Beware! Pink Floyd fan approaching
Entering the inner sanctum of Ten Tenths, in London, England, I was expecting more Floydian clichés and less good quality everything. From the chequered flag carpet to the Aston Martin hood lining on the ceiling, the room oozed class, as though I had entered the rooms of the latest Bond bad-guy. The window was open, however, so it was all very warm and inviting. A trap maybe? Or a pure misjudgement on my part? Time would tell. Without a single clue of how to approach the next half hour or so, my body had decided to start early, by not answering for me what I should do in the next minute or so as I waited for Nick Mason, a co-founder and the drummer of Pink Floyd. A journey from the release of Pink Floyd's 1979 album The Wall through to me standing in his office on the other side of the planet a quarter of a century later had been a long and wonderful trip. I now had the opportunity to talk with and thank one of the main drivers on that journey (mental note to self: must avoid such bad puns!).
"Mr Mason will be with you shortly," was the longest and last sentence that his PA had spoken to me, very eager to direct me through to this room and away from the rest of the building, probably to keep my 'Pink Floyd Fan' background from contaminating the rest of the 'Car Sanctuary' that Ten Tenths obviously was. It was her pat on the shoulder and "I'm so sorry you poor dear, but you will get over the music in time; even Mr Mason has" look in her eyes that made me worry that I looked that obvious. I checked, twice, before leaving the hotel room that I had clearly removed any neon signs that said "I am a Pink Floyd Fan", or worse, "Beware: Pink Floyd Fan Approaching", and checked again using all three mirrors in the hire car. (Which I might add I parked a mile away and walked to the Ten Tenths office simply to avoid any sort of laughter and ridicule at driving such a vehicle; the gardener is probably ex-F1, let alone the people who work inside the building).
So there I stood and waited.
I am quite surprised I didn't break my jaw there and then when it smacked onto the floor with a whip crack sound that I thought for sure would have started alarms, or at least seismic registers. I could have taken the model of the artwork from the Relics cover and simply bolted. (My editor would understand. "Sorry, Mike; Mr. Mason was unavailable at that time... and forever.") But it was way too big, and probably linked to a 21st century Azimuth Coordinator style laser beam system that shoots first and asks questions later. If they could afford flying pigs with laser eyes and a zeppelin fish to escort them across the world, then he could afford a simple atomiser or something. So to avoid leaving a dent in his floor, or drool stains on his carpet, I left the centre of the room and headed for the photos and pictures on the walls.
Nick Mason at a racetrack... nice enough. Nick Mason at another race track... still nice. Nick Mason and some underling... at a race track (underling looks familiar, I imagine a guitar in his hand for some reason). Nick Mason in a car... at a race track. A quick look along the wall I see no less than 23 photos of Nick Mason, with or without people, at race tracks, in or not in cars. I get the feeling that he really, really, really likes cars. I look at the small laptop computer in my hands and wonder if I have a few too many questions about Pink Floyd, and not enough about race tracks or cars. 'I can fix that,' I tell myself. But it's too late. Like the silent click on a very expensive and thoroughly plush luxury car, the other door in the room opens purposefully and in strides Nick Mason, the door closing behind him without a human touch.
Everything I imagine is perfectly true about him. He is the perfect example of the rich and famous racing car owner and driver. From his fireproof suit in earthy-but-bright racing stripes, to his well-worn and well-loved driving gloves, and leather helmet that doesn't seem out of place, sitting there atop his sturdy head with their piercing but warm eyes. Full of confidence, he strides over to me, hand extended, warmly greeting me (I knew I had removed all the neon signs!) with "Good morning, old chap; positively spiffing to have you here, what!", then strides over to his desk well before I have a chance to mumble any sort of reply. Easily he glides into his chair, his hands moving swiftly in many directions seemingly at once, as he takes control of the desk-- and as an extension, the room--with the ease and grace of years of controlling some of the most powerful cars ever built. "So tell me, young fellow, what is it you want to know about?" he said, bursting with so much aplomb and willingness to answer my questions that I almost changed my first question to "How can we achieve world peace?"
