better, to get closer to them. But of course, it is all in vain: no matter how much you talk to each other, how often you play the song or watch the DVD or read a biography or interview in a magazine, no matter how many photos you look at, you can never get through to who they really are. But here is a book that tells us a bit about who Nick Mason really is, and in doing so rarely mentions the band. And that is why I love this book. Because it can tell me a little about one of the Floyd that I can't get anywhere else. And it tells it honestly. It isn't his version of history, especially the bands history. It's his version of one part of his own history.