I sit down in the chair opposite, the thick warm leather welcoming me like an old friend, open my laptop, look up, face to face, a few feet apart from one of my childhood heroes, and begin a moment that I had dreamed about for years.
Sadly, however, the reality soon came back to me. When I finally had logged on, and my rickety old chair had managed to stay together, I pressed "send" and my long list of questions zapped off through cyber space from rural Australia to not-so-rural England. I looked happily at my "Sent Items" and then began the long wait of looking at my "Inbox". I had secured an interview with Nick Mason, all right... via e-mail. A few days later, my "Inbox" finally went ping and below is the result. I can't express enough thanks to Nick, as it all happened so well and willingly on his behalf, especially considering the time taken to answer my long--and sometimes rather silly--questions. But I blame Pink Floyd for that anyway. A lot of my long, and very silly writings are without doubt a subconscious inspiration of the fine works of Pink Floyd to begin with.
In closing, it would be tempting to comment on Nick's responses, and it has certainly been tempting to send off the next batch of questions that came about from this batch of answers. But I figured that could wait. Nick and a few friends were coming my way soon as part of a 'round the world trip, so I could thank him in person then anyway... or wasn't I meant to mention that?
Nick Mason: The Spare Bricks interview
Spare Bricks: Hi Ho, Nick. I must say a big thank you for your time. Typing is an awful lot slower than speaking, so I appreciate this will take you a bit longer than a normal interview. Again, thank you. I would also like to point out that some of the questions are a bit tongue in cheek. I've always had the impression that you are up for a laugh, so I figured you might appreciate a few less-serious questions now and again.
The first and most obvious question that leapt to mind after reading Inside Out was do you have any plans for other writing, be it about Pink Floyd, cars, racing, or anything else you care to enjoy?
Nick Mason: I like writing, and would like to do some more. Apart from anything else it does not require a bass player, pianist or lead guitarist! But I don't know what it would be yet.
SB: I personally found Inside Out to be both a great read and very informative, either putting a clearer perspective on the familiar events in Pink Floyd's history, or totally adding new, unknown things. As such, it is an absolute must-read for fans of the band and music fans alike. Do you see it as a definitive history of Pink Floyd that can be used as a reference for the years to come? Or more of a coffee table book that's good for a few photos and a bit of gossip?
NM: The caveat is that it's my version of the history, not necessarily the others'... and as with all history it's pretty subjective. Even Churchill's History of the English Speaking People or his histories of WWI and WWII are, in the end, subjective rather than 'definitive'. My book is certainly intended to be a bit more than a coffee table exercise (the paperback due later this year will have fewer pics) but it's also intended to be affectionate, funny, and informative rather than an over-serious book about a serious band. I also hope there are some general points to be made about a small group of people trying to utilise their skills and achieve common goals, and quite often doing it rather badly.
SB: You must be proud of the book. The logistics of compiling so much information in the first place is almost a career in itself. How and/or why did you become the band's unofficial historian? Were you just keeping track of the shows early on, and then decided to keep it up year after year? Or have you done this sort of thing with your other interests as well? With such a wealth of information, have you made arrangements for your collection of dates, photos, etc. to be properly archived and cared for in the future?
NM: I am not a real archivist in the Bill Wyman sense. All I had to do was keep a few bits and pieces to become the archivist since David Gilmour missed the first bit, and the others never kept much at all. The most useful memory jogger initially were scrap books that I kept for the first two years of all the press cuttings from the Melody Maker Disc and New Musical Express, etc., plus a few magazine articles. After that, one memory jogs another.
SB: I was a little disappointed that there is very little about your childhood and inspirations before moving to London and meeting up with Roger and Rick. It seems every book written about the Floyd goes into great detail about Cambridge and the birth of Pink Floyd in that city, but as you and Rick didn't come from there, I had always hoped for your stories in that respect, from those formative years. So although there is some telling about your years at home (and, might I add, the world would love to hear those early recordings!) was there any particular reason why you only covered it lightly?
NM: Space. And the fact that as it's band as much as me, I really felt I had enough about my early years. There wasn't (in my opinion) that much indication that any of us were to go on to greater things.
SB: A highlight for me in the book was also the Chronology at the end of the book, specifically because of its diverse topics. Are the things you listed important things for you and your life, or more general and things you remember for being important to the world around you?
NM: They were chosen as events that were memorable to me or might put the time frame into perspective for other readers. Not everyone was born when the moon landing took place, and I think it's entertaining to realise that Kylie wasn't even born when we started, although her birthday is not a memorable date in my personal calendar. We had fun assembling it though (my family, Phil Dodd, and a few others).
SB: A good example in the Chronology is 1961; Man in space, the Berlin Wall, and you passing your driving test. I notice there are no entries for you losing your license. Can I take it you are a sensible driver, or has the 'lead foot' got the better of you on occasion?
NM: Not lost my licence so far (still plenty of time I hope); a few speeding points. I try and keep most of the racing to the track.
SB: I also bought Into the Red when that was published, simply to know about what it is you do when you're not being a drummer. I'm happy to confess that I'm not a big fan of cars, but that book at least got me interested in those makes of cars and the history behind them (your descriptions for each car was what told me Inside Out would be well written and a great read). Have you since purchased and driven any cars that you wish you could have written a chapter about for Into the Red?
NM: Red was reissued with a new car added last September. Mclaren GTR, but I wish we could have waited a bit longer and added the Enzo Ferrari. This would have brought the range to over a hundred years, and I have no doubt the Enzo would have been quickest of all so far.
SB: From the book, easily my favourite is the Panhard. The CD that came with the book was a suitably obscure touch, and very commendable, so hearing the Panhard chug along was and is very nice. It reminds me of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
NM: Well, good comparison; same sort of engineering. (Although Panhard won't fly.)
SB: So when push comes to shove (like 'desert island discs', but with only one) what is your favourite car?
NM: 250 GTO--best all-'rounder (looks, performance, history, value, driveability, exclusivity). But I have great affection for the Aston Martin Ulster (First race and still racing, and raced by all my family) and the Birdcage Maserati (Best race ever--Silverstone GP support race '93).
SB: Have you planned any overseas promotions for your book that might coincide with major race meets or another shot at something like La Carrera Panamericana... i.e. are you coming to Australia for racing... F1, Indy?
NM: No plans, but not a bad idea!
SB: This might be a bit out of left field, but are you familiar with Michael Palin's "Ripping Yarns" episode "Murder at Morestones Manor" in which Palin plays car enthusiast Hugo Chiddingfold? At social gatherings, recording sessions, past tours etc., did other people start to treat you like Michael Palin with comments such as "Brum Brum, will I ever get over it mother?" If you are not familiar with it, then I suggest you watch it. It's how I've always pictured you! :-)
NM: It's been so long since I've seen it I remember nothing. I'll check it out. Generally I avoid car talk socially unless in the company of consenting adults; well, and children too...
SB: Which Pink Floyd song do you think best describes what you think of cars, and opposite to that, which car could be the closest to describing Pink Floyd?
NM: No answer to this one, I really think the two are best kept well apart. More relevant might be the aviation influence--"Learning to Fly" has quite a lot of aviation involvement in it, both lyrically and in the sound effects department. David Gilmour, Steve O'Rourke, and I were flying fairly regularly at the time.
SB: With your own solo efforts, do you have any plans for re-releases or remastering of Fictitious Sports or Profiles? Or are future fans doomed to search through secondhand shops looking for such things?
NM: I guess I might try and get EMI to do another CD release some time... I don't really think there is that much demand. More likely, I might one day be able to direct mail it to researchers.
SB: Even more importantly, do you have any future solo projects with various artists along the lines of Profiles and Fictitious Sports? Or maybe releasing a CD of some of the soundtrack work you have done over the years, or say a DVD of Life Could Be A Dream?
NM: No solo projects; I'd rather write another book! Life Could Be a Dream I think belongs to Rothmans, and I think is of limited interest to the public at large.
SB: If you were going to record a new solo album, or perhaps a new Floyd album, which previous Floyd album would you most like the new music to be like?
NM: I liked Division Bell, otherwise maybe something a bit more ambient like Meddle. But actually one usually wants new music to be a totally different departure, or at least break new ground, so it's not really relevant.
SB: Which other drummers (rock, jazz, etc.) do you admire? Whose style would you copy or borrow, if you could?
NM: Oh, all the old guard of English rock (Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, etc.) and all those be-bop and fusion drummers: Art Blakey, Chico Hamilton, Billy Cobham, etc.
SB: Along those lines, how much do you drum these days for the pure pleasure of drumming? Or is that a past pastime now?
NM: Still a bit for pleasure, and my boys both play guitar so I sometimes play with them. Except they won't practice enough! And if I'm saying that it means they hardly practice at all!
SB: In Inside Out, and in the various interviews promoting it, you have described yourself as a 'diplomat' in respect to the various 'controversial' events in the band's history. This seemingly has had the benefit of reporters who are looking for 'dirt' generally leaving you alone... is this a good side effect, or your ultimate plan all along?
NM: I have never enjoyed listening to any musicians slagging off the other members of their bands. If you don't like it, or them, move on. I also consider all of the band friends (even if we do disagree at times), and have no wish to ruin any relationships unnecessarily. The most important thing (and this comes back to the use of 'definitive') is not to put down something as the truth when it's actually an entirely subjective view of who did what to whom. A great line from Hollywood: There is my version, your version, and the truth.
SB: When Pink Floyd past and present were choosing tracks for Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd, were there any tracks that you wanted included that none of the other three were keen on?
NM: No, not really, although I suspect the others had more strident views. Oh, actually there was one track--I would have rather liked on, but sadly can't now remember what it was. Possibly "Careful With That Axe (Live)".
SB: When recording various pieces (backward cymbals on "Echoes", the various instruments in "Atom Heart Mother", roto-tom intro to "Time", etc) did it ever bother you about how you were going to get it exactly like the album when it came to live performances, or that you wouldn't be able to reproduce it live and so on?
NM: No, you can always find a better substitute than the original when you play live. It's nice to recreate the record, but even better to add a new twist.
SB: In recording "Atom Heart Mother", you and Roger laid out the basic drum and bass track, and because of its length gave it a "human touch" through the varying tempo. Do you feel that is part of the reason fans love this track, specifically because of that variance, and that with today's technology, such tracks generally wouldn't have that 'feel' to them?
NM: Personally, I regret we didn't have access to that modern technology. It's too human in my view!
SB: Musically, do you have any regrets with what you have (or haven't) done over the years in terms of production, material released, a particular drum track, etc?
NM: No, but it would have been nice to have managed another album or two.
SB: A few times in Inside Out you mention regretting not recording various shows or tours. Opposite to that, are there any shows that the band did record that you are particularly fond of and that may one day see the light of day, just as The Wall shows did via Is There Anybody Out There??
NM: No, we have no hidden stashes of tape that I can think of.
SB: As it is my favourite Pink Floyd track, I have to ask... You and Roger planned out the track "A Saucerful of Secrets" and then recorded it before ever playing it live. Within a few years it was more than twice as long, and for me, far more powerful, yet the only complete record of it is on Ummagumma and from the Pompeii film. As most of your work was refined live and then recorded, did you ever want to re-record "A Saucerful of Secrets"? Or at least wish you could have recorded it again?
NM: No. It's a bit like Hollywood trying to remake great old films. Better to leave it alone, and spend any work energy on new projects. I think "Saucer" as a track is remarkably complete in its present form.
SB: Was there any particular track that you always looked forward to playing, and alternatively, any particular one that you wish you'd never have to play again?
NM: Loved "Astronomy Domine", got a bit tired of "Us and Them".
SB: In respect to performing live, what are your memories of doing Top of the Pops with Robert Wyatt in 1974? As it was you playing drums completely outside of the Pink Floyd persona/style, do you wish you had more chances to do that sort of thing?
NM: Top of the Pops was fun, but miming is such a waste of time. The second show was upsetting because they didn't want to show Robert's wheelchair (I think they thought it might upset the viewers!) Times have changed.
I'm very happy with the amount of non-Floyd work I have done. It's all a question of balance.
SB: In the early days (London, mid-1960s) the Floyd came in contact with a lot of legendary artists (the Who, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles), and a lot of up-and-coming experimental acts (AMM, The Move, Soft Machine, etc.) Were you ever surprised to find yourself being elevated to the level of the Beatles? Were you ever surprised that some of your peers never managed the same level of success that you did?
NM: I'm flattered, but we were never hailed at quite the level of the Beatles. I didn't really expend that much energy worrying about other people's careers--I think it's fairly obvious why people succeed or fail. They have to write great songs, and stay alive for one thing (which was the subject of a memorable conversation between Pete Townshend and Roger Waters), as well as hold the band together and get lucky with their timing.
SB: I'm writing an article for this issue of Spare Bricks pointing out that if any member of Pink Floyd should be labelled as "Pink", it should be you. Apart from agreeing with me (!), can you offer any supporting evidence (apart from the obvious!) that I might be able to use?
NM: No one is Pink; a band is a sum greater than its parts. Lennon (or McCartney) isn't the Beatles; Page, Zeppelin; or Pete, the Who. That's why it's a band and not a solo artist. This isn't a question, this is a University course... and for the right money, I'll teach it.
Note: After the response Nick gave to this question, I decided not to submit the article.
SB: For a lot of Pink Floyd fans, it was very pleasing that you performed with Roger in 2002. How exactly did that come about? Was your interaction strained at all? How did the rest of Roger's band take it?
NM: Roger and I met again, liked each other (I think!), spent a little time together, and he invited me to play. I thought it was a great idea musically and morally (for the benefit of an example to all my children). Roger's band were incredibly welcoming (as they should have been since I knew a lot of them really well, and one of them was my godson.) Hey, haven't you read the postscript to my book?
SB: So apart from Pink Floyd and cars, what takes up your time on a regular basis?
NM: Aviation, writing, involvement with commercial car business, and friends and family. Worrying... about family, American foreign policy, where to go for dinner, how to make my cars go faster.
SB: Bands like Radiohead and Mercury Rev have often been labelled as the "next Pink Floyd". How do you take such comments, and do you know of any current bands that you think might fit that description? What, if any, current music do you like?
NM: Not that interested in that sort of stuff--we all take influence from each other, and success similarities are really never the same. If one could catch these 'labellers' it would be nice to find some suitable punishment for them. I like the Scissor Sisters and various other newish things, but have to say I listen more to new work by older artists in general. (Halcyon Days - Bruce Hornsby)
SB: Lastly, when the world finally accepts that Pink Floyd is no more a creative entity (be it now or in the years ahead) how do you personally hope to be remembered, and how do you think you will be remembered?
NM: I have very little interest in posterity since I won't be here to enjoy it. I want to be remembered fondly by friends and family.
SB: Again, I thank you for your time. I know all the staff at Spare Bricks were very grateful to you, and suitably excited. For all the folks we have tried to get interviews with, you have been the only one willing to do so, so on behalf of the staff I say thanks indeed!
NM: Oh, gosh--it's so hard to simper in print...